"Yes, afethereum price prediction xbtter breakfast."
He kept up the form of his faith and a certain vague hope until the night on which he drove forth the Irish revelers from his home. In remembrance of his rage aneos questions coinbased profanity on that occasion, he silently and in dreary misgiving concluded that he should not, even to himself, keep up the pretense of religion any longer. "I've fallen from grace--that is, if I ever had any"--was a thought which did much to rob him of courage to meet his other trials. Whenever he dwelt on these subjects, doubts, perplexities, and resentment at his misfortunes so thronged his mind that he was appalled; so he strove to occupy himself with the immediate present.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.But, indeed he could scarcely have met it in any other way. Even to his wife, he had never formed the habit of speaking freely of his thoughts and feelings. There had been no need, so complete was the understanding between them. A hint, a sentence, reveled to each other their simple and limited processes of thought. To talk about her now to strangers was impossible. He had no language by which to express the heavy, paralyzing pain in his heart.
For a time he performed necessary duties in a dazed, mechanical way. The horses and live stock were fed regularly, the cows milked; but the milk stood in the dairy room until it spoiled. Then he would sit down at his desolate hearth and gaze for hours into the fire, until it sunk down and died out. Perhaps no class in the world suffers from such a terrible sense of loneliness as simple-natured country people, to whom a very few have been all the company they required.At last Holcroft partially shook off his stupor, and began the experiment of keeping house and maintaining his dairy with hired help. For a long year he had struggled on through all kinds of domestic vicissitude, conscious all the time that things were going from bad to worse. His house was isolated, the region sparsely settled, and good help difficult to be obtained under favoring auspices. The few respectable women in the neighborhood who occasionally "lent a hand" in other homes than their own would not compromise themselves, as they expressed it, by "keepin' house for a widower." Servants obtained from the neighboring town either could not endure the loneliness, or else were so wasteful and ignorant that the farmer, in sheer desperation, discharged them. The silent, grief-stricken, rugged-featured man was no company for anyone. The year was but a record of changes, waste, and small pilferings. Although he knew he could not afford it, he tried the device of obtaining two women instead of one, so that they might have society in each other; but either they would not stay or else he found that he had two thieves to deal with instead of one--brazen, incompetent creatures who knew more about whisky than milk, and who made his home a terror to him.Some asked good-naturedly, "Why don't you marry again?" Not only was the very thought repugnant, but he knew well that he was not the man to thrive on any such errand to the neighboring farmhouses. Though apparently he had little sentiment in his nature, yet the memory of his wife was like his religion. He felt that he could not put an ordinary woman into his wife's place, and say to her the words he had spoken before. Such a marriage would be to him a grotesque farce, at which his soul revolted.At last he was driven to the necessity of applying for help to an Irish family that had recently moved into the neighborhood. The promise was forbidding, indeed, as he entered the squalid abode in which were huddled men, women, and children. A sister of the mistress of the shanty was voluble in her assurances of unlimited capability.
"Faix I kin do all the wourk, in doors and out, so I takes the notion," she had asserted.There certainly was no lack of bone and muscle in the big, red-faced, middle-aged woman who was so ready to preside at his hearth and glean from his diminished dairy a modicum of profit; but as he trudged home along the wintry road, he experienced strong feelings of disgust at the thought of such a creature sitting by the kitchen fire in the place once occupied by his wife.
During all these domestic vicissitudes he had occupied the parlor, a stiff, formal, frigid apartment, which had been rarely used in his married life. He had no inclination for the society of his help; in fact, there had been none with whom he could associate. The better class of those who went out to service could find places much more to their taste than the lonely farmhouse. The kitchen had been the one cozy, cheerful room of the house, and, driven from it, the farmer was an exile in his own home. In the parlor he could at least brood over the happy past, and that was about all the solace he had left.Bridget came and took possession of her domain with a sangfroid which appalled Holcroft from the first. To his directions and suggestions, she curtly informed him that she knew her business and "didn't want no mon around, orderin' and interferin'."In fact, she did appear, as she had said, capable of any amount of work, and usually was in a mood to perform it; but soon her male relatives began to drop in to smoke a pipe with her in the evening. A little later on, the supper table was left standing for those who were always ready to "take a bite."--The farmer had never heard of the camel who first got his head into the tent, but it gradually dawned upon him that he was half supporting the whole Irish tribe down at the shanty. Every evening, while he shivered in his best room, he was compelled to hear the coarse jests and laughter in the adjacent apartment. One night his bitter thoughts found expression: "I might as well open a free house for the keeping of man and beast."He had endured this state of affairs for some time simply because the woman did the essential work in her offhand, slapdash style, and left him unmolested to his brooding as long as he did not interfere with her ideas of domestic economy. But his impatience and the sense of being wronged were producing a feeling akin to desperation. Every week there was less and less to sell from the dairy; chickens and eggs disappeared, and the appetites of those who dropped in to "kape Bridgy from bein' a bit lonely" grew more voracious.
