Meantime, the enemy fired a single gun at long intervals, as much asto say, "We had the last wxrp price in inrord."Let trenches be cut ever so artfully, there will be a little spaceexposed here and there at the angles. These spaces the men areordered to avoid, or whip quickly across them into cover.
Finding her so submissive all of a sudden, he went on to suggestthat she must not go kissing every child she saw. "Edouard tellssolana crypto how to buy mehe saw you kissing a beggar's brat. The young rogue was going toquiz you about it at the dinner-table; luckily, he told me hisintention, and I would not let him. I said the baroness would beannoyed with you for descending from your dignity--and exposing anoble family to fleas--hush! here he is.""Tiresome!" muttered Rose, "just when"--Edouard came forward with a half-vexed face.However, he turned it off into play. "What have you been saying toher, monsieur, to interest her so? Give me a leaf out of your book.
I need it."The doctor was taken aback for a moment, but at last he said slyly,"I have been proposing to her to name the day. She says she mustconsult you before she decides that.""Oh, you wicked doctor!--and consult HIM of all people!""So be off, both of you, and don't reappear before me till it issettled."Edouard's eyes sparkled. Rose went out with a face as red as fire.It was a balmy evening. Edouard was to leave them for a week thenext day. They were alone: Rose was determined he should go awayquite happy. Everything was in Edouard's favor: he pleaded hiscause warmly: she listened tenderly: this happy evening her piquancyand archness seemed to dissolve into tenderness as she and Edouardwalked hand in hand under the moon: a tenderness all the moreheavenly to her devoted lover, that she was not one of those angelswho cloy a man by invariable sweetness.For a little while she forgot everything but her companion. In thatsoft hour he won her to name the day, after her fashion."Josephine goes to Paris with the doctor in about three weeks,"murmured she."And you will stay behind, all alone?""Alone? that shall depend on you, monsieur."On this Edouard caught her for the first time in his arms.
She made a faint resistance."Seal me that promise, sweet one!""No! no!--there!"He pressed a delicious first kiss upon two velvet lips that in theirinnocence scarcely shunned the sweet attack."I kinder hoped," she sobbed, "that you'd let me stay. I'd stay in the barn if I couldn't be in the house. I'd just as soon work outdoors, too."
"I don't think you'd be allowed to stay," said the farmer, with a sinking heart; "and then--perhaps your mother would be coming here.""I can't stand mother no more'n you can" said the girl, through her set teeth. "I oughtn'ter been born, for there's no place for me in the world."Holcroft looked at his wife, his face expressive of the utmost annoyance, worry, and irresolution. Her glance was sympathetic, but she said nothing, feeling that if he could make the sacrifice from his own will he should have the chance. "You can't begin to know how much trouble this may lead to, Jane," he resumed. "You remember how your other threatened to take the law upon me, and it wouldn't be possible for you to stay here without her consent.""She oughter consent; I'll make her consent!" cried the child, speaking as if driven to desperation. "What's she ever done for me but teach me mean ways? Keep me or kill me, for I must be in some place where I've a right to be away from mother. I've found that there's no sense in her talk, and it drives me crazy."
Although Jane's words and utterance were strangely uncouth, they contained a despairing echo which the farmer could not resist. Turning his troubled face to his wife, he began, ""If this is possible, Alida, it will be a great deal harder on you than it will on me. I don't feel that I would be doing right by you unless you gave your consent with full knowledge of--""Then please let her stay, if it is possible. She seems to need a friend and home as much as another that you heard about."
"There's no chance of such a blessed reward in this case," he replied, with a grim laugh. Then, perplexed indeed, he continued to Jane, "I'm just as sorry for you as I can be, but there's no use of getting my wife and self in trouble which in the end will do you no good. You are too young to understand all that your staying may lead to.""It won't lead to mother's comin' here, and that's the worst that could happen. Since she can't do anything for me she's got to let me do for myself.""Alida, please come with me in the parlor a moment. You stay here, Jane." When they were alone, he resumed, "Somehow, I feel strangely unwilling to have that child live with us. We were enjoying our quiet life so much. Then you don't realize how uncomfortable she will make you, Alida.""Yes, I do."
"I don't think you can yet. Your sympathies are touched now, but she'll watch you and irritate you in a hundred ways. Don't her very presence make you uncomfortable?""Yes.""Well, then, she can't stay," he began decidedly. "This is your home, and no one shall make you uncomfortable--""But I should be a great deal more uncomfortable if she didn't stay," Alida interrupted. "I should feel that I did not deserve my home. Not long ago my heart was breaking because I was friendless and in trouble. What could I think of myself if I did not entreat you in behalf of this poor child?"
"Thunder!" ejaculated Holcroft. "I guess I was rather friendless and troubled myself, and I didn't know the world had in it such a good friend as you've become, Alida. Well, well! You've put it in such a light that I'd be almost tempted to take the mother, also.""No," she replied, laughing; "we'll draw the line at the mother."
"Well, I'll take Jane to town this afternoon, and if her mother will sign an agreement to leave us all in peace, we'll give up our old cozy comfort of being alone. I suppose it must be a good deed, since it's so mighty hard to do it," he concluded with a wry face, leading the way to the kitchen again. She smiled as if his words were already rewarding her self denial."Well, Jane," he resumed, "Mrs. Holcroft has spoken in your behalf, and if we can arrange matters so that you can stay, you will have her to thank chiefly. I'll take you back to the poorhouse after dinner, so it may be known what's become of you. Then, if your mother'll sign an agreement to make no trouble and not come here, we'll give you a home until we can find a better place for you."
