Part 2 out of 3
'Never mind the dirty money,' says I. 'What's a bit of money,' I
says--'what is it, my dear, compared with true love? I'll work my
fingers to the bone for you,' says I, 'and we're better off than her
when all's said and done.'
'So we are, my girl,' says he; and the savage look went out of his
face, and he kissed me for the second time.
Then we went home, arm-under-arm, to my mother's, and we told father
and mother all about it; and mother made Harry up a bit of a bed on
the settle, and he stayed with us till he could pull himself
together and see what was best to be done.
Of course, our first thought was, 'Was she really married?' And it
was settled betwixt us that Harry should go up to London to the
church named in her marriage lines and see if it was a real marriage
or a make-up, like what you read of in the weekly papers. And Harry
went up, I settling to go the same day to fetch my clothes from
So as soon as I had seen him off by the train, I walked up to
Charleston, and father with me, to fetch my things.
Mrs. Blake--for Mrs. Alderton I can't and won't call her--was out,
and I was able to get my bits of things together comfortable without
her fussing and interfering. But there was a pair of scissors of
mine I couldn't find, and I looked for them high and low till I
remembered that I had lent them to Mrs. Blake the week before. So I
went to her room to look for them, thinking no harm; and there,
looking in her corner cupboard for my scissors, as I had a right to
do, I found something else that I hadn't been looking for; and,
right or wrong, I put that in my pocket and said nothing to father,
and so we went home and sat down to wait for Harry.
He came in by the last train, looking tired and gloomy.
'They were married right enough,' he said. 'I've seen the register,
and I've seen the clerk, and he remembers them being married.'
'Then you'd better have a bit of supper, my boy,' says mother, and
takes it smoking hot out of the oven.
The next day when I had cleared away breakfast, I stood looking into
the street. It was a cold day, and a day when nobody would be out of
doors that could anyways be in. I shouldn't have had my nose out of
the door myself, except that I wanted to turn my back on other folks
now, and think of what I had found at Charleston, for I hadn't even
told Harry of it yet.
And as I sat there, who should come along but the postman, as is my
second cousin by the mother's side, and, 'Well, Polly,' says he,
'times do change. They tell me young Alderton is biding with your
'They tell you true for once,' says I.
'Then 'tain't worth my while to be trapesing that mile and a quarter
to leave a letter at the farm, I take it, especially as it's a
registered letter, and him not there to sign for it.'
So I calls Harry out, who was smoking a pipe in the chimney-corner,
as humped and gloomy as a fowl on a wet day, and he was as surprised
as me at getting a letter with a London postmark, and registered
too; and he was that surprised that he kept turning it over and
over, and wondering who it could have come from, till we thought it
would be the best way to open and see, and we did.
'Well, I'm blowed!' says Harry; and then he read it out to me. It
'MY DEAR BROTHER,--I have seen in the papers the melancholy account
of our poor father's decease, and the disastrous circumstances of
his second marriage; and the more I have thought of it, the more it
seems to me that there was a screw loose somewhere. I had the
misfortune, as you know, to offend him by my choice of a profession;
but you will be glad to hear that I have risen from P.C. to
detective-sergeant, and am doing well.
'I have made a few inquiries about the movements of our lamented
father and Mrs. Blake on the day when they were united, and if the
same will be agreeable to you, I will come down Sunday morning and
talk matters over with you.--I remain, my dear brother, your
JOHN. '_P.S._ I shall register the letter to make sure. Telegraph if
you would like me to come.'
Well, we telegraphed, though mother doesn't hold with such things,
looking on it as flying in the face of Providence and what's
natural. But we got it all in, with the address, for sixpence, and
Harry was as pleased as Punch to think of seeing his brother again.
But mother said she doubted if it would bring a blessing. And on the
Sunday morning John came.
He was a very agreeable, gentlemanly man, with such manners as you
don't see in Littlington--no, nor in Polegate neither,--and very
changed from the boy with the red cheeks as used to come past our
house on his way to school when he was very little.
Harry met him at the station and brought him home, and when he come
in he kissed me like a brother, and mother too, and he said--
'The best good of trouble, ma'am, is to show you who your friends
'Ah,' says mother, 'I doubt if all the detectives in London, asking
your pardon, Master John, can set Master Harry up in his own again.
