"Jane, Jane," ejaculated Mrs. Mumpson, sinking on a seat in the porch, "he called me his gocardano ada zukunftod woman!" But Jane was busy dragging the trunk out of doors. Having secured her own and her mother's worldly possessions, she called, "Shall I bring water and carry things out?"
"I don't say he hadn't some motive for committing suicithe ethereum code opinionide, but would anyone choose such a method? And what about Blinkwell having seen him in the lounge a few minutes before? And of Wilkes being in charge of the furnace?"And it isn't as if we didn't know that the taxi-driver had been thrown in an hour or two earlier. And who should want to murder Snacklit? It's just trying to be too clever, and substituting a wild improbability for a reasonable explanation that fits the facts like a glove."
"Well, I've nothing to say against that. There are only two things that interest me about it now. The one is whether Irene or I will be required to give evidence, and the second is what's going to happen to Blinkwell.""We're not going to ask you to give evidence. You're clear out of it, so far as our police (or the S?ret? for that matter) are concerned. We can't avoid Irene going into the box. She's one of the most important witnesses, though you can rely on counsel and the Press - being discreet."But as to Blinkwell, I'm afraid I can't do more than pass on the disappointment we're all feeling. We haven't merely decided that we can do nothing ourselves We've been almost down on our knees begging Paris to look at it in the same way."We don't think any magistrate would make an extradition order on Gustav's word, which is the only real evidence they've got. And, for ourselves, we don't feel that we've got sufficient to make a case against him on the drug-smuggling issue. We should be just asking for trouble."We may be able to look at it rather differently when we've got Snacklit. He'll probably talk, in an effort to get himself out of the mess. But, even then there's the same difficulty as with Gustav. It's just a criminal's word, and not much use without better confirmation.
"Still I should say that, if we catch Snacklit, we shall soon have the Professor in the same place. Otherwise not. But you can say it's a hundred to one that we'll get him, one way or other, though we may have to go round by another road."Mr. Thurlow was satisfied by the explanation. He thought that Snacklit was unlikely to elude pursuit, which he knew to be a much more difficult enterprise in England than in his own more spacious and (in some respects) more primitive land. He thought therefore, that Professor Blinkwell's remaining days of liberty would not be long."What! To go out and feed my stock this clear, bright night? And after a hearty supper too? Such farming is fun. I feel, too, as if I wanted to go and pat the cows all around in my gladness that I'm not going to sell them. Now remember, let everything go till morning as soon as you feel tired."
She nodded smilingly and set to work. Standing in the shadow of a hemlock, he watched her for a few moments. Her movements were slow, as would be natural to one who had been so reduced by illness, but this every evidence of feebleness touched his feelings. "She is eager to begin--too eager. No nonsense there about 'menial tasks.' Well, it does give one hope to see such a woman as that in the old kitchen," and then the hungry cattle welcomed him.The traveler feels safe after the fierce Arab of the desert has broken bread with him. It would seem that a deep principle of human nature is involved in this act. More than the restoring power of the nourishment itself was the moral effect for Alida of that first meal in her husband's home. It was another step in what he had said was essential--the forming of his acquaintance. She had seen from the first that he was plain and unpolished--that he had not the veneer of gentility of the man she had so mistakenly married; yet, in his simple truth, he was inspiring a respect which she had never felt for any man before. "What element of real courtesy has been wanting?" she asked herself. "If this is an earnest of the future, thank God for the real. I've found to my cost what a clever imitation of a man means."It was as sweet as it was strange to think that she, who had trembled at the necessity of becoming almost a slave to unfeeling strangers, had been compelled to rest while a husband performed tasks naturally hers. It was all very homely, yet the significance of the act was chivalrous consideration for her weakness; the place, the nature of the ministry could not degrade the meaning of his action. Then, too, during the meal he had spoken natural, kindly words which gave to their breaking of bread together the true interpretation. Although so feeble and wary, she found a deep satisfaction in beginning her household work. "It does make me feel more at home," she said. "Strange that he should have thought of it!"She had finished her task and sat down again when he entered with a pail of milk. Taking a dipper with a strainer on one side of it, he poured out a tumblerful. "Now, take this," he said, "I've always heard that milk fresh from the cow was very strengthening. Then go and sleep till you are thoroughly rested, and don't think of coming down in the morning till you feel like it. I'll make the fire and get breakfast. You have seen how easily I can do it. I have several more cows to milk, and so will say 'Goodnight.'"
