The shivering figure became an upright statue directly, and carriedone of his mittens to his forehead. Then, suddenly recognizing therank of the gray-ethereum transaction vs internal transactionhaired officer, he was morally shaken, but remainedphysically erect, and stammered,--"Colonel!--general!--colonel!""Don't be frightened, my lad. But look at the general and answerme.""Yes! general! colonel!" and he levelled his eye dead at thegeneral, as he would a bayonet at a foe, being so commanded.
Chapter 8 ethereum price can hit 14kHolcroft's View of MatrimonyHolcroft was indeed very lonely as he drove through the bare March fields and leafless woods on his way to town. The sky had clouded again, like his prospects, and he had the dreary sense of desolation which overwhelms a quiet, domestic man who feels that his home and all to which he clings are slipping from him. His lot was hard enough at best, and he had a bitter sense of being imposed upon and wronged by Lemuel Weeks. It was now evident enough that the widow and her daughter had been an intolerable burden to his neighbor, who had taken advantage of his need and induced him to assume the burden through false representation. To a man of Holcroft's simple, straightforward nature, any phase of trickery was intensely repugnant, and the fact that he had been overreached in a matter relating to his dearest hopes galled him to the quick. He possessed the strong common sense of his class; his wife had been like him in this respect, and her influence had intensified the trait. Queer people with abnormal manners excited his intense aversion. The most charitable view that he could take of Mrs. Mumpson was that her mind--such as she had--was unbalanced, that it was an impossibility for her to see any subject or duty in a sensible light or its right proportions.
Her course, so prejudicial to her own interests, and her incessant and stilted talk, were proof to his mind of a certain degree of insanity, and he had heard that people in this condition often united to their unnatural ways a wonderful degree of cunning. Her child was almost as uncanny as herself and gave him a shivering sense of discomfort whenever he caught her small, greenish eyes fixed upon him."Yet, she'll be the only one who'll earn her salt. I don't see how I'm going to stand 'em--I don't, indeed, but suppose I'll have to for three months, or else sell out and clear out."By the time he reached town a cold rain had set in. He went at once to the intelligence office, but could obtain no girl for Mrs. Mumpson to "superintend," nor any certain promise of one. He did not much care, for he felt that the new plan was not going to work. Having bartered all his eggs for groceries, he sold the old stove and bought a new one, then drew from the bank a little ready money. Since his butter was so inferior, he took it to his friend Tom Watterly, the keeper of the poorhouse.Prosperous Tom slapped his old friend on the back and said, "You look awfully glum and chopfallen, Jim. Come now, don't look at the world as if it was made of tar, pitch, and turpentine. I know your luck's been hard, but you make it a sight harder by being so set in all your ways. You think there's no place to live on God's earth but that old up-and-down-hill farm of yours that I wouldn't take as a gift. Why, man alive, there's a dozen things you can turn your hand to; but if you will stay there, do as other men do. Pick out a smart, handy woman that can make butter yaller as gold, that'll bring gold, and not such limpsy-slimsy, ghostly-looking stuff as you've brought me. Bein' it's you, I'll take it and give as much for it as I'd pay for better, but you can't run your old ranch in this fashion.""I know it, Tom," replied Holcroft ruefully. "I'm all at sea; but, as you say, I'm set in my ways, and I'd rather live on bread and milk and keep my farm than make money anywhere else. I guess I'll have to give it all up, though, and pull out, but it's like rooting up one of the old oaks in the meadow lot. The fact is, Tom, I've been fooled into one of the worst scrapes I've got into yet."
