"She shall know them!" half shrieked the woman, as if at last stung to fury. "I see that you both hope to get through this affair with a little high tragedy, then escape and come together again in some other hiding place. As for this creature, she can go where she pleases, after hearing the truth; but you, Henry Ferguson, have got to do your duty by me and your child or go to prison. Let me tell you, miss, that this man was also married to me by a minister. I have my certificate and can produce witnesses. There's one little point you'll do wsolana bridgeell to consider," she continued, in bitter sarcasm, "he married me first. I suppose you are not so young and innocent as not to know where this fact places YOU. He courted and won me as other girls are courted and married. He promised me all that he ever promised you. Then, when I lost my rosy cheeks--when I became sick and feeble from child-bearing--he deserted and left me almost penniless. You needn't think you will have to take my word for this. I have proof enough. And now, Henry Ferguson, I've a few words for you, and then you must take your choice. You can't escape. I and my brother have tracked you here. You can't leave these rooms without going to prison. You'd be taken at the very door. But I give you one more chance. If you will promise before God to do your duty by me and your child, I'll forgive as far as a wronged woman can forgive. Neither I nor my brother will take proceedings against you. What this woman will do I don't know. If she prosecutes you, and you are true to me, I'll stand by you, but I won't stand another false step or a false word from you."
"And you will also promise to leave me utterly alone?"buy property with bitcoin australia"If I can."
"You must promise never even to tempt me to think of going away. I'd rather you'd shot me than ask it. I'm not a weak, timid girl. I'm a broken-hearted woman who fears some things far more than death.""If you have any fears for Holcroft, they are very rational ones.""It is for his sake that I would act. I would rather suffer anything and lose everything than have harm come to him.""All I can say is that, if you will leave him completely and finally, I will let him alone. But you must do it promptly. Everything depends upon this. I'm in too reckless and bitter a mood to be trifled with. Besides, I've plenty of money and could escape from the country in twenty-four hours. You needn't think you can tell this story to Holcroft and that he can protect you and himself. I'm here under an assumed name and have seen no one who knows me. I may have to disappear for a time and be disguised when I come again, but I pledge you my word he'll never be safe as long as you are under his roof.""Then I will sacrifice myself for him," she said, pallid even to her lips. "I will go away. But never dream that you can come near me again--you who deceived and wronged me, and now, far worse, threaten the man I love."
"We'll see about that," he replied cynically. "At any rate, you will have left him.""Go!" she said imperiously."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?"Holcroft was sorely perplexed and pushed away his half-eaten supper. He knew himself what it was to be friendless and lonely, and his heart softened toward this worse than motherless child.
"Jane," he said kindly, "I'm just as sorry for you as I can be, but you don't know the difficulties in the way of what you wish, and I fear I can't make you understand them. Indeed, it would not be best to tell you all of them. If I could keep you at all, you should stay in the house, and I'd be kind to you, but it can't be. I may not stay here myself. My future course is very uncertain. There's no use of my trying to go on as I have. Perhaps some day I can do something for you, and if I can, I will. I will pay your mother her three months' wages in full in the morning, and then I want you both to get your things into your trunk, and I'll take you to your Cousin Lemuel's."Driven almost to desperation, Jane suggested the only scheme she could think of. "If you stayed here and I run away and came back, wouldn't you keep me? I'd work all day and all night jes' for the sake of stayin'."
"No, Jane," said Holcroft firmly, "you'd make me no end of trouble if you did that. If you'll be a good girl and learn how to do things, I'll try to find you a place among kind people some day when you're older and can act for yourself.""You're afraid 'fi's here mother'd come a-visitin," said the girl keenly.