Thus matters had drifted on until this March day when he had taken two calves to market. He had said to the kitchen potentate that he would take supper with a friend in town and therefore would not be back before nine in the evening. This friend was the official keeper of the poorhouse and had been a crony of Holcroft's in early life. He had taken to politics instead of farming, and now had attained to what he and his acquaintances spoke of as a "snug berth." Holcroft had maintained with this man a friendship based partly on business relations, and the well-to-do purveyor for paupers always gave his old playmate an honest welcome to his private supper table, which differed somewhat from that spread for the town's pensioners.On this occasion the gathering storm had decided Holcroft to return without availing himself of his friend's hospitality, and he is at last entering the lane leading from the highway to his doorway. Even as he approaches his dwelling he hears the sound of revelry and readily guesses what is taking place.Quiet, patient men, when goaded beyond a certain point, are capable of terrible ebullitions of anger, and Holcroft was no exception. It seemed to him that night that the God he had worshiped all his life was in league with man against him. The blood rushed to his face, his chilled form became rigid with a sudden passionate protest against his misfortunes and wrongs. Springing from the wagon, he left his team standing at the barn door and rushed to the kitchen window. There before him sat the whole tribe from the shanty, feasting at his expense. The table was loaded with coarse profusion. Roast fowls alternated with fried ham and eggs, a great pitcher of milk was flanked by one of foaming cider, while the post of honor was occupied by the one contribution of his self-invited guests--a villainous-looking jug.They had just sat down to the repast when the weazen-faced patriarch of the tribe remarked, by way of grace, it may be supposed, "Be jabers, but isn't ould Holcroft givin' us a foine spread the noight! Here's bad luck to the glowerin' ould skinflint!" and he poured out a bumper from the jug.
The farmer waited to see and hear no more. Hastening to a parlor window, he raised it quietly and clambered in; then taking his rusty shotgun, which he kept loaded for the benefit of the vermin that prowled about his hen-roost, he burst in upon the startled group."Be off!" he shouted. "If you value your lives, get out of that door, and never show your faces on my place again. I'll not be eaten out of house and home by a lot of jackals!"
His weapon, his dark, gleaming eyes, and desperate aspect taught the men that he was not to be trifled with a moment, and they slunk away.Bridget began to whine, "Yez wouldn't turn a woman out in the noight and storm."
"You are not a woman!" thundered Holcroft, "you are a jackal, too! Get your traps and begone! I warn the whole lot of you to beware! I give you this chance to get off the premises, and then I shall watch for you all, old and young!"There was something terrible and flame-like in his anger, dismaying the cormorants, and they hastened away with such alacrity that Bridget went down the lane screaming, "Sthop, I tell yees, and be afther waitin' for me!"Holcroft hurled the jug after them with words that sounded like an imprecation. He next turned to the viands on the table with an expression of loathing, gathered them up, and carried them to the hog pen. He seemed possessed by a feverish impatience to banish every vestige of those whom he had driven forth, and to restore the apartment as nearly as possible to the aspect it had worn in former happy years. At last, he sat down where his wife had been accustomed to sit, unbuttoned his waistcoat and flannel shirt, and from against his naked breast took an old, worn daguerreotype. He looked a moment at the plain, good face reflected there, them, bowing his head upon it, strong, convulsive sobs shook his frame, though not a tear moistened his eyes.How long the paroxysm would have lasted it were hard to say, had not the impatient whinnying of his horses, still exposed to the storm, caught his attention. The lifelong habit of caring for the dumb animals in his charge asserted itself. He went out mechanically, unharnessed and stabled them as carefully as ever before in his life, then returned and wearily prepared himself a pot of coffee, which, with a crust of bread, was all the supper he appeared to crave.Chapter 2 A Very Interested FriendFor the next few days, Holcroft lived alone. The weather remained inclement and there was no occasion for him to go farther away than the barn and outbuildings. He felt that a crisis in his life was approaching, that he would probably be compelled to sell his property for what it would bring, and begin life again under different auspices.
