"I propose an armistice.""I am at your disposal, bittorrent client for big sursir," said Josephine, now assuming acalmness that was belied by the long swell of her heaving bosom.
"Oh, yes! xrp price onlineA dozen of 'em, big or little.""Please bring down this evening something that needs mending. I am so much better--"
"No, no! I wasn't hinting for you to do anything tonight.""But you've promised me," she urged. "Remember I've been resting nearly all day. I'm used to sewing, and earned my living at it. Somehow, it don't seem natural for me to sit with idle hands.""If I hadn't promised--""But you have.""I suppose I'm fairly caught," and he brought down a little of the most pressing of the mending.
"Now I'll reward you," she said, handing him his pipe, well filled. "You go in the parlor and have a quiet smoke. I won't be long in clearing up the kitchen.""What! Smoke in the parlor?""Be you his new girl?"
"I'm his wife," said Alida, smiling.Jane stopped; her mouth opened and her eyes twinkled with dismay. "Then he is married, after all?" she gasped."Yes, why not?""Mother said he'd never get anyone to take him."
"Well, you see she was mistaken.""She's wrong about everything. Well, it's no use then," and the child turned and sat down on the doorstep.
Alida was perplexed. From the way Jane wiped her eyes with her wet sleeve, she was evidently crying. Coming to her, Alida said, "What is no use, Jane? Why are you crying?""I thought--he--might--p'raps--let me stay and work for him."Alida was still more perplexed. What could be said by way of comfort, feeling sure as she did that Holcroft would be bitterly hostile to the idea of keeping the child? The best she could do was to draw the little waif out and obtain some explanation of her unexpected appearance. But first she asked, "Have you had any breakfast?"Jane shook her head.
"Oh, then you must have some right away.""Don't want any. I want to die. I oughtn' ter been born.""Tell me your troubles, Jane. Perhaps I can help you.""No, you'd be like the rest. They all hate me and make me feel I'm in the way. He's the only one that didn't make me feel like a stray cat, and now he's gone and got married," and the child sobbed aloud.
Her grief was pitiful to see, for it was overwhelming. Alida stooped down, and gently lifting the child up, brought her in. Then she took off the wet hat and wiped the tear-stained face with her handkerchief. "Wait a minute, Jane, till I bring you something," and she ran to the dairy for a glass of milk. "You must drink it, she said, kindly but firmly.The child gulped it down, and with it much of her grief, for this was unprecedented treatment and was winning her attention.
"Say," she faltered, "will you ask him to let me stay?""Yes, I'll ask him, but I can't promise that he will."
"You won't ask him 'fore my face and then tell him not to behind my back?" and there was a sly, keen look in her eyes which tears could not conceal."No," said Alida gravely, "that's not my way. How did you get here, Jane?""Run away.""From where?""Poorhouse."Alida drew a quick breath and was silent a few moments. "Is--is your mother there?" she asked at length.
"Yes. They wouldn't let us visit round any longer.""Didn't your mother or anyone know you were coming?"
Jane shook her head.Alida felt that it would be useless to burden the unhappy child with misgivings as to the result, and her heart softened toward her as one who in her limited way had known the bitterness and dread which in that same almshouse had overwhelmed her own spirit. She could only say gently, "Well, wait till Mr. Holcroft comes, and then we'll see what he says." She herself was both curious and anxious as to his course. "It will be a heavy cross," she thought, "but I should little deserve God's goodness to me if I did not befriend this child."
Every moment added weight to this unexpected burden of duty. Apart from all consideration of Jane's peculiarities, the isolation with Holcroft had been a delight in itself. Their mutual enjoyment of each other's society had been growing from day to day, and she, more truly than he, had shrunk from the presence of another as an unwelcome intrusion. Conscious of her secret, Jane's prying eyes were already beginning to irritate her nerves. Never had she seen a human face that so completely embodied her idea of inquisitiveness as the uncanny visage of this child. She saw that she would be watched with a tireless vigilance. Her recoil, however, was not so much a matter of conscious reasoning and perception as it was an instinctive feeling of repulsion caused by the unfortunate child. It was the same old story. Jane always put the women of a household on pins and needles just as her mother exasperated the men. Alida had to struggle hard during a comparatively silent hour to fight down the hope that Holcroft would not listen to Jane's and her own request.As she stepped quickly and lightly about in her preparations for dinner, the girl watched her intently. At last she gave voice to her thoughts and said, "If mother'd only worked round smart as you, p'raps she'd hooked him 'stid er you."
