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This retort was stron out of energyo overwhelming that Mrs. Weeks sobbed speechlessly.Alida could not help overhearing the conversation, and she now glided into the room and stood by her husband's side.

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"James," she said, "won't you do me a favor, a great kindness?"Mrs. Weeks raised her eyes and looked wonderingly at this dreadful woman, against whom all Oakville was talking."I know what you wish, Alida," he replied sternly, "but I can't do it. This is a case for justice. This woman's son was the leader of that vile crowd that insulted you last night. I can forgive his injuring me, but not the words he used about you. Moreover, when I was alone and struggling to keep my home, Mrs. Weeks took part with her husband in imposing on me their fraud of a cousin and in tricking me out of honest money. Any woman with a heart in her breast would have tried to help a man situated as I was. No, it's a clear case of justice, and her son shall go to jail."Mrs. Weeks wailed afresh at this final sentence. Holcroft was amazed to see his wife drop on her knees beside his chair. He raised her instantly. "Don't do such a thing as that," he said huskily.Without removing her pleading eyes from his face she asked gently, "Who told us to forgive as we would be forgiven? James, I shall be very unhappy if you don't grant this mother's prayer."

He tried to turn away, but she caught his hand and held his eyes with hers. "Alida," he said in strong agitation, "you heard the vile, false words that Timothy Weeks said last night. They struck you down like a blow. Can you forgive him?""Yes, and I plead with you to forgive him. Grant me my wish, James; I shall be so much happier, and so will you.""You'll see," he replied, going down the steps. "Jump up, Jane! I shall take the trunk to your cousin's. If you are so crazy as to stay in a man's house when he don't want you and won't have you, you are fit only for an asylum."

Mrs. Mumpson was sane enough to perceive that she was at the end of her adhesive resources. In his possession of her trunk, the farmer also had a strategic advantage which made it necessary for her to yield. She did so, however, with very bad grace. When he drove up, she bounced into the wagon as if made of India rubber, while Jane followed slowly, with a look of sullen apathy. He touched his horses with the whip into a smart trot, scarcely daring to believe in his good fortune. The lane was rather steep and rough, and he soon had to pull up lest the object of his unhappy solicitude should be jolted out of the vehicle. This gave the widow her chance to open fire. "The end has not come yet, Mr. Holcroft," she said vindictively. "You may think you are going to have an easy triumph over a poor, friendless, unfortunate, sensitive, afflicted woman and a fatherless child, but you shall soon learn that there's a law in the land. You have addressed improper words to me, you have threatened me, you have broken your agreement. I have writings, I have a memory, I have language to plead the cause of the widow and the fatherless. I have been wronged, outraged, trampled upon, and then turned out of doors. The indignant world shall hear my story, the finger of scorn will be pointed at you. Your name will become a byword and a hissing. Respecterble women, respecterbly connected, will stand aloof and shudder."The torrent of words was unchecked except when the wheels struck a stone, jolting her so severely that her jaws came together with a click as if she were snapping at him.He made no reply whatever, but longed to get his hands upon Lemuel Weeks. Pushing his horses to a high rate of speed, he soon reached that interested neighbor's door, intercepting him just as he was starting to town.He looked very sour as he saw his wife's relatives, and demanded harshly, "What does this mean?"

"It means," cried Mrs. Mumpson in her high, cackling tones, "that he's said things and done things too awful to speak of; that he's broken his agreement and turned us out of doors.""Jim Holcroft," said Mr. Weeks, blustering up to the wagon, "you can't carry on with this high hand. Take these people back to your house where they belong, or you'll be sorry."