But he's got a pair of hands, and so has my Polly, and he might have
chosen worse, though I says it.'
Now, after dinner, when I'd cleared away, nothing would serve but I
must go out with the two of them. So we went out, and walked up on
to the Downs for quietness' sake, and it was a warm day and soft,
though November, and we leaned against a grey gate and talked it all
Then says Master John, 'Look here, Polly, we aren't to have any
secrets from you. There's no doubt they were married, but doesn't it
seem to you rather strange that my poor old father should have been
taken off so suddenly after the wedding?'
'Yes,' I said, 'but the doctors seemed to understand all about it.'
Then he said something about the doctors that it was just as well
they weren't there to hear, and he went on--
'Of course I thought at first they weren't married, so I set about
finding out what they did when they came to London; and I haven't
found out what my father did, but I did pounce on a bit of news, and
that's that she wasn't with him the whole day. They came to Charing
Cross by the same train, but he wasn't with her when she went to get
that arsenic from the chemist's.'
'What!' says I, 'arsenic?'
'Yes,' says John, 'don't you get excited, my dear. I found that out
by a piece of luck once as doesn't come to a man every day of the
week. A woman answering to her description went into a chemist's
shop, and the assistant gave the arsenic, a shilling's-worth it was,
to kill rats with.'
'And God above only knows why they put such bits of fools into a
shop to sell sixpenny-worths of death over the counter,' says Harry.
'Now the question is: Was this woman answering to her description
really Mrs. Blake or not?'
'It was Mrs. Blake,' says I, very short and sharp.
'How do you know?' says John, shorter and sharper.
Then I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out what I had found in
Mrs. Blake's corner cupboard, and John took it in his hand and
looked at it, and whistled long and low. It was a little white
packet, and had been opened and the label torn across, but you could
read what was on it plain enough--'Arsenic--Poison,' and the name of
the chemist in London.
John's face was red as fire, like some men's is when they're going
in fighting, and my Harry's as white as milk, as some other men's is
at such times. But as for me, I fell a-crying to think that any
woman could be so wicked, and him such a good master and so kind to
her, and she having the sole care of him, helpless in her hands as
the new-born babe.
And Harry, he patted me on the back, and told me to cheer up and not
to cry, and to be a good girl; and presently, my handkerchief being
wet through, I stopped, and then John, he said--
'We'll bring it home to her yet, Harry, my boy. I'll get an order to
have poor old father exhumed, and the doctors shall tell us how much
of the arsenic that cursed old hag gave him.'
IV I don't know what you have to do to get an order to open up a
grave and look at the poor dead person after it is once put away,
but, whatever it was, John knew and did it.
We didn't tell any one except our dear old parson who buried the old
man; and he listened to all we had to say, and shook his head and
said, 'I think you are wrong--I think you are wrong,' but that was
only natural, him not liking to see his good work disturbed. But he
said he would be there.
Now, no one was told of it, and yet it seemed as if every one for
miles round knew more than we did about it.
Afore the day come, old Mrs. Jezebel up at the farm, she met me one
day, and she says, 'You're a pretty puss, aren't you, howking up my
poor dear deceased husband's remains before they're hardly cold?
Much good you'll do yourself. You'll end in the workhouse, my fine
miss, and I shall come to see you as a lady visitor when you're
I tried to get past her, but she wouldn't let me. 'I wish you joy o'
that Harry, cursed young brute!' says she. 'It serves him right, it
does, to marry a girl out of the gutter!'
And with that--I couldn't help it--I fetched her a smack on the side
of the face with the flat of my hand as hard as I could, and bolted
off, her after me, and me being young and she stout she couldn't
keep up with me. Gutter, indeed! and my father a respectable
labourer, and known far and wide.
There were several strangers come the day the coffin was got up. It
was a dreadful thing to me to see them digging, not to make a grave
to be filled up, but to empty one. And there were a lot of people
there I didn't know; and the parson, and another parson, seemingly a
friend of his, and every one as could get near looking on.
