Day by day, Fanny threw off somewhat of the homesickness which had weighted her at coming. Not by any determined effort of the will, nor by any resolve to make the best of things. Outside influences meeting half-way the workings of unconscious inward forces, were the agents that by degrees were gently ridding her of the acute pressure of dissatisfaction, which up to the present, she had stolidly borne without any personal effort to cast it off.
Thérèse affected her forcibly. This woman so wholesome, so fair and strong; so un-American as to be not ashamed to show tenderness and sympathy with eye and lip, moved Fanny like a new and pleasing experience. When Thérèse touched her caressingly, or gently stroked her limp hand, she started guiltily, and looked furtively around to make sure that none had witnessed an exhibition of tenderness that made her flush, and the first time found her unresponsive. A second time, she awkwardly returned the hand pressure, and later, these mildly sensuous exchanges prefaced the outpouring of all Fanny’s woes, great and small.
“I don’t say that I always done what was right, Mrs. Laferm, but I guess David’s told you just what suited him about me. You got to remember there’s always two sides to a story.”
She had been to the poultry yard with Thérèse, who had introduced her to its feathery tenants, making her acquainted with stately Brahmas and sleek Plymouth-Rocks and hardy little “Creole chickens”—not much to look at, but very palatable when converted into fricassée.
Returning, they seated themselves on the bench that encircled a massive cedar—spreading and conical. Hector, who had trotted attendance upon them during their visit of inspection, cast himself heavily down at his mistress’ feet and after glancing knowingly up into her face, looked placidly forth at Sampson, gathering garden greens on the other side of a low dividing fence.
“You see if David’d always been like he is now, I don’t know but things’d been different. Do you suppose he ever went any wheres with me, or even so much as talked to me when he came home? There was always that everlasting newspaper in his pocket, and he’d haul it out the first thing. Then I used to read the paper too sometimes, and when I’d go to talk to him about what I read, he’d never even looked at the same things. Goodness knows what he read in the paper, I never could find out; but here’d be the edges all covered over with figuring. I believe it’s the only thing he ever thought or dreamt about; that eternal figuring on every bit of paper he could lay hold of, till I was tired picking them up all over the house. Belle Worthington used to say it’d of took an angel to stand him. I mean his throwing papers around that way. For as far as his never talking went, she couldn’t find any fault with that; Mr. Worthington was just as bad, if he wasn’t worse. But Belle’s not like me; I don’t believe she’d let poor Mr. Worthington talk in the house if he wanted to.”
She gradually drifted away from her starting point, and like most people who have usually little to say, became very voluble, when once she passed into the humor of talking. Thérèse let her talk unchecked. It seemed to do her good to chatter about Belle and Lou, and Jack Dawson, and about her home life, of which she unknowingly made such a pitiable picture to her listener.
“I guess David never let on to you about himself,” she said moodily, having come back to the sore that rankled: the dread that Thérèse had laid all the blame of the rupture on her shoulders.
“You’re mistaken, Mrs. Hosmer. It was a knowledge of his own short-comings that prompted your husband to go back and ask your forgiveness. You must grant, there’s nothing in his conduct now that you could reproach him with. And,” she added, laying her hand gently on Fanny’s arm, “I know you’ll be strong, and do your share in this reconciliation—do what you can to please him.”
Fanny flushed uneasily under Thérèse’s appealing glance.
“I’m willing to do anything that David wants,” she replied, “I made up my mind to that from the start. He’s a mighty good husband now, Mrs. Laferm. Don’t mind what I said about him. I was afraid you thought that—”
“Never mind,” returned Thérèse kindly, “I know all about it. Don’t worry any farther over what I may think. I believe in you and in him, and I know you’ll both be brave and do what’s right.”
“There isn’t anything so very hard for David to do,” she said, depressed with a sense of her inadequate strength to do the task which she had set herself. “He’s got no faults to give up. David never did have any faults. He’s a true, honest man; and I was a coward to say those things about him.”
Melicent and Grégoire were coming across the lawn to join the two, and Fanny, seeing them approach, suddenly chilled and wrapt herself about in her mantle of reserve.
“I guess I better go,” she said, offering to rise, but Thérèse held out a detaining hand.
