Jacintha put him into the salle a manger. "By that you will sterra luaee heralone," said the knowing Jacintha. He sat down, hat and whip inhand, and wondered how he should be received--if at all.
"Thank you for that word, my good young lady," said Raynal. "Now, Ideclare, you are the first that has said that word to me about mylosing the true friend, that nursed me on her knee, and pinched andpinched to make a man of me. I should like to tell you about herand me.""I shall feel honored," said Josephine, politely, but withconsiderable restraint.solana exchangeThen he told her all about how he had vexed her when he was a boy,and gone for a soldier, though she was all for trade, and how he hadbeen the more anxious to see her enjoy his honors and success.
"And, mademoiselle," said he, appealingly, "the day this epaulet wasput on my shoulder in Italy, she died in Paris. Ah! how could youhave the heart to do that, my old woman?"The soldier's mustache quivered, and he turned away brusquely, andtook several steps. Then he came back to Josephine, and to hisinfinite surprise saw that her purple eyes were thick with tears."What? you are within an inch of crying for my mother, you who haveyour own trouble at this hour.""Monsieur, our situations are so alike, I may well spare some littlesympathy for your misfortune.""Thank you, my good young lady. Well, then, to business; while youwere praying to the Virgin, I was saying a word or two for my partto her who is no more.""Sir!""Oh! it was nothing beautiful like the things you said to the other.Can I turn phrases? I saw her behind her little counter in the RueQuincampoix; for she is a woman of the people, is my mother. I sawmyself come to the other side of the counter, and I said, 'Lookhere, mother, here is the devil to pay about this new house. Theold woman talks of dying if we take her from her home, and the youngone weeps and prays to all the saints in paradise; what shall we do,eh?' Then I thought my old woman said to me, 'Jean, you are asoldier, a sort of vagabond; what do you want with a house inFrance? you who are always in a tent in Italy or Austria, or whoknows where. Have you the courage to give honest folk so much painfor a caprice? Come now,' says she, 'the lady is of my age, sayyou, and I can't keep your fine house, because God has willed itotherwise; so give her my place; so then you can fancy it is me youhave set down at your hearth: that will warm your heart up a bit,you little scamp,' said my old woman in her rough way. She was notwell-bred like you, mademoiselle. A woman of the people, nothingmore.""She was a woman of God's own making, if she was like that," criedJosephine, the tears now running down her cheeks."Ah, that she was, she was. So between her and me it is settled--what are you crying for NOW? why, you have won the day; the field isyours; your mother and you remain; I decamp." He whipped hisscabbard up with his left hand, and was going off without anotherword, if Josephine had not stopped him."But, sir, what am I to think? what am I to hope? it is impossiblethat in this short interview--and we must not forget what is due toyou. You have bought the estate.""True; well, we will talk over that, to-morrow; but being turned outof the house, that was the bayonet thrust to the old lady. So yourun in and put her heart at rest about it. Tell her that she maylive and die in this house for Jean Raynal; and tell her about theold woman in the Rue Quincampoix.""God bless you, Jean Raynal!" cried Josephine, clasping her hands.
"Are you going?" said he, peremptorily."Oh, yes!" and she darted towards the chateau.Both in regard to himself and Alida, Holcroft accepted the actual facts with the gladness and much of the unquestioning simplicity of a child. This rather risky experiment was turning out well, and for a time he daily became more and more absorbed in his farm and its interests. Alida quietly performed her household tasks and proved that she would not need very much instruction to become a good butter maker. The short spring of the North required that he should be busy early and late to keep pace with the quickly passing seedtime. His hopefulness, his freedom from household worries, prompted him to sow and plant increased areas of land. In brief, he entered on just the business-like honeymoon he had hoped for.
Alida was more than content with the conditions of her life. She saw that Holcroft was not only satisfied, but also pleased with her, and that was all she had expected and indeed all that thus far she had wished or hoped. She had many sad hours; wounds like hers cannot heal readily in a true, sensitive woman's heart. While she gained in cheerfulness and confidence, the terrible and unexpected disaster which had overtaken her rendered impossible the serenity of those with whom all has gone well. Dread of something, she knew not what, haunted her painfully, and memory at times seemed malignantly perverse in recalling one whom she prayed to forget.Next to her faith and Holcroft's kindness her work was her best solace, and she thanked God for the strength to keep busy.On the first Sunday morning after their marriage the farmer overslept, and breakfast had been ready some time when he came down. He looked with a little dismay at the clock over the kitchen mantel and asked, "Aren't you going to scold a little?"She shook her head, nor did she look the chiding which often might as well be spoken.
"How long have I kept breakfast waiting, or you rather?""What difference does it make? You needed the rest. The breakfast may not be so nice," was her smiling answer.
