"Your surprise is natural, Alida, dear," he saisolana crypto yahoo financed gently, "but I've a right to come to you, for my wife is dead," and he advanced toward her.
"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--"chainlink defi partnerships"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.""What wonder, then that I weep, when even my child is so unnatural!"
"I dunno how to be anything else but what I be," replied the girl in self-defense."If you would only yield more to my guidance and influence, Jane, the future might be brighter for us both. If you had but stored up the Fifth Commandment in memory--but I forbear. You cannot so far forget your duty as not to tell me how HE behaved at dinner.""He looked awful glum, and hardly said a word.""Ah-h!" exclaimed the widow, "the spell is working."
"If you aint a-workin' tomorrow, there'll be a worse spell," the girl remarked."That will do, Jane, that will do. You little understand--how should you? Please keep an eye on him, and let me know how he looks and what he is doing, and whether his face still wears a gloomy or a penitent aspect. Do as I bid you, Jane, and you may unconsciously secure your own well-being by obedience."
Watching anyone was a far more congenial task to the child than learning the Commandments, and she hastened to comply. Moreover, she had the strongest curiosity in regard to Holcroft herself. She felt that he was the arbiter of her fate. So untaught was she that delicacy and tact were unknown qualities. Her one hope of pleasing was in work. She had no power of guessing that sly espionage would counterbalance such service. Another round of visiting was dreaded above all things; she was, therefore, exceedingly anxious about the future. "Mother may be right," she thought. "P'raps she can make him marry her, so we needn't go away any more. P'raps she's taken the right way to bring a man around and get him hooked, as Cousin Lemuel said. If I was goin' to hook a man though, I'd try another plan than mother's. I'd keep my mouth shut and my eyes open. I'd see what he wanted and do it, even 'fore he spoke. 'Fi's big anuf I bet I could hook a man quicker'n she can by usin' her tongue 'stead of her hands."Jane's scheme was not so bad a one but that it might be tried to advantage by those so disposed. Her matrimonial prospects, however, being still far in the future, it behooved her to make her present existence as tolerable as possible. She knew how much depended on Holcroft, and was unaware of any other method of learning his purposes except that of watching him. Both fearing and fascinated, she dogged his steps most of the afternoon, but saw nothing to confirm her mother's view that any spell was working. She scarcely understood why he looked so long at field, thicket, and woods, as if he saw something invisible to her.In planning future work and improvements, the farmer had attained a quieter and more genial frame of mind. "When, therefore, he sat down and in glancing about saw Jane crouching behind a low hemlock, he was more amused than irritated. He had dwelt on his own interests so long that he was ready to consider even Jane's for a while. "Poor child!" he thought, "she doesn't know any better and perhaps has even been taught to do such things. I think I'll surprise her and draw her out a little. Jane, come here," he called.The girl sprang to her feet, and hesitated whether to fly or obey. "Don't be afraid," added Holcroft. "I won't scold you. Come!"
She stole toward him like some small, wild, fearful animal in doubt of its reception. "Sit down there on that rock," he said.She obeyed with a sly, sidelong look, and he saw that she kept her feet gathered under her so as to spring away if he made the slightest hostile movement."Jane, do you think it's right to watch people so?" he asked gravely."She told me to."
"Your mother?"The girl nodded.
"But do you think it's right yourself?""Dunno. 'Taint best if you get caught."
"Well, Jane," said Holcroft, with something like a smile lurking in his deep-set eyes. "I don't think it's right at all. I don't want you to watch me any more, no matter who tells you to. Will you promise not to?"The child nodded. She seemed averse to speaking when a sign would answer."Can I go now?" she asked after a moment."Not yet. I want to ask you some questions. Was anyone ever kind to you?""I dunno. I suppose so.""What would you call being kind to you?"
"Not scoldin' or cuffin' me.""If I didn't scold or strike you, would you think I was kind, then?"
She nodded; but after a moment's thought, said, "and if you didn't look as if you hated to see me round.""Do you think I've been kind to you?"
"Kinder'n anybody else. You sorter look at me sometimes as if I was a rat. I don't s'pose you can help it, and I don't mind. I'd ruther stay here and work than go a-visitin' again. Why can't I work outdoors when there's nothin' for me to do in the house?""Are you willing to work--to do anything you can?"
Jane was not sufficiently politic to enlarge on her desire for honest toil and honest bread; she merely nodded. Holcroft smiled as he asked, "Why are you so anxious to work?""'Cause I won't feel like a stray cat in the house then. I want to be some'ers where I've a right to be.""Wouldn't they let you work down at Lemuel Weeks'?" She shook her head."Why not?" he asked.
"They said I wasn't honest; they said they couldn't trust me with things, 'cause when I was hungry I took things to eat.""Was that the way you were treated at other places?"
"Mostly.""Jane," asked Holcroft very kindly, "did anyone ever kiss you?"
"Mother used to 'fore people. It allus made me kinder sick."Holcroft shook his head as if this child was a problem beyond him, and for a time they sat together in silence. At last he arose and said, "It's time to go home. Now, Jane, don't follow me; walk openly at my side, and when you come to call me at any time, come openly, make a noise, whistle or sing as a child ought. As long as you are with me, never do anything on the sly, and we'll get along well enough."
She nodded and walked beside him. At last, as if emboldened by his words, she broke out, "Say, if mother married you, you couldn't send us away, could you?""Why do you ask such a question?" said Holcroft, frowning."I was a-thinkin'--""Well," he interrupted sternly, "never think or speak of such things again."
The child had a miserable sense that she had angered him; she was also satisfied that her mother's schemes would be futile, and she scarcely spoke again that day.Holcroft was more than angry; he was disgusted. That Mrs. Mumpson's design upon him was so offensively open that even this ignorant child understood it, and was expected to further it, caused such a strong revulsion in his mind that he half resolved to put them both in his market wagon on the morrow and take them back to their relatives. His newly awakened sympathy for Jane quickly vanished. If the girl and her mother had been repulsive from the first, they were now hideous, in view of their efforts to fasten themselves upon him permanently. Fancy, then, the climax in his feelings when, as they passed the house, the front door suddenly opened and Mrs. Mumpson emerged with clasped hands and the exclamation, "Oh, how touching! Just like father and child!"
Without noticing the remark he said coldly as he passed, "Jane, go help Mrs. Wiggins get supper."His anger and disgust grew so strong as he hastily did his evening work that he resolved not to endanger his self-control by sitting down within earshot of Mrs. Mumpson. As soon as possible, therefore, he carried the new stove to his room and put it up. The widow tried to address him as he passed in and out, but he paid no heed to her. At last, he only paused long enough at the kitchen door to say, "Jane, bring me some supper to my room. Remember, you only are to bring it."
Bewildered and abashed, Mrs. Mumpson rocked nervously. "I had looked for relentings this evening, a general softening," she murmured, "and I don't understand his bearing toward me." Then a happy thought struck her. "I see, I see," she cried softly and ecstatically: "He is struggling with himself; he finds that he must either deny himself my society or yield at once. The end is near."A little later she, too, appeared at the kitchen door and said, with serious sweetness, "Jane, you can also bring me MY supper to the parlor."