Camille stood gloomy and bitter, awaitinuniswap coin analysisg her in silence. Heplanted himself in the middle of the path, and said not a word.
The "caretaker" was rocking in the parlor and would disdain to look, while Jane tron based apphad gone out to help plant some early potatoes on a warm hillside. The coast was clear. Seeing the stage coming, the old woman waddled down the lane at a remarkable pace, paid her fare to town, and the Holcroft kitchen knew her no more.That she found the "friend" she had wished to see on her way out to the farm, and that this friend brought her quickly under Tom Watterly's care again, goes without saying.
As the shadows lengthened and the robins became tuneful, Holcroft said, "You've done well, Jane. Thank you. Now you can go back to the house."The child soon returned in breathless haste to the field where the farmer was covering the potato pieces she had dropped, and cried, "Mrs. Wiggins's gone!"Like a flash the woman's motive in asking for her wages occurred to him, but he started for the house to assure himself of the truth. "Perhaps she's in the cellar," he said, remembering the cider barrel, "or else she's out for a walk.""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.""No, indeed; now. I couldn't eat my breakfast while you were suffering so."
"I'm more unfeeling then than you are, for I could."She insisted on having her way, and then tore up her handkerchief to supply a soft linen bandage."You're extravagant, Alida," but she only shook her head."Famous! That feels better. What a touch you have! Now, if you had a broken head, my fingers would be like a pair of tongs."
She only shook her head and smiled."You're as bad as Jane used to be. She never said a word when she could shake or nod her meaning."
"I should think you would be glad, after having been half talked to death by her mother.""As I said before, take your own way of doing things. It seems the right way after it is done."A faint color came into her face, and she looked positively happy as she sat down to breakfast. "Are you sure your head feels better?" she asked."Yes, and you look a hundred per cent better. Well, I AM glad you had such a good sleep after all the hubbub."
"I didn't sleep till toward morning," she said, with downcast eyes."Pshaw! That's too bad. Well, no matter, you look like a different person from what you did when I first saw you. You've been growing younger every day."Her face flushed like a girl's under his direct, admiring gaze, making her all the more pretty. She hastened to divert direct attention from herself by asking, "You haven't heard from anyone this morning?""No, but I guess the doctor has. Some of those fellows will have to keep shady for a while."
As they were finishing breakfast, Holcroft looked out of the open kitchen door and exclaimed, "By thunder! We're going to hear from some of them now. Here comes Mrs. Weeks, the mother of the fellow who hit me.""Won't you please receive her in the parlor?"
"Yes, she won't stay long, you may be sure. I'm going to give that Weeks tribe one lesson and pay off the whole score."He merely bowed coldly to Mrs. Weeks' salutation and offered her a chair. The poor woman took out her handkerchief and began to mop her eyes, but Holcroft was steeled against her, not so much on account of the wound inflicted by her son as for the reason that he saw in her an accomplice with her husband in the fraud of Mrs. Mumpson.
"I hope you're not badly hurt," she began."It might be worse.""Oh, Mr. Holcroft!" she broke out sobbingly, "spare my son. It would kill me if you sent him to prison.""He took the chance of killing me last night," was the cold reply. "What's far worse, he insulted my wife.""Oh, Mr. Holcroft! He was young and foolish; he didn't realize--""Were you and your husband young and foolish," he interrupted bitterly, "when you gulled me into employing that crazy cousin of yours?"
This retort was so overwhelming that Mrs. Weeks sobbed speechlessly.Alida could not help overhearing the conversation, and she now glided into the room and stood by her husband's side.
"James," she said, "won't you do me a favor, a great kindness?"Mrs. Weeks raised her eyes and looked wonderingly at this dreadful woman, against whom all Oakville was talking.