They got the coffin up, and they took it to the room at the Star, at
Alfreston, where inquests are held, and the doctors were there, and
we were all shut out. And Harry and John and I stood on the stairs.
But parson, being a friend of the doctor's, he was let in, him and
his friend. And we heard voices and the squeak of the screws as they
was drawn out; and we heard the coffin lid being laid down, and then
there was a hush, and some one spoke up very sharp inside, and we
couldn't hear what he said for the noise and confusion that came
from every one speaking at once, and nineteen to the dozen it
'What is it?' says Harry, trembling like a leaf: 'O my God! what is
it? If they don't open the door afore long, by God, I shall burst it
open! He was murdered, he was! And if they wait much longer, that
woman will have time to get away.'
As he spoke, the door opened and parson came out, and his friend
'These are the young men,' says our parson.
'Well, then,' says parson number two, 'it's a good thing I heard of
this, and came down--out of mere curiosity, I am ashamed to say--for
the man who is buried there is not the man whom I united in holy
matrimony to Martha Blake two months ago last Tuesday.'
We didn't understand.
'But the poison?' says Harry.
'She may have poisoned him,' said our parson, 'though I don't think
it. But from what my friend here, the rector of St Mary Woolnoth,
tells me, it is quite certain she never married him.'
'Then she's no right to anything?' said Harry.
'But what about the will?' says I. But no one harkened to me.
And then Harry says, 'If she poisoned him she will be off by now.
Parson, will you come with me to keep my hands from violence, and my
tongue from evil-speaking and slandering? for I must go home and see
if that woman is there yet.'
And parson said he would; and it ended in us, all five of us, going
up together, the new parson walking by me and talking to me like
somebody out of the Bible, as it might be one of the disciples.
I got to know him well afterwards, and he was the best man that ever
We all went up together to Charleston Farm, and in through the back,
without knocking, and so to the parlour door. We knew she was
sitting in the parlour, because the red firelight fell out through
the window, and made a bright patch that we see before we see the
house itself properly; and we went, as I say, quietly in through the
back; and in the kitchen I said, 'Oh, let me tell her, for what she
said to me.'
And I was sorry the minute I'd said it, when I see the way that
clergyman from London looked at me; and we all went up to the
parlour door, and Harry opened it as was his right.
There was Mrs. Blake sitting in front of the fire. She had got on
her widow's mourning, very smart and complete, with black crape, and
her white cap; and she'd got the front of her dress folded back very
neat on her lap, and was toasting her legs, in her black-and-red
checked petticoat, and her feet in cashmere house-boots, very warm
and cosy, on the brass fender; and she had got port wine and sherry
wine in the two decanters that was never out of the glass-fronted
chiffonier when master was alive; and there was something else in a
black bottle; and opposite her, in the best arm-chair that old
master had sat in to the last, was that lawyer, Sigglesfield from
Lewes. And when we all came in, one after another, rather slow, and
bringing the cold air with us, they sat in their chairs as if they
had been struck, and looked at us.
Harry and John was in front, as was right; and in the dusk they
could hardly see who was behind.
'And what do you want, young men?' says Mrs. Blake, standing up in
her crape, and her white cap, and looking very handsome, Harry said
afterwards, though, for my part, I never could see it; and, as she
stood up, she caught sight of the clergyman from London, and she
shrank back into her chair and covered her face with her hands; and
the clergyman stepped into the room, none of us having the least
idea of what he was going to say, and said he--
'That's the woman that I married on the 7th; and that's the man I
married her to!' said he, pointing to Sigglesfield, who seemed to
turn twice as small, and his ferret eyes no better than button-hole
'That!' said our parson; 'why, that's Mr. Sigglesfield, the
solicitor from Lewes.'
'Then the lady opposite is Mrs. Sigglesfield, that's all,' said the
parson from London.
'What I want to know,' says Harry, 'is--is this my house or hers?
It's plain she wasn't my father's wife. But yet he left it to her in
'Slowly, old boy!' said John; 'gently does it. How could he have
left anything in a will to his wife when he hadn't got any wife?
Why, that fellow there---'
But here Mrs. Blake got on her feet, and I must say for the woman,
if she hadn't got anything else she had got pluck.
