Unfortunately, Jacintha's plan was so difficult and so dangerous,tcardano coin addresshat at first even the courageous Rose recoiled from it; but thereare dangers that seem to diminish when you look them long in theface.
"No. I'll attend to everything there. Itfuture of uniswap coin's too damp for you yet. Keep on resting. Why, bless me! I didn't think you'd be well enough to do anything for a week.""Indeed," she admitted, "I'm surprised at myself. It seems as if a crushing weight had been lifted off my mind and that I was coming right up. I'm so glad, for I feared I might be feeble and useless a long time."
"Well, Alida, if you had been, or if you ever are, don't think I'll be impatient. The people I can't stand are those who try to take advantage of me, and I tell you I've had to contend with that disposition so long that I feel as if I could do almost anything for one who is simply honest and tries to keep her part of an agreement. But this won't do. I've enjoyed my own dinner so much that I've half forgotten that the horses haven't had theirs yet. Now will you scold if I light my pipe before I go out?""Oh, no! I don't mind that.""No good-natured fibs! Isn't smoke disagreeable?"She shook her head. "I don't mind it at all," she said, but her sudden paleness puzzled him. He could not know that he had involuntarily recalled the many times that she had filled the evening pipe for a man who now haunted her memory like a specter."I guess you don't like it very much," he said, as he passed out. "Well, no matter! It's getting so mild that I can smoke out of doors."
With the exception of the episode of dinner the day was chiefly passed by Alida in a health-restoring languor, the natural reaction from the distress and strong excitements of the past. The rest that had been enjoined upon her was a blessed privilege, and still more happy was the truth that she could rest. Reclining on the lounge in the parlor, with a wood fire on one side and the April sun on the other, both creating warmth and good cheer, she felt like those who have just escaped from a wreck and engulfing waves. Her mind was too weary to question either the past or the future, and sometimes a consciousness of safety is happiness in itself. In the afternoon, the crackling of the fire and the calling and singing of the birds without formed a soothing lullaby and she fell asleep.At last, in a dream, she heard exquisite music which appeared to grow so loud, strong, and triumphant that she started up and looked around bewildered. A moment later, she saw that a robin was singing in a lilac bush by the window and that near the bird was a nest partially constructed. She recalled her hopeless grief when she had last seen the building of one of their little homes; and she fell upon her knees with a gratitude too deep for words, and far more grateful to Heaven than words."Alida, Alida," protested Holcroft, "if it were all to do over again, I'd be a thousand times more--"
"Oh, I know, I know! You are brave and generous and honest. I saw that much when you first spoke to me. I yielded to the temptation to secure such a friend. I was too cowardly to face the world alone. And now see what's happened! You're in danger and disgrace on my account. I must go away--I must do what I should have done at first," and with her face buried in her hands she rocked back and forth, overwhelmed by the bitterness and reproach of her thoughts."Alida," he urged, "please be calm and sensible. Let me reason with you and tell you the truth. All that's happened is that the Oakville cubs have received a well-deserved whipping. When you get calm, I can explain everything so it won't seem half so bad. Neither you nor I are in any danger, and, as for your going away, look me in the eyes and listen."His words were almost stern in their earnestness. She raised her streaming eyes to his face, then sprung up, exclaiming, "Oh! You're wounded!""What's that, compared with your talk of going away?"
All explanations and reassurances would have been trivial in effect, compared with the truth that he had been hurt in her defense. She dashed her tears right and left, ran for a basin of water, and making him take her chair, began washing away the blood stains."Thunder!" he said, laughing, "How quickly we've changed places!"
"Oh, oh!" she moaned, "It's a terrible wound; it might have killed you, and they WILL kill you yet."He took her hands and held them firmly. "Alida," he said, gravely yet kindly, "be still and listen to me."For a moment or two longer her bosom heaved with convulsive sobs, and then she grew quiet. "Don't you know you can't go away?" he asked, still retaining her hands and looking in her face."I could for your sake," she began.
"No, it wouldn't be for my sake. I don't wish you to go, and wouldn't let you. If you should let the Oakville rabble drive you away, I WOULD be in danger, and so would others, for I'd be worse on 'em than an earthquake. After the lesson they've had tonight, they'll let us alone, and I'll let them alone. You know I've tried to be honest with you from the first. Believe me, then, the trouble's over unless we make more for ourselves. Now, promise you'll do as I say and let me manage.""I'll try," she breathed softly."No, no! That won't do. I'm beginning to find you out. You may get some foolish, self-sacrificing notion in your head that it would be best for me, when it would be my ruination. Will you promise?""Yes."
"Famous! Now you can bathe my head all you please for it feels a little queer.""It's an awful wound," she said in tones of the deepest sympathy. "Oh, I'm so sorry!"
"Pshaw! My head is too hard for that little scamp of a Weeks to break. His turn'll come next."She cut away the blood-clotted hair and bound up the rather severe scalp wound with a tenderness and sympathy that expressed itself even in her touch. She was too confused and excited to be conscious of herself, but she had received some tremendously strong impressions. Chief among them was the truth that nothing which had happened made any difference in him--that he was still the same loyal friend, standing between her and the world she dreaded--yes, between her and her own impulses toward self-sacrifice. Sweetest of all was the assurance that he did this for his own sake as well as hers. These facts seemed like a foothold in the mad torrent of feeling and shame which had been sweeping her away. She could think of little more than that she was safe--safe because he was brave and loyal--and yes, safe because he wanted her and would not give her up. The heart of a woman must be callous indeed, and her nature not only trivial but stony if she is not deeply touched under circumstances like these.
