"No, indeed! There's no reason why you should work hard and I be idle. I've rested today, as you wisbitcoin how to buy and sellhed, and I feel better than I ever expected to again; but tomorrow I must begin in earnest. What use is there of your keeping your cows if good butter is not made? Then I must be busy with my needle."
One unusually warm morning for the season, rain set in after breakfast. Holcroft did not fret in the least that he could not go to the fields, nor did he, as had been his custom at first, find rainy-day work at the barn. The cows, in cropping the lush grass, had so increased their yield of milk that it was necessary to churn every other day, and Alida was busy in the dairy. This place had become inviting by reason of its coolness, and she had rendered it more so by making it perfectly clean and sweet. Strange to say, it contained another chair besides the one she usually occupied. The apartment was large and stone-flagged. Along one side were shelves filled with rows of shining milk-pans. In one corner stood the simple machinery which the old dog put in motion when tied upon his movable walk, and the churn was near. An iron pipe, buried deep in the ground, brought cool spring water from the brook above. This pipe emptied its contents with a low gurgle into a shallow, oblong receptacle sunk in the floor, and was wide and deep enough for two stone crocks of ample size to stand abreast up to their rims in the water. The cream was skimmed into these stone jars until they were full, then Holcroft emptied them into the churn. He had charged Alida never to attempt this part of the work, and indeed it was beyond her strength. After breakfast on churning days, he prepared everything and set the dog at work. Then he emptied the churn of the buttermilk when he came in to dinner.history of ethereum classicAll the associations of the place were pleasant to Alida. It was here that her husband had shown patience as well as kindness in teaching her how to supplement his work until her own experience and judgment gave her a better skill than he possessed. Many pleasant, laughing words had passed between them in this cool, shadowy place, and on a former rainy morning he had brought a chair down that he might keep her company. She had not carried it back, nor was she very greatly surprised to see him saunter in and occupy it on the present occasion. She stood by the churn, her figure outlined clearly in the light from the open door, as she poured in cold water from time to time to hasten and harden the gathering butter. Her right sleeve was rolled well back, revealing a white arm that was becoming beautifully plump and round. An artist would have said that her attitude and action were unconsciously natural and graceful. Holcroft had scarcely the remotest idea of artistic effect, but he had a sensible man's perception of a charming woman when she is charming.
"Mr. Holcroft," she asked very gravely, "will you do something for me?""Yes, half a dozen things.""You promise?""Certainly! What's the trouble?""I don't mean there shall be any if I can help it," she answered with a light ripple of laughter. "Please go and put on your coat."
"How you've humbugged me! It's too hot.""Oh, you've got to do it; you promised. You can't stay here unless you do.""Say," said the child, as if bent on adding another poignant reflection, "if you hadn't married her, I could 'a' come and cooked for you."
"You think I'd been better off if I'd waited for you, eh?""You kinder looked as if yer thought so."He now made the hills echo with a laugh, excited both by his bitter fancies and the preposterous idea. She looked at him inquiringly and was much perplexed by his unwonted behavior. Indeed, he was slightly astonished at his own strange mood, but he yielded to it almost recklessly. "I say, Jane," he began, "I'm not a very good-looking man, am I?"She shook her head in emphatic agreement.
"I'm old and rough and hard-featured?"Again she nodded approvingly.
"Children and some others speak the truth," he growled."I never had no teachin', but I'm not a fool," remarked Jane keenly."I guess I'm the fool in this case," he added."It don't make no difference to me," she said sympathetically. "I'm goin' to mind you and not her. If you ever send her away I'll cook for you."
"Send her away!" exclaimed the farmer, with a shiver. "God forbid! There, don't talk any more!"For the next half mile he drove in silence, with a heavy frown on his face; then he broke out sternly, "If you don't promise to mind Mrs. Holcroft and please her in everything, I'll leave you at the poorhouse door and drive home again.""'Course I will, if you tells me to," said the child in trepidation."Well, I DO. People will find that making her trouble is the surest way of making themselves trouble."
"She's got some hold on 'im," concluded Jane, who, in listening to much gossip, had often heard this expression, and now made a practical application of the idea.Watterly was greatly relieved when he saw Holcroft drive up with the fugitive. "I was just going out to your place," he said, "for the girl's mother insisted that you had enticed the child away," and the man laughed, as if the idea tickled him immensely.
Holcroft frowned, for he was in no mood for his friend's rough jests. "Go to your mother till I send for you," he said to Jane."The fact that you had taken two other females from the house gave some color to Mrs. Mumpson's views," pursued Watterly, who could take only the broadest hint as to his social conduct.
He received one now. "Tom Watterly," said the farmer sternly, "did I ever insult your wife?""By jocks! No, you nor no other man. I should say not.""Well, then, don't you insult mine. Before I'd seen Mrs. Holcroft, you told me she was out of the common run,--how much out, you little know,--and I don't want her mixed up with the common run, even in your thoughts.""Well, now, I like that," said Watterly, giving Holcroft his hand. "You know I didn't mean any offense, Jim. It was only one of my foolish jokes. You were mighty slow to promise to love, honor, and obey, but hanged if you aint more on that line than any man in town. I can see she's turning out well and keeping her agreement.""Yes, that's just what she's doing," said the farmer gloomily. "She's a good, capable woman that'll sacrifice herself to her duty any day. But it wasn't to talk about her I came. She's a sight better than I am, but she's probably not good enough for anybody in this town to speak to.""Oh, pshaw; now, Jim!"