Alida's only reply was a slight frown, for the remark suggested disagreeable images and fancies. "Oh, how can I endure it?" she sighed. She determined to let Jane plead her own cause at first, thinking that perhaps this would be the safest way. If necessary, she would use her influence against a hostile decision, let it cost in discomfort what it might.At a few moments before twelve the farmer came briskly toward the house, and was evidently in the best of spirits. When he entered and saw Jane, his countenance indicated so much dismay that Alida could scarcely repress a smile. The child rose and stood before him like a culprit awaiting sentence. She winked hard to keep the tears back, for there was no welcome in his manner. She could not know how intensely distasteful was her presence at this time, nor had Holcroft himself imagined how unwelcome a third person in his house could be until he saw the intruder before him. He had only felt that he was wonderfully contented and happy in his home, and that Jane would be a constant source of annoyance and restraint. Moreover, it might lead to visitation from Mrs. Mumpson, and that was the summing up of earthly ills. But the child's appearance and manner were so forlorn and deprecating that words of irritation died upon his lips. He gravely shook hands with her and then drew out the story which Alida had learned."Why, Jane," he exclaimed, frowning, "Mr. Watterly will be scouring the country for you. I shall have to take you back right after dinner.""I kinder hoped," she sobbed, "that you'd let me stay. I'd stay in the barn if I couldn't be in the house. I'd just as soon work outdoors, too."
"I don't think you'd be allowed to stay," said the farmer, with a sinking heart; "and then--perhaps your mother would be coming here.""I can't stand mother no more'n you can" said the girl, through her set teeth. "I oughtn'ter been born, for there's no place for me in the world."
Holcroft looked at his wife, his face expressive of the utmost annoyance, worry, and irresolution. Her glance was sympathetic, but she said nothing, feeling that if he could make the sacrifice from his own will he should have the chance. "You can't begin to know how much trouble this may lead to, Jane," he resumed. "You remember how your other threatened to take the law upon me, and it wouldn't be possible for you to stay here without her consent.""She oughter consent; I'll make her consent!" cried the child, speaking as if driven to desperation. "What's she ever done for me but teach me mean ways? Keep me or kill me, for I must be in some place where I've a right to be away from mother. I've found that there's no sense in her talk, and it drives me crazy."
Although Jane's words and utterance were strangely uncouth, they contained a despairing echo which the farmer could not resist. Turning his troubled face to his wife, he began, ""If this is possible, Alida, it will be a great deal harder on you than it will on me. I don't feel that I would be doing right by you unless you gave your consent with full knowledge of--""Then please let her stay, if it is possible. She seems to need a friend and home as much as another that you heard about."
"There's no chance of such a blessed reward in this case," he replied, with a grim laugh. Then, perplexed indeed, he continued to Jane, "I'm just as sorry for you as I can be, but there's no use of getting my wife and self in trouble which in the end will do you no good. You are too young to understand all that your staying may lead to.""It won't lead to mother's comin' here, and that's the worst that could happen. Since she can't do anything for me she's got to let me do for myself.""Alida, please come with me in the parlor a moment. You stay here, Jane." When they were alone, he resumed, "Somehow, I feel strangely unwilling to have that child live with us. We were enjoying our quiet life so much. Then you don't realize how uncomfortable she will make you, Alida.""Yes, I do."
"I don't think you can yet. Your sympathies are touched now, but she'll watch you and irritate you in a hundred ways. Don't her very presence make you uncomfortable?""Yes."
"Well, then, she can't stay," he began decidedly. "This is your home, and no one shall make you uncomfortable--""But I should be a great deal more uncomfortable if she didn't stay," Alida interrupted. "I should feel that I did not deserve my home. Not long ago my heart was breaking because I was friendless and in trouble. What could I think of myself if I did not entreat you in behalf of this poor child?"
"Thunder!" ejaculated Holcroft. "I guess I was rather friendless and troubled myself, and I didn't know the world had in it such a good friend as you've become, Alida. Well, well! You've put it in such a light that I'd be almost tempted to take the mother, also.""No," she replied, laughing; "we'll draw the line at the mother."