In spite of his laughing contempt of danger, she trembled as she saw him ready to go out again; she wished to accompany bitcoin cash market cap historyhim on his round of observation, but he scouted the idea, although it pleased him. Standing in the door, she strained her eyes and listened breathlessly. He soon returned and said, "They've all had enough. We won't be disturbed again."
It is remarkable to what a degree people's abodes are a reflex of themselves. Mrs. Alida Ostrom had been brought to these rooms a happy bride but a few months since. They were then bare and not very clean. Her husband had seemed bent on indulging her so far as his limited means permitted. He had declared that his income was so modest that he could afford nothing better than these cheap rooms in an obscure street, but she had been abundantly content, for she had known even the extremity of poverty.ethereum burn priceAlida Ostrom had passed beyond the period of girlhood, with its superficial desires and ambitions. When her husband first met her, she was a woman of thirty, and had been chastened by deep sorrows and some bitter experiences. Years before, she and her mother had come to this town from a New England city in the hope of bettering their circumstances. They had no weapons other than their needles with which to fight life's battle, but they were industrious and frugal--characteristic traits which won the confidence of the shopkeepers for whom they worked. All went as well, perhaps, as they could expect, for two or three years, their secluded lives passing uneventfully and, to a certain extent, happily. They had time to read some good books obtained at a public library; they enjoyed an occasional holiday in the country; and they went to church twice every Sunday when it was not stormy. The mother usually dozed in the obscure seat near the door which they occupied, for she was getting old, and the toil of the long week wearied her.--Alida, on the contrary, was closely attentive. Her mind seemed to crave all the sustenance it could get from every source, and her reverential manner indicated that the hopes inspired by her faith were dear and cherished. Although they lived such quiet lives and kept themselves apart from their neighbors, there was no mystery about them which awakened surmises. "They've seen better days," was the common remark when they were spoken of; and this was true. While they had no desire to be social with the people among whom they lived, they did not awaken prejudices by the assertion of superiority. Indeed, it was seen that the two women had all they could do to earn their livelihood, and they were left to do this in peace.
When Alida Armstrong--for that was her maiden name--carried her own and her mother's work to and from the shops, she often encountered admiring glances. She was not exactly pretty, but she had the good, refined face which is often more attractive than the merely pretty one, and she possessed a trim, rounded figure which she knew how to clothe with taste from the simplest and most inexpensive materials. Nor did she seek to dress above her station. When passing along the street, any discerning person would recognize that she was a working girl; only the superficial would look upon her as a common-place girl. There was something in her modest air and graceful, elastic carriage which suggested the thought to many observers, "She has seen better days."The memory of these days, which had promised immunity from wearing toil, anxiety, and poverty, was a barrier between the two women and their present world. Death had bereft them of husband, father, and such property as he had left had been lost in a bad investment. Learning that they were almost penniless, they had patiently set about earning honest bread. This they had succeeded in doing as long as the mother kept her usual health. But the infirmities of age were creeping upon her. One winter she took a heavy cold and was very ill. She rallied only temporarily in the milder days of spring. In the summer's heat her strength failed, and she died.During her mother's long illness Alida was devotion itself. The strain upon her was severe indeed, for she not only had to earn food for both, but there were also doctor's bills, medicines, and delicacies to pay for. The poor girl grew thin from work by day, watching by night, and from fear and anxiety at all times. Their scanty savings were exhausted; articles were sold from their rooms; the few precious heirlooms of silver and china were disposed of; Alida even denied herself the food she needed rather than ask for help or permit her mother to want for anything which