The child had a miserable sense that she had angered htron price riseim; she was also satisfied that her mother's schemes would be futile, and she scarcely spoke again that day.
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."ethereum burn statsShe 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."Today, however, in recalling the past, his thoughts would question the future and the outcome of his experiences. In accordance with his simple, downright nature, he muttered, "I might as well face the truth and have done with it. I don't know whether I'll ever see my wife again or not; I don't know whether God is for me or against me. Sometimes, I half think there isn't any God. I don't know what will become of me when I die. I'm sure of only one thing--while I do live I could take comfort in working the old place."
In brief, without ever having heard of the term, he was an agnostic, but not one of the self-complacent, superior type who fancy that they have developed themselves beyond the trammels of faith and are ever ready to make the world aware of their progress.At last he recognized that his long reverie was leading to despondency and weakness; he rose, shook himself half angrily, and strode toward the house. "I'm here, and here I'm going to stay," he growled. "As long as I'm on my own land, it's nobody's business what I am or how I feel. If I can't get decent, sensible women help, I'll close up my dairy and live here alone. I certainly can make enough to support myself."Jane met him with a summons to dinner, looking apprehensively at his stern, gloomy face. Mrs. Mumpson did not appear. "Call her," he said curtly.The literal Jane returned from the parlor and said unsympathetically, "She's got a hank'chif to her eyes and says she don't want no dinner."
"Very well," he replied, much relieved.Apparently he did not want much dinner, either, for he soon started out again. Mrs. Wiggins was not utterly wanting in the intuitions of her sex, and said nothing to break in upon her master's abstraction.
In the afternoon Holcroft visited every nook and corner of his farm, laying out, he hoped, so much occupation for both hands and thoughts as to render him proof against domestic tribulations.He had not been gone long before Mrs. Mumpson called in a plaintive voice, "Jane!"The child entered the parlor warily, keeping open a line of retreat to the door. "You need not fear me," said her mother, rocking pathetically. "My feelings are so hurt and crushed that I can only bemoan the wrongs from which I suffer. You little know, Jane, you little know a mother's heart.""No," assented Jane. "I dunno nothin' about it."
"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."