XIII. The Bride
 

Only one memory in the ten days that followed before her school began ever stood out clearly and distinctly with Kate. That was the morning of the day after she married George Holt. She saw Nancy Ellen and Robert at the gate so she went out to speak with them. Nancy Ellen was driving, she held the lines and the whip in her hands. Kate in dull apathy wondered why they seemed so deeply agitated. Both of them stared at her as if she might be a maniac.

"Is this thing in the morning paper true?" cried Nancy Ellen in a high, shrill voice that made Kate start in wonder. She did not take the trouble to evade by asking "what thing?" she merely made assent with her head.

"You are married to that -- that --" Nancy Ellen choked until she could not say what.

"It's time to stop, since I am married to him," said Kate, gravely.

"You rushed in and married him without giving Robert time to find out and tell you what everybody knows about him?" demanded Nancy Ellen.

"I married him for what I knew about him myself," said Kate. "We shall do very well."

"Do well!" cried Nancy. "Do well! You'll be hungry and in rags the rest of your life!"

"Don't, Nancy Ellen, don't!" plead Robert. "This is Kate's affair, wait until you hear what she has to say before you go further."

"I don't care what she has to say!" cried Nancy Ellen. "I'm saying my say right now. This is a disgrace to the whole Bates family. We may not be much, but there isn't a lazy, gambling, drunken loafer among us, and there won't be so far as I'm concerned."

She glared at Kate who gazed at her in wonder.

"You really married this lout?" she demanded.

"I told you I was married," said Kate, patiently, for she saw that Nancy Ellen was irresponsible with anger.

"You're going to live with him, you're going to stay in Walden to live?" she cried.

"That is my plan at present," said Kate.

"Well, see that you stay there," said Nancy Ellen. "You can't bring that -- that creature to my house, and if you're going to be his wife, you needn't come yourself. That's all I've got to say to you, you shameless, crazy --"

"Nancy Ellen, you shall not!" cried Robert Gray, deftly slipping the lines from her fingers, and starting the horse full speed. Kate saw Nancy Ellen's head fall forward, and her hands lifted to cover her face. She heard the deep, tearing sob that shook her, and then they were gone. She did not know what to do, so she stood still in the hot sunshine, trying to think; but her brain refused to act at her will. When the heat became oppressive, she turned back to the shade of a tree, sat down, and leaned against it. There she got two things clear after a time. She had married George Holt, there was nothing to do but make the best of it. But Nancy Ellen had said that if she lived with him she should not come to her home. Very well. She had to live with him, since she had consented to marry him, so she was cut off from Robert and Nancy Ellen. She was now a prodigal, indeed. And those things Nancy Ellen had said -- she was wild with anger. She had been misinformed. Those things could not be true.

"Shouldn't you be in here helping Aunt Ollie?" asked George's voice from the front step where he seated himself with his pipe.

"Yes, in a minute," said Kate, rising. "Did you see who came?"

"No. I was out doing the morning work. Who was it?" he asked.

"Nancy Ellen and Robert," she answered.

He laughed hilariously: "Brought them in a hurry, didn't we? Why didn't they come in?"

"They came to tell me," said Kate, slowly, "that if I had married you yesterday, as I did, that they felt so disgraced that I wasn't to come to their home again."

"'Disgraced?'" he cried, his colour rising. "Well, what's the matter with me?"

"Not the things they said, I fervently hope."

"Well, they have some assurance to come out here and talk about me, and you've got as much to listen, and then come and tell me about it," he cried.

"It was over in a minute," said Kate. "I'd no idea what they were going to say. They said it, and went. Oh, I can't spare Nancy Ellen, she's all I had!"

Kate sank down on the step and covered her face. George took one long look at her, arose, and walked out of hearing. He went into the garden and watched from behind a honeysuckle bush until he saw her finally lift her head and wipe her eyes; then he sauntered back, and sat down on the step beside her.

"That's right," he said. "Cry it out, and get it over. It was pretty mean of them to come out here and insult you, and tell any lie they could think up, and then drive away and leave you; but don't mind, they'll soon get over it. Nobody ever keeps up a fuss over a wedding long."

"Nancy Ellen never told a lie in her life," said Kate. "She has too much self-respect. What she said she thought was true. My only chance is that somebody has told her a lie. You know best if they did."

"Of course they did," he broke in, glibly. "Haven't you lived in the same house with me long enough to know me better than any one else does?"

"You can live in the same house with people and know less about them than any one else, for that matter," said Kate, "but that's neither here nor there. We're in this together, we got to get on the job and pull, and make a success out of it that will make all of them proud to be our friends. That's the only thing left for me. As I know the Bates, once they make up their minds, they never change. With Nancy Ellen and Father both down on me, I'm a prodigal for sure."

"What?" he cried, loudly. "What? Is your father in this, too? Did he send you word you couldn't come home, either? This is a hell of a mess! Speak up!"