“You don’t want to go and sit alone in the cottage; stay here with me till Mr. Hosmer comes back from the mill.”
Grégoire’s face was a study. Melicent, who did what she wanted with him, had chosen this afternoon, for some inscrutable reason, to make him happy. He carried her shawl and parasol; she herself bearing a veritable armful of flowers, leaves, red berried sprigs, a tangle of richest color. They had been in the woods and she had bedecked him with garlands and festoons of autumn leaves, till he looked a very Satyr; a character which his flushed, swarthy cheeks, and glittering animal eyes did not belie.
They were laughing immoderately, and their whole bearing still reflected their exuberant gaiety as they joined Thérèse and Fanny.
“What a ‘Mater Dolorosa’ Fanny looks!” exclaimed Melicent, throwing herself into a picturesque attitude on the bench beside Thérèse, and resting her feet on Hector’s broad back.
Fanny offered no reply, but to look helplessly resigned; an expression which Melicent knew of old, and which had always the effect of irritating her. Not now, however, for the curve of the bench around the great cedar tree removed her from the possibility of contemplating Fanny’s doleful visage, unless she made an effort to that end, which she was certainly not inclined to do.
“No, Grégoire,” she said, flinging a rose into his face when he would have seated himself beside her, “go sit by Fanny and do something to make her laugh; only don’t tickle her; David mightn’t like it. And here’s Mrs. Lafirme looking almost as glum. Now, if David would only join us with that ‘pale cast of thought’ that he bears about usually, what a merry go round we’d have.”
“When Melicent looks at the world laughing, she wants it to laugh back at her,” said Thérèse, reflecting something of the girl’s gaiety.
“As in a looking-glass, well isn’t that square?” she returned, falling into slang, in her recklessness of spirit.
Endeavoring to guard her treasure of flowers from Thérèse, who was without ceremony making a critical selection among them of what pleased her, Melicent slid around the bench, bringing herself close to Grégoire and begging his protection against the Vandalism of his aunt. She looked into his eyes for an instant as though asking him for love instead of so slight a favor and he grasped her arm, pressing it till she cried out from the pain: which act, on his side, served to drive her again around to Thérèse.
“Guess what we are going to do to-morrow: you and I and all of us; Grégoire and David and Fanny and everybody?”
“Going to Bedlam along with you?” Thérèse asked.
“Mrs. Lafirme is in need of a rebuke, which I shall proceed to administer,” thrusting a crumpled handful of rose leaves down the neck of Thérèse’s dress, and laughing joyously in her scuffle to accomplish the punishment.
“No, madam; I don’t go to Bedlam; I drive others there. Ask Grégoire what we’re going to do. Tell them, Grégoire.”
“They ain’t much to tell. We’a goin’ hoss back ridin’.”
“Not me; I can’t ride,” wailed Fanny.
“You can get up Torpedo for Mrs. Hosmer, can’t you, Grégoire?” asked Thérèse.
“Certainly. W’y you could ride ole Torpedo, Mrs. Hosma, if you nova saw a hoss in yo’ life. A li’l chile could manage him.”
Fanny turned to Thérèse for further assurance and found all that she looked for.
“We’ll go up on the hill and see that dear old Morico, and I shall take along a comb, and comb out that exquisite white hair of his and then I shall focus him, seated in his low chair and making one of those cute turkey fans.”
“Ole Morico ain’t goin’ to let you try no monkeyshines on him; I tell you that befo’ han’,” said Grégoire, rising and coming to Melicent to rid him of his sylvan ornamentations, for it was time for him to leave them. When he turned away, Melicent rose and flung all her flowery wealth into Thérèse’s lap, and following took his arm.
“Where are you going?” asked Thérèse.
“Going to help Grégoire feed the mules,” she called back looking over her shoulder; the sinking sun lighting her handsome mischievous face.
Thérèse proceeded to arrange the flowers with some regard to graceful symmetry; and Fanny did not regain her talkative spirit that Melicent’s coming had put to flight, but sat looking silent and listlessly into the distance.
As Thérèse glanced casually up into her face she saw it warmed by a sudden faint glow—an unusual animation, and following her gaze, she saw that Hosmer had returned and was entering the cottage.
“I guess I better be going,” said Fanny rising, and this time Thérèse no longer detained her.