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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHe Fell In Love With His Wife - Chapter 27. Farm And Farmer Bewitched
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He Fell In Love With His Wife - Chapter 27. Farm And Farmer Bewitched Post by :dsmith0542 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Payson Roe Date :May 2012 Read :1456

Click below to download : He Fell In Love With His Wife - Chapter 27. Farm And Farmer Bewitched (Format : PDF)

He Fell In Love With His Wife - Chapter 27. Farm And Farmer Bewitched

Chapter XXVII. Farm and Farmer Bewitched

The day grew warm, and having finished her tasks indoors and cared for the poultry, Alida brought a chair out in the porch. Her eyes were dreamy with a vague, undefined happiness. The landscape in itself was cause for exquisite pleasure, for it was an ideal day of the apple-blossoming period. The old orchard back of the barn looked as if pink-and-white clouds had settled upon it, and scattered trees near and far were exhaling their fragrance. The light breeze which fanned her cheek and bent the growing rye in an adjacent field was perfumed beyond the skill of art. Not only were her favorite meadow larks calling to each other, but the thrushes had come and she felt that she had never heard such hymns as they were singing. A burst of song from the lilac bush under the parlor window drew her eyes thither, and there was the paternal redbreast pouring out the very soul of ecstasy. From the nest beneath him rose the black head and yellow beak of his brooding mate. "How contented and happy she looks!" Alida murmured, "how happy they both are! And the secret of it is HOME. And to think that I, who was a friendless waif, am at home, also! At home with Eden-like beauty and peace before my eyes. But if it hadn't been for him, and if he were not brave, kind, and true to all he says--" and she shuddered at a contrast that rose before her fancy.

She could now scarcely satisfy herself that it was only gratitude which filled her heart with a strange, happy tumult. She had never been conscious of such exaltation before. It is true, she had learned to cherish a strong affection for the man whom she had believed to be her husband, but chiefly because he had seemed kind and she had an affectionate disposition. Until within the last few hours, her nature had never been touched and awakened in its profoundest depths. She had never known before nor had she idealized the manhood capable of evoking the feelings which now lighted her eyes and gave to her face the supreme charm and beauty of womanhood. In truth, it was a fitting day and time for the birth of a love like hers, simple, all-absorbing, and grateful. It contained no element not in harmony with that May Sunday morning.

Holcroft came and sat on the steps below her. She kept her eyes on the landscape, for she was consciously enough on her guard now. "I rather guess you think, Alida, that you are looking at a better picture than any artist fellow could paint?" he remarked.

"Yes," she replied hesitatingly, "and the picture seems all the more lovely and full of light because the background is so very dark. I've been thinking of what happened here last night and what might have happened, and how I felt then."

"You feel better--different now, don't you? You certainly look so."

"Yes!--You made me very happy by yielding to Mrs. Weeks."

"Oh! I didn't yield to her at all."

"Very well, have it your own way, then."

"I think you had it your way."

"Are you sorry?"

"Do I look so? How did you know I'd be happier if I gave in?"

"Because, as you say, I'm getting better acquainted with you. YOU couldn't help being happier for a generous act."

"I wouldn't have done it, though, if it hadn't been for you."

"I'm not so sure about that."

"I am. You're coming to make me feel confoundedly uncomfortable in my heathenish life."

"I wish I could."

"I never had such a sermon in my life as you gave me this morning. A Christian act like yours is worth a year of religious talk."

She looked at him wistfully for a moment and then asked, a little abruptly, "Mr. Holcroft, have you truly forgiven that Weeks family?"

"Oh, yes! I suppose so. I've forgiven the old lady, anyhow. I've shaken hands with her."

"If her husband and son should come and apologize and say they were sorry, would you truly and honestly forgive them?"

"Certainly! I couldn't hold a grudge after that. What are you aiming at?" and he turned and looked inquiringly into her face.

It was flushed and tearful in its eager, earnest interest. "Don't you see?" she faltered.

He shook his head, but was suddenly and strangely moved by her expression.

