Two women together are really braver than fifteen separate; butstill, most of this tranquillity was merely put on, but so admirablythat Edouard Riviere had no chance with them. He knew nothing abouttheir tremors; all he saw or heard was, a rustle, then a flap oneach side of him as of great wings, and two lovely women were uponhim with angelic swiftness. "Ah!" he cried out with a start, anbitcoin forum bitcoindglanced from the first-comer, Rose, to the gate. But Josephine wason that side by this time, and put up her hand, as much as to say,"You can't pass here." In such situations, the mind works quickerthan lightning. He took off his hat, and stammered an excuse--"Cometo look at the oak." At this moment Rose pounced on the purse, andheld it up to Josephine. He was caught. His only chance now was tobolt for the mark and run; but it was not the notary, it was anovice who lost his presence of mind, or perhaps thought it rude torun when a lady told him to stand still. All he did was to crushhis face into his two hands, round which his cheeks and neck nowblushed red as blood. Blush? they could both see the color rushlike a wave to the very roots of his hair and the tips of hisfingers.
Your regard for me has for once blinded your science. I am not sorobust as you have known me, but there is cardano daily transactions chartnothing serious the matterwith me. Let us talk of something else. Besides, it is notinteresting to talk about one's self.""Very well; since there is nothing serious or interesting in yourcase, we will talk about something that is both serious andinteresting.""With all my heart;" and she smiled with a sense of relief.But the doctor leaned over the table to her, and said in a cautiousand most emphatic whisper, "We will talk about YOUR CHILD."The work dropped from Josephine's hands: she turned her face wildlyon Aubertin, and faltered out, "M--my child?""My words are plain," replied he gravely. "YOUR CHILD."When the doctor repeated these words, when Josephine looking in hisface saw he spoke from knowledge, however acquired, and not fromguess, she glided down slowly off the sofa and clasped his knees ashe stood before her, and hid her face in an agony of shame andterror on his knees.
"Forgive me," she sobbed. "Pray do not expose me! Do not destroyme.""Unhappy young lady," said he, "did you think you had deceived me,or that you are fit to deceive any but the blind? Your face, youranguish after Colonel Dujardin's departure, your languor, and thenyour sudden robustness, your appetite, your caprices, your strangesojourn at Frejus, your changed looks and loss of health on yourreturn! Josephine, your old friend has passed many an hour thinkingof you, divining your folly, following your trouble step by step.Yet you never invited him to aid you."Josephine faltered out a lame excuse. If she had revered him lessshe could have borne to confess to him. She added it would be arelief to her to confide in him."Then tell me all," said he.She consented almost eagerly, and told him--nearly all. The old manwas deeply affected. He murmured in a broken voice, "Your story isthe story of your sex, self-sacrifice, first to your mother, then toCamille, now to your husband.""And he is well worthy of any sacrifice I can make," said Josephine."But oh, how hard it is to live!""I hope to make it less hard to you ere long," said the doctorquietly. He then congratulated himself on having forced Josephineto confide in him. "For," said he, "you never needed an experiencedfriend more than at this moment. Your mother will not always be soblind as of late. Edouard is suspicious. Jacintha is a shrewdyoung woman, and very inquisitive."Josephine was not at the end of her concealments: she was ashamed tolet him know she had made a confidant of Jacintha and not of him.
She held her peace."Then," continued Aubertin, "there is the terrible chance ofRaynal's return. But ere I take on me to advise you, what are yourown plans?""I don't know," said Josephine helplessly."I know," he said quietly, "all about this old, rude custom--that it's often little more than a rough lark. Well, now that you've had it, leave at once. I'm in no mood for such attention from my neighbors. This is my wife, and I'll break any man's head who says a word to hurt her feelings--"
"Oh yes! Take care of her feelings, now it's your turn. They must 'a' been hurt before," piped up Tim Weeks."Good for you, old man, for showin' us your poorhouse bride," said another."We don't fancy such grass-widders, and much married, half-married women in Oakville," yelled a third."Why didn't yer jump over a broomstick for a weddin' ceremony?" someone else bawled.
