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- A Daughter Of The Land - 60/71 -
"The weak link in my chain at the present minute is Polly," said Kate. "I didn't pay much attention at the time, because there wasn't enough of it really to attract attention; but since I think, I can recall signs of growing discontent in Polly, lately. She fussed about the work, and resented being left in the house while I went to the fields, and she had begun looking up the road to Peters' so much that her head was slightly turned toward the north most of the time. With me away -- "
"What do you think?" demanded Nancy Ellen.
"Think very likely she has decided that she'll sacrifice her chance for more schooling and to teach, for the sake of marrying a big, green country boy named Hank Peters," said Kate.
"Thereby keeping in her own class," suggested Nancy Ellen.
Kate laughed shortly. "Exactly!" she said. "I didn't aspire to anything different for her from what she has had; but I wanted her to have more education, and wait until she was older. Marriage is too hard work for a girl to begin at less than eighteen. If it is Polly, and she has gone away with Hank Peters, they've no place to go but his home; and if ever she thought I worked her too hard, she'll find out she has played most of her life, when she begins taking orders from Mrs. Amanda Peters. You know her! She never can keep a girl more than a week, and she's always wanting one. If Polly has tackled THAT job, God help her."
"Cheer up! We're in that delightful state of uncertainty where Polly may be blacking the cook stove, like a dutiful daughter; while Robert has decided that he'd like a divorce," said Nancy Ellen.
"Nancy Ellen, there's nothing in that, so far as Robert is concerned. He told me so the evening we came away," said Kate.
Nancy Ellen banged down a trunk lid and said: "Well, I am getting to the place where I don't much care whether there is or there is not."
"What a whopper!" laughed Kate. "But cheer up. This is my trouble. I feel it in my bones. Wish I knew for sure. If she's eloped, and it's all over with, we might as well stay and finish our visit. If she's married, I can't unmarry her, and I wouldn't if I could."
"How are you going to apply your philosophy to yourself?" asked Nancy Ellen.
"By letting time and Polly take their course," said Kate. "This is a place where parents are of no account whatever. They stand back until it's time to clean up the wreck, and then they get theirs -- usually theirs, and several of someone's else, in the bargain."
As the train stopped at Hartley, Kate sat where she could see Robert on the platform. It was only a fleeting glance, but she thought she had never seen him look so wholesome, so vital, so much a man to be desired.
"No wonder a woman lacking in fine scruples would covet him," thought Kate. To Nancy Ellen she said hastily: "The trouble's mine. Robert's on the platform."
"Where?" demanded Nancy Ellen, peering from the window.
Kate smiled as she walked from the car and confronted Robert.
"Get it over quickly," she said. "It's Polly?"
"Did she remember to call on the Squire?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," said Robert. "It was at Peters', and they had the whole neighbourhood in."
Kate swayed slightly, then lifted her head, her eyes blazing. She had come, feeling not altogether guiltless, and quite prepared to overlook a youthful elopement. The insult of having her only daughter given a wedding at the home of the groom, about which the whole neighbourhood would be laughing at her, was a different matter. Slowly the high colour faded from Kate's face, as she stepped back. "Excuse me, Nancy Ellen," she said. "I didn't mean to deprive you of the chance of even speaking to Robert. I KNEW this was for me; I was over-anxious to learn what choice morsel life had in store for me now. It's one that will be bitter on my tongue to the day of my death."
"Oh, Kate, I as so sorry that if this had to happen, it happened in just that way," said Nancy Ellen, "but don't mind. They're only foolish kids!"
"Who? Mr. and Mrs. Peters, and the neighbours, who attended the wedding! Foolish kids? Oh, no!" said Kate. "Where's Adam?"
"I told him I'd bring you out," said Robert.
"Why didn't he send for you, or do something?" demanded Kate.
