Mrs. Weeks raised her eyes and looked eos coin stockwonderingly at this dreadful woman, against whom all Oakville was talking.
"This aint an electioneering trick, acardano price live gbps 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."He did not come; but it was not his fault. On receiving Rose'sletter he declined to stay another hour at his uncle's.
He flung himself on his horse; and, before he was well settled onthe stirrups, the animal shied violently at a wheelbarrow some foolhad left there; and threw Edouard on the stones of the courtyard.He jumped up in a moment and laughed at Marthe's terror; meantime afarm-servant caught the nag and brought him back to his work.But when Edouard went to put his hand on the saddle, he found itwould not obey him. "Wait a minute," said he; "my arm is benumbed.""Let me see!" said the farmer, and examined the limb himself;"benumbed? yes; and no wonder. Jacques, get on the brute and ridefor the surgeon.""Are you mad, uncle?" cried Edouard. "I can't spare my horse, and Iwant no surgeon; it will be well directly.""It will be worse before it is better.""I don't know what you mean, uncle; it is only numbed, ah! it hurtswhen I rub it.""It is worse than numbed, boy; it is broken.""Broken? nonsense:" and he looked at it in piteous bewilderment:"how can it be broken? it does not hurt except when I touch it.""It WILL hurt: I know all about it. I broke mine fifteen years ago:
fell off a haystack.""Oh, how unfortunate I am!" cried Edouard, piteously. "But I willgo to Beaurepaire all the same. I can have the thing mended there,as well as here.""You will go to bed," said the old man, quietly; "that is whereYOU'LL go.""I'll go to blazes sooner," yelled the young one.The old man made a signal to his myrmidons, whom Marthe's cries hadbrought around, and four stout fellows took hold of Edouard by thelegs and the left shoulder and carried him up-stairs raging andkicking; and deposited him on a bed.
Presently he began to feel faint, and so more reasonable. They cuthis coat off, and put him in a loose wrapper, and after considerabledelay the surgeon came, and set his arm skilfully, and behold thisardent spirit caged. He chafed and fretted sadly. Fortitude wasnot his forte.It was two days after his accident. He was lying on his back,environed by slops and cursing his evil fate, and fretting his soulout of its fleshly prison, when suddenly he heard a cheerfultrombone saying three words to Marthe, then came a clink-clank, andMarthe ushered into the sickroom the Commandant Raynal. The sickman raised himself in bed, with great surprise and joy."O commandant! this is kind to come and see your poor officer inpurgatory.""Ah," cried Raynal, "you see I know what it is. I have been chaineddown by the arm, and the leg, and all: it is deadly tiresome.""Tiresome! it is--it is--oh, dear commandant, Heaven bless you forcoming!""Ta! ta! ta! I am come on my own business.""All the better. I have nothing to do; that is what kills me. I'meating my own heart.""Cannibal! Well, my lad, since you are in that humor, cheer up, forI bring you a job, and a tough one; it has puzzled me.""What is it, commandant? What is it?""Well, do you know a house and a family called Beaurepaire?""Do I know Beaurepaire?"And the pale youth turned very red; and stared with awe at thiswizard of a commandant. He thought he was going to be called overthe coals for frequenting a disaffected family. "Well," saidRaynal, "I have been and bought this Beaurepaire."Edouard uttered a loud exclamation. "It was YOU bought it! shenever told me that.""Yes," said Raynal, "I am the culprit; and we have fixed on you toundo my work without hurting their pride too much, poor souls; butlet us begin with the facts."Then Raynal told him my story after his fashion. Of course I shallnot go and print his version; you might like his concise way betterthan my verbose; and I'm not here to hold up any man's coat-tails.Short as he made it, Edouard's eyes were moist more than once; andat the end he caught Raynal's hand and kissed it. Then he askedtime to reflect; "for," said he, "I must try and be just.""I'll give you an hour," said Raynal, with an air of grandmunificence. The only treasure he valued was time.
In less than an hour Edouard had solved the knot, to his entiresatisfaction; he even gave the commandant particular instructionsfor carrying out his sovereign decree. Raynal received these ordersfrom his subordinate with that simplicity which formed part of hisamazing character, and rode home relieved of all responsibility inthe matter.COMMANDANT RAYNAL TO MADEMOISELLE DE BEAUREPAIRE.Mademoiselle,--Before I could find time to write to our referee,news came in that he had just broken his arm;--"Oh! oh, dear! our poor Edouard!"And if poor Edouard had seen the pale faces, and heard the falteringaccents, it would have reconciled him to his broken arm almost.This hand-grenade the commandant had dropped so coolly among them,it was a long while ere they could recover from it enough to readthe rest of the letter,--so I rode over to him, and found him on his back, fretting for wantof something to do. I told him the whole story. He undertook thebusiness. I have received his instructions, and next week shall beat his quarters to clear off his arrears of business, and makeacquaintance with all your family, if they permit.
