"Well, now," pursued Mr. Weeks, "she's a good soul. She has her little peculiarities; so have you and me, a lot of 'em; butbitcoin cash in naira she's thoroughly respectable, and there isn't a man or woman in the town that would think of saying a word against her. She has only one child, a nice, quiet little girl who'd be company for her mother and make everything look right, you know."
"Quick! the elevation."Colonel Dujardin and La Croix raised the muzzle to the mark--hoo,hoo, hoo! ping, ping, ping! came the bullets about their ears.bitcoin code elon musk toronto star"Away with you!" cried the colonel, taking the linstock from him.
Then Colonel Dujardin, fifteen yards from the trenches, in fullblazing uniform, showed two armies what one intrepid soldier can do.He kneeled down and adjusted his gun, just as he would have done ina practising ground. He had a pot shot to take, and a pot shot hewould take. He ignored three hundred muskets that were levelled athim. He looked along his gun, adjusted it, and re-adjusted it to ahair's breadth. The enemy's bullets pattered upon it: still headjusted it delicately. His men were groaning and tearing theirhair inside at his danger.At last it was levelled to his mind, and then his movements were asquick as they had hitherto been slow. In a moment he stood erect inthe half-fencing attitude of a gunner, and his linstock at thetouch-hole: a huge tongue of flame, a volume of smoke, a roar, andthe iron thunderbolt was on its way, and the colonel walkedhaughtily but rapidly back to the trenches; for in all this nobravado. He was there to make a shot; not to throw a chance of lifeaway watching the effect.Ten thousand eyes did that for him.Both French and Prussians risked their own lives craning out to seewhat a colonel in full uniform was doing under fire from a wholeline of forts, and what would be his fate; but when he fired the guntheir curiosity left the man and followed the iron thunderbolt.
For two seconds all was uncertain; the ball was travelling.Tom gave a rear like a wild horse, his protruding muzzle went upsky-high, then was seen no more, and a ring of old iron and aclatter of fragments was heard on the top of the bastion. Long Tomwas dismounted. Oh! the roar of laughter and triumph from one endto another of the trenches; and the clapping of forty thousand handsthat went on for full five minutes; then the Prussians, eitherthrough a burst of generous praise for an act so chivalrous and sobrilliant, or because they would not be crowed over, clapped theirtea thousand hands as loudly, and thus thundering, heart-thrillingsalvo of applause answered salvo on both sides that terrible arena.In the course of her close watchfulness she had observed how many of the domestic labors had been performed, and she would have helped more in the various households if she had been given a chance; but the housewives had not regarded her as sufficiently honest to be trusted in the pantries, and also found that, if there was a semblance of return for such hospitality as they extended, Mrs. Mumpson would remain indefinitely. Moreover, the homely, silent child made the women nervous, just as her mother irritated the men, and they did not want her around. Thus she had come to be but the specter of a child, knowing little of the good in the world and as much of the evil as she could understand.
She now displayed, however, more sense than her mother. The habit of close scrutiny had made it clear that Holcroft would not long endure genteel airs and inefficiency, and that something must be done to keep this shelter. She did her best to get supper, with the aid given from the rocking chair, and at last broke out sharply, "You must get up and help me. He'll turn us out of doors if we don't have supper ready when he comes in."Spurred by fear of such a dire possibility, Mrs. Mumpson was bustling around when Holcroft entered. "We'll soon be ready," she gushed, "we'll soon place our evening repast upon the table.""Very well," was the brief reply, as he passed up the stairs with the small hair trunk on his shoulder.Chapter 4 Domestic Bliss
Holcroft had been given a foretaste of the phase of torment which he was destined to endure in his domestic relations, and was planning to secure a refuge into which he could not be pursued. He had made himself a little more presentable for supper, instinctively aware that nothing would escape the lynx-eyed widow, and was taking some measurements from the floor to a stovepipe hole leading into the chimney flue, when he became aware that someone was in the doorway. Turning, he saw Jane with her small catlike eyes fixed intently upon him. Instantly he had the feeling that he was being watched and would be watched."Supper's ready," said the girl, disappearing.