Kate closed her lips, looked at him with deep scorn, and walked around the corner of the house. For a second he looked after her threateningly, then he sprang to his feet, and ran to her, catching her in his arms.

"Forgive me, dearest," he cried. "That took the wind out of my sails until I was a brute. You'd no business to say a thing like that. Of course we can't have the old Land King down on us. We've got to have our share of that land and money to buy us a fine home in Hartley, and fix me up the kind of an office I should have. We'll borrow a rig and drive over to-morrow and fix things solid with the old folks. You bet I'm a star-spangled old persuader, look what I did with you --"

"You stop!" cried Kate, breaking from his hold. "You will drive me crazy! You're talking as if you married me expecting land and money from it. I haven't been home in a year, and my father would deliberately kill me if I went within his reach."

"Well, score one for little old scratchin', pickin', Mammy!" he cried. "She said you had a secret!"

Kate stood very still, looking at him so intently that a sense of shame must have stirred in his breast.

"Look here, Kate," he said, roughly. "Mother did say you had a secret, and she hinted at Christmas that the reason you didn't go home was because your folks were at outs with you, and you can ask her if I didn't tell her to shut up and leave you alone, that I was in love with you, and I'd marry you and we'd get along all right, even if you were barred from home, and didn't get a penny. I just dare you to ask her."

"It's no matter," said Kate, wearily. "I'd rather take your word."

"All right, you take it, for that's the truth," he said. "But what was the rumpus? How did you come to have a racket with your old man?"

"Over my wanting to teach," said Kate. Then she explained in detail.

"Pother! Don't you fret about that!" said George. "I'm taking care of you now, and I'll see that you soon get home and to Grays', too; that's all buncombe. As for your share of your father's estate, you watch me get it! You are his child, and there is law!"

"There's law that allows him to deed his land to his sons before he dies, and that is exactly what he has done," said Kate.

"The Devil, you say!" shouted George Holt, stepping back to stare at her. "You tell that at the Insane Asylum or the Feeble Minded Home! I've seen the records! I know to the acre how much land stands in your father's name. Don't try to work that on me, my lady."

"I am not trying to work anything on you," said Kate, dully, wondering to herself why she listened, why she went on with it. "I'm merely telling you. In Father's big chest at the head of his bed at home lies a deed for two hundred acres of land for each of his seven sons, all signed and ready to deliver. He keeps the land in his name on record to bring him distinction and feed his vanity. He makes the boys pay the taxes, and ko-tow, and help with his work; he keeps them under control; but the land is theirs; none of the girls get a penny's worth of it!"

George Holt cleared his face with an effort.

"Well, we are no worse off than the rest of them, then," he said, trying to speak naturally and cheerfully. "But don't you ever believe it! Little old Georgie will sleep with this in his night cap awhile, and it's a problem he will solve if he works himself to death on it."

"But that is Father's affair," said Kate. "You had best turn your efforts, and lie awake nights thinking how to make enough money to buy some land for us, yourself."

"Certainly! Certainly! I see myself doing it!" laughed George Holt. "And now, knowing how you feel, and feeling none to good myself, we are going to take a few days off and go upstream, fishing. I'll take a pack of comforts to sleep on, and the tackle and some food, and we will forget the whole bunch and go have a good time. There's a place, not so far away, where I have camped beside a spring since I was a little shaver, and it's quiet and cool. Go get what you can't possibly exist without, nothing more."

"But we must dig the potatoes," protested Kate.

"Let them wait until we get back; it's a trifle early, anyway," he said. "Stop objecting and get ready! I'll tell Aunt Ollie. We're chums. Whatever I do is always all right with her. Come on! This is our wedding trip. Not much like the one you had planned, no doubt, but one of some kind."

So they slipped beneath the tangle of vines and bushes, and, following the stream of the ravine, they walked until mid- afternoon, when they reached a spot that was very lovely, a clear, clean spring, grassy bank, a sheltered cave-in floored with clean sand, warm and golden. From the depths of the cave George brought an old frying pan and coffee pot. He spread a comfort on the sand of the cave for a bed, produced coffee, steak, bread, butter, and fruit from his load, and told Kate to make herself comfortable while he got dinner. They each tried to make allowances for, and to be as decent as possible with, the other, with the result that before they knew it, they were having a good time; at least, they were keeping the irritating things they thought to themselves, and saying only the pleasant ones.

After a week, which George enjoyed to the fullest extent, while Kate made the best of everything, they put away the coffee pot and frying pan, folded the comforts, and went back to Aunt Ollie's for dinner; then to Walden in the afternoon. Because Mrs. Holt knew they would be there that day she had the house clean and the best supper she could prepare ready for them. She was in a quandary as to how to begin with Kate. She heartily hated her. She had been sure the girl had a secret, now she knew it; for if she did not attend the wedding of her sister, if she had not been at home all summer, if her father and mother never mentioned her name or made any answer to any one who did, there was a reason, and a good reason. Of course a man as rich as Adam Bates could do no wrong; whatever the trouble was, Kate was at fault, she had done some terrible thing.

