"Oh!" she exclaimed, in gushingbitcoin usd chart investing tones, "there's nothing to equal the strong arms of a man."
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 haripple coin volumed 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.By this time he had won her confidence completely, and her heart overflowed with gratitude. Of course she was not so unsophisticated as not to know whither all this attention was tending, but it was a great relief to her mind that his courtship was so quiet and undemonstrative. Her heart was sore and grief-stricken, and she was not conscious of any other feeling toward him than the deepest gratitude and wish to make such return as was within her power. He was apparently very frank in regard to his past life, and nothing was said which excited her suspicions. Indeed, she felt that it would be disloyalty to think of questioning or surmising evil of one who had proved himself so true a friend in her sore need. She was therefore somewhat prepared for the words he spoke one warm September day, as they sat together in a little shaded park.
"Alida," he said, a little nervously, "we are both strangers and alone in this world, but surely we are no longer strangers to each other. Let us go quietly to some minister and be married. That is the best way for you to pay your debt and keep me always in debt to you."She was silent a moment, then faltered, "I'd rather pay all my debt first."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.Her action and words had been so swift that Holcroft could not interfere, but in an instant he was at her side, his arm around her, his square jaw set, and his eyes blazing with his kindling anger. He was not one of those men who fume early under provocation and in words chiefly. His manner and gesture were so impressive that his tormentors paused to listen."I know," he said quietly, "all about this old, rude custom--that it's often little more than a rough lark. Well, now that you've had it, leave at once. I'm in no mood for such attention from my neighbors. This is my wife, and I'll break any man's head who says a word to hurt her feelings--""Oh yes! Take care of her feelings, now it's your turn. They must 'a' been hurt before," piped up Tim Weeks."Good for you, old man, for showin' us your poorhouse bride," said another.
"We don't fancy such grass-widders, and much married, half-married women in Oakville," yelled a third."Why didn't yer jump over a broomstick for a weddin' ceremony?" someone else bawled.
These insults were fired almost in a volley. Alida felt Holcroft's arm grow rigid for a second. "Go in, quick!" he said.Then she saw him seize the hickory sapling he had leaned against the house, and burst upon the group like a thunderbolt. Cries of pain, yells, and oaths of rage rose above the rain of blows. The older members of the crew sought to close upon him, but he sprung back, and the tough sapling swept about him like a circle of light. It was a terrific weapon in the hands of a strong man, now possessed of almost giant strength in his rage. More than one fellow went down under its stinging cut, and heads and faces were bleeding. The younger portion of the crowd speedily took to their heels, and soon even the most stubborn fled; the farmer vigorously assisting their ignominious retreat with tremendous downward blows on any within reach. Tim Weeks had managed to keep out of the way till they entered the lane; then, taking a small stone from the fence, he hurled it at their pursuer and attempted to jump over the wall. This was old, and gave way under him in such a way that he fell on the other side. Holcroft leaped the fence with a bound, but Tim, lying on his back, shrieked and held up his hands, "You won't hit a feller when he's down!"
"No," said Holcroft, arresting his hickory. "I'll send you to jail, Tim Weeks. That stone you fired cut my head. Was your father in that crowd?""No-o-o!" blubbered Tim.
"If he was, I'd follow him home and whip him in his own house. Now, clear out, and tell the rest of your rowdy crew that I'll shoot the first one of you that disturbs me again. I'll send the constable for you, and maybe for some of the others."Dire was the dismay, and dreadful the groaning in Oakville that night. Never before had salves and poultices been in such demand. Not a few would be disfigured for weeks, and wherever Holcroft's blows had fallen welts arose like whipcords. In Lemuel Weeks' dwelling the consternation reached its climax. Tim, bruised from his fall, limped in and told his portentous story. In his spite, he added, "I don't care, I hit him hard. His face was all bloody.""All bloody!" groaned his father. "Lord 'a mercy! He can send you to jail, sure enough!"Then Mrs. Weeks sat down and wailed aloud.
Chapter 26 ＂You Don't Know.＂As Timothy Weeks limped hastily away, Holcroft, with a strong revulsion of feeling, thought of Alida. HE had been able to answer insults in a way eminently satisfactory to himself, and every blow had relieved his electrical condition. But how about the poor woman who had received worse blows than he had inflicted? As he hastened toward the house he recalled a dim impression of seeing her sink down on the doorstep. Then he remembered her effort to face the marauders alone. "She said she was to blame, poor child! As if there were any blame at all! She said, 'spare him,' as if I was facing a band of murderers instead of a lot of neighborhood scamps, and that she'd go away. I'd fight all Oakville--men, women, and children--before I'd permit that," and he started on a run.
He found Alida on the step, where she had sunk as if struck down by the rough epithets hurled at her. She was sobbing violently, almost hysterically, and at first could not reply to his soothing words. He lifted her up, and half carried her within to a chair. "Oh, oh," she cried, "why did I not realize it more fully before? Selfish woman that I was, to marry you and bring on you all this shame and danger. I should have thought of it all, I ought to have died rather than do you such a wrong.""Alida, Alida," protested Holcroft, "if it were all to do over again, I'd be a thousand times more--"
"Oh, I know, I know! You are brave and generous and honest. I saw that much when you first spoke to me. I yielded to the temptation to secure such a friend. I was too cowardly to face the world alone. And now see what's happened! You're in danger and disgrace on my account. I must go away--I must do what I should have done at first," and with her face buried in her hands she rocked back and forth, overwhelmed by the bitterness and reproach of her thoughts."Alida," he urged, "please be calm and sensible. Let me reason with you and tell you the truth. All that's happened is that the Oakville cubs have received a well-deserved whipping. When you get calm, I can explain everything so it won't seem half so bad. Neither you nor I are in any danger, and, as for your going away, look me in the eyes and listen."
His words were almost stern in their earnestness. She raised her streaming eyes to his face, then sprung up, exclaiming, "Oh! You're wounded!""What's that, compared with your talk of going away?"All explanations and reassurances would have been trivial in effect, compared with the truth that he had been hurt in her defense. She dashed her tears right and left, ran for a basin of water, and making him take her chair, began washing away the blood stains."Thunder!" he said, laughing, "How quickly we've changed places!"
"Oh, oh!" she moaned, "It's a terrible wound; it might have killed you, and they WILL kill you yet."He took her hands and held them firmly. "Alida," he said, gravely yet kindly, "be still and listen to me."
For a moment or two longer her bosom heaved with convulsive sobs, and then she grew quiet. "Don't you know you can't go away?" he asked, still retaining her hands and looking in her face."I could for your sake," she began.
"No, it wouldn't be for my sake. I don't wish you to go, and wouldn't let you. If you should let the Oakville rabble drive you away, I WOULD be in danger, and so would others, for I'd be worse on 'em than an earthquake. After the lesson they've had tonight, they'll let us alone, and I'll let them alone. You know I've tried to be honest with you from the first. Believe me, then, the trouble's over unless we make more for ourselves. Now, promise you'll do as I say and let me manage.""I'll try," she breathed softly.