Mrs. Mumpson smiled upon him--if certain contortions of her thin, sharp face could be termed a smile--from that side of the table at which his wife had sat so many years, and he saw that the low rocking chair, which he had preserved jealously from his former "help," had been brought from the parlor and established in the old familiar place. Mrs. Mumpson folded her hands and assumed a look of deep solemnity; Jane, as instructed, also lowered her head, and they waited for him to say "grace." He was in far too bitter a mood for any such pious farce, and stolidly began to help them to the ham and eggs, which viands had been as nearly spoiled as was possible in their preparation. The widow raised her head with a profound sigh which set Holcroft's teeth on edge, but he proceeded silently with his supper. The biscuits were heavy enough to burden the lightest conscience; and the coffee, simply grounds swimming around in lukewarm water. He took a sip, then put down his cup and said, quietly, "Guess I'll take a glass of milk tonight. Mrs. Mumpson, if you don't know how to make coffee, I can soon show you.""Why! Isn't it right? How strange! Perhaps it would be well for you to show me just exactly how you like it, for it will afford me much pleasure to make it to your taste. Men's tastes differ so! I've heard that no two men's tastes were alike; and, after all, everything is a matter of taste. Now Cousin Abiram doesn't believe in coffee at all. He thinks it is unwholesome. Have YOU ever thought that it might be unwholesome?""I'm used to it, and would like it good when I have it at all.""Why, of course, of course! You must have it exactly to your taste. Jane, my dear, we must put our minds on coffee and learn precisely how Mr. Holcroft likes it, and when the hired girl comes we must carefully superintend her when she makes it. By the way, I suppose you will employ my assistant tomorrow, Mr. Holcroft."
"I can't get a girl short of town," was the reply, "and there is so much cream in the dairy that ought to be churned at once that I'll wait till next Monday and take down the butter."Mrs. Mumpson put on a grave, injured air, and said, "Well," so disapprovingly that it was virtually saying that it was not well at all. Then, suddenly remembering that this was not good policy, she was soon all smiles and chatter again. "How cozy this is!" she cried, "and how soon one acquires the home feeling! Why, anyone looking in at the window would think that we were an old established family, and yet this is but our first meal together. But it won't be the last, Mr. Holcroft. I cannot make it known to you how your loneliness, which Cousin Lemuel has so feelingly described to me, has affected my feelings. Cousin Nancy said but this very day that you have had desperate times with all kinds of dreadful creatures. But all that's past. Jane and me will give a look of stability and respecterbility to every comer.""Well, really, Mrs. Mumpson, I don't know who's to come.""Oh, you'll see!" she replied, wrinkling her thin, blue lips into what was meant for a smile, and nodding her head at him encouragingly. "You won't be so isolated no more. Now that I'm here, with my offspring, your neighbors will feel that they can show you their sympathy. The most respecterble people in town will call, and your life will grow brighter and brighter; clouds will roll away, and--"
"I hope the neighbors will not be so ill-mannered as to come without being invited," remarked Mr. Holcroft grimly. "It's too late in the day for them to begin now.""My being here with Jane will make all the difference in the world," resumed Mrs. Mumpson, with as saccharine an expression as she could assume. "They will come out of pure kindness and friendly interest, with the wish to encourage--"
"Mrs. Mumpson," said Holcroft, half desperately, "if anyone comes it'll be out of pure curiosity, and I don't want such company. Selling enough butter, eggs, and produce to pay expenses will encourage me more than all the people of Oakville, if they should come in a body. What's the use of talking in this way? I've done without the neighbors so far, and I'm sure they've been very careful to do without me. I shall have nothing to do with them except in the way of business, and as I said to you down at Lemuel Weeks's, business must be the first consideration with us all," and he rose from the table."Oh, certainly, certainly!" the widow hastened to say, "but then business is like a cloud, and the meetings and greetings of friends is a sort of silver lining, you know. What would the world be without friends--the society of those who take an abiding interest? Believe me, Mr. Holcroft," she continued, bringing her long, skinny finger impressively down on the table, "you have lived alone so long that you are unable to see the crying needs of your own constitution. As a Christian man, you require human sympathy and--"
