Mrs. Mumpson was so taken aback by Holcroft's final wordsbitcoin news latest news and Watterly's stern manner as he said, "This is my office," that for once in her life she disappeared silently.
"To the Rhine?"I am allowed six days to get there. I made a calculation, and foundI could give Beaurepaire half a day. I shall have to make up for itby hard riding. You know me; always in a hurry. It is Bonaparte'sfault this time. He is always in a hurry too.""Why, colonel," said Edouard, "let us make haste then. Mind they goearly to rest at the chateau.""But you are not coming my way, youngster?""Not coming your way? Yes, but I am. Yours is a face I don't seeevery day, colonel; besides I would not miss THEIR faces, especiallythe baroness's and Madame Raynal's, at sight of you; and, besides,"--and the young gentleman chuckled to himself, and thought of Rose'swords, "the next time we meet;" well, this will be the next time.solana defi tvl"May I jump up behind?"Colonel Raynal nodded assent. Edouard took a run, and lighted likea monkey on the horse's crupper. He pranced and kicked at thisunexpected addition; but the spur being promptly applied to hisflanks, he bounded off with a snort that betrayed more astonishmentthan satisfaction, and away they cantered to Beaurepaire, withoutdrawing rein.
"There," said Edouard, "I was afraid they would be gone to bed; andthey are. The very house seems asleep--fancy--at half-past ten.""That is a pity," said Raynal, "for this chateau is the strongholdof etiquette. They will be two hours dressing before they will comeout and shake hands. I must put my horse into the stable. Go youand give the alarm.""I will, colonel. Stop, first let me see whether none of them areup, after all."And Edouard walked round the chateau, and soon discovered a light atone window, the window of the tapestried room. Running round theother way he came slap upon another light: this one was nearer theground. A narrow but massive door, which he had always seen notonly locked but screwed up, was wide open; and through the aperturethe light of a candle streamed out and met the moonlight streamingin."Hallo!" cried Edouard.He stopped, turned, and looked in."Hallo!" he cried again much louder.A young woman was sleeping with her feet in the silvery moonlight,and her head in the orange-colored blaze of a flat candle, whichrested on the next step above of a fine stone staircase, whoseexistence was now first revealed to the inquisitive Edouard.
Coming plump upon all this so unexpectedly, he quite started."Why, Jacintha!"He touched her on the shoulder to wake her. No. Jacintha wassleeping as only tired domestics can sleep. He might have taken thecandle and burnt her gown off her back. She had found a step thatfitted into the small of her back, and another that supported herhead, and there she was fast as a door.For a moment he was confused and then said recklessly, "It would come to the same thing in the end. Holcroft would never give you up."
"He'd have to. I wouldn't stay here a moment if I had no right.""But you said you would not live with me again?""Nor would I. I'd go back to the poorhouse and die there, for do you think I could live after another such experience? But my mind has grown clearer. You are deceiving me again, and Mr. Holcroft is incapable of deceiving me. He would never have called me his wife unless I was his wife before God and man.""I'm not deceiving you in regard to one thing!" he said tragically.
"O God, what shall I do?""If you won't go with me you must leave him," he replied, believing that, if this step were taken, others would follow.
"If I leave him--if I go away and live alone, will you promise to do him no harm?""I'd have no motive to harm him then, which will be better security than a promise. At the same time I do promise.""And you will also promise to leave me utterly alone?""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."I'll take a kiss first, sweetheart," he said, advancing with a sardonic smile.
"Jane!" she shrieked. He paused, and she saw evidences of alarm.The girl ran lightly out of the dairy room, where she had been a greedy listener to all that had been said, and a moment later appeared in the yard before the house. "Yes'm," she answered."Be careful now, sir," said Alida sternly. "There's a witness.""Only a little idiotic-looking girl.""She's not idiotic, and if you touch me the compact's broken.""Very well, my time will come. Remember, you've been warned," and he pulled his hat over his eyes and strode away.
"Bah!" said Jane with a snicker, "as if I hadn't seen his ugly mug so I'd know it 'mong a thousand."With a face full of loathing and dread, Alida watched her enemy disappear down the lane, and then, half fainting, sank on the lounge.
