"He has the fact that when the ashes were sifted some buttons were found which bear the name of Snacklit's tailor. There'dbitcoin investing basics be more in that if it hadn't been the usual procedure to give Wilkes rubbish and refuse of every kind to burn in the furnace. The most natural explanation is that some old garment had been thrown in, perhaps after it had been used as a rag."
Alida was not so cold, weary, and almost faint but that she looked around the old kitchen with the strpolygon coin stakingongest interest. This interest was as unlike Mrs. Mumpson's curiosity as she was unlike the widow. It is true the thought of self was prominent, yet hers were not selfish thoughts. There are some blessed natures in the world that in doing the best for themselves do the best that is possible for others.The genial warmth of the fire was grateful to her chilled and enfeebled frame; the homely kitchen, with its dresser of china ware, its tin closet and pantry, the doors of which old Jonathan had left open, manlike, after helping himself "bount'fully," all suggested more comfort to this pallid bride, sitting there alone, than wealth of ornament in elegant apartments has brought to many others. She saw her chief domain, not in its coarse and common aspect, but as her vantage ground, from which she could minister to the comforts of the one who had rescued her. Few brides would care to enter the kitchen first, but she was pleased; she who had scarcely hoped to smile again looked smilingly around on the quaint, homelike room.
"And this is to be my home!" she murmured. "How strange, unexpected, yet natural it all is! Just what he led me to expect. The little lonely farmhouse, where I can be safe from staring eyes and unwounded by cruel questionings. Yet that old man had a dozen questions on his tongue. I believe HE took him away to save my feelings. It's strange that so plain and simple a man in most respects can be so considerate. Oh, pray God that all goes on as it promises! I couldn't have dreamt it this morning, but I have an odd, homelike feeling already. Well, since I AM at home I may as well take off my hat and cloak."And she did so. Holcroft entered and said heartily, "That's right, Alida! You are here to stay, you know. You mustn't think it amiss that I left you a few moments alone for I had to get that talkative old man off home. He's getting a little childish and would fire questions at you point-blank.""But shouldn't you have taken him home in the wagon? I don't mind being alone.""Oh, no! He's spry enough to walk twice the distance and often does. It's light as day outside, and I made it right with him. You can leave your things upstairs in your room, and I'll carry up your bundles also if you are rested enough for the journey.""Oh, yes!" she replied, "I'm feeling better already."
He led the way to the apartment that Mrs. Mumpson had occupied and said regretfully, "I'm sorry the room looks so bare and comfortless, but that will all be mended in time. When you come down, we'll have some coffee and supper."She soon reappeared in the kitchen, and he continued, "Now I'll show you that I'm not such a very helpless sort of man, after all; so if you're sick you needn't worry. I'm going to get you a good cup of coffee and broil you a piece of steak."It struck the lintel over the widow's head, was shattered, and sent down upon her a shower of villainously smelling sparks. Mrs. Mumpson shrieked and sought frantically to keep her calico wrapper from taking fire. Meanwhile, Mrs. Wiggins rose and took a step or two that she might assist should there be any positive danger, for she had not yet reached a point of malignity which would lead her to witness calmly an auto-da-fe. This was Jane's opportunity. Mrs. Wiggins had alienated this small and hitherto friendly power, and now, with a returning impulse of loyalty, it took sides with the weaker party. The kitchen door was on a crack; the child pushed it noiselessly open, darted around behind the stove, and withdrew the rocking chair.
Mrs. Wiggins' brief anxiety and preoccupation passed, and she stepped backward again to sit down. She did sit down, but with such terrific force that the stove and nearly everything else in the room threatened to fall with her. She sat helplessly for a bewildered moment, while Jane, with the chair, danced before her exclaiming, tauntingly, "That's for chasing me out as if I was a cat!""Noo hi'll chase ye both hout," cried the ireful Wiggins, scrambling to her feet. She made good her threat, for Holcroft, a moment later, saw mother and daughter, the latter carrying the chair, rushing from the front door, and Mrs. Wiggins, armed with a great wooden spoon, waddling after them, her objurgations mingling with Mrs. Mumpson's shrieks and Jane's shrill laughter. The widow caught a glimpse of him standing in the barn door, and, as if borne by the wind, she flew toward him, crying, "He shall be my protector!"He barely had time to whisk through a side door and close it after him. The widow's impetuous desire to pant out the story of her wrongs carried her into the midst of the barnyard, where she was speedily confronted by an unruly young heifer that could scarcely be blamed for hostility to such a wild-looking object.The animal shook its head threateningly as it advanced. Again the widow's shrieks resounded. This time Holcroft was about to come to the rescue, when the beleaguered woman made a dash for the top of the nearest fence, reminding her amused looker-on of the night of her arrival when she had perched like some strange sort of bird on the wagon wheel.