For the first time since chaos had come into her life Alida slept soundly and refreshingly, unpursued by the fears which had haunted even her dreams. When she awoke she expected to see the gray locks and repulsive features of the woman who had occupied the apartment with her at the almshouse, but she was alone in a small, strange room. Then memory gathered up the threads of the past; but so strange, so blessed did the truth seem that she hastened to dress and go down to the old kitchen and assure herself that her mind had not become shattered by her troubles and was mocking her with unreal fancies. The scene she looked upon would have soothed and reassured her even had her mind been as disordered as she, for the moment, had been tempted to believe. There was the same homely room which had pictured itself so deeply in her memory the evening before. Now it was more attractive for the morning sun was shining into it, lighting up its homely details with a wholesome, cheerful reality which made it difficult to believe that there were tragic experiences in the world. The wood fire in the stove crackled merrily, and the lid of the kettle was already bobbing up and down from internal commotion.As she opened the door a burst of song entered, securing her attention. She had heard the birds before without recognizing consciousness, as is so often true of our own condition in regard to the familiar sounds of nature. It was now almost as if she had received another sense, so strong, sweet, and cheering was the symphony. Robins, song-sparrows, blackbirds, seemed to have gathered in the trees nearby, to give her a jubilant welcome; but she soon found that the music shaded off to distant, dreamlike notes, and remembered that it was a morning chorus of a hemisphere. This universality did not render the melody less personally grateful. We can appreciate all that is lovely in Nature, yet leave all for others. As she stood listening, and inhaling the soft air, full of the delicious perfume of the grass and expanding buds, and looking through the misty sunshine on the half-veiled landscape, she heard Holcroft's voice, chiding some unruly animal in the barnyard.
This recalled her, and with the elasticity of returning health and hope she set about getting breakfast."It seems to me that I never heard birds sing before," she thought, "and their songs this morning are almost like the music of heaven. They seem as happy and unconscious of fear and trouble as if they were angels. Mother and I used to talk about the Garden of Eden, but could the air have been sweeter, or the sunshine more tempered to just the right degree of warmth and brightness than here about my home? Oh, thank God again, again and forever, for a home like this!" and for a few moments something of the ecstasy of one delivered from the black thraldom of evil filled her soul. She paused now and then to listen to the birds for only their songs seemed capable of expressing her emotion. It was but another proof that heavenly thoughts and homely work may go on together.Chapter 22 Getting AcquaintedIt was still early, and Holcroft was under the impression that Alida would sleep late after the severe fatigues of the preceding day. He therefore continued his work at the barn sufficiently long to give his wife time for her little surprise. She was not long in finding and laying her hands on the simple materials for breakfast. A ham hung in the pantry and beneath it was a great basket of eggs, while the flour barrel stood in the corner. Biscuits were soon in the oven, eggs conjured into an omelet, and the ham cut into delicate slices, instead of great coarse steaks.
Remembering Mrs. Mumpson's failure with the coffee, she made it a trifle strong and boiled the milk that should temper without cooling it. The biscuits rose like her own spirits, the omelet speedily began to take on color like her own flushed face as she busied herself about the stove.Everything was nearly ready when she saw Holcroft coming toward the house with two pails of milk. He took them to the large dairy room under the parlor and then came briskly to the kitchen.She stood, screened by the door as he entered, then stopped and stared at the table all set and at the inviting breakfast on the stove.Seeing Alida's half-smiling, half-questioning face, seeking his approval, he exclaimed, "Well, you HAVE stolen a march on me! I supposed you were asleep yet."