"Why, Mr. Holcroft, if you can honestly forgive those who have wronged you, you ought to see how ready God is to forgive."

He fairly started to his feet so vividly the truth came home to him, illumined, as it was, by a recent and personal experience. After a moment, he slowly sat down again and said, with a long breath, "That was a close shot, Alida."

"I only wish you to have the trust and comfort which this truth should bring you," she said. "It seems a pity you should do yourself needless injustice when you are willing to do what is right and kind by others."

"It's all a terrible muddle, Alida. If God is so ready to forgive, how do you account for all the evil and suffering in the world?"

"I don't account for it and can't. I'm only one of his little children; often an erring one, too. You've been able to forgive grown people, your equals, and strangers in a sense. Suppose you had a little boy that had done wrong, but said he was sorry, would you hold a grudge against him?"

"The idea! I'd be a brute."

She laughed softly as she asked again, "don't you see?"

He sat looking thoughtfully away across the fields for a long time, and finally asked, "Is your idea of becoming a Christian just being forgiven like a child and then trying to do right?"

"Yes. Why not?"

"Well," he remarked, with a grim laugh. "I didn't expect to be cornered in this way."

"You who are truthful should face the truth. It would make you happier. A good deal that was unexpected has happened. When I look out on a scene like this and think that I am safe and at home, I feel that God has been very good to me and that you have, too. I can't bear to think that you have that old trouble on your mind--the feeling that you had been a Christian once, but was not one now. Being sure that there is no need of your continuing to feel so, what sort of return would I be making for all your kindness if I did not try to show you what is as clear to me as this sunshine?"

"You are a good woman, Alida. Believing as you do, you have done right to speak to me, and I never believed mortal lips could speak so to the purpose. I shall think of what you have said, for you have put things in a new light. But say, Alida, what on earth possesses you to call me 'Mr.'? You don't need to be scared half to death every time to call me by my first name, do you?"

"Scared? Oh, no!" She was a trifle confused, he thought, but then her tone was completely reassuring.

The day was one long remembered by both. As in nature about them, the conditions of development and rapid change now existed.

She did not read aloud very much, and long silences fell between them. They were reaching a higher plane of companionship, in which words are not always essential. Both had much to think about, and their thoughts were like roots which prepare for blossom and fruit.

With Monday, busy life was resumed. The farmer began planting his corn and Alida her flower seeds. Almost every day now added to the brood of little chicks under her care. The cows went out to pasture. Holcroft brought in an increasing number of overflowing pails of milk, and if the labors of the dairy grew more exacting, they also grew more profitable. The tide had turned; income was larger than outgo, and it truly seemed to the long-harassed man that an era of peace and prosperity had set in.

To a superficial observer things might have appeared to be going on much as before, but there were influences at work which Holcroft did not clearly comprehend.

As Alida had promised herself, she spent all the money which the eggs brought in, but Holcroft found pretty muslin curtains at the parlor windows, and shades which excluded the glare from the kitchen. Better china took the place of that which was cracked and unsightly. In brief, a subtle and refining touch was apparent all over the house.

"How fine we are getting!" he remarked one evening at supper.

"I've only made a beginning," she replied, nodding defiantly at him. "The chickens will paint the house before the year is over."

"Phew! When do the silk dresses come in?"

"When your broadcloth does."

"Well, if this goes on, I shall certainly have to wear purple and fine linen to keep pace."

"Fine linen, certainly. When you take the next lot of eggs to town I shall tell you just the number of yards I need to make half a dozen extra fine shirts. Those you have are getting past mending."

"Do you think I'll let you spend your money in that way?"

"You'll let me spend MY money just as I please--in the way that will do me the most good!"

"What a saucy little woman you are becoming!" he said, looking at her so fondly that she quickly averted her eyes. "It's a way people fall into when humored," she answered.

"See here, Alida, you're up to some magic. It seems but the other day I brought you here, a pale ghost of a woman. As old Jonathan Johnson said, you were 'enj'yin' poor health.' Do you know what he said when I took him off so he wouldn't put you through the catechism?"

