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Chapter 41 But Myra Felt Differentlybitcoin github first commitIT WAS TEN days later that the ambassador gave a dinner to some prominent Englishman whom his country desired to honour.
It was the first day, after her experiences at Snacklit House, on which Irene had been visible at the Embassy, some physical blemishes, which had been reductive of her usual charms, having prompted an anonymous visit to a South Coast town, which it is better to leave unmentioned, owing to an experience she had there - one of the dubious consequences of anonymity - of which she thought it best that her father should not be told.Her health, owing to the buoyant quality of her sanguine youth, had been unaffected throughout, and, when this evening came, she showed no trace of the experiences she had undergone excepting an inconspicuous scar near her left eye, and that she would have had patience to remain secluded until that should disappear would have been an extreme improbability, even apart from the event which we must not be drawn aside to observe, beyond the discreet allusion already made.To the only guest who was audibly curious concerning the cause of the injury, she replied, with impregnable veracity, that it is always foolish to collide with open doors in the dark, and having put that enquiry so lightly aside she proceeded to enjoy herself as much as is possible to an ambassador's daughter who shares the responsibility of entertaining her father's guests.Her right-hand neighbour at the dinner-table was a professor of economics of international reputation, and she concluded soundly that he would not be overwhelmingly interested in the knitting of jumpers, or the style of the season's hats.On the other hand, her knowledge of economics was not sufficient to give reasonable hope that she could sustain a conversation upon them without exposing greater ignorance than a hostess prefers to show, and with this consciousness, and that of her international duty of entertaining her guest with a suitable topic of conversation, her mind naturally turned to a subject which had largely occupied it during the voluntary seclusion of the previous week. She introduced the question of the desirability of the marriage of cousins with the verbal adroitness which few men and most women have.
Its connection with economics (if any) is remote, but the old gentleman was one of those numerous specialists who, having succeeded in establishing a reputation for good crowing on their own dunghills, consider that any other should do equally well; and he was, more exceptionally, of wide interests and an unprejudiced mind.He rose to the bait at once. He said that, like many popular beliefs, the objection to such marriages was only conditionally true. Like to unlike is the law of physical attraction, and cousins are likely but not certain to combine like qualities, both good and bad. The question, should cousins marry, is therefore incapable of absolute reply. Some should, and others should not. A minority of cousins are widely different in temperaments and physique, and, in such cases, if they should both be in good health, their unions might be particularly successful. Nothing can alter the arithmetical fact that the children of first cousins will have less than the normal number of grandparents, and the one who is duplicated may have an abnormally strong influence either, or perhaps both, for good and evil."Hold on," said Holcroft, "I'm not going to sponge on you. I've got some favors to ask, and I want you to take in return some butter half spoiled in the making and this basket of eggs. They're all right."
"Go to thunder, Holcroft! What do you take me for? When you've filled your pipe after dinner will you pull an egg out of your pocket and say, 'That's for a smoke?' No, no, I don't sell any advice to old friends like you. I'll buy your butter and eggs at what they're worth and have done with 'em. Business is one thing, and sitting down and talking over an old crony's troubles is another. I'm not a saint, Jim, as you know--a man in politics can't be--but I remember when we were boys together, and somehow thinking of those old days always fetches me. Come in, for dinner is a-waiting, I guess.""Well, Tom, saint or no saint, I'd like to vote for you for gov'nor.""This aint an electioneering trick, as you know. I can play them off as well as the next feller when there's need, kiss the babies and all that."Dinner was placed on the table immediately, and in a few moments the friends were left alone. Then Holcroft related in a half comic, half serious manner his tribulations with the help. Tom sat back in his chair and roared at the account of the pitched battle between the two widows and the final smoking out of Mrs. Mumpson, but he reproached his friend for not having horsewhipped Lemuel Weeks. "Don't you remember, Jim, he was a sneaking, tricky chap when we were at school together? I licked him once, and it always does me good to think of it."