'The game's up!' she says. 'It was well played, too, though I says
it. And you, you old fool!' she says to the parson, 'you have often
drunk tea with me, and gone away thinking how well-mannered I was,
and what a nice woman Mrs. Blake was, and how well she knew her
place, after you had chatted over half your parish with me. I know
you are the curiousest man in it, and as you and me is old friends,
I don't mind owning up just to please you. It'll save a lot of time
and a lot of money.'
'It's my duty to warn you,' said John, 'that anything you say may be
used against you.'
'Used against a fiddlestick end!' said Mrs. Blake. 'I married Robert
Sigglesfield in the name of William Alderton, and he sitting
trembling there, like a shrimp half boiled! He got ready the kind of
will we wanted instead of the one the old man meant, and gave it to
the old man to sign, and he signed it right enough.'
'And what about that arsenic,' says I,--'that arsenic I found in
your corner cupboard?'
'Oh, it was you took it, was it? You little silly, my neck's too
handsome for me to do anything to put a rope round it. Do you
suppose I've kept my complexion to my age with nothing but cold
water, you little cat?'
'And the other will,' says Harry, 'that my father meant to sign?'
'I'll get you that,' says Mrs. Blake. 'It's no use bearing malice
now all's said and done.'
And she goes upstairs to get it, and, if you'll believe me, we were
fools enough to let her go; and we waited like lambs for her to come
back, which being a woman with her wits about her, and no fool, she
naturally never did; and by the time we had woke up to our seven
senses, she was far enough away, and we never saw her again. We
didn't try too much. But we had the law of that Sigglesfield, and it
was fourteen years' penal.
And the will was never found--I expect Mrs. Blake had burnt it,--so
the farm came to John, and what else there was to Harry, according
to the terms of the will the old man had made when his wife was
alive, afore John had joined the force. And Harry and John was that
pleased to be together again that they couldn't make up their minds
to part; so they farm the place together to this day.
And if Harry has prospered, and John too, it's no more than they
deserve, and a blessing on brotherly love, as mother says. And if my
dear children are the finest anywhere on the South Downs, that's by
the blessing of God too, I suppose, and it doesn't become me to say
ACTING FOR THE BEST
I HAVE no patience with people who talk that kind of nonsense about
marrying for love and the like. For my part I don't know what they
mean, and I don't believe they know it themselves. It's only a sort
of fashion of talking. I never could see what there was to like in
one young man more than another, only, of course, you might favour
some more than others if they was better to do.
My cousin Mattie was different. She must set up to be in love, and
walk home from church with Jack Halibut Sunday after Sunday, the
long way round, if you please, through the meadows; and he used to
buy her scent and ribbons at the fair, and send her a big valentine
of lacepaper, and satin ribbons and things, though Lord knows where
he got the money from--honest, I hope--for he hadn't a penny to
bless himself with.
When my uncle found out all this nonsense, being a man of proper
spirit, he put his foot down, and says he--
'Mattie, my girl, I would be the last to say anything against any
young man you fancied, especially a decent chap like young Halibut,
if his prospects was anything like as good as could be expected, but
you can't pretend poor Jack's are, him being but a blacksmith's man,
and not in regular work even. Now, let's have no waterworks,' he
went on, for Mattie had got the corner of her apron up and her mouth
screwed down at the corners. 'I've known what poverty is, my girl,
and you shan't never have a taste of it with my consent.'
'I don't care how poor I be, father,' said Mattie, 'it's Jack I care
'There's a girl all over,' says uncle, for he was a sensible man in
those days. 'The bit I've put by for you, lass, it's enough for one,
but it's not enough for two. And when young Halibut can show as
much, you shall be cried in church the very next Sunday. But,
meantime, there must be no kisses, no more letters, and no more
walking home from churches. Now, you give me your word--and keep it
I know you will--like an honest girl.'
So Mattie she gave him her word, though much against her will; and
as for Jack, I suppose, man-like, he didn't care much about staying
in the village after there was a stop put to his philandering and
kissing and scent and so on. So what does he do, but he ups and offs
to America (assisted emigration) 'to make his fortune,' says he.