ministered to their vain hopes of renewed health.What she should have done she scarcely knew, had not an unexpected friend interested himself in her behalf. In one of the men's clothing stores was a cutter from whom she obtained work. Soon after he appeared in this shop he began to manifest signs of interest in her He was about her own age, he had a good trade, and she often wondered why he appeared so reticent and moody, as compared with others in similar positions. But he always spoke kindly to her, and when her mother's illness first developed, he showed all the leniency permitted to him in regard to her work. His apparent sympathy, and the need of explaining why she was not able to finish her tasks as promptly as usual, led her gradually to reveal to him the sad struggle in which she was engaged. He promised to intercede in her behalf with their mutual employers, and asked if he might come to see her mother.Recognizing how dependent she was upon this man's good will, and seeing nothing in his conduct but kindness and sympathy, she consented. His course and his words confirmed all her good impressions and awakened on her side corresponding sympathy united with a lively gratitude. He told her that he also was a stranger in the town, that he had but few acquaintances and no friends, that he had lost relatives and was in no need to go about like other young men. His manner was marked apparently by nothing more than interest and a wish to help her, and was untinged by gallantry; so they gradually became good friends. When he called Sunday afternoons the mother looked at him wistfully, in the hope that her daughter would not be left without a protector. At last the poor woman died, and Alida was in sore distress, for she had no means with which to bury her. Ostrom came and said in the kindest tones:
"You must let me lend you what you need and you can pay me back with interest, if you wish. You won't be under any obligation, for I have money lying idle in the bank. When you have only yourself to support it will not take you long to earn the sum."There seemed nothing else for her to do and so it was arranged. With tear-blinded eyes she made her simple mourning, and within a week after her mother's death was at work again, eager to repay her debt. He urged her not to hasten--to take all the rest she could while the hot weather lasted, and few evenings passed that he did not come to take her out for a walk through the quieter streets."But I didn't expect you to get up so early. I didn't wish it."
"It's too late now," she said pleasantly, "so I hope you won't find fault with me for doing what I wanted to do.""Did you mean to be up and have breakfast when I told you last night?""Yes. Of course I didn't let you know for you would have said I mustn't, and then I couldn't. It isn't good for people to get up so early and do as much as you had on your mind without eating. Now you won't be any the worse for it.""I certainly ought to be the better for so much kindly consideration; but it will cure me of such unearthly hours if you feel that you must conform to them. You look pale this morning, Alida; you're not strong enough to do such things, and there's no need of it when I'm so used to waiting on myself."
"I shall have to remind you," she replied with a bright look at him over her shoulder, "that you said I could do things my own way.""Well, it seems odd after a year when everyone who came here appeared to grudge doing a thing for a man's comfort."
"I should hope I was different from them.""Well, you are. I thought you were different from anyone I ever knew as I saw you there looking at the east. You seem wonderfully fond of pretty things.""I'll own to that. But if you don't hurry you won't do as much as you hoped by getting up early."The morning was very mild, and she left the outer door open as she went quickly to and fro with elasticity of spirit as well as step. It was pleasant to have her efforts appreciated and almost as grateful to hear the swelling harmony of song from the awakening birds. The slight cloud that had fallen on her thoughts the evening before had lifted. She felt that she understood Holcroft better, and saw that his feeling was only that of honest friendliness and satisfaction. She had merely to recognize and respond to so much only and all would be well. Meantime, she desired nothing more, and he should be thoroughly convinced of this fact. She grew positively light-hearted over the fuller assurance of the truth that although a wife, she was not expected to love--only to be faithful to all his interests. This, and this only, she believed to be within her power.