In spite of his laughing contempt of danger, she trembled as she saw him ready to go out again; she wished to accompany him on his round of observation, but he scouted the idea, although it pleased him. Standing in the door, she strained her eyes and listened breathlessly. He soon returned and said, "They've all had enough. We won't be disturbed again."He saw that her nerves needed quieting, and he set about the task with such simple tact as he possessed. His first step was to light his pipe in the most nonchalant manner, and then he burst out laughing. "I'll hang that hickory up. It has done too good service to be put to common use again. Probably you never heard of a skimelton, Alida. Well, they are not so uncommon in this region. I suppose I'll have to own up to taking part in one myself when I was a young chap. They usually are only rough larks and are taken good-naturedly. I'm not on jesting terms with my neighbors, and they had no business to come here, but I wouldn't have made any row if they hadn't insulted you."Her head bowed very low as she faltered, "They've heard everything."He came right to her and took her hand. "Didn't I hear everything before they did?""Yes.""Well, Alida, I'm not only satisfied with you, but I'm very grateful to you. Why shouldn't I be when you are a good Christian woman? I guess I'm the one to be suited, not Oakville. I should be as reckless as the devil if you should go away from me. Don't I act like a man who's ready to stand up for and protect you?"
"Yes, too ready. It would kill me if anything happened to you on my account.""Well, the worst would happen," he said firmly, "if we don't go right on as we've begun. If we go quietly on about our own affairs, we'll soon be let alone and that's all we ask."
"Yes, yes indeed! Don't worry, James. I'll do as you wish.""Famous! You never said 'James' to me before. Why haven't you?"
"I don't know," she faltered, with a sudden rush of color to her pale face."Well, that's my name," he resumed, laughing. "I guess it's because we are getting better acquainted.
She looked up and said impetuously, "You don't know how a woman feels when a man stands up for her as you did tonight.""Well, I know how a man feels when there is a woman so well worth standing up for. It was a lucky thing that I had nothing heavier in my hand than that hickory." All the while he was looking at her curiously; then he spoke his thought. "You're a quiet little woman, Alida, most times, but you're capable of a thunder gust now and then.""I'll try to be quiet at all times," she replied, with drooping eyes."Oh, I'm not complaining!" he said, laughing. "I like the trait."
He took a small pitcher and went to the dairy. Returning, he poured out two glasses of milk and said, "Here's to your health and happiness, Alida; and when I don't stand up for the woman who started out to save me from a mob of murderers, may the next thing I eat or drink choke me. You didn't know they were merely a lot of Oakville boys, did you?""You can't make so light of it," said she. "They tried to close on you, and if that stone had struck you on the temple, it might have killed you. They swore like pirates, and looked like ruffians with their blackened faces. They certainly were not boys in appearance."
"I'm afraid I swore too," he said sadly."You had some excuse, but I'm sorry. They would have hurt you if you hadn't kept them off."
"Yes, they'd probably have given me a beating. People do things in hot blood they wish they hadn't afterward. I know this Oakville rough-scuff. Since we've had it out, and they know what to expect, they'll give me a wide berth. Now go and sleep. You were never safer in your life."She did not trust herself to reply, but the glance she gave him from her tearful eyes was so eloquent with grateful feeling that he was suddenly conscious of some unwonted sensations. He again patrolled the place and tied the dog near the barn.
"It's barely possible that some of these mean cusses might venture to kindle a fire, but a bark from Towser will warn 'em off. She IS a spirited little woman," he added, with a sharp change in soliloquy. "There's nothing milk-and-water about her. Thunder! I felt like kissing her when she looked at me so. I guess that crack on my skull has made me a little light-headed."He lay down in his clothes so that he might rush out in case of any alarm, and he intended to keep awake. Then, the first thing he knew, the sun was shining in the windows.It was long before Alida slept, and the burden of her thoughts confirmed the words that she had spoken so involuntarily. "You don't know how a woman feels when a man stands up for her as you did." It is the nature of her sex to adore hardy, courageous manhood. Beyond all power of expression, Alida felt her need of a champion and protector. She was capable of going away for his sake, but she would go in terror and despair. The words that had smitten her confirmed all her old fears of facing the world alone. Then came the overpowering thought of his loyalty and kindness, of his utter and almost fierce repugnance to the idea of her leaving him. In contrast with the man who had deceived and wronged her, Holcroft's course overwhelmed her very soul with a passion of grateful affection. A new emotion, unlike anything she had ever known, thrilled her heart and covered her face with blushes. "I could die for him!" she murmured.She awoke late in the morning. When at last she entered the kitchen she stopped in deep chagrin, for Holcroft had almost completed preparations for breakfast. "Ha, ha!" he laughed, "turn about is fair play."
"Well," she sighed, "there's no use of making excuses now.""There's no occasion for any. Did you ever see such a looking case as I am with this bandage around my head?"
"Does it pain you?" she asked sympathetically."Well, it does. It pains like thunder."
"The wound needs dressing again. Let me cleanse and bind it up.""Yes, after breakfast."