Mother, will you not help me persuade her to live? Oh! if she dies,I will die too; you will kill both your children."Stern and indignant as the baroness was, yet these words pierced herheart. She turnebitcoin future dubaid with a piteous, half apologetic air to Edouardand Aubertin. "Gentlemen," said she, "she has been foolish, notguilty. Heaven pardons the best of us. Surely a mother may forgiveher child." And with this nature conquered utterly; and she heldout her arms, wide, wide, as is a mother's heart. Her two erringchildren rushed sobbing violently into them; and there was not a dryeye in the room for a long time.
"O Rose! he has"--"Oh!"So nimbly does the female mitron price speculationnd run on its little beaten tracks, thatit took no more than those syllables for even these innocent youngwomen to communicate that Raynal had popped.Josephine apologized for this weakness in a hero. "It wasn't hisfault," said she. "It is your Edouard who set him to do it.""My Edouard? Don't talk in that horrid way: I have no Edouard. Yousaid 'no' of course.""Something of the kind.""What, did you not say 'no' plump?""I did not say it brutally, dear.""Josephine, you frighten me. I know you can't say 'no' to any one;and if you don't say 'no' plump to such a man as this, you might aswell say 'yes.'""Well, love," said Josephine, "you know our mother will relieve meof this; what a comfort to have a mother!"They waited for Raynal's departure, to go to the baroness. They hadto wait a long time. Moreover, when he did leave the chateau hecame straight into the Pleasaunce. At sight of him Rose seizedJosephine tight and bade her hold her tongue, as she could not say"no" plump to any one. Josephine was far from raising any objectionto the arrangement.
"Monsieur," said Rose, before he could get a word out, "even if shehad not declined, I could not consent."Raynal tapped his forehead reflectively, and drew forth from memorythat he had no instructions whatever to ask HER consent.She colored high, but returned to the charge."Is her own consent to be dispensed with too? She declined thehonor, did she not?""Of course she did; but this was anticipated in my instructions. Iam to be sure and not take the first two or three refusals.""O Josephine, look at that insolent boy: he has found you out.""Insolent boy!" cried Raynal; "why, it is the referee of your ownchoosing, and as well behaved a lad as ever I saw, and a zealousofficer.""My kind friends," put in Josephine with a sweet languor, "I cannotlet you quarrel about a straw.""It is not about a straw," said Raynal, "it is about you.""The distinction involves a compliment, sir," said Josephine; thenshe turned to Rose, "Is it possible you do not see Monsieur Raynal'sstrange proposal in its true light? and you so shrewd in general.He has no personal feeling whatever in this eccentric proceeding: hewants to make us all happy, especially my mother, without seeming tolay us under too great an obligation. Surely good-nature was nevercarried so far before; ha, ha! Monsieur, I will encumber you with myfriendship forever, if you permit me, but farther than that I willnot abuse your generosity.""Now look here, mademoiselle," began Raynal bluntly, "I did startwith a good motive at first, that there's no denying. But, since Ihave been every day in your company, and seen how good and kind youare to all about you, I have turned selfish; and I say to myself,what a comfort such a wife as you would be to a soldier! Why, onlyto have you to write letters home to, would be worth half a fellow'spay. Do you know sometimes when I see the fellows writing theirletters it gives me a knock here to think I have no one at all towrite to."Josephine sighed."So you see I am not so mighty disinterested. Now, mademoiselle,you speak so charmingly, I can't tell what you mean: can't tellwhether you say 'no' because you could never like me, or whether itis out of delicacy, and you only want pressing. So I say no more atpresent: it is a standing offer. Take a day to consider. Take twoif you like. I must go to the barracks; good-day.""Oh! this must be put an end to at once," said Rose.
"With all my heart," replied Josephine; "but how?""Come to our mother, and settle that," said the impetuous sister,and nearly dragged the languid one into the drawing-room.To their surprise they found the baroness walking up and down theroom with unusual alacrity for a person of her years. She no soonercaught sight of Josephine than she threw her arms open to her withjoyful vivacity, and kissed her warmly. "My love, you have savedus. I am a happy old woman. If I had all France to pick from Icould not have found a man so worthy of my Josephine. He is brave,he is handsome, he is young, he is a rising man, he is a good son,and good sons make good husbands--and--I shall die at Beaurepaire,shall I not, Madame the Commandante?"Josephine held her mother round the neck, but never spoke. After asilence she held her tighter, and cried a little."I don't believe I do or can, yet, Alida, dear, but that blessed Jane's spying trait has served me the best turn in the world. She heard every brave word you said and I shed tears of joy when she told me; and tears are slow coming to my eyes. You think I shrink from you, do you?" and he kissed her hands passionately. "See," he cried, "I kneel to you in gratitude for all you've been to me and are to me."