"No," she replied, with a deprecating smile and rising color.

"He said he was 'afeared I'd been taken in, you were such a sickly lookin' critter.' Ha! Ha! Wish he might see you now, with that flushed face of yours. I never believed in magic, but I'll have to come to it. You are bewitched, and are being transformed into a pretty young girl right under my eyes; the house is bewitched, and is growing pretty, too, and pleasanter all the time. The cherry and apple trees are bewitched, for they never blossomed so before; the hens are bewitched, they lay as if possessed; the--"

"Oh, stop! Or I shall think that you're bewitched yourself."

"I truly begin to think I am."

"Oh, well! Since we all and everything are affected in the same way, it don't matter."

"But it does. It's unaccountable. I'm beginning to rub my eyes and pinch myself to wake up."

"If you like it, I wouldn't wake up."

"Suppose I did, and saw Mrs. Mumpson sitting where you do, Jane here, and Mrs. Wiggins smoking her pipe in the corner. The very thought makes me shiver. My first words would be, 'Please pass the cold p'ison.'"

"What nonsense you are talking tonight!" she tried to say severely, but the pleased, happy look in her eyes betrayed her. He regarded her with the open admiration of a boy, and she sought to divert his attention by asking, "What do you think has become of Jane?"

"I don't know--stealing around like a strange cat in some relation's house, I suppose."

"You once said you would like to do something for her."

"Well, I would. If I could afford it, I'd like to send her to school."

"Would you like her to come here and study lessons part of the time?"

He shivered visibly. "No, Alida, and you wouldn't either. She'd make you more nervous than she would me, and that's saying a good deal. I do feel very sorry for her, and if Mrs. Weeks comes to see you, we'll find out if something can't be done, but her presence would spoil all our cozy comfort. The fact is, I wouldn't enjoy having anyone here. You and I are just about company enough. Still, if you feel that you'd like to have some help--"

"Oh, no! I haven't enough to do."

"But you're always a-doing. Well, if you're content, I haven't Christian fortitude enough to make any changes."

She smiled and thought that she was more than content. She had begun to detect symptoms in her husband which her own heart enabled her to interpret. In brief, it looked as if he were drifting on a smooth, swift tide to the same haven in which she was anchored.

One unusually warm morning for the season, rain set in after breakfast. Holcroft did not fret in the least that he could not go to the fields, nor did he, as had been his custom at first, find rainy-day work at the barn. The cows, in cropping the lush grass, had so increased their yield of milk that it was necessary to churn every other day, and Alida was busy in the dairy. This place had become inviting by reason of its coolness, and she had rendered it more so by making it perfectly clean and sweet. Strange to say, it contained another chair besides the one she usually occupied. The apartment was large and stone-flagged. Along one side were shelves filled with rows of shining milk-pans. In one corner stood the simple machinery which the old dog put in motion when tied upon his movable walk, and the churn was near. An iron pipe, buried deep in the ground, brought cool spring water from the brook above. This pipe emptied its contents with a low gurgle into a shallow, oblong receptacle sunk in the floor, and was wide and deep enough for two stone crocks of ample size to stand abreast up to their rims in the water. The cream was skimmed into these stone jars until they were full, then Holcroft emptied them into the churn. He had charged Alida never to attempt this part of the work, and indeed it was beyond her strength. After breakfast on churning days, he prepared everything and set the dog at work. Then he emptied the churn of the buttermilk when he came in to dinner.

All the associations of the place were pleasant to Alida. It was here that her husband had shown patience as well as kindness in teaching her how to supplement his work until her own experience and judgment gave her a better skill than he possessed. Many pleasant, laughing words had passed between them in this cool, shadowy place, and on a former rainy morning he had brought a chair down that he might keep her company. She had not carried it back, nor was she very greatly surprised to see him saunter in and occupy it on the present occasion. She stood by the churn, her figure outlined clearly in the light from the open door, as she poured in cold water from time to time to hasten and harden the gathering butter. Her right sleeve was rolled well back, revealing a white arm that was becoming beautifully plump and round. An artist would have said that her attitude and action were unconsciously natural and graceful. Holcroft had scarcely the remotest idea of artistic effect, but he had a sensible man's perception of a charming woman when she is charming.

