It had been agreed between him and Picard chainlink crypto investmentthat the latter shouldcommunicate with Dr. Aubertin direct, should anything fresh occur.
"Well, well," said Tom kindly, "don't lbuy dogecoin stock robinhoodose heart. We'll do the best by you we can. That aint saying very much, though, for we're full and running over."He soon drew rein at the poorhouse door and sprang out. "I--I--feel strange," Alida gasped.
Tom caught the fainting woman in his arms and shouted, "Here, Bill, Joe! You lazy loons, where are you?"Three or four half wrecks of men shuffled to his assistance, and together they bore the unconscious woman to the room which was used as a sort of hospital. Some old crones gathered around with such restoratives as they had at command. Gradually the stricken woman revived, but as the whole miserable truth came back, she turned her face to the wall with a sinking of heart akin to despair. At last, from sheer exhaustion, feverish sleep ensued, from which she often started with moans and low cries. One impression haunted her--she was falling, ever falling into a dark, bottomless abyss.Hours passed in the same partial stupor, filled with phantoms and horrible dreams. Toward evening, she aroused herself mechanically to take the broth Mrs. Watterly ordered her to swallow, then relapsed into the same lethargy. Late in the night, she became conscious that someone was kneeling at her bedside and fondling her. She started up with a slight cry."Don't be afraid; it's only me, dear," said a quavering voice.In the dim rays of a night lamp, Alida saw an old woman with gray hair falling about her face and on her night robe. At first, in her confused, feverish impressions, the poor waif was dumb with superstitious awe, and trembled between joy and fear. Could her mother have come to comfort her in her sore extremity?
"Put yer head on me ould withered breast," said the apparition, "an' ye'll know a mither's heart niver changes. I"ve been a-lookin' for ye and expectin' ye these long, weary years, They said ye wouldn't come back--that I'd niver find ye ag'in; but I knowed I wud, and here ye are in me arms, me darlint. Don't draw away from yer ould mither. Don't ye be afeard or 'shamed loike. No matter what ye've done or where ye've been or who ye've been with, a mither's heart welcomes ye back jist the same as when yes were a babby an' slept on me breast. A mither's heart ud quench the fires o' hell. I'd go inter the burnin' flames o' the pit an' bear ye out in me arms. So niver fear. Now that I've found ye, ye're safe. Ye'll not run away from me ag'in. I'll hould ye--I'll hould ye back," and the poor creature clasped Alida with such conclusive energy that she screamed from pain and terror."Ye shall not get away from me, ye shall not go back to evil ways. Whist, whist! Be aisy and let me plead wid ye. Think how many long, weary years I've looked for ye and waited for ye. Niver have I slept night or day in me watchin'. Ye may be so stained an' lost an' ruined that the whole wourld will scorn ye, yet not yer mither, not yer ould mither. Oh, Nora, Nora, why did ye rin away from me? Wasn't I koind? No, no; ye cannot lave me ag'in," and she threw herself on Alida, whose disordered mind was tortured by what she heard. Whether or not it was a more terrible dream than had yet oppressed her, she scarcely knew, but in the excess of her nervous horror she sent out a cry that echoed in every part of the large building. Two old women rushed in and dragged Alida's persecutor screaming away."No, she aint," persisted Jane. "I've looked everywhere and all over the barn, and she aint nowhere. Mother haint seen her, nuther."
With dreary misgivings, Holcroft remembered that he no longer had a practical ally in the old Englishwoman, and he felt that a new breaking up was coming. He looked wistfully at Jane, and thought, "I COULD get along with that child if the other was away. But that can't be; SHE'D visit here indefinitely if Jane stayed."When Mrs. Mumpson learned from Jane of Mrs. Wiggins' disappearance, she was thrown into a state of strong excitement. She felt that her hour and opportunity might be near also, and she began to rock very fast. "What else could he expect of such a female?" she soliloquized. "I've no doubt but she's taken things, too. He'll now learn my value and what it is to have a caretaker who will never desert him."Spirits and courage rose with the emergency; her thoughts hurried her along like a dry leaf caught in a March gale. "Yes," she murmured, "the time has come for me to act, to dare, to show him in his desperate need and hour of desertion what might be, may be, must be. He will now see clearly the difference between these peculiar females who come and go, and a respecterble woman and a mother who can be depended upon--one who will never steal away like a thief in the night."She saw Holcroft approaching the house with Jane; she heard him ascend to Mrs. Wiggins' room, then return to the kitchen and ejaculate, "Yes, she's gone, sure enough."