And never word nor sign did we hear of him for three blessed years.
Mattie was getting quite an old maid, nigh on two-and-twenty, and I
was past nineteen, when one morning there come a letter from Jack.
My father and mother were dead this long time, so I lived with uncle
and Mattie at the farm. What offers I had had is neither here nor
there. At any rate, whatever they were, they weren't good enough.
But Mattie might have been married twice over if she had liked, and
to folks that would have been quite a catch to a girl like her
getting on in years. She might have had young Bath for one, the
strawberry grower; and what if he did drink a bit of a Saturday? He
was taking his hundreds of pounds to the Bank every week in canvas
bags, as all the world knew.
But no, she must needs hanker after Jack, and that's why I say it's
Well, when the letter come, I was up to my elbows in the
jam-making--raspberry and currant it was,--and Mattie, she was down
in the garden getting the last berries off the canes. My hands were
stained up above the wrist with the currant juice, so I took the
letter up by the corner of my apron and I went down the garden with
'Mattie,' I calls out, 'here's a letter from that good-for-nothing
fellow of yours.'
She couldn't see me, and she thought I was chaffing her about him,
which I often did, to keep things pleasant.
'Don't tease me, Jane,' she says, 'for I do feel this morning as if
I could hardly bear myself as it is.'
And as she said it I came out through the canes close to her with
the letter in my hand. But when she see the letter she dropped the
basket with the raspberries in it (they rolled all about on the
ground right under the peony bush, for that was a silly,
old-fashioned garden, with the flowers and fruit about it anyhow),
and I had a nice business picking them up, and she threw her arms
round my neck and kissed me, and cried like the silly little thing
she was, and thanked me for bringing the letter, just as if I had
anything to do with it, or any wish or will one way or another; and
then she opened the letter, and seemed to forget all about me while
she read it.
I remember the sun was so bright on the white paper that I could
scarce see to read it over her shoulder, she not noticing me, nor
anything else, any more. It was like this--
'DEAR MATTIE,--This comes hoping to find you well, as it leaves me
'I don't bear no malice over what your father said and done, but I'm
not coming to his house.
'Now Mattie, if you have forgot me, or think more of some other
chap, don't let anything stand in the way of your letting me know it
straight and plain. But if you do remember how we used to walk from
church, and the valentine, and the piece of poetry about Cupid's
dart that I copied for you out of the poetry-book, you will come and
meet me in the little ash copse, you know where. I may be prevented
coming, for I've a lot of things to see to, and I am going to
Liverpool on Thursday, and if we are to be married you will have to
come to me there, for my business won't bear being left, and I must
get back to it. But if so I will put a note in your prayer-book in
the church. So you had best look in there on your way up on
'I am taking this way of seeing you because I don't want there to be
any unpleasantness for you if you are tired of me or like some other
'I mean to take a wife back with me, Mattie, for I have done well,
and can afford to keep one in better style than ever your father
kept his. Will you be her, dear? So no more at present from your
affectionate friend and lover,
I am quicker at reading writing than Mattie, and I had finished the
letter and was picking up the raspberries before she come to the
end, where his name was signed with all the little crosses round it.
'Well?' says I, as she folded it up and unbuttoned two buttons of
her dress to push it inside. 'Well,' says I, 'what's the best news?'
'He's come home again,' she says. And I give you my word she did
look like a rose as she said it. 'He's come home again, Jane, and
it's all right, and he likes me just as much as ever he did, God
Not a word, you see, about his having made his fortune, which I
might never have known if I hadn't read the letter which I did,
acting for the best. Not that I think it was deceitfulness in the
girl, but a sort of fondness that always kept her from noticing
really important things.
'And does he ask you to have him?' says I.
'Of course he does,' she says; 'I never thought any different. I
never thought but what he would come back for me, just as he said he
would--just as he has.'
By that I knew well enough that she had often had her doubts.
'Oh, well!' says I, 'all's well that ends well.
I hope he's made enough to satisfy uncle--that's all.'