"Jane!" she called feebly, but there was no answer.Chapter 32 Jane Plays Mouse to the Lion
It can well be understood that Jane had no disposition to return to Mrs. Holcroft and the humdrum duties of the house. There opened before her an exciting line of action which fully accorded with her nature, and she entered upon it at once. Her first impulse was to follow the man of whom she had learned so much. Not only was she spurred to this course by her curiosity, but also by her instinctive loyalty to Holcroft, and, it must be admitted, by her own interests. Poor little Jane had been nurtured in a hard school, and had by this time learned the necessity of looking out for herself. This truth, united with her shrewd, matter-of-fact mind, led her to do the most sensible thing under the circumstances. "I know a lot now that he'll be glad to know, and if I tell him everything he'll keep me always. The first thing he'll want to know is what's become of that threatenin' scamp," and she followed Ferguson with the stealth of an Indian.Ferguson was not only a scamp, but, like most of his class, a coward. He had been bitterly disappointed in his interview with Alida. As far as his selfish nature permitted, he had a genuine affection for her, and he had thought of little else besides her evident fondness for him. He was so devoid of moral principle that he could not comprehend a nature like hers, and had scarcely believed it possible that she would repulse him so inflexibly. She had always been so gentle, yielding, and subservient to his wishes that he had thought that, having been assured of his wife's death, a little persuasion and perhaps a few threats would induce her to follow him, for he could not imagine her becoming attached to such a man as Holcroft had been described to be. Her uncompromising principle had entered but slightly into his calculations, and so, under the spur of anger and selfishness, he had easily entered upon a game of bluff He knew well enough that he had no claim upon Alida, yet it was in harmony with his false heart to try to make her think so. He had no serious intention of harming Holcroft--he would be afraid to attempt this--but if he could so work on Alida's fears as to induce her to leave her husband, he believed that the future would be full of possibilities. At any rate, he would find his revenge in making Alida and Holcroft all the trouble possible. Even in the excitement of the interview, however, he realized that he was playing a dangerous game, and when Jane answered so readily to Alida's call he was not a little disturbed. Satisfied that he had accomplished all that he could hope for at present, his purpose now was to get back to town unobserved and await developments. He therefore walked rapidly down the lane and pursued the road for a short distance until he came to an old, disused lane, leading up the hillside into a grove where he had concealed a horse and buggy. Unless there should be necessity, it was his intention to remain in his hiding place until after nightfall.
Jane had merely to skirt the bushy hillside higher up, in order to keep Ferguson in view and discover the spot in which he was lurking. Instead of returning to the house she kept right on, maintaining a sharp eye on the road beneath to make sure that Holcroft did not pass unobserved. By an extended detour, she reached the highway and continued toward town in the hope of meeting the farmer. At last she saw him driving rapidly homeward. He was consumed with anxiety to be at least near to Alida, even if, as he believed, he was no longer welcome in her presence. When Jane stepped out into the road he pulled up his horses and stared at her. She, almost bursting with her great secrets, put her finger on her lips and nodded portentously."Well, what is it?" he asked, his heart beating quickly."I've got a lot to tell yer, but don't want no one to see us.""About my wife?"
The girl nodded."Good God! Speak then. Is she sick?" and he sprung out and caught her arm with a grip that hurt her.
"Please, sir, I'm doin' all I kin for yer and--and you hurt me."Holcroft saw the tears coming to her eyes and he released his hold as he said, "Forgive me, Jane, I didn't mean to; but for mercy's sake, tell your story."
"It's a long 'un.""Well, well, give me the gist of it in a word."
"I guess she's goin' to run away."Holcroft groaned and almost staggered to his horses' heads, then led them to the roadside and tied them to a tree. Sitting down, as if too weak to stand, he buried his face in his hands. He could not bear to have Jane see his distress. "Tell your story," he said hoarsely, "quick, for I may have to act quickly.""Guess yer will. Did yer know she was married?""Certainly--to me."
"No, to another man--married by a minister. He's been there with her." She little foresaw the effect of her words, for the farmer bounded to his feet with an oath and sprang to his horses."Stop!" cried Jane, tugging at his arm. "If you go rushin' home now, you'll show you've got no more sense than mother. You'll spoil everything. She aint goin' to run away with HIM--she said she wouldn't, though he coaxed and threatened to kill yer if she didn't. 'Fi's a man I wouldn't act like a mad bull. I'd find out how to get ahead of t'other man."
"Well," said Holcroft, in a voice that frightened the child, "she said she wouldn't run away with this scoundrel--of course not--but you say she's going to leave. She'll meet him somewhere--good God! But how should you understand? Come, let me get home!""I understand a sight more'n you do, and you go on so that I can't tell you anything. If you showed sense, you'd be glad I was lookin' out for you so I could tell you everything. What's the good of goin' rampaigin' home when, if you'd only listen, you could get even with that scoundrel, as yer call 'im, and make all right," and Jane began to cry.
"Oh, thunder!" exclaimed the chafing man, "tell me your story at once, or you'll drive me mad. You don't half know what you're talking about or how much your words mean--how should you? The thing to do is to get home as soon as possible.""You aint no reason to be so mad and glum all the while," cried Jane, smarting under a sense of injustice. "Here I'm a-tryin' to do for you, and you'll be sorry ernuff if you don't stop and listen. And she's been a-tryin' to do for you all along, and she's been standin' up for you this afternoon, and is goin' to run away to save your life."