Seeing that she was abundantly able to escape alone, the farmer remained in concealment. Although disgusted and angry at the scenes taking place, he was scarcely able to restrain roars of laughter. Perched upon the fence, the widow called piteously for him to lift her down, but he was not to be caught by any such device. At last, giving up hope and still threatened by the heifer, she went over on the other side. Knowing that she must make a detour before reaching the dwelling, Holcroft went thither rapidly with the purpose of restoring order at once. "Jane," he said sternly, "take that chair to the parlor and leave it there. Let there be no more such nonsense."At his approach, Mrs. Wiggins had retreated sullenly to the kitchen. "Come," he ordered good-naturedly, "hasten breakfast and let there be no more quarreling."
"Hif hi vas left to do me work hin peace--" she began."Well, you shall do it in peace."At this moment Mrs. Mumpson came tearing in, quite oblivious of the fact that she had left a goodly part of her calico skirt on a nail of the fence. She was rushing toward Holcroft, when he said sternly, and with a repellent gesture, "Stop and listen to me. If there's any more of this quarreling like cats and dogs in my house, I'll send for the constable and have you all arrested. If you are not all utterly demented and hopeless fools, you will know that you came here to do my work, and nothing else." Then catching a glimpse of Mrs. Mumpson's dress, and fearing he should laugh outright, he turned abruptly on his heel and went to his room, where he was in a divided state between irrepressible mirth and vexation.Mrs. Mumpson also fled to her room. She felt that the proper course for her at this juncture was a fit of violent hysterics; but a prompt douche from the water pitcher, administered by the unsympathetic Jane, effectually checked the first symptoms. "Was ever a respecterble woman--"
"You aint respectable," interrupted the girl, as she departed. "You look like a scarecrow. 'Fi's you I'd begin to show some sense now."Chapter 15 ＂What is to Become of Me?＂Holcroft's reference to a constable and arrest, though scarcely intended to be more than a vague threat, had the effect of clearing the air like a clap of thunder. Jane had never lost her senses, such as she possessed, and Mrs. Wiggins recovered hers sufficiently to apologize to the farmer when he came down to breakfast. "But that Mumpson's hawfully haggravatin', master, as ye know yeself, hi'm a-thinkin'. Vud ye jis tell a body vat she is 'here, han 'ow hi'm to get hon vith 'er. Hif hi'm to take me horders from 'er, hi'd ruther go back to the poor-'us.""You are to take your orders from me and no one else. All I ask is that you go on quietly with your work and pay no attention to her. You know well enough that I can't have such goings on. I want you to let Jane help you and learn her to do everything as far as she can. Mrs. Mumpson can do the mending and ironing, I suppose. At any rate, I won't have any more quarreling and uproar. I'm a quiet man and intend to have a quiet house. You and Jane can get along very well in the kitchen, and you say you understand the dairy work."
"Vell hi does, han noo hi've got me horders hi'll go right along."Mrs. Mumpson was like one who had been rudely shaken out of a dream, and she appeared to have sense enough to realize that she couldn't assume so much at first as she anticipated. She received from Jane a cup of coffee, and said feebly, "I can partake of no more after the recent trying events."