'Oh yes, I think so,' says Mattie, hardly understanding what I was
saying. 'I didn't notice particular. But I suppose that's all
She didn't notice particular! Now, I put it to you, Was that the
sort of girl to be the wife of a man who had got on like Jack had? I
for one didn't think so. If she didn't care for money why should she
have it, when there was plenty that did? And if love in a cottage
was what she wanted, and kisses and foolishness out of poetry-books,
I suppose one man's pretty much as good as another for that sort of
So I said, 'Come along in, dear, and we will get along with the
jam-making, and talk it all over nicely. I'm so glad he's come back.
I always say he would, if you remember.'
Not that I ever had, but she didn't seem to know any different,
The next few days Mattie was like a different girl. I will say for
her that she always did her fair share of the work, but she did it
with a face as long as a fiddle. Only now her face was all round and
dimply, and like a child's that has got a prize at school.
On Wednesday afternoon she said to me, 'I'm going to meet Jack, and
don't you say a word to the others about it, Jane. I'll tell father
myself when I come back, if you'll get the tea like a good girl, and
just tell them I've gone up to the village.'
'I don't tell lies as a rule, especially for other people,' I says;
'but I don't mind doing it for you this once.'
And she kissed me (she had got mighty fond of kissing these last few
days), and ran upstairs to get ready. When she come down, if you'll
believe me, she wasn't in her best dress as any other girl would
have been, but she had gone and put on a dowdy old green and white
delaine that had been her Sunday dress, trimmed with green satin
piping, three years before, and the old hat she had with all the
flowers faded and the ribbons crumpled up, that was three year old
too, and the very one she used to walk home from church with him on
Sundays in. And her with a really good blue poplin laid by and a new
bonnet with red roses in it, only come home the week before from
She come through the kitchen where I was setting the tea, and she
took the key of the church off the nail in the wall. Our farm was
full a mile from the village, and half way between it and the
church. So we kept one key, and Jack's uncle, who was the sexton, he
had the other.
'What time was you to meet Jack?' I says.
'He didn't say,' said she; 'but it used to be half-past six.'
'You're full early,' says I.
'Yes,' she says, 'but I've got to take the butter down to Weller's,
and to call in for something first.'
And, of course, I knew that she meant that she had to call in for
that note at the church.
Minute she was out of the way, I runs into the kitchen, and says to
'Poor Mrs. Tibson's not so well, Polly. I'm going over to see her.
Give the men their tea, will you? there's a good girl.'
And she said she would. And in ten minutes I was dressed, and nicely
dressed too, for I had on my white frock and the things I had had at
a girl's wedding the summer before, and a pair of new gloves I had
got out of my butter-money.
Then I went off up the hill to the church after Mattie, even then
not making up my mind what I was going to do, but with an idea that
all things somehow might work together for good to me if I only had
the sense to see how, and turn things that way.
As I come up to the church I was just in time to see her old green
gown going in at the porch, and when I come up the key was in the
door, and she hadn't come out. Quick as thought, the idea come to me
to have a joke with her and lock her in, so she shouldn't meet him,
and next minute I had turned the key in the lock softly, and stole
off through the church porch, and up to the ash copse, which I
couldn't make a mistake about, for there's only one within a mile of
Jack was there, though it was before the time. I could see his blue
tie and white shirt-front shining through the trees.
When I locked her in I only meant to have a sort of joke--at least,
I think so,--but when I come close up to him and saw how well off he
looked, and the diamond ring on his fingers, and his pin and his
gold chain, I thought to myself--
'Well, you go to Liverpool to-morrow, young man! And she ain't got
your address, and, likely as not, if you go away vexed with her, you
won't leave it with your aunt, and one wife is as good as another,
if not better, and as for her caring for you, that's all affectation
and silliness--so here goes.'
He stepped forward, with his hands held out to me, but when he saw
it was me he stopped short.
'Why, Miss Jane,' he said, 'I beg your pardon. I was expecting quite
a different person.'
'Yes, I know,' I says, 'you was expecting my cousin Mattie.'
'And isn't she coming?' he asks very quick, looking at me full, with
his blue eyes.
'I hope you won't take it hard, Mr. Halibut,' says I, 'but she said
she'd rather not come.'
'Confound it!' says he.
