"Yes, he has always been kind to me," said Alida gently and lingeringly, as if the thought were pleasant to dwell upon.
"Say," said Jane, yielding to her curiosity, "how did you make him so afraid of you when he don't like you? He didn't like mother, but he wasn't afraid of her."
"Why do you think he doesn't like me?" Alida faltered, turning very pale.
"Oh! 'Cause he looked once jest as he did after mother'd been goin' for--"
"There, be still! You mustn't speak of such things, or talk to me about Mr. Holcroft in such a way," and she hastily left the kitchen. When in the solitude of her own room, she gave way to bitter tears. "Is it so plain," she thought, "that even this ignorant child sees it? And the unhappy change began the day she came, too. I can't understand it. We were so happy before; and he seemed to enjoy being near me and talking to me when his work permitted. He used to look into my eyes in a way that made me hope and, indeed, feel almost sure. I receive no more such looks; he seems only trying to do his duty by me as he promised at first, and acts as if it were all duty, a mere matter of conscience. Could he have discovered how I felt, and so is taking this way to remind me that nothing of the kind was in our agreement? Well, I've no reason to complain; I accepted the relation of my own free will, but it's hard, hard indeed for a woman who loves a man with her whole heart and soul--and he her husband--to go on meeting him day after day, yet act as if she were his mere business partner. But I can't help myself; my very nature, as well as a sense of his rights, prevents me from asking more or even showing that I wish for more. That WOULD be asking for it. But can it be true that he is positively learning to dislike me? To shrink from me with that strong repulsion which women feel toward some men? Oh! If that is true, the case is hopeless; it would kill me. Every effort to win him, even the most delicate and unobtrusive, would only drive him farther away; the deepest instincts of his soul would lead him to withdraw--to shun me. If this is true, the time may come when, so far from my filling his house with comfort, I shall make him dread to enter it. Oh, oh! My only course is to remember just what I promised and he expected when he married me, and live up to that."
Thus husband and wife reached the same, conclusion and were rendered equally unhappy.
Chapter XXX. Holcroft's Best Hope
When Holcroft came in to dinner that day the view he had adopted was confirmed, yet Alida's manner and appearance began to trouble him. Even to his rather slow perception, she did not seem so happy as she had been. She did not meet his eye with her old frank, friendly, and as he had almost hoped, affectionate, expression; she seemed merely feverishly anxious to do everything and have all as he wished. Instead of acting with natural ease and saying what was in her mind without premeditation, a conscious effort was visible and an apparent solicitude that he should be satisfied. The inevitable result was that he was more dissatisfied. "She's doing her best for me," he growled, as he went back to his work, "and it begins to look as if it might wear her out in time. Confound it! Having everything just so isn't of much account when a man's heart-hungry. I'd rather have had one of her old smiles and gone without my dinner. Well, well; how little a man understands himself or knows the future! The day I married her I was in mortal dread lest she should care for me too much and want to be affectionate and all that; and here I am, discontented and moping because everything has turned out as I then wished. Don't see as I'm to blame, either. She had no business to grow so pretty. Then she looked like a ghost, but now when the color comes into her cheeks, and her blue eyes sparkle, a man would be a stupid clod if he didn't look with all his eyes and feel his heart a-thumping. That she should change so wasn't in the bargain; neither was it that she should read aloud in such sweet tones that a fellow'd like to listen to the dictionary; nor that she should make the house and yard look as they never did before, and, strangest of all, open my eyes to the fact that apple trees bear flowers as well as pippins. I can't even go by a wild posy in the lane without thinking she'd like it and see in it a sight more than I once could. I've been taken in, as old Jonathan feared," he muttered, following out his fancy with a sort of grim humor. "She isn't the woman I thought I was marrying at all, and I aint bound by my agreement--not in my thoughts, anyhow. I'd have been in a nice scrape if I'd taken my little affidavit not to think of her or look upon her in any other light than that of housekeeper and butter maker. It's a scary thing, this getting married with a single eye to business. See where I am now! Hanged if I don't believe I'm in love with my wife, and, like a thundering fool, I had to warn her against falling in love with me! Little need of that, though. She hasn't been taken in, for I'm the same old chap she married, and I'd be a mighty mean cuss if I went to her and said, 'Here, I want you to do twice as much, a hundred-fold as much as you agreed to.' I'd be a fool, too, for she couldn't do it unless something drew her toward me just as I'm drawn toward her."