"Now, ACT!" murmured the widow, and she rushed toward the farmer with clasped hands, and cried with emotion, "Yes, she's gone; but I'm not gone. You are not deserted. Jane will minister to you; I will be the caretaker, and our home will be all the happier because that monstrous creature is absent. Dear Mr. Holcroft, don't be so blind to your own interests and happiness, don't remain undeveloped! Everything is wrong here if you would but see it. You are lonely and desolate. Moth and rust have entered, things in unopened drawers and closets are molding and going to waste. Yield to true female influence and--"Holcroft had been rendered speechless at first by this onslaught, but the reference to unopened drawers and closets awakened a sudden suspicion. Had she dared to touch what had belonged to his wife? "What!" he exclaimed sharply, interrupting her; then with an expression of disgust and anger, he passed her swiftly and went to his room. A moment later came the stern summons, "Jane, come here!"
"Now you'll see what'll come of that rummagin'," whimpered Jane. "You aint got no sense at all to go at him so. He's jes' goin' to put us right out," and she went upstairs as if to execution."Have I failed?" gasped Mrs. Mumpson, and retreating to the chair, she rocked nervously."Jane," said Holcroft in hot anger, "my wife's things have been pulled out of her bureau and stuffed back again as if they were no better than dishcloths. Who did it?"The child now began to cry aloud.
"There, there!" he said, with intense irritation, "I can't trust you either.""I haint--touched 'em--since you told me--told me--not to do things on the sly," the girl sobbed brokenly; but he had closed the door upon her and did not hear.He could have forgiven her almost anything but this. Since she only had been permitted to take care of his room, he naturally thought that she had committed the sacrilege, and her manner had confirmed this impression. Of course, the mother had been present and probably had assisted; but he had expected nothing better of her.He took the things out, folded and smoothed them as carefully as he could with his heavy hands and clumsy fingers. His gentle, almost reverent touch was in strange contrast with his flushed, angry face and gleaming eyes. "This is the worst that's happened yet," he muttered. "Oh, Lemuel Weeks! It's well you are not here now, or we might both have cause to be sorry. It was you who put these prying, and for all I know, thieving creatures into my house, and it was as mean a trick as ever one man played another. You and this precious cousin of yours thought you could bring about a marriage; you put her up to her ridiculous antics. Faugh! The very thought of it all makes me sick."
"Oh, mother, what shall I do?" Jane cried, rushing into the parlor and throwing herself on the floor, "he's goin' to put us right out.""He can't put me out before the three months are up," quavered the widow.
"Yes, he can. We've been a-rummagin' where we'd no bizniss to be. He's mad enough to do anything; he jes' looks awful; I'm afraid of him.""Jane," said her mother plaintively, "I feel indisposed. I think I'll retire."
"Yes, that's the way with YOU," sobbed the child. "You get me into the scrape and now you retire."Mrs. Mumpson's confidence in herself and her schemes was terribly shaken. "I must act very discreetly. I must be alone that I may think over these untoward events. Mr. Holcroft has been so warped by the past female influences of his life that there's no counting on his action. He taxes me sorely," she explained, and then ascended the stairs."Oh! Oh!" moaned the child as she writhed on the floor, "mother aint got no sense at all. What IS goin' to become of me? I'd ruther hang about his barn than go back to Cousin Lemuel's or any other cousin's."Spurred by one hope, she at last sprung up and went to the kitchen. It was already growing dark, and she lighted the lamp, kindled the fire, and began getting supper with breathless energy.As far as he could discover, Holcroft was satisfied that nothing had been taken. In this respect he was right. Mrs. Mumpson's curiosity and covetousness were boundless, but she would not steal. There are few who do not draw the line somewhere.Having tried to put the articles back as they were before, he locked them up, and went hastily down and out, feeling that he must regain his self-control and decide upon his future action at once. "I will then carry out my purposes in a way that will give the Weeks tribe no chance to make trouble."
