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- A Daughter Of The Land - 30/71 -
the creased page in her hands. She flamed with sudden irritation.
"You do beat the band!" she cried. "You've watched for two days and been provoked because that letter didn't come. Now you've got it, there you sit like a mummy and let your mind be so filled with this idiotic drivel that you're not ever reading John Jardine's letter that is to tell you what both of us are crazy to know."
"If you were in any mood to be fair and honest, you'd admit that you never read a finer letter than THAT," said Kate. "As for THIS, I never was so AFRAID in all my life. Look at that!"
She threw the envelope in Nancy Ellen's lap.
"That is the very first line of John Jardine's writing I have ever seen," she said. "Do you see anything about it to ENCOURAGE me to go farther?"
"You Goose!" cried the exasperated Nancy Ellen. "I suppose he transacts so much business he scarcely ever puts pen to paper. What's the difference how he writes? Look at what he is and what he does! Go on and read his letter."
Kate arose and walked to the window, turning her back to Nancy Ellen, who sat staring at her, while she read John Jardine's letter. Once Nancy Ellen saw Kate throw up her head and twist her neck as if she were choking; then she heard a great gulping sob down in her throat; finally Kate turned and stared at her with dazed, incredulous eyes. Slowly she dropped the letter, deliberately set her foot on it, and leaving the room, climbed the stairs. Nancy Ellen threw George Holt's letter aside and snatched up John Jardine's. She read:
MY DEREST KATE: I am a day late with this becos as I told you I have no schooling and in writing a letter is where I prove it, so I never write them, but it was not fare to you for you not to know what kind of a letter I would write if I did write one, so here it is very bad no dout but the best I can possably do which has got nothing at all to do with my pashion for you and the aughful time I will have till I here from you. If you can stand for this telagraf me and I will come first train and we will forget this and I will never write another letter. With derest love from Mother, and from me all the love of my hart. Forever yours only, JOHN JARDINE.
The writing would have been a discredit to a ten-year-old schoolboy. Nancy Ellen threw the letter back on the floor; with a stiffly extended finger, she poked it into the position in which she thought she had found it, and slowly stepped back.
"Great God!" she said amazedly. "What does the man mean? Where does that dainty and wonderful little mother come in? She must be a regular parasite, to take such ease and comfort for herself out of him, and not see that he had time and chance to do better than THAT for himself. Kate will never endure it, never in the world! And by the luck of the very Devil, there comes that school-proof thing in the same mail, from that abominable George Holt, and Kate reads it FIRST. It's too bad! I can't believe it! What did his mother mean?"
Suddenly Nancy Ellen began to cry bitterly; between sobs she could hear Kate as she walked from closet and bureau to her trunk which she was packing. The lid slammed heavily and a few minutes later Kate entered the room dressed for the street.
"Why are you weeping?" she asked casually.
Her eyes were flaming, her cheeks scarlet, and her lips twitching. Nancy Ellen sat up and looked at her. She pointed to the letter: "I read that," she said.
"Well, what do I care?" said Kate. "If he has no more respect for me than to write me such an insult as that, why should I have the respect for him to protect him in it? Publish it in the paper if you want to."
"Kate, what are you going to do?" demanded Nancy Ellen.
"Three things," said Kate, slowly putting on her long silk gloves. "First, I'm going to telegraph John Jardine that I never shall see him again, if I can possibly avoid it. Second, I'm going to send a drayman to get my trunk and take it to Walden. Third, I'm going to start out and walk miles, I don't know or care where; but in the end, I'm going to Walden to clean the schoolhouse and get ready for my winter term of school."
"Oh, Kate, you are such a fine teacher! Teach him! Don't be so hurried! Take more time to think. You will break his heart," pleaded Nancy Ellen.
Kate threw out both hands, palms down.