"No matter. You are nice to let a man off in that way." Observing the book in her lap, he continued, "So you were reading the old family Bible to learn lessons of patience and forbearance?"Again she shook her head. She often oddly reminded him of Jane in her employment of signs instead of speech, but in her case there was a grace, a suggestiveness, and even a piquancy about them which made them like a new language. He understood and interpreted her frankly. "I know, Alida," he said kindly; "you are a good woman. You believe in the Bible and love to read it.""I was taught to read and love it," she replied simply. Then her eyes dropped and she faltered, "I've reproached myself bitterly that I rushed away so hastily that I forgot the Bible my mother gave me.""No, no," he said heartily, "don't reproach yourself for that. It was the Bible in your heart that made you act as you did."
She shot him a swift, grateful glance through her tears, but made no other response.Having returned the Bible to the parlor, she put the breakfast on the table and said quietly, "It looks as if we would have a rainy day.""Well," said he, laughing, "I'm as bad as the old woman--it seems that women can run farms alone if men can't. Well, this old dame had a big farm and employed several men, and she was always wishing it would rain nights and Sundays. I'm inclined to chuckle over the good this rain will do my oats, instead of being sorry to think how many sinners it'll keep from church. Except in protracted-meeting times, most people of this town would a great deal rather risk their souls than be caught in the rain on Sunday. We don't mind it much week days, but Sunday rain is very dangerous to health.""I'm afraid I'm as bad as the rest," she said, smiling. "Mother and I usually stayed home when it rained hard."
"Oh, we don't need a hard storm in the country. People say, 'It looks threatening,' and that settles it; but we often drive to town rainy days to save time.""Do you usually go to church at the meeting house I see off in the valley?" she asked.
"I don't go anywhere," and he watched keenly to see how she would take this blunt statement of his practical heathenism.She only looked at him kindly and accepted the fact.
"Why don't you pitch into me?" he asked."That wouldn't do any good.""You'd like to go, I suppose?""No, not under the circumstances, unless you wished to. I'm cowardly enough to dread being stared at."He gave a deep sign of relief. "This thing has been troubling me," he said. "I feared you would want to go, and if you did, I should feel that you ought to go.""I fear I'm very weak about it, but I shrink so from meeting strangers. I do thank God for his goodness many times a day and ask for help. I'm not brave enough to do any more, yet."
His rugged features became very somber as he said, "I wish I had as much courage as you have.""You don't understand me--" she began gently.
"No, I suppose not. It's all become a muddle to me. I mean this church and religious business."She looked at him wistfully, as if she wished to say something, but did not venture to do so. He promptly gave a different turn to the conversation by quoting Mrs. Mumpson's tirade on churchgoing the first Sunday after her arrival. Alida laughed, but not in a wholly mirthful and satisfied way. "There!" he concluded, "I'm touching on things a little too sacred for you. I respect your feelings and beliefs, for they are honest and I wish I shared in 'em." Then he suddenly laughed again as he added, "Mrs. Mumpson said there was too much milking done on Sunday, and it's time I was breaking the Fourth Commandment, after her notion."
Alida now laughed outright, without reservation."'By jocks!' as Watterly says, what a difference there is in women!" he soliloquized on his way to the barn. "Well, the church question is settled for the present, but if Alida should ask me to go, after her manner this morning, I'd face the whole creation with her."
When at last he came in and threw off his waterproof coat, the kitchen was in order and his wife was sitting by the parlor fire with Thomson's "Land and the Book" in her hand."Are you fond of reading?" he asked."Yes, very.""Well, I am, too, sort of; but I've let the years slip by without doing half as much as I ought."
"Light your pipe and I'll read to you, if you wish me to.""Oh, come now! I at least believe in Sunday as a day of rest, and you need it. Reading aloud is about as hard work as I can do."
"But I'm used to it. I read aloud to mother a great deal," and then there passed over her face an expression of deep pain."What is it, Alida? Don't you feel well?"
"Yes, oh, yes!" she replied hastily, and her pale face became crimson.It was another stab of memory recalling the many Sundays she had read to the man who had deceived her. "Shall I read?" she asked.
"Alida," he said very kindly, "it wasn't the thought of your mother that brought that look of pain into your face."She shook her head sadly, with downcast eyes. After a moment or two, she raised them appealingly to him as she said simply, "There is so much that I wish I could forget.""Poor child! Yes, I think I know. Be patient with yourself, and remember that you were never to blame."Again came that quick, grateful glance by which some women express more than others can ever put in words. Her thought was, "I didn't think that even he was capable of that. What a way of assuring me that he'll be patient with me!" Then she quietly read for an hour descriptions of the Holy Land that were not too religious for Holcroft's mind and which satisfied her conscience better than much she had read in former days to satisfy a taste more alien to hers than that of her husband.
Holcroft listened to her correct pronunciation and sweet, natural tones with a sort of pleased wonder. At last he said, "You must stop now.""Are you tired?" she asked.
"No, but you are, or ought to be. Why, Alida, I didn't know you were so well educated. I'm quite a barbarous old fellow compared with you.""I hadn't thought of that before," she said with a laugh.
"What a fool I was, then, to put it into your head!""You must be more careful. I'd never have such thoughts if you didn't suggest them."