For some hours she was a little dazed, but her mind was of too light weight to be long cast down. Jane rehearsed Holcroft's words, described his manner, and sought with much insistence to show her mother that she must drop her nonsense at once. "I can see it in his eye," said the girl, "that he won't stand much more. If yer don't come down and keep yer hands busy and yer tongue still, we'll tramp. As to his marrying you, bah! He'd jes' as soon marry Mrs. Wiggins."This was awful prose, but Mrs. Mumpson was too bewildered and discouraged for a time to dispute it, and the household fell into a somewhat regular routine. The widow appeared at her meals with the air of a meek and suffering martyr; Holcroft was exceedingly brief in his replies to her questions, and paid no heed to her remarks. After supper and his evening work, he went directly to his room. Every day, however, he secretly chafed with ever-increasing discontent, over this tormenting presence in his house. The mending and such work as she attempted was so wretchedly performed that it would better have been left undone. She was also recovering her garrulousness, and mistook his toleration and her immunity in the parlor for proof of a growing consideration. "He knows that my hands were never made for such coarse, menial tasks as that Viggins does," she thought, as she darned one of his stockings in a way that would render it almost impossible for him to put his foot into it again. "The events of last Monday morning were unfortunate, unforeseen, unprecedented. I was unprepared for such vulgar, barbarous, unheard-of proceedings--taken off my feet, as it were; but now that he's had time to think it all over, he sees that I am not a common woman like Viggins,"--Mrs. Mumpson would have suffered rather than have accorded her enemy the prefix of Mrs.,--"who is only fit to be among pots and kettles. He leaves me in the parlor as if a refined apartment became me and I became it. Time and my influence will mellow, soften, elevate, develop, and at last awaken a desire for my society, then yearnings. My first error was in not giving myself time to make a proper impression. He will soon begin to yield like the earth without. First it is hard and frosty, then it is cold and muddy, if I may permit myself so disagreeable an illustration. Now he is becoming mellow, and soon every word I utter will be like good seed in good ground. How aptly it all fits! I have only to be patient."
She was finally left almost to utter idleness, for Jane and Mrs. Wiggins gradually took from the incompetent hands even the light tasks which she had attempted. She made no protest, regarding all as another proof that Holcroft was beginning to recognize her superiority and unfitness for menial tasks. She would maintain, however, her character as the caretaker and ostentatiously inspected everything; she also tried to make as much noise in fastening up the dwelling at night as if she were barricading a castle. Holcroft would listen grimly, well aware that no house had been entered in Oakville during his memory. He had taken an early occasion to say at the table that he wished no one to enter his room except Jane, and that he would not permit any infringement of this rule. Mrs. Mumpson's feelings had been hurt at first by this order, but she soon satisfied herself that it had been meant for Mrs. Wiggins' benefit and not her own. She found, however, that Jane interpreted it literally. "If either of you set foot in that room, I'll tell him," she said flatly. "I've had my orders and I'm a-goin' to obey. There's to be no more rummagin'. If you'll give me the keys I'll put things back in order ag'in.""Well, I won't give you the keys. I'm the proper person to put things in order if you did not replace them properly. You are just making an excuse to rummage yourself. My motive for inspecting is very different from yours.""Shouldn't wonder if you was sorry some day," the girl had remarked, and so the matter had dropped and been forgotten.Holcroft solaced himself with the fact that Jane and Mrs. Wiggins served his meals regularly and looked after the dairy with better care than it had received since his wife died. "If I had only those two in the house, I could get along first-rate," he thought. "After the three months are up, I'll try to make such an arrangement. I'd pay the mother and send her off now, but if I did, Lemuel Weeks would put her up to a lawsuit."April days brought the longed-for plowing and planting, and the farmer was so busy and absorbed in his work that Mrs. Mumpson had less and less place in his thoughts, even as a thorn in the flesh. One bright afternoon, however, chaos came again unexpectedly. Mrs. Wiggins did not suggest a volatile creature, yet such, alas! she was. She apparently exhaled and was lost, leaving no trace. The circumstances of her disappearance permit of a very matter-of-fact and not very creditable explanation. On the day in question she prepared an unusually good dinner, and the farmer had enjoyed it in spite of Mrs. Mumpson's presence and desultory remarks. The morning had been fine and he had made progress in his early spring work. Mrs. Wiggins felt that her hour and opportunity had come. Following him to the door, she said in a low tone and yet with a decisive accent, as if she was claiming a right, "Master, hi'd thank ye for me two weeks' wages."He unsuspectingly and unhesitatingly gave it to her, thinking, "That's the way with such people. They want to be paid often and be sure of their money. She'll work all the better for having it."
Mrs. Wiggins knew the hour when the stage passed the house; she had made up a bundle without a very close regard to meum or tuum, and was ready to flit. The chance speedily came.The "caretaker" was rocking in the parlor and would disdain to look, while Jane had gone out to help plant some early potatoes on a warm hillside. The coast was clear. Seeing the stage coming, the old woman waddled down the lane at a remarkable pace, paid her fare to town, and the Holcroft kitchen knew her no more.
That she found the "friend" she had wished to see on her way out to the farm, and that this friend brought her quickly under Tom Watterly's care again, goes without saying.As the shadows lengthened and the robins became tuneful, Holcroft said, "You've done well, Jane. Thank you. Now you can go back to the house."