These insults were fired almost in a volley. Alida felt Holcroft's arm grow rigid for a second. "Go in, quick!" he said.Then she saw him seize the hickory sapling he had leaned against the house, and burst upon the group like a thunderbolt. Cries of pain, yells, and oaths of rage rose above the rain of blows. The older members of the crew sought to close upon him, but he sprung back, and the tough sapling swept about him like a circle of light. It was a terrific weapon in the hands of a strong man, now possessed of almost giant strength in his rage. More than one fellow went down under its stinging cut, and heads and faces were bleeding. The younger portion of the crowd speedily took to their heels, and soon even the most stubborn fled; the farmer vigorously assisting their ignominious retreat with tremendous downward blows on any within reach. Tim Weeks had managed to keep out of the way till they entered the lane; then, taking a small stone from the fence, he hurled it at their pursuer and attempted to jump over the wall. This was old, and gave way under him in such a way that he fell on the other side. Holcroft leaped the fence with a bound, but Tim, lying on his back, shrieked and held up his hands, "You won't hit a feller when he's down!"
"No," said Holcroft, arresting his hickory. "I'll send you to jail, Tim Weeks. That stone you fired cut my head. Was your father in that crowd?""No-o-o!" blubbered Tim."If he was, I'd follow him home and whip him in his own house. Now, clear out, and tell the rest of your rowdy crew that I'll shoot the first one of you that disturbs me again. I'll send the constable for you, and maybe for some of the others."Dire was the dismay, and dreadful the groaning in Oakville that night. Never before had salves and poultices been in such demand. Not a few would be disfigured for weeks, and wherever Holcroft's blows had fallen welts arose like whipcords. In Lemuel Weeks' dwelling the consternation reached its climax. Tim, bruised from his fall, limped in and told his portentous story. In his spite, he added, "I don't care, I hit him hard. His face was all bloody."
"All bloody!" groaned his father. "Lord 'a mercy! He can send you to jail, sure enough!"Then Mrs. Weeks sat down and wailed aloud.Chapter 26 ＂You Don't Know.＂As Timothy Weeks limped hastily away, Holcroft, with a strong revulsion of feeling, thought of Alida. HE had been able to answer insults in a way eminently satisfactory to himself, and every blow had relieved his electrical condition. But how about the poor woman who had received worse blows than he had inflicted? As he hastened toward the house he recalled a dim impression of seeing her sink down on the doorstep. Then he remembered her effort to face the marauders alone. "She said she was to blame, poor child! As if there were any blame at all! She said, 'spare him,' as if I was facing a band of murderers instead of a lot of neighborhood scamps, and that she'd go away. I'd fight all Oakville--men, women, and children--before I'd permit that," and he started on a run.
He found Alida on the step, where she had sunk as if struck down by the rough epithets hurled at her. She was sobbing violently, almost hysterically, and at first could not reply to his soothing words. He lifted her up, and half carried her within to a chair. "Oh, oh," she cried, "why did I not realize it more fully before? Selfish woman that I was, to marry you and bring on you all this shame and danger. I should have thought of it all, I ought to have died rather than do you such a wrong.""Alida, Alida," protested Holcroft, "if it were all to do over again, I'd be a thousand times more--"
"Oh, I know, I know! You are brave and generous and honest. I saw that much when you first spoke to me. I yielded to the temptation to secure such a friend. I was too cowardly to face the world alone. And now see what's happened! You're in danger and disgrace on my account. I must go away--I must do what I should have done at first," and with her face buried in her hands she rocked back and forth, overwhelmed by the bitterness and reproach of her thoughts."Alida," he urged, "please be calm and sensible. Let me reason with you and tell you the truth. All that's happened is that the Oakville cubs have received a well-deserved whipping. When you get calm, I can explain everything so it won't seem half so bad. Neither you nor I are in any danger, and, as for your going away, look me in the eyes and listen."
His words were almost stern in their earnestness. She raised her streaming eyes to his face, then sprung up, exclaiming, "Oh! You're wounded!""What's that, compared with your talk of going away?"All explanations and reassurances would have been trivial in effect, compared with the truth that he had been hurt in her defense. She dashed her tears right and left, ran for a basin of water, and making him take her chair, began washing away the blood stains."Thunder!" he said, laughing, "How quickly we've changed places!""Oh, oh!" she moaned, "It's a terrible wound; it might have killed you, and they WILL kill you yet."He took her hands and held them firmly. "Alida," he said, gravely yet kindly, "be still and listen to me."