"Oh, James! Please rise. It's too much.""No, not till you promise to go with me to a minister and hear me promise to love, cherish--yes, in your case I'll promise to obey."She bowed her head upon his shoulder in answer. Springing up, he clasped her close and kissed away her tears as he exclaimed, "No more business marriage for me, if you please. There never was a man so in love with his wife."Suddenly she looked up and said fearfully, "James, he threatened you. He said you'd never be safe a moment as long as I stayed here."
His answer was a peal of laughter. "I've done more than threaten him. I've whipped him within an inch of his life, and it was the thought of you that led me, in my rage, to spare his life. I'll tell you all--I'm going to tell you everything now. How much trouble I might have saved if I had told you my thoughts! What was there, Alida, in an old fellow like me that led you to care so?"Looking up shyly, she replied, "I think it was the MAN in you--and--then you stood up for me so."
"Well, love is blind, I suppose, but it don't seem to me that mine is. There never was a man so taken in at his marriage. You were so different from what I expected that I began loving you before I knew it, but I thought you were good to me just as you were to Jane--from a sense of duty--and that you couldn't abide me personally. So I tried to keep out of your way. And, Alida, dear, I thought at first that I was taken by your good traits and your education and all that, but I found out at last that I had fallen in love with YOU. Now you know all. You feel better now, don't you?""Yes," she breathed softly."You've had enough to wear a saint out," he continued kindly. "Lie down on the lounge and I'll bring your supper to you.""No, please! It will do me more good to go on and act as if nothing had happened."
"Well, have your own way, little wife. You're boss now, sure enough."She drew him to the porch, and together they looked upon the June landscape which she had regarded with such despairing eyes an hour before."Happiness never kills, after all," she said."Shouldn't be alive if it did," he replied. "The birds seem to sing as if they knew."
Jane emerged from the barn door with a basket of eggs, and Alida sped away to meet her. The first thing the child knew the arms of her mistress were about her neck and she was kissed again and again."What did you do that for?" she asked.
"You'll understand some day.""Say," said Jane in an impulse of good will, "if you're only half married to Mr. Holcroft, I'd go the whole figure, 'fi's you. If you'd 'a' seen him a-thrashin' that scamp you'd know he's the man to take care of you."
"Yes, Jane, I know. He'll take care of me always."The next morning Holcroft and Alida drove to town and went to the church which she and her mother used to attend. After the service they followed the clergyman home, where Alida again told him her story, though not without much help from the farmer. After some kindly reproach that she had not brought her troubles to him at first, the minister performed a ceremony which found deep echoes in both their hearts.Time and right, sensible living soon remove prejudice from the hearts of the good and stop the mouths of the cynical and scandal-loving. Alida's influence, and the farmer's broadening and more unselfish views gradually bought him into a better understanding of his faith, and into a kinder sympathy and charity for his neighbors than he had ever known. His relations to the society of which he was a part became natural and friendly, and his house a pretty and a hospitable home. Even Mrs. Watterly eventually entered its portals. She and others were compelled to agree with Watterly that Alida was not of the "common sort," and that the happiest good fortune which could befall any man had come to Holcroft when he fell in love with his wife.The End"Well, anyway, it's no business of ours.""It's very much my business. He was the man who drove me here. . . . I'll give you fifty pounds if you'll get me out before he comes back."
"I shouldn't think it worth while. I should get sacked more likely than not. I've got a good job here.""Suppose I say eighty?"
"I can see it first?""I haven't got it here. If you come with me to Grosvenor Gardens I'll give it to you at once."
"We couldn't get away without being seen. And after that, money wouldn't be much use to me.""Isn't it worth trying?"
The girl stared at her with expressionless eyes. It was impossible to tell what she thought. Irene controlled herself to silence till she should hear her reply. Till she had it, she felt it hard to guess what further argument would avail."You're sure they killed him?" the girl asked at last."He was alive when he drove me here.""I daresay they did. They kill beautiful dogs. Mr. Snacklit likes doing that."
"We're losing time, If we're going - - ""It's not that simple, Miss. There's Billson too - - Was
Billson one of them two?""I don't know who Billson is."
"Did one of them have red hair?""I didn't notice; but I don't think so."
"I'd like to hear what he says."The girl went to the door and gave a shrill whistle. A moment later a man came into the room, showing a close-cropped head of red hair and a sharp-nosed foxy face."Bill" the girl said, with a familiarity which was equally evident in his manner to her, "this lady says a taxi-driver's been killed in the yard, and they've just burnt his body. I've told her that, if they did, it was nothing to do with you."The man did not appear to regard this statement as incredible, but, unless he were an exceptionally good actor, it was a surprising item of news.
"I hadn't heard tell of that," he said. "The master told me to stay by the stairs, and not let anyone go down unless he came along with them.""This young lady says she'll give me eighty pounds if I'll let her out.
"Or a hundred," Irene interrupted quickly, "if you're sharing between you."The man looked at her sharply. "You'd like to get out," he asked, "to make trouble for us? That'll have to be what the master says."
"There's plenty of trouble coming," Irene replied, "whether I get out or not. But I shouldn't make any for you. I might save your life.""I'd like to know how you'd do that?"