"I own it takes considerable to rile me to the point of striking a man, especially on his own land. His wife was looking out the window, too. If we'd been out in the road or anywhere else--but what's the use? I'm glad now it turned out as it has for I've too much on my mind for lawsuits, and the less one has to do with such cattle as Weeks the better. Well, you see I'm alone again, and I'm going to go it alone. I'm going to sell my cows and give up the dairy, and the thing I wanted help in most is the putting this auction bill in shape; also advice as to whether I had better try to sell here in town or up at the farm."Tom shook his head dubiously and scarcely glanced at the paper. "Your scheme don't look practical to me," he said. "I don't believe you can run that farm alone without losing money. You'll just keep on going behind till the first thing you know you'll clap a mortgage on it. Then you'll soon be done for. What's more, you'll break down if you try to do both outdoor and indoor work. Busy times will soon come, and you won't get your meals regularly; you'll be living on coffee and anything that comes handiest; your house will grow untidy and not fit to live in. If you should be taken sick, there'd be no one to do for you. Lumbermen, hunters, and such fellows can rough it alone awhile, but I never heard of a farm being run by man-power alone. Now as to selling out your stock, look at it. Grazing is what your farm's good for mostly. It's a pity you're so bent on staying there. Even if you didn't get very much for the place, from sale or rent, you'd have something that was sure. A strong, capable man like you could find something to turn your hand to. Then you could board in some respectable family, and not have to live like Robinson Crusoe. I've thought it over since we talked last, and if I was you I'd sell or rent."
"It's too late in the season to do either," said Holcroft dejectedly. "What's more, I don't want to, at least not this year. I've settled that, Tom. I'm going to have one more summer on the old place, anyway, if I have to live on bread and milk.""You can't make bread.""I'll have it brought from town on the stage.""Well, it's a pity some good, decent woman--There, how should I come to forget all about HER till this minute? I don't know whether it would work. Perhaps it would. There's a woman here out of the common run. She has quite a story, which I'll tell you in confidence. Then you can say whether you'd like to employ her or not. If you WILL stay on the farm, my advice is that you have a woman to do the housework, and me and Angy must try to find you one, if the one I have in mind won't answer. The trouble is, Holcroft, to get the right kind of a woman to live there alone with you, unless you married her. Nice women don't like to be talked about, and I don't blame 'em. The one that's here, though, is so friendless and alone in the world that she might be glad enough to get a home almost anywheres."
"Well, well! Tell me about her," said Holcroft gloomily. "But I'm about discouraged in the line of women help."Watterly told Alida's story with a certain rude pathos which touched the farmer's naturally kind heart, and he quite forgot his own need in indignation at the poor woman's wrongs. "It's a **** shame!" he said excitedly, pacing the room. "I say, Tom, all the law in the land wouldn't keep me from giving that fellow a whipping or worse.""Well, she won't prosecute; she won't face the public; she just wants to go to some quiet place and work for her bread. She don't seem to have any friends, or else she's too ashamed to let them know.""Why, of course I'd give such a woman a refuge till she could do better. What man wouldn't?"
"A good many wouldn't. What's more, if she went with you her story might get out, and you'd both be talked about.""I don't care that for gossip," with a snap of his fingers. "You know I'd treat her with respect."
"What I know, and what other people would say, are two very different things. Neither you nor anyone else can go too strongly against public opinion. Still, it's nobody's business," added Tom thoughtfully. "Perhaps it's worth the trial. If she went I think she'd stay and do the best by you she could. Would you like to see her?""Yes."
Alida was summoned and stood with downcast eyes in the door. "Come in and take a chair," said Tom kindly. "You know I promised to be on the lookout for a good place for you. Well, my friend here, Mr. Holcroft, whom I've known ever since I was a boy, wants a woman to do general housework and take care of the dairy."She gave the farmer one of those swift, comprehensive glances by which women take in a personality, and said in a tone of regret, "But I don't understand dairy work.""Oh, you'd soon learn. It's just the kind of a place you said you wanted, a lonely, out-of-the-way farm and no other help kept. What's more, my friend Holcroft is a kind, honest man. He'd treat you right. He knows all about your trouble and is sorry for you."If Holcroft had been an ogre in appearance, he would have received the grateful glance which she now gave him as she said, "I'd be only too glad to work for you, sir, if you think I can do, or learn to do, what is required."Holcroft, while his friend was speaking, had studied closely Alida's thin, pale face, and he saw nothing in it not in harmony with the story he had heard. "I am sorry for you," he said kindly. "I believe you never meant to do wrong and have tried to do right. I will be perfectly honest with you. My wife is dead, the help I had has left me, and I live alone in the house. The truth is, too, that I could not afford to keep two in help, and there would not be work for them both."Alida had learned much in her terrible adversity, and had, moreover the instincts of a class superior to the position she was asked to take. She bowed low to hide the burning flush that crimsoned her pale cheeks as she faltered, "It may seem strange to you, sirs, that one situated as I am should hesitate, but I have never knowingly done anything which gave people the right to speak against me. I do not fear work, I would humbly try to do my best, but--" She hesitated and rose as if to retire.