"I felt so much stronger and better when I awoke that I thought you wouldn't mind if I came down and made a beginning.""You call this a beginning do you? Such a breakfast as this before seven in the morning? I hope you haven't overtaxed yourself."
"No, only a little of just the right kind of tired feeling.""Haven't you left anything for me to do?"
"Perhaps. You will know when I've put all on the table. What I've prepared is ready.""Well, this is famous. I'll go and wash and fix up a little and be right down."When Holcroft returned, he looked at her curiously, for he felt that he, too, was getting acquainted. Her thin face was made more youthful by color; a pleased look was in her blue eyes, and a certain neatness and trimness about her dress to which he had not been accustomed. He scanned the table wonderingly, for things were not put upon it at haphazard; the light biscuits turned their brown cheeks invitingly toward him,--she had arranged that they should do that,--the ham was crisp, not sodden, and the omelet as russet as a November leaf. "This is a new dish," he said, looking at it closely. "What do you call it?""Omelet. Perhaps you won't like it, but mother used to be very fond of it.""No matter. We'll have it if you like it and it brings you pleasant thoughts of your mother." Then he took a good sip of coffee and set the cup down again as he had before under the Mumpson regime, but with a very different expression. She looked anxiously at him, but was quickly reassured. "I thought I knew how to make coffee, but I find I don't. I never tasted anything so good as that. How DO you make it?""Just as mother taught me."
"Well, well! And you call this making a beginning? I just wish I could give Tom Watterly a cup of this coffee. It would set his mind at rest. 'By jocks!' he would say, 'isn't this better than going it alone?'"She looked positively happy under this sweet incense to a housewifely heart. She was being paid in the coin that women love best, and it was all the more precious to her because she had never expected to receive it again.
He did like the omelet; he liked everything, and, after helping her liberally, cleared the table, then said he felt equal to doing two men's work. Before going out to his work, he lighted a fire on the parlor hearth and left a good supply of fuel beside it. "Now, Alida," he remarked humorously, "I've already found out that you have one fault that you and I will have to watch against. You are too willing. I fear you've gone beyond your strength this morning. I don't want you to do a thing today except to get the meals, and remember, I can help in this if you don't feel well. There is a fire in the parlor, and I've wheeled the lounge up by it. Take it quietly today, and perhaps tomorrow I can begin to show you about butter-making.""I will do as you wish," she replied, "but please show me a little more where things are before you go out."
This he did and added, "You'll find the beef and some other things on a swing-shelf in the cellar. The potato bins are down there, too. But don't try to get up much dinner. What comes quickest and easiest will suit me. I'm a little backward with my work and must plow all day for oats. It's time they were in. After such a breakfast, I feel as if I had eaten a bushel myself."A few moments later she saw him going up the lane, that continued on past the house, with his stout team and the plow, and she smiled as she heard him whistling "Coronation" with levity, as some good people would have thought.
Plowing and planting time had come and under happier auspices, apparently, than he had ever imagined possible again. With the lines about his neck, he began with a sidehill plow at the bottom of a large, sloping field which had been in corn the previous year, and the long, straight furrows increased from a narrow strip to a wide, oblong area. "Ah," said he in tones of strong satisfaction, "the ground crumbles freely; it's just in the right condition. I'll quit plowing this afternoon in time to harrow and sow all the ground that's ready. Then, so much'll be all done and well done. It's curious how seed, if it goes into the ground at the right time and in the right way, comes right along and never gets discouraged. I aint much on scientific farming, but I've always observed that when I sow or plant as soon as the ground is ready, I have better luck."The horses seemed infected by his own brisk spirit, stepping along without urging, and the farmer was swept speedily into the full, strong current of his habitual interests.One might have supposed the recent events would have the uppermost place in his thoughts, but this was not true. He rather dwelt upon them as the unexpectedly fortunate means to the end now attained. This was his life, and he was happy in the thought that his marriage promised to make this life not merely possible, but prosperous and full of quiet content.The calling of the born agriculturist, like that of the fisherman, has in it the element of chance and is therefore full of moderate yet lasting excitement. Holcroft knew that, although he did his best, much would depend on the weather and other causes. He had met with disappointments in his crops, and had also achieved what he regarded as fine successes, although they would have seemed meager on a Western prairie. Every spring kindled anew his hopefulness and anticipation. He watched the weather with the interested and careful scrutiny of a sailor, and it must be admitted that his labor and its results depended more on natural causes than upon his skill and the careful use of the fertilizers. He was a farmer of the old school, the traditions received from his father controlled him in the main. Still, his good common sense and long experience stood him fairly well in the place of science and knowledge of improved methods, and he was better equipped than the man who has in his brain all that the books can teach, yet is without experience. Best of all, he had inherited and acquired an abiding love of the soil; he never could have been content except in its cultivation; he was therefore in the right condition to assimilate fuller knowledge and make the most of it.
