She returned to the house and busied herself in preparations for supper. She was very thoughtful, and at last concluded: "Yes, he is right. I understand. Although I may do WHAT his wife did, he don't wish me to do it AS she did. There could only be a partial and painful resemblance to his eyes. Both he and I would suffer in comparisons, and he be continually reminded of his loss. She was his wife in reality, and all relatibittorrent desktop appng to her is something sacred and past to him. The less I am like her, the better. He married me for the sake of his farm, and I can best satisfy him by carrying out his purpose in my own way. He's through with sentiment and has taken the kindest way he could to tell me that I've nothing to do with his past. He feared, yes, he FEARED, I should forget our businesslike agreement! I didn't know I had given him cause to fear; I certainly won't hereafter!" and the wife felt, with a trace of bitterness and shame, that she had been put on her guard; that her husband had wished to remind her that she must not forget his motive in marrying her, or expect anything not in consonance with that motive. Perhaps she had been too wifelike in her manner, and therefore he had feared. She was as sensitive to such a reproach as she would have been in her girlhood.
Aubertin remained behind. But even he took no notice of Camille,but walked up and down with his hands behind him, and a sad andtroubled face. Camille felt hidocker bitcoin miner gpus utter desolation. He was nothingto any of them. He resolved to go at once, and charge Aubertin withhis last adieus to the family. It was a wise and manly resolve. Hestopped Aubertin in the middle of his walk, and said in a faintvoice of the deepest dejection,--"Doctor, the time is come that I must once more thank you for allyour goodness to me, and bid you all farewell.""What, going before your strength is re-established?" said thedoctor politely, but not warmly."I am out of all danger, thanks to your skill.""Colonel, at another time I should insist upon your staying a day ortwo longer; but now I think it would be unadvisable to press you tostay. Ah, colonel, you came to a happy house, but you leave a sadone. Poor Madame Raynal!""Sir!""You saw the baroness draw her aside.""Y-yes.""By this time she knows it.""In Heaven's name what do you mean?" asked Camille.
"I forgot; you are not aware of the calamity that has fallen uponour beloved Josephine; on the darling of the house."Camille turned cold with vague apprehension. But he contrived tostammer out, "No; tell me! for Heaven's sake tell me."The doctor thus pressed revealed all in a very few words. "My poorfriend," said he solemnly, "her husband--is dead."Chapter 14The baroness, as I have said, drew Josephine aside, and tried tobreak to her the sad news: but her own grief overcame her, andbursting into tears she bewailed the loss of her son. Josephine wasgreatly shocked. Death!--Raynal dead--her true, kind friend dead--her benefactor dead. She clung to her mother's neck, and sobbedwith her. Presently she withdrew her face and suddenly hid it inboth her hands.She rose and kissed her mother once more: and went to her own room:and then, though there was none to see her, she hid her wet, butburning, cheeks in her hands.
Josephine confined herself for some days to her own room, leaving itonly to go to the chapel in the park, where she spent hours inprayers for the dead and in self-humiliation. Her "tenderconscience" accused herself bitterly for not having loved thisgallant spirit more than she had.Camille realized nothing at first; he looked all confused in thedoctor's face, and was silent. Then after awhile he said, "Dead?"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?""Oh, no! I don't mind that.""No good-natured fibs! Isn't smoke disagreeable?"
She shook her head. "I don't mind it at all," she said, but her sudden paleness puzzled him. He could not know that he had involuntarily recalled the many times that she had filled the evening pipe for a man who now haunted her memory like a specter."I guess you don't like it very much," he said, as he passed out. "Well, no matter! It's getting so mild that I can smoke out of doors."
With the exception of the episode of dinner the day was chiefly passed by Alida in a health-restoring languor, the natural reaction from the distress and strong excitements of the past. The rest that had been enjoined upon her was a blessed privilege, and still more happy was the truth that she could rest. Reclining on the lounge in the parlor, with a wood fire on one side and the April sun on the other, both creating warmth and good cheer, she felt like those who have just escaped from a wreck and engulfing waves. Her mind was too weary to question either the past or the future, and sometimes a consciousness of safety is happiness in itself. In the afternoon, the crackling of the fire and the calling and singing of the birds without formed a soothing lullaby and she fell asleep.At last, in a dream, she heard exquisite music which appeared to grow so loud, strong, and triumphant that she started up and looked around bewildered. A moment later, she saw that a robin was singing in a lilac bush by the window and that near the bird was a nest partially constructed. She recalled her hopeless grief when she had last seen the building of one of their little homes; and she fell upon her knees with a gratitude too deep for words, and far more grateful to Heaven than words.
Stepping out on the porch, she saw by the shadows that the sun was low in the west and that Holcroft was coming down the lane with his horses. He nodded pleasantly as he passed on to the barn. Her eyes followed him lingeringly till he disappeared, and then they ranged over the wide valley and the wooded hills in the distance. Not a breath of air was stirring; the lowing of cattle and other rural sounds softened by distance came from other farmhouses; the birds were at vespers, and their songs, to her fancy, were imbued with a softer, sweeter melody than in the morning. From the adjacent fields came clear, mellow notes that made her nerves tingle, so ethereal yet penetrating were they. She was sure she had never heard such bird music before. When Holcroft came in to supper she asked, "What birds are those that sing in the field?""Meadow larks. Do you like them?"