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Holcroft sprang out, whirled Mr. Weeks out of his way, took out the trunk, then with equal expedition and no more ceremony lifted down Mrs. Mumpson and Jane."Do you know what you're about?" shouted Mr. Weeks in a rage. "I'll have the law on you this very day."Holcroft maintained his ominous silence as he hitched his horses securely. Then he strode toward Weeks, who backed away from him. "Oh, don't be afraid, you sneaking, cowardly fox!" said the farmer bitterly. "If I gave you your desserts, I'd take my horsewhip to you. You're going to law me, are you? Well, begin today, and I'll be ready for you. I won't demean myself by answering that woman, but I'm ready for you in any way you've a mind to come. I'll put you and your wife on the witness stand. I'll summon Cousin Abram, as you call him, and his wife, and compel you all under oath to give Mrs. Mumpson a few testimonials. I'll prove the trick you played on me and the lies you told. I'll prove that this woman, in my absence, invaded my room, and with keys of her own opened my dead wife's bureau and pulled out her things. I'll prove that she hasn't earned her salt and can't, and may prove something more. Now, if you want to go to law, begin. Nothing would please me better than to show up you and your tribe. I've offered to pay this woman her three months' wages in full, and so have kept my agreement. She has not kept hers, for she's only sat in a rocking chair and made trouble. Now, do as you please. I'll give you all the law you want. I'd like to add a horsewhipping, but that would give you a case and now you haven't any."As Holcroft uttered these words sternly and slowly, like a man angry indeed but under perfect self-control, the perspiration broke out on Weeks' face. He was aware that Mrs. Mumpson was too well known to play the role of a wronged woman, and remembered what his testimony and that of many others would be under oath. Therefore, he began, "Oh, well, Mr. Holcroft! There's no need of your getting in such a rage and threatening so; I'm willing to talk the matter over and only want to do the square thing."

The farmer made a gesture of disgust as he said, "I understand you, Lemuel Weeks. There's no talking needed and I'm in no mood for it. Here's the money I agreed to pay. I'll give it to Mrs. Mumpson when she has signed this paper, and you've signed as witness of her signature. Otherwise, it's law. Now decide quick, I'm in a hurry."Objections were interposed, and Holcroft, returning the money to his pocket, started for his team, without a word. "Oh, well!" said Weeks in strong irritation, "I haven't time for a lawsuit at this season of the year. You are both cranks, and I suppose it would be best for me and my folks to be rid of you both. It's a pity, though, you couldn't be married and left to fight it out."Holcroft took the whip from his wagon and said quietly, "If you speak another insulting word, I'll horsewhip you and take my chances."Something in the man's look prevented Weeks from uttering another unnecessary remark. The business was soon transacted, accompanied with Mrs. Mumpson's venomous words, for she had discovered that she could stigmatize Holcroft with impunity. He went to Jane and shook her hand as he said goodby. "I am sorry for you, and I won't forget my promise;" then drove rapidly away.

"Cousin Lemuel," said Mrs. Mumpson plaintively, "won't you have Timothy take my trunk to our room?""No, I won't," he snapped. "You've had your chance and have fooled it away. I was just going to town, and you and Jane will go along with me," and he put the widow's trunk into his wagon.

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Mrs. Weeks came out and wiped her eyes ostentatiously with her apron as she whispered, "I can't help it, Cynthy. When Lemuel goes off the handle in this way, it's no use for me to say anything."Mrs. Mumpson wept hysterically as she was driven away. Jane's sullen and apathetic aspect had passed away in part for Holcroft's words had kindled something like hope.

Chapter 17 A Momentous DecisionIt must be admitted that Holcroft enjoyed his triumph over Lemuel Weeks very much after the fashion of the aboriginal man. Indeed, he was almost sorry he had not been given a little more provocation, knowing well that, had this been true, his neighbor would have received a fuller return for his interested efforts. As he saw his farmhouse in the shimmering April sunlight, as the old churning dog came forward, wagging his tail, the farmer said, "This is the only place which can ever be home to me. Well, well! It's queer about people. Some, when they go, leave you desolate; others make you happy by their absence. I never dreamed that silly Mumpson could make me happy, but she has. Blessed if I don't feel happy! The first time in a year or more!" And he began to whistle old "Coronation" in the most lively fashion as he unharnessed his horses.A little later, he prepared himself a good dinner and ate it in leisurely enjoyment, sharing a morsel now and then with the old dog. "You're a plaguey sight better company than she was," he mused. "That poor little stray cat of a Jane! What will become of her? Well, well! Soon as she's old enough to cut loose from her mother, I'll try to give her a chance, if it's a possible thing."After dinner, he made a rough draught of an auction bill, offering his cows for sale, muttering as he did so, "Tom Watterly'll help me put it in better shape." Then he drove a mile away to see old Mr. And Mrs. Johnson. The former agreed for a small sum to mount guard with his dog during the farmer's occasional absences, and the latter readily consented to do the washing and mending."What do I want of any more 'peculiar females,' as that daft widow called 'em?" he chuckled on his return. "Blames if she wasn't the most peculiar of the lot. Think of me marrying her!" and the hillside echoed to his derisive laugh. "As I feel today, there's a better chance of my being struck by lightning than marrying, and I don't think any woman could do it in spite of me. I'll run the ranch alone."That evening he smoked his pipe cheerfully beside the kitchen fire, the dog sleeping at his feet. "I declare," he said smilingly, "I feel quite at home."