"You're too young to understand half the trouble that might follow. My plans are too uncertain for me to tangle myself up. You and your mother must go away at once, so I can do what I must do before it's too late in the season. Here's a couple of dollars which you can keep for yourself," and he went up to his room, feeling that he could not witness the child's distress any longer.He fought hard against despondency and tried to face the actual condition of his affairs. "I might have known," he thought, "that things would have turned out somewhat as they have, with such women in the house, and I don't see much chance of getting better ones. I've been so bent on staying and going on as I used to that I've just shut my eyes to the facts." He got out an old account book and pored over it a long time. The entries therein were blind enough, but at last he concluded, "It's plain that I've lost money on the dairy ever since my wife died, and the prospects now are worse than ever. That Weeks tribe will set the whole town talking against me and it will be just about impossible to get a decent woman to come here. I might as well have an auction and sell all the cows but one at once. After that, if I find I can't make out living alone, I'll put the place in better order and sell or rent. I can get my own meals after a fashion, and old Jonathan Johnson's wife will do my washing and mending. It's time it was done better than it has been, for some of my clothes make me look like a scarecrow. I believe Jonathan will come with his cross dog and stay here too, when I must be away. Well, well, it's a hard lot for a man; but I'd be about as bad off, and a hundred-fold more lonely, if I went anywhere else."I can only feel my way along and live a day at a time. I'll learn what can be done and what can't be. One thing is clear: I can't go on with this Mrs. Mumpson in the house a day longer. She makes me creep and crawl all over, and the first thing I know I shall be swearing like a bloody pirate unless I get rid of her."If she wasn't such a hopeless idiot I'd let her stay for the sake of Jane, but I won't pay her good wages to make my life a burden a day longer," and with like self-communings he spent the evening until the habit of early drowsiness overcame him.The morning found Jane dispirited and a little sullen, as older and wiser people are apt to be when disappointed. She employed herself in getting breakfast carelessly and languidly, and the result was not satisfactory."Where's your mother?" Holcroft asked when he came in.
"She told me to tell you she was indisposed.""Indisposed to go to Lemuel Weeks'?"
"I 'spect she means she's sick."He frowned and looked suspiciously at the girl. Here was a new complication, and very possibly a trick.
"What's the matter with her?""Dunno."
"Well, she had better get well enough to go by this afternoon," he remarked, controlling his irritation with difficulty, and nothing more was said.Full of his new plans he spent a busy forenoon and then came to dinner. It was the same old story. He went up and knocked at Mrs. Mumpson's door, saying that he wished to speak with her."I'm too indisposed to transact business," she replied feebly."You must be ready tomorrow morning," he called. "I have business plans which can't be delayed," and he turned away muttering rather sulphurous words.
"He will relent; his hard heart will soften at last--" But we shall not weary the reader with the long soliloquies with which she beguiled her politic seclusion, as she regarded it. Poor, unsophisticated Jane made matters worse. The condition of life among her much-visited relatives now existed again. She was not wanted, and her old sly, sullen, and furtive manner reasserted itself. Much of Holcroft's sympathy was thus alienated, yet he partially understood and pitied her. It became, however, all the more clear that he must get rid of both mother and child, and that further relations with either of them could only lead to trouble.The following morning only Jane appeared. "Is your mother really sick?" he asked.
"S'pose so," was the laconic reply."You haven't taken much pains with the breakfast, Jane."
"'Taint no use."With knitted brows he thought deeply, and silently ate the wretched meal which had been prepared. Then, remarking that he might do some writing, he went up to a small attic room which had been used occasionally by a hired man. It contained a covered pipe-hole leading into the chimney flue. Removing the cover, he stopped up the flue with an old woolen coat. "I suppose I'll have to meet tricks with tricks," he muttered.
Returning to his own apartment, he lighted a fire in the stove and laid upon the kindling blaze some dampened wood, then went out and quietly hitched his horses to the wagon.The pungent odor of smoke soon filled the house. The cover over the pipe-hole in Mrs. Mumpson's room was not very secure, and thick volumes began to pour in upon the startled widow. "Jane!" she shrieked.If Jane was sullen toward Holcroft, she was furious at her mother, and paid no heed at first to her cry."Jane, Jane, the house is on fire!"
Then the child did fly up the stairway. The smoke seemed to confirm the words of her mother, who was dressing in hot haste. "Run and tell Mr. Holcroft!" she cried."I won't," said the girl. "If he won't keep us in the house, I don't care if he don't have any house."
"No, no, tell him!" screamed Mrs. Mumpson. "If we save his house he will relent. Gratitude will overwhelm him. So far from turning us away, he will sue, he will plead for forgiveness for his former harshness; his home saved will be our home won. Just put our things in the trunk first. Perhaps the house can't be saved, and you know we must save OUR things. Help me, quick! There, there; now, now"--both were sneezing and choking in a half-strangled manner. "Now let me lock it; my hand trembles so; take hold and draw it out; drag it downstairs; no matter how it scratches things!"Having reached the hall below, she opened the door and shrieked for Holcroft; Jane also began running toward the barn. The farmer came hastily out, and shouted, "What's the matter?"
"The house is on fire!" they screamed in chorus.To carry out his ruse, he ran swiftly to the house. Mrs. Mumpson stood before him wringing her hands and crying, "Oh, dear Mr. Holcroft, can't I do anything to help you? I would so like to help you and--"