"I understand you," said Holcroft kindly, "and I don't blame you for doing what you think is right.""I'm very sorry, sir," she replied, tears coming into her eyes as she went out of the room.
"There it is, Holcroft," said Tom. "I believe she's just the one for you, but you can see she isn't of the common kind. She knows as well as you and me how people would talk, especially if her story came out, as like enough it will.""Hang people!" snarled the farmer.
"Yes, a good lot of 'em deserve hanging, but it wouldn't help you any just now. Perhaps she'd go with you if you got another girl or took an old woman from the house here to keep her company.""I'm sick to death of such hags," said the farmer with an impatient gesture. Then he sat down and looked at his friend as if a plan was forming in his mind of which he scarcely dare speak.
"Well, out with it!" said Tom."Have you ever seen a marriage ceremony performed by a justice of the peace?" Holcroft asked slowly."No, but they do it often enough. What! Are you going to offer her marriage?""You say she is homeless and friendless?'
"Yes.""And you believe she is just what she seems--just what her story shows her to be?"
"Yes. I've seen too many frauds to be taken in. She isn't a fraud. Neither does she belong to that miserable, wishy-washy, downhill class that sooner or later fetches up in a poorhouse. They say we're all made of dust, but some seem made of mud. You could see she was out of the common; and she's here on account of the wrong she received and not the wrong she did. I say all this in fairness to her; but when it comes to marrying her, that's another question.""Tom, as I've told you, I don't want to marry. In fact, I couldn't go before a minister and promise what I'd have to. But I could do something like this. I could give this woman an honest name and a home. It would be marriage before the law. No one could ever say a word against either of us. I would be true and kind to her and she should share in my fortunes. That's all. You have often advised me to marry, and you know if I did it couldn't be anything else but a business affair. Then it ought to be done in a businesslike way. You say I can't get along alone, and like enough you're right. I've learned more from this woman's manner than I have in a year why I can't get and keep the right kind of help, and I now feel if I could find a good, honest woman who would make my interest hers, and help me make a living in my own home, I'd give her my name and all the security which an honest name conveys. Now, this poor woman is in sore need and she might be grateful for what I can do, while any other woman would naturally expect me to promise more than I honestly can. Anyhow, I'd have to go through the form, and I can't and won't go and say sacred words--just about what I said when I married my wife--and know all the time I was lying."
"Well, Holcroft, you're a queer dick and this is a queer plan of yours. You're beyond my depth now and I can't advise.""Why is it a queer plan? Things only seem odd because they are not common. As a matter of fact, you advise a business marriage. When I try to follow your advice honestly and not dishonestly, you say I'm queer."
"I suppose if everybody became honest, it would be the queerest world every known," said Tom laughing. "Well, you might do worse than marry this woman. I can tell you that marrying is risky business at best. You know a justice will tie you just as tight as a minister, and while I've given you my impression about this woman, I KNOW little about her and you know next to nothing.""I guess that would be the case, anyhow. If you set out to find a wife for me, where is there a woman that you actually do know more about? As for my going here and there, to get acquainted, it's out of the question. All my feelings rise up against such a course. Now, I feel sorry for this woman. She has at least my sympathy. If she is as friendless, poor, and unhappy as she seems, I might do her as great a kindness as she would do for me if she could take care of my home. I wouldn't expect very much. It would be a comfort just to have someone in the house that wouldn't rob or waste, and who, knowing what her station was, would be content. Of course I'd have to talk it over with her and make my purpose clear. She might agree with you that it's too queer to be thought of. If so, that would be the end of it.""Will, Jim, you always finish by half talking me over to your side of a question. Now, if my wife was home, I don't believe she'd listen to any such plan.""No, I suppose she wouldn't. She'd believe in people marrying and doing everything in the ordinary way. But neither I nor this woman is in ordinary circumstances. Do you know of a justice?"
"Yes, and you know him, too; Justice Harkins.""Why, certainly. He came from our town and I knew him when he was a boy, although I haven't seen much of him of late years."
"Well, shall I go and say to this woman--Alida Armstrong is her name now, I suppose--that you wish to see her again?""Yes, I shall tell her the truth. Then she can decide."
Chapter 18 Holcroft Gives His HandAlida was seated by a window with some of the mending in which she assisted, and, as usual, was apart by herself. Watterly entered the large apartment quietly, and at first she did not observe him. He had time to note that she was greatly dejected, and when she saw him she hastily wiped tears from her eyes.