Jane nodded, but Mrs. Mumpson began, "Oh cebittorrent kurs forumrtainly, certainly! Boil an egg twenty minutes, add half a cup of cold water, and--"
As she opened the door a burst of song entered, securing her attention. She had heard the birds before without recognizing consciousness, as is so often true of our own condition in regard to the familiar sounds of nature. It was now almost asbitcoin depot inc 5000 if she had received another sense, so strong, sweet, and cheering was the symphony. Robins, song-sparrows, blackbirds, seemed to have gathered in the trees nearby, to give her a jubilant welcome; but she soon found that the music shaded off to distant, dreamlike notes, and remembered that it was a morning chorus of a hemisphere. This universality did not render the melody less personally grateful. We can appreciate all that is lovely in Nature, yet leave all for others. As she stood listening, and inhaling the soft air, full of the delicious perfume of the grass and expanding buds, and looking through the misty sunshine on the half-veiled landscape, she heard Holcroft's voice, chiding some unruly animal in the barnyard.This recalled her, and with the elasticity of returning health and hope she set about getting breakfast.
"It seems to me that I never heard birds sing before," she thought, "and their songs this morning are almost like the music of heaven. They seem as happy and unconscious of fear and trouble as if they were angels. Mother and I used to talk about the Garden of Eden, but could the air have been sweeter, or the sunshine more tempered to just the right degree of warmth and brightness than here about my home? Oh, thank God again, again and forever, for a home like this!" and for a few moments something of the ecstasy of one delivered from the black thraldom of evil filled her soul. She paused now and then to listen to the birds for only their songs seemed capable of expressing her emotion. It was but another proof that heavenly thoughts and homely work may go on together.Chapter 22 Getting AcquaintedIt was still early, and Holcroft was under the impression that Alida would sleep late after the severe fatigues of the preceding day. He therefore continued his work at the barn sufficiently long to give his wife time for her little surprise. She was not long in finding and laying her hands on the simple materials for breakfast. A ham hung in the pantry and beneath it was a great basket of eggs, while the flour barrel stood in the corner. Biscuits were soon in the oven, eggs conjured into an omelet, and the ham cut into delicate slices, instead of great coarse steaks.Remembering Mrs. Mumpson's failure with the coffee, she made it a trifle strong and boiled the milk that should temper without cooling it. The biscuits rose like her own spirits, the omelet speedily began to take on color like her own flushed face as she busied herself about the stove.Everything was nearly ready when she saw Holcroft coming toward the house with two pails of milk. He took them to the large dairy room under the parlor and then came briskly to the kitchen.
She stood, screened by the door as he entered, then stopped and stared at the table all set and at the inviting breakfast on the stove.Seeing Alida's half-smiling, half-questioning face, seeking his approval, he exclaimed, "Well, you HAVE stolen a march on me! I supposed you were asleep yet."For the first time something like a smile flitted across her face as she replied, "It's enough to begin with. I know."
"Really, Mr. Holcroft, I didn't know you were married," said the merchant. "I must congratulate you.""Well, I am. Thank you. Good night."A few moments later he and his wife were bowling out of town toward the hills. Reaching one of these, the horses came down to a walk and Holcroft turned and said, "Are you very tired, Alida? I'm troubled about you taking this long ride. You have been so sick.""I'm sorry I'm not stronger, sir, but the fresh air seems to do me good and I think I can stand it."
"You didn't promise to obey me, did you?" with a rather nervous little laugh."No, sir, but I will."
"That's a good beginning. Now see what an old tyrant I am. In the first place, I don't want you to say 'sir' to me any more. My name is James. In the second place, you must work only as I let you. Your first business is to get strong and well, and you know we agreed to marry on strictly business grounds.""I understand it well, but I think you are very kind for a business man.""Oh, as to that, if I do say it of myself, I don't think it's my nature to be hard on those who treat me square. I think we shall be very good friends in our quiet way, and that's more than can be said of a good many who promise more than they seem to remember afterward.""I will try to do all you wish for I am very grateful."
"If you do, you may find I'm as grateful as you are.""That can never be. Your need and mine were very different.--But I shall try to show my gratitude by learning your ways and wishes and not by many words of thanks.""Thank the Lord!" mentally ejaculated the farmer, "there's no Mrs. Mumpson in this case;" but he only said kindly, "I think we understand each other now, Alida. I'm not a man of words either, and I had better show by actions also what I am. The fact is, although we are married, we are scarcely acquainted, and people can't get acquainted in a day."The first long hill was surmounted and away they bowled again, past cottage and farmhouse, through strips of woodland and between fields from which came the fragrance of the springing grass and the peepings of the hylas. The moon soon rose, full-orbed, above the higher eastern hills, and the mild April evening became luminous and full of beauty.