"Hidin' in the bushes!" spat Mrs. Holt. "Hidin' in the bushes! Marry a man who didn't know he was goin' to be married an hour before, unbeknownst to her folks, an' wouldn't even come in the house, an' have a few of the neighbours in. Nice doin's for the school-ma'am! Nice prospect for George."

Mrs. Holt hissed like a copperhead, which was a harmless little creature compared with her, as she scraped, and slashed, and dismembered the chicken she was preparing to fry. She had not been able, even by running into each store in the village, and the post office, to find one person who would say a word against Kate. The girl had laid her foundations too well. The one thing people could and did say was: "How could she marry George Holt?" The worst of them could not very well say it to his mother. They said it frequently to each other and then supplied the true answers. "Look how he spruced up after she came!" "Look how he worked!" "Look how he ran after and waited on her!" "Look how nice he has been all summer!" Plenty was being said in Walden, but not one word of it was for the itching ears of Mrs. Holt. They had told her how splendid Kate was, how they loved her, how glad they were that she was to have the school again, how fortunate her son was, how proud she should be, until she was almost bursting with repressed venom.

She met them at the gate, after their week's camping. They were feeling in splendid health, the best spirits possible in the circumstances, but appearing dirty and disreputable. They were both laughing as they approached the gate.

"Purty lookin' bride you be!" Mrs. Holt spat at Kate.

"Yes, aren't I?" laughed Kate. "But you just give me a tub of hot soapsuds and an hour, and you won't know me. How are you? Things look as if you were expecting us."

"Hump!" said Mrs. Holt.

Kate laughed and went into the house. George stepped in front of his mother.

"Now you look here," he said. "I know every nasty thing your mind has conjured up that you'd like to say, and have other folks say, about Kate. And I know as well as if you were honest enough to tell me, that you haven't been able to root out one living soul who would say a single word against her. Swallow your secret! Swallow your suspicions! Swallow your venom, and forget all of them. Kate is as fine a woman as God ever made, and anybody who has common sense knows it. She can just make me, if she wants to, and she will; she's coming on fine, much faster and better than I hoped for. Now you drop this! Stop it! Do you hear?"

He passed her and hurried up the walk. In an hour, both George and Kate had bathed and dressed in their very best. Kate put on her prettiest white dress and George his graduation suit. Then together they walked to the post office for their mail, which George had ordered held, before they left. Carrying the bundle, they entered several stores on trifling errands, and then went home. They stopped and spoke to everyone. Kate kissed all her little pupils she met, and told them to come to see her, and to be ready to help clean the schoolhouse in the morning. Word flew over town swiftly. The Teacher was back, wearing the loveliest dress, and nicer than ever, and she had invited folks to come to see her.

Kate and George had scarcely finished their supper, when the first pair of shy little girls came for their kisses and to bring "Teacher" a bunch of flowers and a pretty pocket handkerchief from each. They came in flocks, each with flowers, most with a towel or some small remembrance; then the elders began to come, merchants with comforts, blankets, and towels, hardware men with frying pans, flat irons, and tinware. By ten o'clock almost everyone in Walden had carried Kate some small gift, wished her joy all the more earnestly, because they felt the chances of her ever having it were so small, and had gone their way, leaving her feeling better than she had thought possible.

She slipped into her room alone and read two letters, one a few typewritten lines from John Jardine, saying he had been at Hartley, also at Walden, and having found her married and gone, there was nothing for him to do but wish that the man she married had it in his heart to guard her life and happiness as he would have done. He would never cease to love her, and if at any time in her life there was anything he could do for her, would she please let him know. Kate dropped the letter on her dresser, with a purpose, and let it lie there. The other was from Robert. He said he was very sorry, but he could do nothing with Nancy Ellen at present. He hoped she would change later. If there was ever anything he could do, to let him know. Kate locked that letter in her trunk. She wondered as she did so why both of them seemed to think she would need them in the future. She felt perfectly able to take care of herself.

Monday morning George carried Kate's books to school for her, saw that she was started on her work in good shape, then went home, put on his old clothes, and began the fall work at Aunt Ollie's. Kate, wearing her prettiest blue dress, forgot even the dull ache in her heart, as she threw herself into the business of educating those young people. She worked as she never had before. She seemed to have developed fresh patience, new perception, keener penetration; she made the dullest of them see her points, and interested the most inattentive. She went home to dinner feeling better. She decided to keep on teaching a few years until George was well started in his practice; if he ever got started. He was very slow in action it seemed to her, compared with his enthusiasm when he talked.