"Mr. Holcroft," she asked very gravely, "will you do something for me?"

"Yes, half a dozen things."

"You promise?"

"Certainly! What's the trouble?"

"I don't mean there shall be any if I can help it," she answered with a light ripple of laughter. "Please go and put on your coat."

"How you've humbugged me! It's too hot."

"Oh, you've got to do it; you promised. You can't stay here unless you do."

"So you are going to take care of me as if I were a small boy?"

"You need care--sometimes."

He soon came back and asked, "Now may I stay?"

"Yes. Please untie the dog. Butter's come."

"I should think it would, or anything else at your coaxing."

"Oh-h, what a speech! Hasn't that a pretty golden hue?" she asked, holding up a mass of the butter she was ladling from the churn into a wooden tray.

"Yes, you are making the gilt-edge article now. I don't have to sell it to Tom Watterly any more."

"I'd like to give him some, though."

He was silent, and something like sudden rage burned in his heart that Mrs. Watterly would not permit the gift. That anyone should frown on his having such a helper as Alida was proving herself to be, made him vindictive. Fortunately her face was turned away, and she did not see his heavy frown. Then, to shield her from a disagreeable fact, he said quickly, "do you know that for over a year I steadily went behind my expenses. And that your butter making has turned the tide already? I'm beginning to get ahead again."

"I'm SO glad," and her face was radiant.

"Yes, I should know that from your looks. It's clearer every day that I got the best of our bargain. I never dreamed, though, that I should enjoy your society as I do--that we should become such very good friends. That wasn't in the bargain, was it?"

"Bargain!" The spirited way with which she echoed the word, as if thereby repudiating anything like a sordid side to their mutual relations, was not lost on her wondering and admiring partner. She checked herself suddenly. "Now let me teach YOU how to make butter," and with the tray in her lap, she began washing the golden product and pressing out the milk.

He laughed in a confused delighted way at her piquant, half saucy manner as he watched her deft round arm and shapely hand.

"The farmers' wives in Oakville would say your hands were too little to do much."

"They would?" and she raised her blue eyes indignantly to his. "No matter, you are the one to say about that."

"I say they do too much. I shall have to get Jane to help you."

"By all means! Then you'll have more society."

"That was a home shot. You know how I dote on everybody's absence, even Jane's."

"You dote on butter. See how firm and yellow it's getting. You wouldn't think it was milk-white cream a little while ago, would you? Now I'll put in the salt and you must taste it, for you're a connoisseur."

"A what?"

"Judge, then."

"You know a sight more than I do, Alida."

"I'm learning all the time."

"So am I--to appreciate you."

"Listen to the sound of the rain and the water as it runs into the milk-cooler. It's like low music, isn't it?"

Poor Holcroft could make no better answer than a sneeze.

"Oh-h," she exclaimed, "you're catching cold? Come, you must go right upstairs. You can't stay here another minute. I'm nearly through."

"I was never more contented in my life."

"You've no right to worry me. What would I do if you got sick? Come, I'll stop work till you go."

"Well then, little boss, goodbye."

With a half suppressed smile at his obedience Alida watched his reluctant departure. She kept on diligently at work, but one might have fancied that her thoughts rather than her exertions were flushing her cheeks.

It seemed to her that but a few moments elapsed before she followed him, but he had gone. Then she saw that the rain had ceased and that the clouds were breaking. His cheerful whistle sounded reassuringly from the barn, and a little later he drove up the lane with a cart.

She sat down in the kitchen and began sewing on the fine linen they had jested about. Before long she heard a light step. Glancing up, she saw the most peculiar and uncanny-looking child that had ever crossed her vision, and with dismal presentiment knew it was Jane.

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