A healing sense of quiet and security already began to steal into Alida's bruised heart. In turning her back upon the town in which she had suffered so greatly, she felt like one escaping from prison and torture. An increasing assurance of safety came with every mile; the cool, still radiance of the night appeared typical of her new and most unexpected experience. Light had risen on her shadowed path, but it was not warm, vivifying sunlight, which stimulates and develops. A few hours before she was in darkness which might be felt--yet it was a gloom shot through and through with lurid threatening gleams. It had seemed to her that she had fallen from home, happiness, and honor to unfathomed depths, and yet there had appeared to be deeper and darker abysses on every side. She had shuddered at the thought of going out into the world, feeling that her misfortune would awaken suspicion rather than sympathy, scorn instead of kindness; that she must toil on until death, to sustain a life to which death would come as God's welcome messenger. Then had come this man at her side, with his comparatively trivial troubles and perplexities, and he had asked her help--she who was so helpless. He had banished despair from her earthly future, he had lifted her up and was bearing her away from all which she had so dreaded; nothing had been asked which her crushed spirit was unable to bestow; she was simply expected to aid him in his natural wish to keep his home and to live where he had always dwelt. His very inability to understand her, to see her broken, trampled life and immeasurable need as she saw it, brought quietness of mind. The concentration of his thoughts on a few homely and simple hopes gave her immunity. With quick intuition, she divined that she had not a whimsical, jealous, exacting nature to deal with. He was the plain, matter-of-fact man he seemed; so literal and absolutely truthful that he would appear odd to most people. To her mind, his were the traits which she could now most welcome and value. He knew all about her, she had merely to be herself, to do what she had promised, in order to rest securely on his rock-like truth. He had again touched a deep, grateful chord in speaking of her to the shopkeeper as his wife; he showed no disposition whatever to shrink from the relation before the world; it was evident that he meant to treat her with respect and kindness, and to exact respect from others. For all this, while sitting quietly and silently at his side, she thanked him almost passionately in her heart; but far more than for all this she was glad and grateful that he would not expect what she now felt it would be impossible for her to give--the love and personal devotion which had been inseparable from marriage in her girlhood thoughts. He would make good his words--she should be his wife in name and be respected as such. He was too simple and true to himself and his buried love, too considerate of her, to expect more. She might hope, therefore, as he had said, that they might be helpful, loyal friends and he would have been surprised indeed had he known how the pale, silent woman beside him was longing and hoping to fill his home with comfort.Thoughts like these had inspired and sustained her while at the same time ministering the balm of hope. The quiet face of nature, lovely in the moonlight, seemed to welcome and reassure her. Happy are those who, when sorely wounded in life, can turn to the natural world and find in every tree, shrub, and flower a comforting friend that will not turn from them. Such are not far from God and peace.
The range of Holcroft's thoughts was far simpler and narrower than Alida's. He turned rather deliberately from the past, preferring to dwell on the probable consummation of his hope. His home, his farm, were far more to him than the woman he had married. He had wedded her for their sake, and his thoughts followed his heart, which was in his hillside acres. It is said that women often marry for a home; he truly had done so to keep his home. The question which now most occupied him was the prospect of doing this through quiet, prosperous years. He dwelt minutely on Alida's manner, as well as her words, and found nothing to shake his belief that she had been as truthful as himself. Nevertheless, he queried in regard to the future with not a little anxiety. In her present distress and poverty she might naturally be glad of the refuge he had offered; but as time passed and the poignancy of bitter memories was allayed, might not her life on the farm seem monotonous and dull, might not weariness and discontent come into her eyes in place of gratitude? "Well, well!" he concluded, "this marrying is a risky experiment at best, but Tom Watterly's talk and her manner seemed to shut me up to it. I was made to feel that I couldn't go on in any other way; and I haven't done anything underhanded or wrong, as I see, for the chance of going on. If I hadn't become such a heathen I should say there was a Providence in it, but I don't know what to think about such things any more. Time'll show, and the prospect is better than it has been yet. She'll never be sorry if she carries out the agreement made today, if kindness and good will can repay her."Thus it may be seen that, although two life currents had become parallel, they were still very distinct.
By the time Holcroft approached the lane leading to his dwelling, Alida was growing very weary, and felt that her endurance had almost reached its limit. Her face was so white in the moonlight that he asked solicitously, "You can stand it a little longer, can't you?""I'll try. I'm very sorry I'm not stronger.""Don't you worry about that! You won't know yourself in a week. Here we are at the lane and there's the house yonder. A moment or two more and you'll be by the fire."A loud barking startled old Jonathan Johnson out of his doze, and he hastened to replenish the fire and to call off his rather savage dog. He was a little surprised to see Holcroft drive toward the kitchen door with a woman by his side. "He's tried his luck with another of them town gals," he muttered, "but, Jerusalem! She won't stay a week, an' my old woman'll have the washin' an' mendin' all the same."He could scarcely believe his ears and eyes when he heard the farmer say, "Alida, you must let me lift you out," and then saw the "town gal" set gently on the ground, her hand placed on Holcroft's arm as she was supported slowly and carefully to the rocking chair beside the fire. "Jonathan," was the quiet announcement, "this is Mrs. Holcroft, my wife.""Jeru--beg a pardon. Wasn't 'spectin; jis' sich a turn o' things. Respects, missus! Sorry to see yer enj'yin' poor health."