There was no outburst of gratitude. The repressed, dwarfed nature of the child was incapable of this, yet there was an unwonted little thrill of hope in her heart. Possibly it was like the beginning of life in a seed under the first spring rays of the sun. She merely nodded to Holcroft as if the matter had been settled as far as it could be, and ignored Alida."Why don't you thank Mrs. Holcroft?" he asked.Then Jane turned and nodded at Alida. Her vocabulary of thanks was undeveloped."She's glad," said Alida. "You'll see. Now that it's settled, we hope you're hungry, Jane, aren't you?""Yes, I be. Can't I help you put things on the table?""Yes."
Holcroft looked at the two for a moment, and then shook his head as he went up to his room. "I thought my wife was nice and pleasant looking before," he thought, "but she's like a picture beside that child. Well, she has behaved handsomely. Tom Watterly didn't tell half the truth when he said she was not of the common run. She's a Christian in deeds, not talk. What's that in Scripture about 'I was hungry'? Well, well! She makes religion kind of natural and plain like, whether it's easy or not. Thunder! What a joke it is to see her so grateful because I've given her a chance to help me out of the worst scrape a man could be in! As if she hadn't changed everything for the better! Here I am sure of my home and getting ahead in the world again, and it's all her doing."In admiration of his wife Holcroft quite forgot that there had been any self-sacrifice on his part, and he concluded that he could endure Jane and almost anything else as long as Alida continued to look after his comfort and interests.
Now that the worst stress of Jane's anxiety was over, she proved that she was half starved. Indeed she had few misgivings now, for her confidence that Holcroft would accomplish what he attempted was almost unbounded. It was a rather silent meal at first, for the farmer and his wife had much to think about and Jane much to do in making up for many limited meals. At last Holcroft smiled so broadly that Alida said, "Something seems to please you.""Yes, more than one thing. It might be a great deal worse, and was, not long ago. I was thinking of old times."
"How pleasant they must have been to make you look so happy!""They had their uses, and make me think of a picture I saw in a store window in town. It was a picture of a woman, and she took my fancy amazingly. But the point uppermost in my mind was a trick of the fellow who painted her. He had made the background as dark as night and so she stood out as if alive; and she looked so sweet and good that I felt like shaking hands with her. I now see why the painter made the background so dark"
Alida smiled mischievously as she replied, "That was his art. He knew that almost anyone would appear well against such a background."But Holcroft was much too direct to be diverted from his thought or its expression. "The man knew the mighty nice-looking woman he had painted would look well," he said, "and I know of another woman who appears better against a darker background. That's enough to make a man smile who has been through what I have."She could not help a flush of pleasure or disguise the happy light in her eyes, but she looked significantly at Jane, who, mystified and curious, was glancing from one to the other."Confound it!" thought the farmer. "That'll be the way of it now. Here's a little pitcher that's nearly all ears. Well, we're in for it and must do our duty."
Going to town that day involved no slight inconvenience, but Holcroft dropped everything and rapidly made his preparations.When Alida was left alone with Jane, the latter began clearing the table with alacrity, and after a few furtive glances at Mrs. Holcroft, yielded to the feeling that she should make some acknowledgment of the intercession in her behalf. "Say," she began, "I thought you wasn't goin; to stand up for me, after all. Women folks are liars, mostly."
"You are mistaken, Jane. If you wish to stay with us, you must tell the truth and drop all sly ways.""That's what he said when I first come."
"I say it too. You see a good deal, Jane. Try to see what will please people instead of what you can find out about them. It's a much better plan. Now, as a friend, I tell you of one thing you had better not do. You shouldn't watch and listen to Mr. Holcroft unless he speaks to you. He doesn't like to be watched--no one does. It isn't nice; and if you come to us, I think you will try to do what is nice. Am I not right?""I dunno how," said Jane.
"It will be part of my business to teach you. You ought to understand all about your coming. Mr. Holcroft doesn't take you because he needs your work, but because he's sorry for you, and wishes to give you a chance to do better and learn something. You must make up your mind to lessons, and learning to talk and act nicely, as well as to do such work as is given you. Are you willing to do what I say and mind me pleasantly and promptly?"Jane looked askance at the speaker and was vaguely suspicious of some trick. In her previous sojourn at the farmhouse she had concluded that it was her best policy to keep in Holcroft's good graces, even though she had to defy her mother and Mrs. Wiggins, and she was now by no means ready to commit herself to this new domestic power. She had received the impression that the authority and continued residence of females in this household was involved in much uncertainty, and although Alida was in favor now and the farmer's wife, she didn't know what "vicissitudes" (as her mother would denominate them) might occur. Holcroft was the only fixed and certain quantity in her troubled thoughts, and after a little hesitation she replied, "I'll do what he says; I'm goin' to mind him.""Suppose he tells you to mind me?""Then I will. That ud be mindin' him. I'm goin' to stick to him, for I made out by it better before than by mindin' mother and Mrs. Wiggins."
Alida now understood the child and laughed aloud. "You are right," she said. "I won't ask you to do anything contrary to his wishes. Now tell me, Jane, what other clothes have you besides those you are wearing?"It did not take the girl long to inventory her scanty wardrobe, and then Alida rapidly made out a list of what was needed immediately. "Wait here," she said, and putting on a pretty straw hat, one of her recent purchases, she started for the barn.
Holcroft had his wagon and team almost ready when Alida joined him, and led the way to the floor between the sweet-smelling hay-mows."One thing leads to another," she began, looking at him a little deprecatingly. "You must have noticed the condition of Jane's clothes."
"She does look like a little scarecrow, now I come to think of it," he admitted."Yes, she's not much better off than I was," Alida returned, with downcast eyes and rising color.