Holcroft departed in the serenity characteristic of one's mood when the present is so agreeable that neither memories of the past nor misgivings as to the future are obtrusive. He met Watterly in town, and remarked, "This is another piece of good luck. I hadn't time to go out to your place, although I meant to take time.""A piece of good luck indeed!" Tom mentally echoed, for he would have been greatly embarrassed if Holcroft had called. Mrs. Watterly felt that she had been scandalized by the marriage which had taken place in her absence, and was all the more resentful for the reason that she had spoken to a cousin of uncertain age and still more uncertain temper in behalf of the farmer. In Mrs. Watterly's estimate of action, it was either right, that is, in accordance with her views, or else it was intolerably wrong and without excuse. Poor Tom had been made to feel that he had not only committed an almost unpardonable sin against his wife and her cousin, but also against all the proprieties of life. "The idea of such a wedding taking place in my rooms and with my husband's sanction!" she had said with concentrated bitterness. Then had followed what he was accustomed to characterize as a spell of "zero weather." He discreetly said nothing. "It didn't seem such a bad idea to me," he thought, "but then I suppose women folks know best about such things."He was too frank in his nature to conceal from Holcroft his misgivings or his wife's scornful and indignant disapproval. "Sorry Angy feels so bad about it, Jim," he said ruefully, "but she says I mustn't buy anything more of you.""Or have anything more to do with me, I suppose?"
"Oh, come now! You know a man's got to let his women-folks have their say about household matters, but that don't make any difference in my feelings toward you.""Well, well, Tom! If it did, I should be slow to quarrel with a man who had done me as good a turn as you have. Thank the Lord! I've got a wife that'll let me have some say about household and all other matters. You, too, are inclined to think that I'm in an awful scrape. I feel less like getting out of it every day. My wife is as respectable as I am and a good sight better than I am. If I'm no longer respectable for having married her, I certainly am better contented than I ever expected to be again. I want it understood, though, that the man who says anything against my wife may have to get me arrested for assault and battery."
"When it comes to that, Jim," replied Watterly, who was meek only in the presence of his wife, "I'd just as lief speak against her as wink if there was anything to say. But I say now, as I said to you at first, she aint one of the common sort. I thought well of her at first, and I think better of her now since she's doing so well by you. But I suppose marrying a woman situated as she was isn't according to regulation. We men are apt to act like the boys we used to be and go for what we want without thinking of the consequences.""It's the consequences that please me most. If you had been dependent on Mumpson, Malonys, and Wigginses for your home comfort you wouldn't worry about the talk of people who'd never raise a finger for you. Well, goodbye, I'm in a hurry. Your heart's in the right place, Tom, and some day you'll come out and take dinner with me. One dinner, such as she'll give you, will bring you round. One of our steady dishes is a bunch of flowers and I enjoy 'em, too. What do you think of that for a hard-headed old fellow like me?"
Some men are chilled by public disapproval and waver under it, but Holcroft was thereby only the more strongly confirmed in his course. Alida had won his esteem as well as his good will, and it was the instinct of his manhood to protect and champion her. He bought twice as many flowers and seeds as she had asked for, and also selected two simple flower vases; then started on his return with the feeling that he had a home.Alida entered upon her duties to the poultry with almost the pleasure of a child. She first fed them, then explored every accessible nook and hiding place in the barn and outbuildings. It was evident that many of the biddies had stolen their nests, and some were brooding upon them with no disposition to be disturbed. Out of the hundred or more fowls on the place, a good many were clucking their maternal instincts, and their new keeper resolved to put eggs under all except the flighty ones that left their nests within two or three days' trial. As the result of her search, the empty egg basket was in a fair way to be full again very soon. She gloated over her spoils as she smilingly assured herself, "I shall take him at his word. I shall spend nearly all I make this year in fixing up the old house within and without, so he'll scarcely know it."It was eleven o'clock before Holcroft drove to the door with the flowers, and he was amply repaid by her pleasure in receiving them. "Why, I only expected geraniums," she said, "and you've bought half a dozen other kinds.""And I expected to get my own coffee this morning and a good breakfast was given me instead, so we are quits.""You're probably ready for your dinner now, if it is an hour earlier than usual. It will be ready in ten minutes.""Famous! That will give me a good long afternoon. I say, Alida, when do you want the flower beds made?"
"No hurry about them. I shall keep the plants in the window for a week or two. It isn't safe to put them outdoors before the last of May. I'll have some slips ready by that time.""Yes, I know. You'll soon have enough to set out an acre."