"Yes, Jonathan, Mrs. Holcroft has been sick, but she's much better and will soon be well. She's very tired now from the long drive, but quiet life and country air will soon make her strong. I'll just step out and care for the horses, Alida, and soon be back again. You come and help me, Jonathan, and keep your dog off, too."The old man complied with rather poor grace for he would have preferred to interview the bride, at whom he was staring with all his weak, watery eyes. Holcroft understood his neighbor's peculiarities too well to subject his wife to this ordeal, and was bent on dispatching Jonathan homeward as soon as possible.
"I say, Jim," said the old guardsman, who felt that he was speaking to the boy he had known for thirty odd years, "where on airth did you pick up sich a sickly lookin' critter?""I didn't pick her up," replied the farmer laughingly. "I married her fair and square just as you did your wife a hundred years ago, more or less. Haven't I as good a right to get married as you had?"
"Oh, I aint a-disputin' yer right, but it seems so kind o' suddint that it's taken what little breath I've left.""How do you know it's sudden? Did you go around telling everyone how you were getting on when you were a-courting?"
"Well, I swan! Yer got me. 'Taint so long ago that I disremember we did it on the sly.""Well, now, Uncle Jonathan, you've got nothing to say against me for I didn't marry on the sly, although I've gone on the principle that my business wasn't everybody's business. When I saw your wife about my washing and mending I didn't know I was going to be lucky so soon. You know you can't marry a woman in this country till she's willing. But tell your wife she shan't lose anything, and the next time I go to town I'll leave that settin' of eggs she wanted. Now, Jonathan, honor bright, do you feel able to walk home if I give you fifty cents extra?""Why, sartinly! S'pose I'd take yer away on sich a 'casion? My wife wouldn't let me in if she knowed it.""Well, you and your wife are good neighbors, and that's more'n I can say for most people in these parts. Here's the money. Mrs. Holcroft isn't strong or well enough to talk any tonight. You got yourself a good supper, didn't you?"
"Yes, yes! Helped myself bount'fully. Good night, and good luck ter yer. I can't help thinkin' it was kind o' suddint though, and then she's sich a sickly lookin' critter. Hope yer haven't been taken in, but then, as you say, the marryin' business, like other kinds o' business, is a man's own business.""I hope everyone will take your sensible view, Uncle Jonathan. Good night."
Chapter 21 At HomeAlida was not so cold, weary, and almost faint but that she looked around the old kitchen with the strongest interest. This interest was as unlike Mrs. Mumpson's curiosity as she was unlike the widow. It is true the thought of self was prominent, yet hers were not selfish thoughts. There are some blessed natures in the world that in doing the best for themselves do the best that is possible for others.
The genial warmth of the fire was grateful to her chilled and enfeebled frame; the homely kitchen, with its dresser of china ware, its tin closet and pantry, the doors of which old Jonathan had left open, manlike, after helping himself "bount'fully," all suggested more comfort to this pallid bride, sitting there alone, than wealth of ornament in elegant apartments has brought to many others. She saw her chief domain, not in its coarse and common aspect, but as her vantage ground, from which she could minister to the comforts of the one who had rescued her. Few brides would care to enter the kitchen first, but she was pleased; she who had scarcely hoped to smile again looked smilingly around on the quaint, homelike room."And this is to be my home!" she murmured. "How strange, unexpected, yet natural it all is! Just what he led me to expect. The little lonely farmhouse, where I can be safe from staring eyes and unwounded by cruel questionings. Yet that old man had a dozen questions on his tongue. I believe HE took him away to save my feelings. It's strange that so plain and simple a man in most respects can be so considerate. Oh, pray God that all goes on as it promises! I couldn't have dreamt it this morning, but I have an odd, homelike feeling already. Well, since I AM at home I may as well take off my hat and cloak."
And she did so. Holcroft entered and said heartily, "That's right, Alida! You are here to stay, you know. You mustn't think it amiss that I left you a few moments alone for I had to get that talkative old man off home. He's getting a little childish and would fire questions at you point-blank.""But shouldn't you have taken him home in the wagon? I don't mind being alone.""Oh, no! He's spry enough to walk twice the distance and often does. It's light as day outside, and I made it right with him. You can leave your things upstairs in your room, and I'll carry up your bundles also if you are rested enough for the journey.""Oh, yes!" she replied, "I'm feeling better already."
He led the way to the apartment that Mrs. Mumpson had occupied and said regretfully, "I'm sorry the room looks so bare and comfortless, but that will all be mended in time. When you come down, we'll have some coffee and supper."She soon reappeared in the kitchen, and he continued, "Now I'll show you that I'm not such a very helpless sort of man, after all; so if you're sick you needn't worry. I'm going to get you a good cup of coffee and broil you a piece of steak."
"Oh! Please let me--" she began."No, can't allow you to do anything tonight but sit in that chair. You promised to mind, you know," and he smiled so genially that she smiled back at him although tears came into her eyes.
"I can't realize it all," she said in a low voice. "To think how this day began and how it is ending!""It's ending in a poor man's kitchen, Alida. It was rather rough to bring you in here first, but the parlor is cold and comfortless.