Poor Holcroft knew little of centrifugal force; but at that moment he was a living embodiment of it, feeling that if he did not escape he would fly into a thousand atoms. Saying nervously, "I've a few chores to do," he seized his hat, and hastening out, wandered disconsolately around the barn. "I'm never going to be able to stand her," he groaned. "I know now why my poor wife shook her head whenever this woman was mentioned. The clack of her tongue would drive any man living crazy, and the gimlet eyes of that girl Jane would bore holes through a saint's patience. Well, well! I'll put a stove up in my room, then plowing and planting time will soon be here, and I guess I can stand it at mealtimes for three months, for unless she stops her foolishness she shan't stay any longer."Jane had not spoken during the meal, but kept her eyes on Holcroft, except when he looked toward her, and then she instantly averted her gaze. When she was alone with her mother, she said abruptly, "We aint a-goin' to stay here long, nuther.""Why not?" was the sharp, responsive query."'Cause the same look's comin' into his face that was in Cousin Lemuel's and Cousin Abiram's and all the rest of 'em. 'Fi's you I'd keep still now. 'Pears to me they all want you to keep still and you won't.""Jane," said Mrs. Mumpson in severe tones, "you're an ignorant child. Don't presume to instruct ME! Besides, this case is entirely different. Mr. Holcroft must be made to understand from the start that I'm not a common woman--that I'm his equal, and in most respects his superior. If he aint made to feel this, it'll never enter his head--but law! There's things which you can't and oughtn't to understand.""But I do," said the girl shortly, "and he won't marry you, nor keep you, if you talk him to death."
"Jane!" gasped Mrs. Mumpson, as she sank into the chair and rocked violently.The night air was keen and soon drove Holcroft into the house. As he passed the kitchen window, he saw that Mrs. Mumpson was in his wife's rocking chair and that Jane was clearing up the table.
He kindled a fire on the parlor hearth, hoping, but scarcely expecting, that he would be left alone.Nor was he very long, for the widow soon opened the door and entered, carrying the chair. "Oh, you are here," she said sweetly. "I heard the fire crackling, and I do so love open wood fires. They're company in themselves, and they make those who bask in the flickering blaze inclined to be sociable. To think of how many long, lonely evenings you have sat here when you had persons in your employ with whom you could have no affinity whatever! I don't see how you stood it. Under such circumstances life must cloud up into a dreary burden." It never occurred to Mrs. Mumpson that her figures of speech were often mixed. She merely felt that the sentimental phase of conversation must be very flowery. But during the first evening she had resolved on prudence. "Mr. Holcroft shall have time," she thought, "for the hope to steal into his heart that his housekeeper may become something more to him than housekeeper--that there is a nearer and loftier relation."
Meanwhile she was consumed with curiosity to know something about the "persons" previously employed and his experiences with them. With a momentary, and, as she felt, a proper pause before descending to ordinary topics, she resumed, "My dear Mr. Holcroft, no doubt it will be a relief to your overfraught mind to pour into a symperthetic ear the story of your troubles with those--er--those peculiar females that--er--that--""Mrs. Mumpson, it would be a much greater relief to my mind to forget all about 'em," he replied briefly.
"INDEED!" exclaimed the widow. "Was they as bad as that? Who'd 'a' thought it! Well, well, well; what people there is in the world! And you couldn't abide 'em, then?""No, I couldn't.""Well now; what hussies they must have been! And to think you were here all alone, with no better company! It makes my heart bleed. They DO say that Bridget Malony is equal to anything, and I've no doubt but that she took things and did things.""Well, she's taken herself off, and that's enough." Then he groaned inwardly, "Good Lord! I could stand her and all her tribe bettern'n this one."