"I know what you wish, Alida," he replied sternly, "but I can't do it. This is a case for justice. This woman's son was the leader of that vile crowd that insulted you last night. I can forgive his injuring me, but not the words he used about you. Moreover, when I was alone and struggling to keep my home, Mrs. Weeks took part with her husband in imposing on me their fraud of a cousin and in tricking me out of honest money. Any woman with a heart in her breast would have tried to help a man situated as I was. No, it's a clear case of justice, and her son shall go to jail."Mrs. Weeks wailed afresh at this final sentence. Holcroft was amazed to see his wife drop on her knees beside his chair. He raised her instantly. "Don't do such a thing as that," he said huskily.
Without removing her pleading eyes from his face she asked gently, "Who told us to forgive as we would be forgiven? James, I shall be very unhappy if you don't grant this mother's prayer."He tried to turn away, but she caught his hand and held his eyes with hers. "Alida," he said in strong agitation, "you heard the vile, false words that Timothy Weeks said last night. They struck you down like a blow. Can you forgive him?""Yes, and I plead with you to forgive him. Grant me my wish, James; I shall be so much happier, and so will you.""Well, Mrs. Weeks, now you know what kind of a woman your son came to insult. You may tell your neighbors that there's one Christian in Oakville. I yield to Mrs. Holcroft, and will take no further action in the affair if we are let alone."
Mrs. Weeks was not a bad woman at heart, and she had received a wholesome lesson. She came and took Alida's hand as she said, "Yes, you are a Christian--a better woman than I've been, but I aint so mean and bad but what, when I see my fault, I am sorry and can ask forgiveness. I do ask your forgiveness, Mr. Holcroft. I've been ashamed of myself ever since you brought my cousin back. I thought she would try, when she had the chance you gave her, but she seems to have no sense.""There, there! Let bygones be bygones," said the farmer in embarrassment. "I've surrendered. Please don't say anything more."
"You've got a kind heart, in spite--""Oh, come now! Please quit, or I'll begin to swear a little to keep up the reputation my neighbors have given me. Go home and tell Tim to brace up and try to be a man. When I say I'm done with a grudge, I AM done. You and Mrs. Holcroft can talk all you like, but please excuse me," and with more than most men's horror of a scene, he escaped precipitately.
"Sit down, Mrs. Weeks," said Alida kindly."Well, I will. I can't say much to excuse myself or my folks--"
"You've already said everything, Mrs. Weeks," interrupted Alida gently; "you've said you are sorry."Mrs. Weeks stared a moment, and then resumed sententiously, "Well, I've heard more gospel in that remark than if I'd gone to church. And I couldn't go to church, I could never have gone there again or held my head up anywhere if--if--""That's all past and gone," said Alida, smiling. "When Mr. Holcroft says anything, you may depend on it.""Well, God bless you for intercedin'--you had so much to forgive. Nobody shall ever speak a word against you again while I've got breath to answer. I wish you'd let me come and see you sometimes."
"Whenever you wish, if you care to visit one who has had so much--so much trouble.""I see now that's all the more reason I should come, for if it hadn't been for you, I'd have been in bitter trouble myself. We've been worse than heathen, standin' off and talking against you. Oh, I've had a lesson I won't forget! Well, I must hurry home, for I left Timothy and Lemuel in a dreadful state."
Seeing the farmer in the barn as she was passing, she rushed to him. "You've got to shake hands with me, Mr. Holcroft. Your wife IS a good woman, and she's a lady, too. Anyone with half an eye can see she's not one of the common sort."The farmer shook the poor woman's hand good-naturedly and said heartily, "That's so! All right, meeting's over. Goodbye." Then he turned to his work and chuckled, "That's what Tom Watterly said. Thank the Lord! She ISN'T of the common sort. I've got to brace up and be more of a man as well as Tim Weeks."
In spite of the pain in his head, Alida's words proved true. He was happier than he had been in many a long day. He had the glow which follows a generous act, and the thought that he had pleased a sweet little woman who somehow seemed very attractive to him that May morning; at the same time the old Adam in his nature led to a sneaking satisfaction that he had laid on the hickory so unsparingly the evening before.Alida uttered a low, happy laugh as she heard him whistling "Coronation" in jig time, and she hustled away the breakfast things with the eagerness of a girl, that she might be ready to read to him when he came in.