As he passed the kitchen windows he saw Jane rushing about as if possessed, and he stopped to watch her. It soon became evident that she was trying to get his supper. His heart relented at once in spite of himself. "The poor, wronged child!" he muttered. "Why should I be so hard on her for doing what she's been brought up to do? Well, well, it's too bad to send her away, but I can't help it. I'd lose my own reason if the mother were here much longer, and if I kept Jane, her idiotic mother would stay in spite of me. If she didn't, there'd be endless talk and lawsuits, too, like enough, about separating parent and child. Jane's too young and little, anyway, to be here alone and do the work. But I'm sorry for her, I declare I am, and I wish I could do something to give her a chance in the world. If my wife was only living, we'd take and bring her up, disagreeable and homely as she is; but there's no use of my trying to do anything alone. I fear, after all, that I shall have to give up the old place and go--I don't know where. What is to become of her?"Chapter 16 Mrs. Mumpson's Vicissitudes
Having completed her preparations for supper, Jane stole timidly up to Holcroft's room to summon him. Her first rap on his door was scarcely audible, then she ventured to knock louder and finally to call him, but there was no response. Full of vague dread she went to her mother's room and said, "He won't answer me. He's so awful mad that I don't know what he'll do.""I think he has left his apartment," her mother moaned from the bed.
"Why couldn't yer tell me so before?" cried Jane. "What yer gone to bed for? If you'd only show some sense and try to do what he brought you here for, like enough he'd keep us yet.""My heart's too crushed, Jane--"
"Oh, bother, bother!" and the child rushed away. She looked into the dark parlor and called, "Mr. Holcroft!" Then she appeared in the kitchen again, the picture of uncouth distress and perplexity. A moment later she opened the door and darted toward the barn."What do you wish, Jane?" said Holcroft, emerging from a shadowy corner and recalling her."Sup--supper's--ready," sobbed the child.He came in and sat down at the table, considerately appearing not to notice her until she had a chance to recover composure. She vigorously used the sleeve of both arms in drying her eyes, then stole in and found a seat in a dusky corner.
"Why don't you come to supper?" he asked quietly."Don't want any."
"You had better take some up to your mother.""She oughtn't to have any."
"That doesn't make any difference. I want you to take up something to her, and then come down and eat your supper like a sensible girl.""I aint been sensible, nor mother nuther."
"Do as I say, Jane." The child obeyed, but she couldn't swallow anything but a little coffee.Holcroft was in a quandary. He had not the gift of speaking soothing yet meaningless words, and was too honest to raise false hopes. He was therefore almost as silent and embarrassed as Jane herself. To the girl's furtive scrutiny he did not seem hardened against her, and she at last ventured, "Say, I didn't touch them drawers after you told me not to do anything on the sly.""When were they opened? Tell me the truth, Jane.""Mother opened them the first day you left us alone. I told her you wouldn't like it, but she said she was housekeeper; she said how it was her duty to inspect everything. I wanted to inspect, too. We was jes' rummagin'--that's what it was. After the things were all pulled out, mother got the rocker and wouldn't do anything. It was gettin' late, and I was frightened and poked 'em back in a hurry. Mother wanted to rummage ag'in the other day and I wouldn't let her; then, she wouldn't let me have the keys so I could fix 'em up."
"But the keys were in my pocket, Jane.""Mother has a lot of keys. I've told you jes' how it all was."
"Nothing was taken away?""No. Mother aint got sense, but she never takes things. I nuther 'cept when I'm hungry. Never took anything here. Say, are you goin' to send us away?'
"I fear I shall have to, Jane. I'm sorry for you, for I believe you would try to do the best you could if given a chance, and I can see you never had a chance.""No," said the child, blinking hard to keep the tears out of her eyes. "I aint had no teachin'. I've jes' kinder growed along with the farm hands and rough boys. Them that didn't hate me teased me. Say, couldn't I stay in your barn and sleep in the hay?"