RAYNAL.As the latter part of this letter seemed to require a reply, thebaroness wrote a polite note, and Jacintha sent Dard to leave it forthe commandant at Riviere's lodgings. But first they all sat downand wrote kind and pitying and soothing letters to Edouard. Need Isay these letters fell upon him like balm?
They all inquired carelessly in their postscripts what he haddecided as their referee. He replied mysteriously that they wouldknow that in a week or two. Meantime, all he thought it prudent totell them was that he had endeavored to be just to both parties."Little solemn puppy," said Rose, and was racked with curiosity.
Next week Raynal called on the baroness. She received him alone.They talked about Madame Raynal. The next day he dined with thewhole party, and the commandant's manners were the opposite of whatthe baroness had inculcated. But she had a strong prejudice in hisfavor. Had her feelings been the other way his brusquerie wouldhave shocked her. It amused her. If people's hearts are with you,THAT for their heads!He came every day for a week, chatted with the baroness, walked withthe young ladies; and when after work he came over in the evening,Rose used to cross-examine him, and out came such descriptions ofbattles and sieges, such heroism and such simplicity mixed, as madethe evening pass delightfully. On these occasions the young ladiesfixed their glowing eyes on him, and drank in his character as wellas his narrative, in which were fewer "I's" than in anything of thesort you ever read or heard.At length Rose contrived to draw him aside, and, hiding hercuriosity under feigned nonchalance, asked him what the referee haddecided. He told her that was a secret for the present."Well, but," said Rose, "not from me. Edouard and I have nosecrets.""Come, that's good," said Raynal. "Why, you are the very one hewarned me against the most; said you were as curious as Mother Eve,and as sharp as her needle.""Then he is a little scurrilous traitor," cried Rose, turning veryred. "So that is how he talks of me behind my back, and calls me anangel to my face; I'll pay him for this. Do tell me, commandant;never mind what HE says.""What! disobey orders?""Orders? to you from that boy!""Oh!" said Raynal, "for that matter, we soldiers are used to commandone moment, and obey the next."In a word, this military pedant was impracticable, and Rose gave himup in disgust, and began to call up a sulky look when the other twosang his praises. For the old lady pronounced him charming, andJosephine said he was a man of crystal; never said a word he did notmean, and she wished she was like him. But the baroness thoughtthis was going a little too far."No, thank you," said she hastily; "he is a man, a thorough man. Hewould make an intolerable woman. A fine life if one had a parcel ofwomen about, all blurting out their real minds every moment, andnever smoothing matters.""Mamma, what a horrid picture!" chuckled Rose.
She then proposed that at his next visit they should all three makean earnest appeal to him to let them know what Edouard had decided.But Josephine begged to be excused, feared it would be hardlydelicate; and said languidly that for her part she felt they were ingood hands, and prescribed patience. The baroness acquiesced, andpoor Rose and her curiosity were baffled on every side.
At last, one fine day, her torments were relieved without anyfurther exertion on her part. Jacintha bounced into the drawing-room with a notice that the commandant wanted to speak to Josephinea minute out in the Pleasaunce."How droll he is," said Rose; "fancy sending in for a young ladylike that. Don't go, Josephine; how, he would stare.""My dear, I no more dare disobey him than if I was one of hissoldiers." And she laid down her work, and rose quietly to do whatshe was bid.
"Well," said Rose, superciliously, "go to your commanding officer.And, O Josephine, if you are worth anything at all, do get out ofhim what that Edouard has settled."Josephine kissed her, and promised to try. After the firstsalutation, there was a certain hesitation about Raynal whichJosephine had never seen a trace of in him before; so, to put him athis ease, and at the same time keep her promise to Rose, she askedtimidly if their mutual friend had been able to suggest anything.
"What! don't you know that I have been acting all along upon hisinstructions?" answered Raynal."No, indeed! and you have not told us what he advised.""Told you? why, of course not; they were secret instructions. Ihave obeyed one set, and now I come to the other; and there is thedifficulty, being a kind of warfare I know nothing about.""It must be savage warfare, then," suggested the lady politely."Not a bit of it. Now, who would have thought I was such a coward?"Josephine was mystified; however, she made a shrewd guess. "Do youfear a repulse from any one of us? Then, I suppose, you meditatesome extravagant act of generosity.""Not I.""Of delicacy, then.""Just the reverse. Confound the young dog! why is he not here tohelp me?""But, after all," suggested Josephine, "you have only to carry outhis instructions.""That is true! that is true! but when a fellow is a coward, apoltroon, and all that sort of thing."This repeated assertion of cowardice on the part of the livingDamascus blade that stood bolt-upright before her, struck Josephineas so funny that she laughed merrily, and bade him fancy it was onlya fort he was attacking instead of the terrible Josephine; whom nonebut heroes feared, she assured him.This encouragement, uttered in jest, was taken in earnest. Thesoldier thanked her, and rallied visibly at the comparison. "Allright," said he, "as you say, it is only a fort--so--mademoiselle!""Monsieur!""Hum! will you lend me your hand for a moment?""My hand! what for? there," and she put it out an inch a minute. Hetook it, and inspected it closely.