The days of another week passed quietly and rapidly away, Alida becoming almost as much absorbed in her interests as he in his. Every hour added to the beauty of the season without. The unplowed fields were taking on a vivid green, and Holcroft said that on the following Monday the cows should go out to pasture. Wholesome, agreeable occupation enabled Alida to put away sad thoughts and memories. Nature and pleasant work are two potent healers, and she was rallying fast under their ministry. Holcroft would have been blind indeed had he not observed changes for the better. Her thin cheeks were becoming fuller, and her exertions, with the increasing warmth of the season, often flushed her face with a charming color. The old sad and troubled expression was passing away from her blue eyes. Every day it seemed easier for her to laugh, and her step grew more elastic. It was all so gradual that he never questioned it, but his eyes followed her with increasing pleasure and he listened, when she spoke, with deepening interest. Sundays had been long and rather dreary days, but now he positively welcomed their coming and looked forward to the hours when, instead of brooding over the past, he should listen to her pleasant voice reading his few and neglected books. There was a new atmosphere in his home--a new influence, under which his mind was awakening in spite of his weariness and absorption in the interests of the farm. Alida was always ready to talk about these, and her questions would soon enable her to talk understandingly. She displayed ignorance enough, and this amused him, but her queries evinced no stupidity. In reading to her father and in the cultivation of flowers, she had obtained hints of vital horticultural principles, and Holcroft said to her laughingly one evening at supper, "You'll soon learn all I know and begin to teach me."Her manner of deprecating such remarks was to exaggerate them and she replied, "Yes, next week you will sell my eggs and I shall subscribe for the agricultural paper my father used to take. Then will begin all the improvements of book-farming. I shall advise you to sow oats in June, plant corn in March, and show you generally that all your experience counts for nothing."
This kind of badinage was new to the farmer, and it amused him immensely. He did not grow sleepy so early in the evening, and as he was driving his work prosperously he shortened his hours of labor slightly. She also found time to read the county paper and gossip a little about the news, thus making a beginning in putting him and herself en rapport with other interests than those which centered in the farm. In brief, she had an active, intelligent mind and a companionable nature. Her boundless gratitude for her home, which daily grew more homelike, led her to employ all her tact in adding to his enjoyment. Yet so fine was her tact that her manner was a simple embodiment of good will, and he was made to feel that it was nothing more.While all was passing so genially and satisfactorily to Holcroft, it may well be supposed that his conduct was not at all to the mind of his neighbors. News, especially during the busy spring season, permeates a country neighborhood slowly. The fact of his marriage had soon become known, and eventually, through Justice Harkins, the circumstances relating to it and something of Alida's previous history, in a garbled form, came to be discussed at rural firesides. The majority of the men laughed and shrugged their shoulders, implying it was none of their business, but not a few, among whom was Lemuel Weeks, held up their hands and spoke of the event in terms of the severest reprehension. Many of the farmers' wives and their maiden sisters were quite as much scandalized as Mrs. Watterly had been that an unknown woman, of whom strange stories were told, should have been brought into the community from the poorhouse, "and after such a heathenish marriage, too," they said. It was irregular, unprecedented, and therefore utterly wrong and subversive of the morals of the town.
They longed to ostracize poor Alida, yet saw no chance of doing so. They could only talk, and talk they did, in a way that would have made her ears tingle had she heard.The young men and older boys, however, believed that they could do more than talk. Timothy Weeks had said to a group of his familiars, "Let's give old Holcroft and his poorhouse bride a skimelton that will let 'em know what folks think of 'em."The scheme found favor at once, and Tim Weeks was soon recognized as organizer and leader of the peculiar style of serenade contemplated. After his day's work was over, he rode here and there summoning congenial spirits. The project soon became pretty well known in several families, but the elder members remained discreetly blind and deaf, proposing to wink at what was going on, yet take no compromising part themselves. Lemuel Weeks winked very knowingly and suggestively. He kept within such bounds, however, as would enable him to swear that he knew nothing and had said nothing, but his son had never felt more assured of his father's sympathy. When at last the motley gathering rendezvoused at Tim's house, Weeks, senior, was conveniently making a call on a near neighbor.It was Saturday evening, and the young May moon would furnish sufficient light without revealing identity too clearly. About a score of young fellows and hired farm-hands of the ruder sort came riding and trudging to Weeks' barn, where there was a barrel of cider on tap. Here they blackened their faces with charcoal and stimulated their courage, for it was well known that Holcroft was anything but lamblike when angered.