In the morning, after attending to his work, he went for old Jonathan Johnson and installed him in charge of the premises; then drove to the almshouse with all the surplus butter and eggs on hand. Tom Watterly arrived at the door with his fast-trotting horse at the same time, and cried, "Hello, Jim! Just in time. I'm a sort of grass widower today--been taking my wife out to see her sister. Come in and take pot luck with me and keep up my spirits.""Well, now, Tom," said Holcroft, shaking hands, "I'm glad, not that your wife's away, although it does make me downhearted to contrast your lot and mine, but I'm glad you can give me a little time, for I want to use that practical head of yours--some advice, you know."

"All right. Nothing to do for an hour or two but eat dinner and smoke my pipe with you. Here, Bill! Take this team and feed 'em.""Hold on," said Holcroft, "I'm not going to sponge on you. I've got some favors to ask, and I want you to take in return some butter half spoiled in the making and this basket of eggs. They're all right."

"Go to thunder, Holcroft! What do you take me for? When you've filled your pipe after dinner will you pull an egg out of your pocket and say, 'That's for a smoke?' No, no, I don't sell any advice to old friends like you. I'll buy your butter and eggs at what they're worth and have done with 'em. Business is one thing, and sitting down and talking over an old crony's troubles is another. I'm not a saint, Jim, as you know--a man in politics can't be--but I remember when we were boys together, and somehow thinking of those old days always fetches me. Come in, for dinner is a-waiting, I guess.""Well, Tom, saint or no saint, I'd like to vote for you for gov'nor."

"This aint an electioneering trick, as you know. I can play them off as well as the next feller when there's need, kiss the babies and all that."Dinner was placed on the table immediately, and in a few moments the friends were left alone. Then Holcroft related in a half comic, half serious manner his tribulations with the help. Tom sat back in his chair and roared at the account of the pitched battle between the two widows and the final smoking out of Mrs. Mumpson, but he reproached his friend for not having horsewhipped Lemuel Weeks. "Don't you remember, Jim, he was a sneaking, tricky chap when we were at school together? I licked him once, and it always does me good to think of it.""I own it takes considerable to rile me to the point of striking a man, especially on his own land. His wife was looking out the window, too. If we'd been out in the road or anywhere else--but what's the use? I'm glad now it turned out as it has for I've too much on my mind for lawsuits, and the less one has to do with such cattle as Weeks the better. Well, you see I'm alone again, and I'm going to go it alone. I'm going to sell my cows and give up the dairy, and the thing I wanted help in most is the putting this auction bill in shape; also advice as to whether I had better try to sell here in town or up at the farm."Tom shook his head dubiously and scarcely glanced at the paper. "Your scheme don't look practical to me," he said. "I don't believe you can run that farm alone without losing money. You'll just keep on going behind till the first thing you know you'll clap a mortgage on it. Then you'll soon be done for. What's more, you'll break down if you try to do both outdoor and indoor work. Busy times will soon come, and you won't get your meals regularly; you'll be living on coffee and anything that comes handiest; your house will grow untidy and not fit to live in. If you should be taken sick, there'd be no one to do for you. Lumbermen, hunters, and such fellows can rough it alone awhile, but I never heard of a farm being run by man-power alone. Now as to selling out your stock, look at it. Grazing is what your farm's good for mostly. It's a pity you're so bent on staying there. Even if you didn't get very much for the place, from sale or rent, you'd have something that was sure. A strong, capable man like you could find something to turn your hand to. Then you could board in some respectable family, and not have to live like Robinson Crusoe. I've thought it over since we talked last, and if I was you I'd sell or rent."