"I see how it is," said Tom heartily and complacently, "you want a practical, foresighted man to talk straight at you for an hour or two and clear up the fog you're in. You study and brood over little things out there alone until they seem mountains which you can't get over nohow, when, if you'd take one good jump out, they'd be behind you. Now, you've got to stay and take a bite with me, and then we'll light our pipes and untangle this snarl. No backing out! I can do you more good than all the preachin' you ever heard. Hey, there, Bill!" shouting to one of the paupers who was detailed for such work, "take this team to the barn and feed 'em. Come in, come in, old feller! You'll find that Tom Watterly allus has a snack and a good word for an old crony."Holcroft was easily persuaded, for he felt the need of cheer, and he looked up to Tom as a very sagacious, practical man. So he said, "Perhaps you can see farther into a millstone than I can, and if you can show me a way out of my difficulties you'll be a friend sure enough.""You have your orders," was his quiet reply.
She looked scared enough, but remained silent until they reached a shaded spot on the road, then said, "If you don't want him to see you too soon, better tie here. He's around yonder, in a grove up on the hill."Holcroft drove to a tree by the side of the highway and again tied his horses, then took the whip from the wagon. "Are you afraid to go with me a little way and show me just where he is?" he asked."No, but you oughtn' ter go.""Come on, then! You must mind me if you wish to keep my good will. I know what I'm about." As in his former encounter, his weapon was again a long, tough whipstock with a leather thong attached. This he cut off and put in his pocket, then followed Jane's rapid lead up the hill. Very soon she said, "There's the place I saw 'im in. If you will go, I'd steal up on him."
"Yes. You stay here." She made no reply, but the moment he disappeared she was upon his trail. Her curiosity was much greater than her timidity, and she justly reasoned that she had little to fear.Holcroft approached from a point whence Ferguson was expecting no danger. The latter was lying on the ground, gnawing his nails in vexation, when he first heard the farmer's step. Then he saw a dark-visaged man rushing upon him. In the impulse of his terror, he drew his revolver and fired. The ball hissed near, but did no harm, and before Ferguson could use the weapon again, a blow from the whipstock paralyzed his arm and the pistol dropped to the ground. So also did its owner a moment later, under a vindictive rain of blows, until he shrieked for mercy.
"Don't move!" said Holcroft sternly, and he picked up the revolver. "So you meant to kill me, eh?""No, no! I didn't. I wouldn't have fired if it hadn't been in self-defense and because I hadn't time to think." He spoke with difficulty, for his mouth was bleeding and he was terribly bruised."A liar, too!" said the farmer, glowering down upon him. "But I knew that before. What did you mean by your threats to my wife?""See here, Mr. Holcroft; I'm down and at your mercy. If you'll let me off I'll go away and never trouble you or your wife again."
"Oh, no!" said Holcroft with a bitter laugh. "You'll never, never trouble us again.""What, do you mean to murder me?" Ferguson half shrieked."Would killing such a thing as you be murder? Any jury in the land would acquit me. You ought to be roasted over a slow fire."The fellow tried to scramble on his knees, but Holcroft hit him another savage blow, and said, "Lie still!"
Ferguson began to wring his hands and beg for mercy. His captor stood over him a moment or two irresolutely in his white-heated anger; then thoughts of his wife began to soften him. He could not go to her with blood on his hands--she who had taught him such lessons of forbearance and forgiveness. He put the pistol in his pocket and giving his enemy a kick, said, "Get up!"The man rose with difficulty.
"I won't waste time in asking any promises from YOU, but if you ever trouble my wife or me again, I'll break every bone in your body. Go, quick, before my mood changes, and don't say a word."As the man tremblingly untied his horse, Jane stepped out before him and said, "I'm a little idiotic girl, am I?"
He was too thoroughly cowed to make any reply and drove as rapidly away as the ground permitted, guiding his horse with difficulty in his maimed condition.Jane, in the exuberance of her pleasure, began something like a jig on the scene of conflict, and her antics were so ridiculous that Holcroft had to turn away to repress a smile. "You didn't mind me, Jane," he said gravely."Well, sir," she replied, "after showin' you the way to 'im, you oughter not grudge me seein' the fun.""But it isn't nice for little girls to see such things.""Never saw anything nicer in my life. You're the kind of man I believe in, you are. Golly! Only wished SHE'D seen you. I've seen many a rough and tumble 'mong farm hands, but never anything like this. It was only his pistol I was 'fraid of.""Will you do exactly what I say now?"