"I'm afraid the facts are that Polly lied to him," said Robert. "She told him that Peters were having a party, and Mrs. Peters wanted her to come early and help her with the supper. They had the Magistrate out from town and had the ceremony an hour before Adam got there. When he arrived, and found out what had happened, he told Polly and the Peters family exactly his opinion of them; and then he went home and turned on all the lights, and sat where he could be seen on the porch all evening, as a protest in evidence of his disapproval, I take it."
Slowly the colour began to creep back into Kate's face. "The good boy!" she said, in commendation.
"He called me at once, and we talked it over and I sent you the telegram; but as he said, it was done; there was no use trying to undo it. One thing will be a comfort to you. All of your family, and almost all of your friends, left as soon as Adam spoke his piece, and they found it was a wedding and not a party to which they'd been invited. It was a shabby trick of Peters."
Kate assented. "It was because I felt instinctively that Mrs. Peters had it in her to do tricks like that, that I never would have anything to do with her," said Kate, "more than to be passing civil. This is how she gets her revenge, and her hired girl, for no wages, I'll be bound! It's a shabby trick. I'm glad Adam saved me the trouble of telling her so."
Robert took Nancy Ellen home, and then drove to Bates Corners with Kate.
"In a few days now I hope we can see each other oftener," he said, on the way. "I got a car yesterday, and it doesn't seem so complicated. Any intelligent person can learn to drive in a short time. I like it so much, and I knew I'd have such constant use for it that -- now this is a secret -- I ordered another for Nancy Ellen, so she can drive about town, and run out here as she chooses. Will she be pleased?"
"She'll be overjoyed! That was dear of you, Robert. Only one thing in world would please her more," said Kate.
"What's that?" asked Robert.
Kate looked him in the eye, and smiled.
"Oh," he said. "But there is nothing in it!"
"Except TALK, that worries and humiliates Nancy Ellen," said Kate.
"Kate," he said suddenly, "if you were in my shoes, what would you do?"
"The next time I got a phone call, or a note from Mrs. Southey, and she was having one of those terrible headaches, I should say: 'I'm dreadfully sorry, Mrs. Southey, but a breath of talk that might be unpleasant for you, and for my wife, has come to my ear, so I know you'll think it wiser to call Dr. Mills, who can serve you better than I. In a great rush this afternoon. Good-bye!' THAT is what I should do, Robert, and I should do it quickly, and emphatically. Then I should interest Nancy Ellen in her car for a time, and then I should keep my eyes open, and the first time I found in my practice a sound baby with a clean bill of health, and no encumbrances, I should have it dressed attractively, and bestow it on Nancy Ellen as casually as I did the car. And in the meantime, love her plenty, Robert. You can never know how she FEELS about this; and it's in no way her fault. She couldn't possibly have known; while you would have married her just the same if you had known. Isn't that so?"
"It's quite so. Kate, I think your head is level, and I'll follow your advice to the letter. Now you have 'healed my lame leg,' as the dog said in McGuffey's Third, what can I do for THIS poor dog?"
"Nothing," said Kate. "I've got to hold still, and take it. Life will do the doing. I don't want to croak, but remember my word, it will do plenty."
"We'll come often," he said as he turned to go back.
Kate slowly walked up the path, dreading to meet Adam. He evidently had been watching for her, for he came around the corner of the house, took her arm, and they walked up the steps and into the living room together. She looked at him; he looked at her. At last he said: "I'm afraid that a good deal of this is my fault, Mother."
"How so?" asked Kate, tersely.
"I guess I betrayed your trust in me," said Adam, heavily. "Of course I did all my work and attended to things; but in the evening after work was over, the very first evening on the way home we stopped to talk to Henry at the gate, and he got in and came on down. We could see Milly at their gate, and I wanted her, I wanted her so much, Mother; and it was going to be lonesome, so all of us went on there, and she came up here and we sat on the porch, and then I took her home and that left Henry and Polly together. The next night Henry took us to town for a treat, and we were all together, and the next night Milly asked us all there, and so it went. It was all as open and innocent as it could be;
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