"You mean youethereum coin metal let His Excellency - - "
Dard had not only looked on the cottageeos coin current price and cow, as his, but hadspoken of them as such for years. The disappointment and the ironyof comrades ate into him."I will leave this cursed place," said he.
Josephine instantly sent for him to Beaurepaire. He came, and wasfactotum with the novelty of a fixed salary. Jacintha accommodatedhim with a new little odd job or two. She set him to dance on theoak floors with a brush fastened to his right foot; and, after arehearsal or two, she made him wait at table. Didn't he bang thethings about: and when he brought a lady a dish, and she did notinstantly attend, he gave her elbow a poke to attract attention:then she squeaked; and he grinned at her double absurdity in mindinga touch, and not minding the real business of the table.But his wrongs rankled in him. He vented antique phrases such as,"I want a change;" "This village is the last place the Almightymade," etc.Then he was attacked with a moral disease: affected the company ofsoldiers. He spent his weekly salary carousing with the military, aclass of men so brilliant that they are not expected to pay fortheir share of the drink; they contribute the anecdotes and thefamiliar appeals to Heaven: and is not that enough?Present at many recitals, the heroes of which lost nothing by beingtheir own historians, Dard imbibed a taste for military adventure.
His very talk, which used to be so homely, began now to be tinselledwith big swelling words of vanity imported from the army. I needhardly say these bombastical phrases did not elevate his generaldialect: they lay fearfully distinct upon the surface, "like lumpsof marl upon a barren soil, encumbering the ground they could notfertilize."Jacintha took leave to remind him of an incident connected withwarfare--wounds."Do you remember how you were down upon your luck when you did butcut your foot? Why, that is nothing in the army. They never go outto fight but some come back with arms off, and some with legs offand some with heads; and the rest don't come back at all: and howwould you like that?"This intrusion of statistics into warfare at first cooled Dard'simpatience for the field. But presently the fighting half of hisheart received an ally in one Sergeant La Croix (not a bad name fora military aspirant). This sergeant was at the village waiting tomarch with the new recruits to the Rhine. Sergeant La Croix was aman who, by force of eloquence, could make soldiering appear themost delightful as well as glorious of human pursuits. His tonguefired the inexperienced soul with a love of arms, as do the drumsand trumpets and tramp of soldiers, and their bayonets glittering inthe sun. He would have been worth his weight in fustian here, wherewe recruit by that and jargon; he was superfluous in France, wherethey recruited by force: but he was ornamental: and he set Dard andone or two more on fire. Indeed, so absorbing was his sense ofmilitary glory, that there was no room left in him for that mereverbal honor civilians call veracity.Alida went away and sobbed until her strength was gone. She found that there were some others ostracized like herself, but they accepted their position as a matter of course--as if it belonged to them and was the least of their troubles.
Her strength was returning, yet she was still feeble when she sent for Mrs. Watterly and asked, "Do you think I'm strong enough to take a place somewhere?""You ought to know that better than me," was the chilly reply."Do you--do you think I could get a place? I would be willing to do any kind of honest work not beyond my strength.""You hardly look able to sit up straight. Better wait till you're stronger. I'll tell my husband. If applications come, he'll see about it," and she turned coldly away.
A day or two later Tom came and said brusquely, but not unkindly, "Don't like my hotel, hey? What can you do?""I'm used to sewing, but I'd try to do almost anything by which I could earn my living."
"Best thing to do is to prosecute that scamp and make him pay you a good round sum."She shook her head decidedly. "I don't wish to see him again. I don't wish to go before people and have the--the--past talked about. I'd like a place with some kind, quiet people who keep no other help. Perhaps they wouldn't take me if they knew; but I would be so faithful to them, and try so heard to learn what they wanted--""That's all nonsense, their not taking you. I'll find you a place some day, but you're not strong enough yet. You'd be brought right back here. You're as pale as a ghost--almost look like one. So don't be impatient, but give me a chance to find you a good place. I feel sorry for you, and don't want you to get among folks that have no feelings. Don't you worry now; chirk up, and you'll come out all right.""I--I think that if--if I'm employed, the people who take me ought to know," said Alida with bowed head.