She nodded."Well, go home across the fields and don't by word or manner let Mrs. Holcroft know what you've seen or heard, and say nothing about meeting me. Just make her think you know nothing at all and that you only watched the man out of sight. Do this and I'll give you a new dress."
"I'd like somethin' else 'sides that.""Well, what?"
"I'd like to be sure I could stay right on with you.""Yes, Jane, after today, as long as you're a good girl. Now go, for I must get back to my team before this scamp goes by."
She darted homeward as the farmer returned to his wagon. Ferguson soon appeared and seemed much startled as he saw his Nemesis again. "I'll keep my word," he said, as he drove by."You'd better!" called the farmer. "You know what to expect now."Alida was so prostrated by the shock of the interview that she rallied slowly. At last she saw that it was getting late and that she soon might expect the return of her husband. She dragged herself to the door and again called Jane, but the place was evidently deserted. Evening was coming on tranquilly, with all its sweet June sounds, but now every bird song was like a knell. She sunk on the porch seat and looked at the landscape, already so dear and familiar, as if she were taking a final farewell of a friend. Then she turned to the homely kitchen to which she had first been brought. "I can do a little more for him," she thought, "before I make the last sacrifice which will soon bring the end. I think I could have lived--lived, perhaps, till I was old, if I had gone among strangers from the almshouse, but I can't now. My heart is broken. Now that I've seen that man again I understand why my husband cannot love me. Even the thought of touching me must make him shudder. But I can't bear up under such a load much longer, and that's my comfort. It's best I should go away now; I couldn't do otherwise," and the tragedy went on in her soul as she feebly prepared her husband's meal.At last Jane came in with her basket of peas. Her face was so impassive as to suggest that she had no knowledge of anything except that there had been a visitor, and Alida had sunk into such depths of despairing sorrow that she scarcely noticed the child.
Chapter 33 ＂Shrink from YOU?＂
Holcroft soon came driving slowly up the lane as if nothing unusual was on his mind. Having tied his horses, he brought in an armful of bundles and said kindly, "Well, Alida, here I am again, and I guess I've brought enough to last well through haying time.""Yes," she replied with averted face. This did not trouble him any now, but her extreme pallor did and he added, "You don't look well. I wouldn't mind getting much supper tonight. Let Jane do the work."
"I'd rather do it," she replied."Oh, well!" laughing pleasantly, "you shall have your own way. Who has a better right than you, I'd like to know?"
"Don't speak that way," she said, almost harshly, under the tension of her feelings. "I--I can't stand it. Speak and look as you did before you went away.""Jane," said the farmer, "go and gather the eggs."As soon as they were alone, he began gently, "Alida--""Please don't speak so to me today. I've endured all I can. I can't keep up another minute unless you let things go on as they were. Tomorrow I'll try to tell you all. It's your right."
"I didn't mean to say anything myself till after supper, and perhaps not till tomorrow, but I think I'd better. It will be better for us both, and our minds will be more at rest. Come with me into the parlor, Alida.""Well, perhaps the sooner it's over the better," she said faintly and huskily.
She sunk on the lounge and looked at him with such despairing eyes that tears came into his own."Alida," he began hesitatingly, "after I left you this noon I felt I must speak with and be frank with you."
"No, no!!" she cried, with an imploring gesture, "if it must be said, let me say it. I couldn't endure to hear it from you. Before you went away I understood it all, and this afternoon the truth has been burned into my soul. That horrible man has been here--the man I thought my husband--and he has made it clearer, if possible. I don't blame you that you shrink from me as if I were a leper. I feel as if I were one.""I shrink from YOU!" he exclaimed.