"P-a-s-h, a-u-g-h, h-a-r-t, d-o-u-t, d-e-r-e," she slowly spelled out the letters. "What about my heart and my pride? Think I can respect that, or ask my children to respect it? But thank you and Robert, and come after me as often as you can, as a mercy to me. If John persists in coming, to try to buy me, as he thinks he can buy anything he wants, you needn't let him come to Walden; for probably I won't be there until I have to, and I won't see him, or his mother, so he needn't try to bring her in. Say good-bye to Robert for me."
She walked from the house, head erect, shoulders squared, and so down the street from sight. In half an hour a truckman came for her trunk, so Nancy Ellen made everything Kate had missed into a bundle to send with it. When she came to the letters, she hesitated.
"I guess she didn't want them," she said. "I'll just keep them awhile and if she doesn't ask about them, the next time she comes, I'll burn them. Robert must go after her every Friday evening, and we'll keep her until Monday, and do all we can to cheer her; and this very day he must find out all there is to know about that George Holt. That IS the finest letter I ever read; she does kind of stand up for him; and in the reaction, impulsive as she is and self-confident -- of course she wouldn't, but you never can tell what kind of fool a girl will make of herself, in some cases."
Kate walked swiftly, finished two of the errands she set out to do, then her feet carried her three miles from Hartley on the Walden road, before she knew where she was, so she proceeded to the village.
Mrs. Holt was not at home, but the house was standing open. Kate found her room cleaned, shining, and filled with flowers. She paid the drayman, opened her trunk, and put away her dresses, laying out all the things which needed washing; then she bathed, put on heavy shoes, and old skirt and waist, and crossing the road sat in a secluded place in the ravine and looked stupidly at the water. She noticed that everything was as she had left it in the spring, with many fresher improvements, made, no doubt, to please her. She closed her eyes, leaned against a big tree, and slow, cold and hot shudders alternated in shaking her frame.
She did not open her eyes when she heard a step and her name called. She knew without taking the trouble to look that George had come home, found her luggage in her room, and was hunting for her. She heard him come closer and knew when he seated himself that he was watching her, but she did not care enough even to move. Finally she shifted her position to rest herself, opened her eyes, and looked at him without a word. He returned her gaze steadily, smiling gravely. She had never seen him looking so well. He had put in the summer grooming himself, he had kept up the house and garden, and spent all his spare time on the ravine, and farming on the shares with his mother's sister who lived three miles east of them. At last she roused herself and again looked at him.
"I had your letter this morning," she said.
"I was wondering about that," he replied.
"Yes, I got it just before I started," said Kate. "Are you surprised to see me?"
"No," he answered. "After last year, we figured you might come the last of this week or the first of next, so we got your room ready Monday."
"Thank you," said Kate. "It's very clean and nice."
"I hope soon to be able to offer you such a room and home as you should have," he said. "I haven't opened my office yet. It was late and hot when I got home in June and Mother was fussing about this winter -- that she had no garden and didn't do her share at Aunt Ollie's, so I have farmed most of the summer, and lived on hope; but I'll start in and make things fly this fall, and by spring I'll be sailing around with a horse and carriage like the best of them. You bet I am going to make things hum, so I can offer you anything you want."
"You haven't opened an office yet?" she asked for the sake of saying something, and because a practical thing would naturally suggest itself to her.
"I haven't had a breath of time," he said in candid disclaimer.
"Why don't you ask me what's the matter?"
"Didn't figure that it was any of my business in the first place," he said, "and I have a pretty fair idea, in the second."
"But how could you have?" she asked in surprise.
"When your sister wouldn't give me your address, she hinted that you had all the masculine attention you cared for; then Tilly Nepple visited town again last week and she had been sick and called Dr. Gray. She asked him about you, and he told what I fine time you had at Chautauqua and Chicago, with the rich new friends you'd made. I was watching for you about this time, and I just happened to be at the station in Hartley last Saturday when you got off the train with your fine gentleman, so I stayed over with some friends of mine, and I saw you several times Sunday. I saw that I'd practically no chance with you at all; but I made up my mind I'd stick until I saw you marry him, so I wrote just as I would if I hadn't known there was another man in existence."
"That was a very fine letter," said Kate.
"It is a very fine, deep, sincere love that I am offering you,"
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