"They'll be blamed fools if they don't think more of you when they do know," was his response. "Still, that shall be as you please. I've told only my wife, and they've kept mum at the police station, so the thing hasn't got into the papers."Alida's head bowed lower still as she replied, "I thank you. My only wish now is to find some quiet place in which I can work and be left to myself.""Very well," said Tom good-naturedly. "Cheer up! I'll be on the lookout for you."She turned to the window near which she was sitting to hide the tears which his rough kindness evoked. "He don't seem to shrink from me as if I wasn't fit to be spoken to," she thought; "but his wife did. I'm afraid people won't take me when they know."
The April sunshine poured in at the window; the grass was becoming green; a robin alighted on a tree nearby and poured out a jubilant song. For a few moments hope, that had been almost dead in her heart, revived. As she looked gratefully at the bird, thanking it in her heart for the song, it darted upon a string hanging on an adjacent spray and bore it to a crotch between two boughs. Then Alida saw it was building a nest. Her woman's heart gave way. "Oh," she moaned, "I shall never have a home again! No place shared by one who cares for me. To work, and to be tolerated for the sake of my work, is all that's left."Chapter 14 A Pitched Battle
It was an odd household under Holcroft's roof on the evening of the Sunday we have described. The farmer, in a sense, had "taken sanctuary" in his own room, that he might escape the maneuvering wiles of his tormenting housekeeper. If she would content herself with general topics he would try to endure her foolish, high-flown talk until the three months expired; but that she should speedily and openly take the initiative in matrimonial designs was proof of such an unbalanced mind that he was filled with nervous dread. "Hanged if one can tell what such a silly, hairbrained woman will do next!" he thought, as he brooded by the fire. "Sunday or no Sunday, I feel as if I'd like to take my horsewhip and give Lemuel Weeks a piece of my mind."Such musings did not promise well for Mrs. Mumpson, scheming in the parlor below; but, as we have seen, she had the faculty of arranging all future events to her mind. That matters had not turned out in the past as she had expected, counted for nothing. She was one who could not be taught, even by experience. The most insignificant thing in Holcroft's dwelling had not escaped her scrutiny and pretty accurate guess as to value, yet she could not see or understand the intolerable disgust and irritation which her ridiculous conduct excited. In a weak mind egotism and selfishness, beyond a certain point, pass into practical insanity. All sense of delicacy, of the fitness of things, is lost; even the power to consider the rights and feelings of others is wanting. Unlike poor Holcroft, Mrs. Mumpson had few misgivings in regard to coming years. As she rocked unceasingly before the parlor fire, she arranged everything in regard to his future as well as her own.
Jane, quite forgotten, was oppressed with a miserable presentiment of evil. Her pinched but intense little mind was concentrated on two facts--Holcroft's anger and her mother's lack of sense. From such premises it did not take her long to reason out but one conclusion--"visitin' again;" and this was the summing up of all evils. Now and then a tear would force its way out of one of her little eyes, but otherwise she kept her troubles to herself.Mrs. Wiggins was the only complacent personage in the house, and she unbent with a garrulous affability to Jane, which could be accounted for in but one way--Holcroft had forgotten about his cider barrel, thereby unconsciously giving her the chance to sample its contents freely. She was now smoking her pipe with much content, and indulging in pleasing reminiscences which the facts of her life scarcely warranted."Ven hi vas as leetle a gal as ye are," she began, and then she related experiences quite devoid of the simplicity and innocence of childhood. The girl soon forgot her fears and listened with avidity until the old dame's face grew heavier, if possible, with sleep, and she stumbled off to bed.Having no wish to see or speak to her mother again, the child blew out the candle and stole silently up the stairway. At last Mrs. Mumpson took her light and went noisily around, seeing to the fastenings of doors and windows. "I know he is listening to every sound from me, and he shall learn what a caretaker I am," she murmured softly.Once out of doors in the morning, with his foot on the native heath of his farm, Holcroft's hopefulness and courage always returned. He was half angry with himself at his nervous irritation of the evening before. "If she becomes so cranky that I can't stand her, I'll pay the three months' wages and clear her out," he had concluded, and he went about his morning work with a grim purpose to submit to very little nonsense.Cider is akin to vinegar, and Mrs. Wiggins' liberal potations of the evening before had evidently imparted a marked acidity to her temper. She laid hold of the kitchen utensils as if she had a spite against them, and when Jane, confiding in her friendliness shown so recently, came down to assist, she was chased out of doors with language we forbear to repeat. Mrs. Mumpson, therefore, had no intimation of the low state of the barometer in the region of the kitchen. "I have taken time to think deeply and calmly," she murmured. "The proper course has been made clear to me. He is somewhat uncouth; he is silent and unable to express his thoughts and emotions--in brief, undeveloped; he is awfully irreligious. Moth and rust are busy in this house; much that would be so useful is going to waste. He must learn to look upon me as the developer, the caretaker, a patient and healthful embodiment of female influence. I will now begin actively my mission of making him an ornerment to society. That mountainous Mrs. Viggins must be replaced by a deferential girl who will naturally look up to me. How can I be a true caretaker--how can I bring repose and refinement to this dwelling with two hundred pounds of female impudence in my way? Mr. Holcroft shall see that Mrs. Viggins is an unseemly and jarring discord in our home," and she brought the rocking chair from the parlor to the kitchen, with a serene and lofty air. Jane hovered near the window, watching.