"A charming hand; the hand of a virtuous woman?""Yes," said Josephine as cool as a cucumber, too sublimely andabsurdly innocent even to blush."Is it your own?""Sir!" She blushed at that, I can tell you.
"Because if it was, I would ask you to give it me. (I've fired thefirst shot anyway.)"Josephine whipped her hand off his palm, where it lay like creamspilt on a trencher."Ah! I see; you are not free: you have a lover.""No, no!" cried Josephine in distress; "I love nobody but my motherand sister: I never shall.""Your mother," cried Raynal; "that reminds me; he told me to askher; by Jove, I think he told me to ask her first;" and Raynal upwith his scabbard and was making off.
Josephine begged him to do nothing of the kind."I can save you the trouble," said she.
"Ah, but my instructions! my instructions!" cried the militarypedant, and ran off into the house, and left Josephine "plantedthere," as they say in France.Raynal demanded a private interview of the baroness so significantlyand unceremoniously that Rose had no alternative but to retire, butnot without a glance of defiance at the bear. She ran straight,without her bonnet, into the Pleasaunce to slake her curiosity atJosephine. That young lady was walking pensively, but turned atsight of Rose, and the sisters came together with a clash of tongues."O Rose! he has"--"Oh!"So nimbly does the female mind run on its little beaten tracks, thatit took no more than those syllables for even these innocent youngwomen to communicate that Raynal had popped.Josephine apologized for this weakness in a hero. "It wasn't hisfault," said she. "It is your Edouard who set him to do it.""My Edouard? Don't talk in that horrid way: I have no Edouard. Yousaid 'no' of course.""Something of the kind.""What, did you not say 'no' plump?""I did not say it brutally, dear.""Josephine, you frighten me. I know you can't say 'no' to any one;and if you don't say 'no' plump to such a man as this, you might aswell say 'yes.'""Well, love," said Josephine, "you know our mother will relieve meof this; what a comfort to have a mother!"They waited for Raynal's departure, to go to the baroness. They hadto wait a long time. Moreover, when he did leave the chateau hecame straight into the Pleasaunce. At sight of him Rose seizedJosephine tight and bade her hold her tongue, as she could not say"no" plump to any one. Josephine was far from raising any objectionto the arrangement.
"Monsieur," said Rose, before he could get a word out, "even if shehad not declined, I could not consent."Raynal tapped his forehead reflectively, and drew forth from memorythat he had no instructions whatever to ask HER consent.She colored high, but returned to the charge.
"Is her own consent to be dispensed with too? She declined thehonor, did she not?""Of course she did; but this was anticipated in my instructions. Iam to be sure and not take the first two or three refusals.""O Josephine, look at that insolent boy: he has found you out.""Insolent boy!" cried Raynal; "why, it is the referee of your ownchoosing, and as well behaved a lad as ever I saw, and a zealousofficer.""My kind friends," put in Josephine with a sweet languor, "I cannotlet you quarrel about a straw.""It is not about a straw," said Raynal, "it is about you.""The distinction involves a compliment, sir," said Josephine; thenshe turned to Rose, "Is it possible you do not see Monsieur Raynal'sstrange proposal in its true light? and you so shrewd in general.He has no personal feeling whatever in this eccentric proceeding: hewants to make us all happy, especially my mother, without seeming tolay us under too great an obligation. Surely good-nature was nevercarried so far before; ha, ha! Monsieur, I will encumber you with myfriendship forever, if you permit me, but farther than that I willnot abuse your generosity.""Now look here, mademoiselle," began Raynal bluntly, "I did startwith a good motive at first, that there's no denying. But, since Ihave been every day in your company, and seen how good and kind youare to all about you, I have turned selfish; and I say to myself,what a comfort such a wife as you would be to a soldier! Why, onlyto have you to write letters home to, would be worth half a fellow'spay. Do you know sometimes when I see the fellows writing theirletters it gives me a knock here to think I have no one at all towrite to."Josephine sighed.
"So you see I am not so mighty disinterested. Now, mademoiselle,you speak so charmingly, I can't tell what you mean: can't tellwhether you say 'no' because you could never like me, or whether itis out of delicacy, and you only want pressing. So I say no more atpresent: it is a standing offer. Take a day to consider. Take twoif you like. I must go to the barracks; good-day.""Oh! this must be put an end to at once," said Rose."With all my heart," replied Josephine; "but how?""Come to our mother, and settle that," said the impetuous sister,and nearly dragged the languid one into the drawing-room.