For a moment or two longer her bosom heaved with convulsive sobs, and then she grew quiet. "Don't you know you can't go away?" he asked, still retaining her hands and looking in her face."I could for your sake," she began.
"No, it wouldn't be for my sake. I don't wish you to go, and wouldn't let you. If you should let the Oakville rabble drive you away, I WOULD be in danger, and so would others, for I'd be worse on 'em than an earthquake. After the lesson they've had tonight, they'll let us alone, and I'll let them alone. You know I've tried to be honest with you from the first. Believe me, then, the trouble's over unless we make more for ourselves. Now, promise you'll do as I say and let me manage.""I'll try," she breathed softly.
"No, no! That won't do. I'm beginning to find you out. You may get some foolish, self-sacrificing notion in your head that it would be best for me, when it would be my ruination. Will you promise?""Yes."
"Famous! Now you can bathe my head all you please for it feels a little queer.""It's an awful wound," she said in tones of the deepest sympathy. "Oh, I'm so sorry!""Pshaw! My head is too hard for that little scamp of a Weeks to break. His turn'll come next."She cut away the blood-clotted hair and bound up the rather severe scalp wound with a tenderness and sympathy that expressed itself even in her touch. She was too confused and excited to be conscious of herself, but she had received some tremendously strong impressions. Chief among them was the truth that nothing which had happened made any difference in him--that he was still the same loyal friend, standing between her and the world she dreaded--yes, between her and her own impulses toward self-sacrifice. Sweetest of all was the assurance that he did this for his own sake as well as hers. These facts seemed like a foothold in the mad torrent of feeling and shame which had been sweeping her away. She could think of little more than that she was safe--safe because he was brave and loyal--and yes, safe because he wanted her and would not give her up. The heart of a woman must be callous indeed, and her nature not only trivial but stony if she is not deeply touched under circumstances like these.
In spite of his laughing contempt of danger, she trembled as she saw him ready to go out again; she wished to accompany him on his round of observation, but he scouted the idea, although it pleased him. Standing in the door, she strained her eyes and listened breathlessly. He soon returned and said, "They've all had enough. We won't be disturbed again."He saw that her nerves needed quieting, and he set about the task with such simple tact as he possessed. His first step was to light his pipe in the most nonchalant manner, and then he burst out laughing. "I'll hang that hickory up. It has done too good service to be put to common use again. Probably you never heard of a skimelton, Alida. Well, they are not so uncommon in this region. I suppose I'll have to own up to taking part in one myself when I was a young chap. They usually are only rough larks and are taken good-naturedly. I'm not on jesting terms with my neighbors, and they had no business to come here, but I wouldn't have made any row if they hadn't insulted you."
Her head bowed very low as she faltered, "They've heard everything."He came right to her and took her hand. "Didn't I hear everything before they did?"
"Yes.""Well, Alida, I'm not only satisfied with you, but I'm very grateful to you. Why shouldn't I be when you are a good Christian woman? I guess I'm the one to be suited, not Oakville. I should be as reckless as the devil if you should go away from me. Don't I act like a man who's ready to stand up for and protect you?"
"Yes, too ready. It would kill me if anything happened to you on my account.""Well, the worst would happen," he said firmly, "if we don't go right on as we've begun. If we go quietly on about our own affairs, we'll soon be let alone and that's all we ask.""Yes, yes indeed! Don't worry, James. I'll do as you wish.""Famous! You never said 'James' to me before. Why haven't you?"
"I don't know," she faltered, with a sudden rush of color to her pale face."Well, that's my name," he resumed, laughing. "I guess it's because we are getting better acquainted.
She looked up and said impetuously, "You don't know how a woman feels when a man stands up for her as you did tonight.""Well, I know how a man feels when there is a woman so well worth standing up for. It was a lucky thing that I had nothing heavier in my hand than that hickory." All the while he was looking at her curiously; then he spoke his thought. "You're a quiet little woman, Alida, most times, but you're capable of a thunder gust now and then."
"I'll try to be quiet at all times," she replied, with drooping eyes."Oh, I'm not complaining!" he said, laughing. "I like the trait."