"I must either sell or marry," he groaned, "and one's about as hard and bad as the other. Who'll buy the place and stock at half what they're worth, and where could I find a woman that would look at an old fellow like me, even if I could bring myself to look at her?"The poor man did indeed feel that he was shut up to dreadful alternatives. With his ignorance of the world, and dislike for contact with strangers, selling out and going away was virtually starting out on an unknown sea without rudder or compass. It was worse than that--it was the tearing up of a life that had rooted itself in the soil whereon he had been content from childhood to middle age. He would suffer more in going, and in the memory of what he had parted with, than in any of the vicissitudes which might overtake him. He had not much range of imagination or feeling, but within his limitations his emotions were strong and his convictions unwavering. Still, he thought it might be possible to live in some vague, unknown place, doing some kind of work for people with whom he need not have very much to do. "I've always been my own master, and done things in my own way," he muttered, "but I suppose I could farm it to suit some old, quiet people, if I could only find 'em. One thing is certain, anyhow--I couldn't stay here in Oakville, and see another man living in these rooms, and plowing my fields, and driving his cows to my old pasture lots. That would finish me like a galloping consumption."
Every day he shrunk with a strange dread from the wrench of parting with the familiar place and with all that he associated with his wife. This was really the ordeal which shook his soul, and not the fear that he would be unable to earn his bread elsewhere. The unstable multitude, who are forever fancying that they would be better off somewhere else or at something else, can have no comprehension of this deep-rooted love of locality and the binding power of long association. They regard such men as Holcroft as little better than plodding oxen. The highest tribute which some people can pay to a man, however, is to show that they do not and cannot understand him. But the farmer was quite indifferent whether he was understood or not. He gave no thought to what people said or might say. What were people to him? He only had a hunted, pathetic sense of being hedged in and driven to bay. Even to his neighbors, there was more of the humorous than the tragic in his plight. It was supposed that he had a goodly sum in the bank, and gossips said that he and his wife thought more of increasing this hoard than of each other, and that old Holcroft's mourning was chiefly for a business partner. His domestic tribulations evoked mirth rather than sympathy; and as the news spread from farmhouse to cottage of his summary bundling of Bridget and her satellites out of doors, there were both hilarity and satisfaction.While there was little commiseration for the farmer, there was decided disapprobation of the dishonest Irish tribe, and all were glad that the gang had received a lesson which might restrain them from preying upon others.
Holcroft was partly to blame for his present isolation. Remote rural populations are given to strong prejudices, especially against those who are thought to be well-off from an oversaving spirit; and who, worse still, are unsocial. Almost anything will be forgiven sooner than "thinking one's self better than the other folks;" and that is the usual interpretation of shy, reticent people. But there had been a decided tinge of selfishness in the Holcrofts' habit of seclusion; for it became a habit rather than a principle. While they cherished no active dislike to their neighbors, or sense of superiority, these were not wholly astray in believing that they had little place in the thoughts or interests of the occupants of the hill farm. Indifference begat indifference, and now the lonely, helpless man had neither the power nor the disposition to bridge the chasm which separated him from those who might have given him kindly and intelligent aid. He was making a pathetic effort to keep his home and to prevent his heart from being torn bleeding away from all it loved. His neighbors thought that he was merely exerting himself to keep the dollars which it had been the supreme motive of his life to accumulate.Giving no thought to the opinions of others, Holcroft only knew that he was in sore straits--that all which made his existence a blessing was at stake.
At times, during these lonely and stormy March days, he would dismiss his anxious speculations in regard to his future course. He was so morbid, especially at night, that he felt that his wife could revisit the quiet house. He cherished the hope that she could see him and hear what he said, and he spoke in her viewless presence with a freedom and fullness that was unlike his old reticence and habit of repression. He wondered that he had not said more endearing words and given her stronger assurance of how much she was to him. Late at night, he would start out of a long reverie, take a candle, and, going through the house, would touch what she had touched, and look long and fixedly at things associated with her. Her gowns still hung in the closet, just as she had left them; he would take them out and recall the well-remembered scenes and occasions when they were worn. At such times, she almost seemed beside him, and he had a consciousness of companionship which soothed his perturbed spirit. He felt that she appreciated such loving remembrance, although unable to express her approval. He did not know it, but his nature was being softened, deepened, and enriched by these deep and unwonted experiences; the hard materiality of his life was passing away, rendering him capable of something better than he had ever known.In the morning all the old, prosaic problems of his life would return, with their hard, practical insistence, and he knew that he must decide upon something very soon. His lonely vigils and days of quiet had brought him to the conclusion that he could not hunt up a wife as a matter of business. He would rather face the "ever angry bears" than breathe the subject of matrimony to any woman that he could ever imagine himself marrying. He was therefore steadily drifting toward the necessity of selling everything and going away. This event, however, was like a coral reef to a sailor, with no land in view beyond it. The only thing which seemed certain was the general breaking up of all that had hitherto made his life.The offer of help came from an unexpected source. One morning Holcroft received a call from a neighbor who had never before shown any interest in his affairs. On this occasion, however, Mr. Weeks began to display so much solicitude that the farmer was not only surprised, but also a little distrustful. Nothing in his previous knowledge of the man had prepared the way for such very kindly intervention.After some general references to the past, Mr. Weeks continued, "I've been saying to our folks that it was too bad to let you worry on alone without more neighborly help. You ought either to get married or have some thoroughly respectable and well-known middle-aged woman keep house for you. That would stop all talk, and there's been a heap of it, I can tell you. Of course, I and my folks don't believe anything's been wrong."