"Well, I've come on disagreeable business. I didn't know that Mrs. Mumpson and her child were here, and I wish to the Lord they could both stay here! You've found out what the mother is, I suppose?""I should say so," replied Tom, laughing. "She's talked several of the old women to death already. The first day she was here she called on my wife and claimed social relations, because she's so 'respecterbly connected,' as she says. I thought Angy'd have a fit. Her respectable connections have got to take her off my hands."
"I'm not one of 'em, thank goodness!" resumed Holcroft. "But I'm willing to take the girl and give her a chance--at least I'll do it," he corrected himself, in his strict observance of truth. "You can see she's not a child to dote on, but I was sorry for her when I sent her mother away and said I'd try and do something for her. The first thing I knew she was at the house, begging me to either take her in or kill her. I couldn't say no, though I wanted to. Now, you see what kind of a good Samaritan I am.""Oh, I know you! You'd hit a man between the eyes if he charged you with doing a good deed. But what does your wife say to adopting such a cherub?"
"We're not going to adopt her or bind ourselves. My wife took the child's part and plead with me in her behalf, though I could see the young one almost made her sick. She thinks it's her duty, you know, and that's enough for her.""By jocks, Holcroft! She don't feel that way about you, does she?"
"Why shouldn't she?""Why should she? I can take about anything from Angy, but it wouldn't do for her to let me see that she disliked me so that I kinder made her sick.""Oh, thunder, Tom! You're getting a wrong impression. I was never treated better by anybody in my life than by Mrs. Holcroft. She's a lady, every inch of her. But there's no reason why she should dote on an old fellow like me.""Yes, there is. I have my opinion of a woman who wouldn't dote on a man that's been such a friend as you have."
"Oh, hang it all, Tom! Let's talk about business. She's too grateful--that's what worries me. By the way she took hold and filled the house with comfort she made everything even from the start. She's been as good a friend to me as I to her. She's done all she agreed and more, and I'll never hear a word against her. The point I've been trying to get at is this: If Mrs. Mumpson will agree never to come near us or make trouble in any way, we'll take the child. If she won't so agree, I'll have nothing to do with the girl. I don't want to see her mother, and you'd do me one of the kindest turns you ever did a man by stating the case to her.""If I do," said Watterly, laughing, "you'll have to forgive me everything in the past and the future."
"I will, Tom, for I'd rather have an eye tooth pulled than face that woman. We're all right--just as we used to be at school, always half quarreling, yet ready to stand up for each other to the last drop. But I must have her promise in black and white.""Well, come to my office and we'll try to arrange it. The law is on your side, for the county won't support people that anyone will take off its hands. Besides I'm going to shame the woman's relations into taking her away, and they'll be glad there's one less to support."
They drew up a brief, strong agreement, and Watterly took it to the widow to sign. He found her in great excitement and Jane looking at her defiantly. "I told you he was the one who enticed away my offspring," she began, almost hysterically. "He's a cold-blooded villain! If there's a law in the land, I'll--""Stop!" thundered Watterly. His voice was so high and authoritative that she did stop, and with open mouth stared at the superintendent. "Now, be quiet and listen to me," he continued. "Either you are a sane woman and can stop this foolishness, or else you are insane and must be treated as such. You have your choice. You can't tell me anything about Holcroft; I've known him since he was a boy. He doesn't want your girl. She ran away to him, didn't you?" to Jane, who nodded. "But he's willing to take her, to teach her something and give her a chance. His motive is pure kindness, and he has a good wife who'll--"
"I see it all," cried the widow, tragically clasping her hands. "It's his wife's doings! She wishes to triumph over me, and even to usurp my place in ministering to my child. Was there ever such an outrage? Such a bold, vindictive female--"Here Jane, in a paroxysm of indignant protest, seized her mother and began to shake her so violently that she could not speak."Stop that!" said Watterly, repressing laughter with difficulty. "I see you are insane and the law will have to step in and take care of you both.""What will it do with us?" gasped the widow.
"Well, it ought to put you in strait jackets to begin with--""I've got some sense if mother aint!" cried Jane, commencing to sob.
"It's plain the law'll decide your mother's not fit to take care of you. Anyone who can even imagine such silly ridiculous things as she's just said must be looked after. You MAY take a notion, Mrs. Mumpson, that I'm a murderer or a giraffe. It would be just as sensible as your other talk.""What does Mr. Holcroft offer?" said the widow, cooling off rapidly. If there was an atom of common sense left in any of his pauper charges, Watterly soon brought it into play, and his vague threatenings of law were always awe-inspiring.
"He makes a very kind offer that you would jump at if you had sense--a good home for your child. You ought to know she can't stay here and live on charity if anyone is willing to take her.""Of course I would be permitted to visit my child from time to time? He couldn't be so monstrously hard-hearted as--"