At first, there was an ominous silence in respect to words. Portentous sounds increased, however, for Mrs. Wiggins strode about with martial tread, making the boards creak and the dishes clatter, while her red eyes shot lurid and sanguinary gleams. She would seize a dipper as if it were a foe, slamming it upon the table again as if striking an enemy. Under her vigorous manipulation, kettles and pans resounded with reports like firearms.Mrs. Mumpson was evidently perturbed; her calm superiority was forsaking her; every moment she rocked faster--a sure indication that she was not at peace. At last she said, with great dignity: "Mrs. Viggins, I must request you to perform your tasks with less clamor. My nerves are not equal to this peculiar way of taking up and laying down things."
"Vell, jes' ye vait a minute, han hi'll show ye 'ow hi kin take hup things han put 'em down hag'in hout o' my vay," and before Mrs. Mumpson could interfere, she found herself lifted, chair and all bodily, and carried to the parlor. Between trepidation and anger, she could only gasp during the transit, and when left in the middle of the parlor floor she looked around in utter bewilderment.It so happened that Holcroft, on his way from the barn, had seen Jane looking in at the window, and, suspecting something amiss, had arrived just in time for the spectacle. Convulsed with laughter, he returned hastily to the barn; while Jane expressed her feelings, whatever they were, by executing something like a hornpipe before the window.
Mrs. Mumpson, however, was not vanquished. She had only made a compulsory retreat from the scene of hostilities; and, after rallying her shattered faculties, advanced again with the chair. "How dared you, you disreputerble female?" she began.Mrs. Wiggins turned slowly and ominously upon her. "Ye call me a disrupterbul female hag'in, han ye vont find hit 'ealthy."
Mrs. Mumpson prudently backed toward the door before delivering her return fire."Woman!" she cried, "are you out of your mind? Don't you know I'm housekeeper here, and that it's my duty to superintend you and your work?""Vell, then, hi'll double ye hup hand put ye hon the shelf hof the dresser han' lock the glass door hon ye. From hup there ye kin see all that's goin' hon and sup'intend to yer 'eart's content," and she started for her superior officer.Mrs. Mumpson backed so precipitately with her chair that it struck against the door case, and she sat down hard. Seeing that Mrs. Wiggins was almost upon her, she darted back into the parlor, leaving the chair as a trophy in the hands of her enemy. Mrs. Wiggins was somewhat appeased by this second triumph, and with the hope of adding gall and bitterness to Mrs. Mumpson's defeat, she took the chair to her rival's favorite rocking place, lighted her pipe, and sat down in grim complacency. Mrs. Mumpson warily approached to recover a support which, from long habit, had become moral as well as physical, and her indignation knew no bounds when she saw it creaking under the weight of her foe. It must be admitted, however, that her ire was not so great that she did not retain the "better part of valor," for she stepped back, unlocked the front door, and set it ajar. On returning, she opened with a volubility that awed even Mrs. Wiggins for a moment. "You miserable, mountainous pauper; you interloper; you unrefined, irresponserble, unregenerate female, do you know what you have done in thus outraging ME? I'm a respecterble woman, respecterbly connected. I'm here in a responserble station. When Mr. Holcroft appears he'll drive you from the dwelling which you vulgarize. Your presence makes this apartment a den. You are a wild beast--"
"Hi'm a vile beastes, ham hi?" cried Mrs. Wiggins, at last stung into action, and she threw her lighted pipe at the open mouth that was discharging high-sounding epithets by the score.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."