"He'll be like a bull in a china shop," remarked Tim, "but then there's enough of us to handle him if he gets too obstrep'rous."Armed with tin pans and horns which were to furnish the accompaniment to their discordant voices, they started about eight in the evening. As they moved up the road there was a good deal of coarse jesting and bravado, but when they approached the farmhouse silence was enjoined. After passing up the lane they looked rather nervously at the quiet dwelling softly outlined in the moonlight. A lamp illumined the kitchen window, and Tim Weeks whispered excitedly, "He's there. Let's first peek in the window and then give 'em a scorcher."
Knowing that they should have the coming day in which to rest, Holcroft and Alida had busied themselves with outdoor matters until late. She had been planning her flower beds, cutting out the dead wood from some neglected rosebushes and shrubbery, and had also helped her husband by sowing seed in the kitchen garden back of the house. Then, weary, yet pleased with the labor accomplished, they made a very leisurely supper, talking over garden matters and farm prospects in general. Alida had all her flower seeds on the table beside her, and she gloated over them and expatiated on the kind of blossoms they would produce with so much zest that Holcroft laughingly remarked, "I never thought that flowers would be one of the most important crops on the place.""You will think so some day. I can see, from the expression of your eyes, that the cherry blossoms and now the apple blows which I put on the table please you almost as much as the fruit would."
"Well, it's because I notice 'em. I never seemed to notice 'em much before.""Oh, no! It's more than that," she replied, shaking her head. "Some people would notice them, yet never see how pretty they were."
"Then they'd be blind as moles.""The worst kind of blindness is that of the mind.""Well, I think many country people are as stupid and blind as oxen, and I was one of 'em. I've seen more cherry and apple blossoms this year than in all my life before, and I haven't thought only of cherries and apples either.""The habit of seeing what is pretty grows on one," she resumed. "It seems to me that flowers and such things feed mind and heart. So if one HAS mind and heart, flowers become one of the most useful crops. Isn't that practical common sense?"
"Not very common in Oakville. I'm glad you think I'm in a hopeful frame of mind, as they used to say down at the meeting house. Anyhow, since you wish it, we will have a flower crop as well as a potato crop."Thus they continued chatting while Alida cleared up the table, and Holcroft, having lighted his pipe, busied himself with peeling a long, slim hickory sapling intended for a whipstock.
Having finished her tasks, Alida was finally drying her hands on a towel that hung near a window. Suddenly, she caught sight of a dark face peering in. Her startled cry brought Holcroft hastily to his feet. "What's the matter?" he asked."I saw--" Then she hesitated from a fear that he would rush into some unknown danger.
The rough crew without perceived that their presence was known, and Tim Weeks cried, "Now, all together!"A frightful overture began at once, the hooting and yelling almost drowning the instrumental part and sending to Alida's heart that awful chill of fear produced by human voices in any mob-like assemblage. Holcroft understood the affair at once, for he was familiar with the custom, but she did not. He threw open the door with the purpose of sternly expostulating with the disturbers of the peace and of threatening them with the law unless they retired. With an instinct to share his danger she stepped to his side, and this brought a yell of derision. Lurid thoughts swept through her mind. She had brought this danger. Her story had become known. What might they not do to Holcroft? Under the impulse of vague terror and complete self-sacrifice, she stepped forward and cried, "I only am to blame. I will go away forever if you will spare--" But again the scornful clamor rose and drowned her voice.