He knew well enough when it was about noon. From long habit he would have known had the sky been overcast, but now his glance at the sun was like looking at a watch. Dusty and begrimed he followed his team to the barn, slipped from them their headstalls and left them to amuse themselves with a little hay while they cooled sufficiently for heartier food. "Well now," he mused, "I wonder what that little woman has for dinner? Another new dish, like enough. Hanged if I'm fit to go in the house, and she looking so trim and neat. I think I'll first take a souse in the brook," and he went up behind the house where an unfailing stream gurgled swiftly down from the hills. At the nearest point a small basin had been hollowed out, and as he approached he saw two or three speckled trout darting away through the limpid water."Aha!" he muttered, "glad you reminded me. When SHE'S stronger, she may enjoy catching our supper some afternoon. I must think of all the little things I can to liven her up so she won't get dull. It's curious how interested I am to know how she's got along and what she has for dinner. And to think that, less than a week ago, I used to hate to go near the house!"
As he entered the hall on his way to his room, that he might make himself more presentable, an appetizing odor greeted him and Alida smiled from the kitchen door as she said, "Dinner's ready."Apparently she had taken him at his word, as she had prepared little else than an Irish stew, yet when he had partaken of it, he thought he would prefer Irish stews from that time onward indefinitely. "Where did you learn to cook, Alida?" he asked.
"Mother wasn't very strong and her appetite often failed her. Then, too, we hadn't much to spend on our table so we tried to make simple things taste nice. Do you like my way of preparing that old-fashioned dish?""I'm going to show you how I like it," he replied, nodding approvingly. "Well, what have you been doing besides tempting me to eat too much?"
"What you said, resting. You told me not to get up much of a dinner, so I very lazily prepared what you see. I've been lying on the lounge most of the morning.""Famous, and you feel better?""Yes, I think I shall soon get well and strong," she replied, looking at him gratefully."Well, well! My luck's turned at last. I once thought it never would, but if this goes on--well, you can't know what a change it is for the better. I can now put my mind on my work."
"You've been plowing all the morning, haven't you?" she ventured, and there was the pleased look in her eyes that he already liked to see."Yes," he replied, "and I must keep at it several days to get in all the oats I mean to sow. If this weather holds, I shall be through next week."
"I looked in the milk-room a while ago. Isn't there anything I could do there this afternoon?""No. I'll attend to everything there. It's too damp for you yet. Keep on resting. Why, bless me! I didn't think you'd be well enough to do anything for a week."
"Indeed," she admitted, "I'm surprised at myself. It seems as if a crushing weight had been lifted off my mind and that I was coming right up. I'm so glad, for I feared I might be feeble and useless a long time.""Well, Alida, if you had been, or if you ever are, don't think I'll be impatient. The people I can't stand are those who try to take advantage of me, and I tell you I've had to contend with that disposition so long that I feel as if I could do almost anything for one who is simply honest and tries to keep her part of an agreement. But this won't do. I've enjoyed my own dinner so much that I've half forgotten that the horses haven't had theirs yet. Now will you scold if I light my pipe before I go out?"