"It's too late in the season to do either," said Holcroft dejectedly. "What's more, I don't want to, at least not this year. I've settled that, Tom. I'm going to have one more summer on the old place, anyway, if I have to live on bread and milk.""You can't make bread."

"I'll have it brought from town on the stage.""Well, it's a pity some good, decent woman--There, how should I come to forget all about HER till this minute? I don't know whether it would work. Perhaps it would. There's a woman here out of the common run. She has quite a story, which I'll tell you in confidence. Then you can say whether you'd like to employ her or not. If you WILL stay on the farm, my advice is that you have a woman to do the housework, and me and Angy must try to find you one, if the one I have in mind won't answer. The trouble is, Holcroft, to get the right kind of a woman to live there alone with you, unless you married her. Nice women don't like to be talked about, and I don't blame 'em. The one that's here, though, is so friendless and alone in the world that she might be glad enough to get a home almost anywheres."

"Well, well! Tell me about her," said Holcroft gloomily. "But I'm about discouraged in the line of women help."Watterly told Alida's story with a certain rude pathos which touched the farmer's naturally kind heart, and he quite forgot his own need in indignation at the poor woman's wrongs. "It's a **** shame!" he said excitedly, pacing the room. "I say, Tom, all the law in the land wouldn't keep me from giving that fellow a whipping or worse."

"Well, she won't prosecute; she won't face the public; she just wants to go to some quiet place and work for her bread. She don't seem to have any friends, or else she's too ashamed to let them know.""Why, of course I'd give such a woman a refuge till she could do better. What man wouldn't?""A good many wouldn't. What's more, if she went with you her story might get out, and you'd both be talked about.""I don't care that for gossip," with a snap of his fingers. "You know I'd treat her with respect."

"What I know, and what other people would say, are two very different things. Neither you nor anyone else can go too strongly against public opinion. Still, it's nobody's business," added Tom thoughtfully. "Perhaps it's worth the trial. If she went I think she'd stay and do the best by you she could. Would you like to see her?""Yes."

Alida was summoned and stood with downcast eyes in the door. "Come in and take a chair," said Tom kindly. "You know I promised to be on the lookout for a good place for you. Well, my friend here, Mr. Holcroft, whom I've known ever since I was a boy, wants a woman to do general housework and take care of the dairy."She gave the farmer one of those swift, comprehensive glances by which women take in a personality, and said in a tone of regret, "But I don't understand dairy work."

"Oh, you'd soon learn. It's just the kind of a place you said you wanted, a lonely, out-of-the-way farm and no other help kept. What's more, my friend Holcroft is a kind, honest man. He'd treat you right. He knows all about your trouble and is sorry for you."If Holcroft had been an ogre in appearance, he would have received the grateful glance which she now gave him as she said, "I'd be only too glad to work for you, sir, if you think I can do, or learn to do, what is required."

Both Sides of the Table

Perspectives of a 2x entrepreneur turned VC at @UpfrontVC#

Mark Suster

Written by

2x entrepreneur. Sold both companies (last to salesforce.com). Turned VC looking to invest in passionate entrepreneurs 〞 I*m on Twitter at @msuster

Both Sides of the Table

Perspectives of a 2x entrepreneur turned VC at @UpfrontVC, the largest and most active early-stage fund in Southern California. Snapchat: msuster

Mark Suster

Written by

2x entrepreneur. Sold both companies (last to salesforce.com). Turned VC looking to invest in passionate entrepreneurs 〞 I*m on Twitter at @msuster

Both Sides of the Table

Perspectives of a 2x entrepreneur turned VC at @UpfrontVC, the largest and most active early-stage fund in Southern California. Snapchat: msuster