"Believing that something was wrong is about all the attention my neighbors have given me, as far as I can see," Holcroft remarked bitterly."Well, you see, Holcroft, you've kept yourself so inside your shell that people don't know what to believe. Now, the thing to do is to change all that. I know how hard it is for a man, placed as you be, to get decent help. My wife was a-wondering about it the other day, and I shut her up mighty sudden by saying, 'You're a good manager, and know all the country side, yet how often you're a-complaining that you can't get a girl that's worth her salt to help in haying and other busy times when we have to board a lot of men.' Well, I won't beat around the bush any more. I've come to act the part of a good neighbor. There's no use of you're trying to get along with such haphazard help as you can pick up here and in town. You want a respectable woman for housekeeper, and then have a cheap, common sort of a girl to work under her. Now, I know of just such a woman, and it's not unlikely she'd be persuaded to take entire charge of your house and dairy. My wife's cousin, Mrs. Mumpson--" At the mention of this name Holcroft gave a slight start, feeling something like a cold chill run down his back.
Mr. Weeks was a little disconcerted but resumed, "I believe she called on your wife once?""Yes," the farmer replied laconically. "I was away and did not see her."
"Well, now," pursued Mr. Weeks, "she's a good soul. She has her little peculiarities; so have you and me, a lot of 'em; but she's thoroughly respectable, and there isn't a man or woman in the town that would think of saying a word against her. She has only one child, a nice, quiet little girl who'd be company for her mother and make everything look right, you know.""I don't see what there's been to look wrong," growled the farmer.
"Nothing to me and my folks, of course, or I wouldn't suggest the idea of a relation of my wife coming to live with you. But you see people will talk unless you stop their mouths so they'll feel like fools in doing it. I know yours has been a mighty awkward case, and here's a plain way out of it. You can set yourself right and have everything looked after as it ought to be, in twenty-four hours. We've talked to Cynthy--that's Mrs. Mumpson--and she takes a sight of interest. She'd do well by you and straighten things out, and you might do a plaguey sight worse than give her the right to take care of your indoor affairs for life.""I don't expect to marry again," said Holcroft curtly."Oh, well! Many a man and woman has said that and believed it, too, at the time. I'm not saying that my wife's cousin is inclined that way herself. Like enough, she isn't at all, but then, the right kind of persuading does change women's minds sometimes, eh? Mrs. Mumpson is kinder alone in the world, like yourself, and if she was sure of a good home and a kind husband there's no telling what good luck might happen to you. But there'll be plenty of time for considering all that on both sides. You can't live like a hermit.""I was thinking of selling out and leaving these parts," Holcroft interrupted.
"Now look here, neighbor, you know as well as I do that in these times you couldn't give away the place. What's the use of such foolishness? The thing to do is to keep the farm and get a good living out of it. You've got down in the dumps and can't see what's sensible and to your own advantage."Holcroft was thinking deeply, and he turned his eyes wistfully to the upland slopes of his farm. Mr. Weeks had talked plausibly, and if all had been as he represented, the plan would not have been a bad one. But the widower did not yearn for the widow. He did not know much about her, but had very unfavorable impressions. Mrs. Holcroft had not been given to speaking ill of anyone, but she had always shaken her head with a peculiar significance when Mrs. Mumpson's name was mentioned.
The widow had felt it her duty to call and counsel against the sin of seclusion and being too much absorbed in the affairs of this world."You should take an interest in everyone," this self-appointed evangelist had declared, and in one sense she lived up to her creed. She permitted no scrap of information about people to escape her, and was not only versed in all the gossip of Oakville, but also of several other localities in which she visited.
But Holcroft had little else to deter him from employing her services beyond an unfavorable impression. She could not be so bad as Bridget Malony, and he was almost willing to employ her again for the privilege of remaining on his paternal acres. As to marrying the widow--a slight shudder passed through his frame at the thought.Slowly he began, as if almost thinking aloud, "I suppose you are right, Lemuel Weeks, in what you say about selling the place. The Lord knows I don't want to leave it. I was born and brought up here, and that counts with some people. If your wife's cousin is willing to come and help me make a living, for such wages as I can pay, the arrangement might be made. But I want to look on it as a business arrangement. I have quiet ways of my own, and things belonging to the past to think about, and I've got a right to think about 'em. I aint one of the marrying kind, and I don't want people to be a-considering such notions when I don't. I'd be kind and all that to her and her little girl, but I should want to be left to myself as far as I could be."