"Yes, Mr. Holcroft," pursued Mrs. Mumpson, sinking her voice to a loud, confidential whisper, "and I don't believe you've any idea how much she took with her. I fear you've been robbed in all these vicissitudes. Men never know what's in a house. They need caretakers; respecterble women, that would sooner cut out their tongues than purloin. How happy is the change which has been affected! How could you abide in the house with such a person as that Bridget Malony?""Well, well, Mrs. Mumpson! She abode with herself. I at least had this room in peace and quietness."
"Of course, of course! A person so utterly unrespecterble would not think of entering THIS apartment; but then you had to meet her, you know. You could not act as if she was not, when she was, and there being so much of her, too. She was a monstrous-looking person. It's dreadful to think that such persons belong to our sex. I don't wonder you feel as you do about it all. I can understand you perfectly. All your senserbleness was offended. You felt that your very home had become sacrilegious. Well, now, I suppose she said awful things to you?"Holcroft could not endure this style of inquisition and comment another second longer. He rose and said, "Mrs. Mumpson, if you want to know just what she said and did, you must go and ask her. I'm very tired. I'll go out and see that the stock's all right, and then go to bed."
"Oh, certainly, certainly!" ejaculated the widow. "Repose is nature's sweet rester, says the poet. I can see how recalling those dreadful scenes with those peculiar females--" But he was gone.In passing out, he caught sight of Jane whisking back into the kitchen. "She's been listening," he thought. "Well, I'll go to town tomorrow afternoon, get a stove for my room upstairs, and stuff the keyhole."
He went to the barn and looked with envy at the placid cows and quiet horses. At last, having lingered as long as he could, he returned to the kitchen. Jane had washed and put away the supper dishes after a fashion, and was now sitting on the edge of a chair in the farthest corner of the room."Take this candle and go to your mother," he said curtly. Then he fastened the doors and put out the lamp. Standing for an instant at the parlor entrance, he added, "Please rake up the fire and put out the light before you come up. Good night.""Oh, certainly, certainly! We'll look after everything just as if it was our own. The sense of strangeness will soon pass--" But his steps were halfway up the stairs.Mother and daughter listened until they heard him overhead, then, taking the candle, they began a most minute examination of everything in the room.
Poor Holcroft listened also; too worried, anxious, and nervous to sleep until they came up and all sounds ceased in the adjoining apartment.Chapter 5 Mrs. Mumpson Takes Up Her Burdens
The next morning Holcroft awoke early. The rising sun flooded his plain little room with mellow light. It was impossible to give way to dejection in that radiance, and hope, he scarcely knew why, sprung up in his heart. He was soon dressed, and having kindled the kitchen fire, went out on the porch. There had been a change in the wind during the night, and now it blew softly from the south. The air was sweet with the indefinable fragrance of spring. The ethereal notes of bluebirds were heard on every side. Migratory robins were feeding in the orchard, whistling and calling their noisy congratulations on arriving at old haunts. The frost was already oozing from the ground, but the farmer welcomed the mud, knowing that it indicated a long advance toward plowing and planting time.He bared his head to the sweet, warm air and took long, deep breaths. "If this weather holds," he muttered, "I can soon put in some early potatoes on that warm hillside yonder. Yes, I can stand even her for the sake of being on the old place in mornings like this. The weather'll be getting better every day and I can be out of doors more. I'll have a stove in my room tonight; I would last night if the old air-tight hadn't given out completely. I'll take it to town this afternoon and sell it for old iron. Then I'll get a bran'-new one and put it up in my room. They can't follow me there and they can't follow me outdoors, and so perhaps I can live in peace and work most of the time."
Thus he was muttering to himself, as lonely people so often do, when he felt that someone was near. Turning suddenly, he saw Jane half-hidden by the kitchen door. Finding herself observed, the girl came forward and said in her brief monotonous way:"Mother'll be down soon. If you'll show me how you want the coffee and things, I guess I can learn."