The child soon returned in breathless haste to the field where the farmer was covering the potato pieces she had dropped, and cried, "Mrs. Wiggins's gone!"Like a flash the woman's motive in asking for her wages occurred to him, but he started for the house to assure himself of the truth. "Perhaps she's in the cellar," he said, remembering the cider barrel, "or else she's out for a walk."
"No, she aint," persisted Jane. "I've looked everywhere and all over the barn, and she aint nowhere. Mother haint seen her, nuther."With dreary misgivings, Holcroft remembered that he no longer had a practical ally in the old Englishwoman, and he felt that a new breaking up was coming. He looked wistfully at Jane, and thought, "I COULD get along with that child if the other was away. But that can't be; SHE'D visit here indefinitely if Jane stayed."When Mrs. Mumpson learned from Jane of Mrs. Wiggins' disappearance, she was thrown into a state of strong excitement. She felt that her hour and opportunity might be near also, and she began to rock very fast. "What else could he expect of such a female?" she soliloquized. "I've no doubt but she's taken things, too. He'll now learn my value and what it is to have a caretaker who will never desert him."Spirits and courage rose with the emergency; her thoughts hurried her along like a dry leaf caught in a March gale. "Yes," she murmured, "the time has come for me to act, to dare, to show him in his desperate need and hour of desertion what might be, may be, must be. He will now see clearly the difference between these peculiar females who come and go, and a respecterble woman and a mother who can be depended upon--one who will never steal away like a thief in the night."
She saw Holcroft approaching the house with Jane; she heard him ascend to Mrs. Wiggins' room, then return to the kitchen and ejaculate, "Yes, she's gone, sure enough.""Now, ACT!" murmured the widow, and she rushed toward the farmer with clasped hands, and cried with emotion, "Yes, she's gone; but I'm not gone. You are not deserted. Jane will minister to you; I will be the caretaker, and our home will be all the happier because that monstrous creature is absent. Dear Mr. Holcroft, don't be so blind to your own interests and happiness, don't remain undeveloped! Everything is wrong here if you would but see it. You are lonely and desolate. Moth and rust have entered, things in unopened drawers and closets are molding and going to waste. Yield to true female influence and--"
Holcroft had been rendered speechless at first by this onslaught, but the reference to unopened drawers and closets awakened a sudden suspicion. Had she dared to touch what had belonged to his wife? "What!" he exclaimed sharply, interrupting her; then with an expression of disgust and anger, he passed her swiftly and went to his room. A moment later came the stern summons, "Jane, come here!""Now you'll see what'll come of that rummagin'," whimpered Jane. "You aint got no sense at all to go at him so. He's jes' goin' to put us right out," and she went upstairs as if to execution.
"Have I failed?" gasped Mrs. Mumpson, and retreating to the chair, she rocked nervously."Jane," said Holcroft in hot anger, "my wife's things have been pulled out of her bureau and stuffed back again as if they were no better than dishcloths. Who did it?"
The child now began to cry aloud."There, there!" he said, with intense irritation, "I can't trust you either.""I haint--touched 'em--since you told me--told me--not to do things on the sly," the girl sobbed brokenly; but he had closed the door upon her and did not hear.He could have forgiven her almost anything but this. Since she only had been permitted to take care of his room, he naturally thought that she had committed the sacrilege, and her manner had confirmed this impression. Of course, the mother had been present and probably had assisted; but he had expected nothing better of her.
He took the things out, folded and smoothed them as carefully as he could with his heavy hands and clumsy fingers. His gentle, almost reverent touch was in strange contrast with his flushed, angry face and gleaming eyes. "This is the worst that's happened yet," he muttered. "Oh, Lemuel Weeks! It's well you are not here now, or we might both have cause to be sorry. It was you who put these prying, and for all I know, thieving creatures into my house, and it was as mean a trick as ever one man played another. You and this precious cousin of yours thought you could bring about a marriage; you put her up to her ridiculous antics. Faugh! The very thought of it all makes me sick.""Oh, mother, what shall I do?" Jane cried, rushing into the parlor and throwing herself on the floor, "he's goin' to put us right out."
"He can't put me out before the three months are up," quavered the widow."Yes, he can. We've been a-rummagin' where we'd no bizniss to be. He's mad enough to do anything; he jes' looks awful; I'm afraid of him."
"Jane," said her mother plaintively, "I feel indisposed. I think I'll retire.""Yes, that's the way with YOU," sobbed the child. "You get me into the scrape and now you retire."