'You see,' I went on, 'it's a long time since you was at home, and
you not writing or anything, and some girls are very flighty and
changeable; and she told me to tell you she was sorry if you were
mistaken in her feelings about you, and she's had time to think
things over since three years ago; and now you're so well off, she
says she's sure you'll find no difficulty in getting a girl suited
to your mind.'
'Did she say that?' he said, looking at me very straight. 'It's not
'I don't mean she said so in those words, or that she told me to
tell you so; but that's what I made out to be her mind from what she
said between us two like.'
'But what message did she send to me? For I suppose she sent you to
meet me to-day.'
Then I saw that I should have to be very careful. So to get a little
time I says, 'I don't quite like to tell you, Mr. Halibut, what she
'Out with it,' says he. 'Don't be a fool, girl!'
'Well, then,' I says, 'if it must be so, her words were these: "Tell
Jack," she says, "that I shall ever wish him well for the sake of
what's past, but all's over betwixt him and me, and--"'
'And what,' says he.
'There wasn't much besides,' says I.
'Good God, don't be such an idiot!' and he looked as if he could
have shaken me.
'Well, then, if you must have it,' says I, 'she says, "Tell Jack
there's at least one girl I know of as would make him a better wife
than I should, and has been thinking of him steady and faithful
these three years, while I've been giving my mind to far other
'Confound her!' says he, 'little witch. And who is this other girl
that she's so gracious to hand me over to?'
'I don't want to say no more,' says I. 'I'm going now, Mr. Halibut.
For well I knew he wouldn't let me go at that.
'Tell me who it is,' says he. 'What! she's not content with giving
me the mitten herself, but she must insult me and this poor girl
too, who's got more sense than she has. Good Heavens, it would serve
her right if I took her at her word, and took the other girl back
He was walking up and down with his hands in his pockets, frowning
like a July thunderstorm.
'Wicked, heartless little--but there, thank God! all women aren't
like her. Who's this girl that she's tried to set me against?'
'I can't tell you,' says I.
'Oh! can't you, my girl? But you shall.'
And he catches hold of both my wrists in his hands.
'Leave me go!' I cried, 'you're hurting me.'
'Who is it?'
I was looking down my nose very straight, but when he said that, I
just lifted my eyes up and looked at him, and dropped them.
I've always practised looking like what I meant, or what I wanted
people to think I meant--sort of matching your looks and words, like
you match ribbon and a bit of stuff.
'So you're the girl, are you?' he cries. 'And she thought to put you
to shame before me with her messages? Look here, I'm well off. I'm
going to Liverpool to-night, and back to America next week. I want
to take a wife with me, and she says you have thought of me while
I've been away. Will you marry me, Jane?'
I just looked at him again, and he put his arm round me and gave me
a good kiss. I had to put up with it, though I never could see any
sense in that sort of stuff. Then we walked home together, very
slow, his arm round me.
I daresay some people will think I oughtn't to have acted so, taking
away another girl's fellow. But I was quite sure she would get
plenty that would play love in a cottage with her, and she did not
seem to appreciate her blessings in getting a man that was well off,
and I didn't see how it could be found out, as he was going away
Now, it would all have gone as well as well if I had had the sense
to offer to see him off at the station, and I ought to have had the
sense to see him well out of the place. But we all make mistakes
sometimes. Mine was in saying 'Good-bye' to him at the corner of the
four-acre and going home by myself, leaving him with three-quarters
of an hour for 'Satan to find some mischief still for idle hands to
I said 'Good-bye' to him, and he kissed me, and gave me the address
where to write, and told me what to do.
'For I shan't have no truck with your uncle,' says he. 'I marries my
wife, and I takes her right away.'
It wasn't till I was going up the stairs, untying my bonnet-strings
as I went, and smoothing out the ribbons with my finger and thumb,
for it was my best, that it come to me all in a minute that I had
left Mattie locked up in that church. It was very tiresome, and how
to get her out I didn't know. But I thought maybe she would be
trying some of the other doors, and I might turn the key gently and
away again before she could find out it was unlocked.
So up to the church I went, very hot, and a setting sun, and having
had no tea or anything, and as I began to climb the hill my heart
stood still in my veins, for I heard a sound from the church as I
never expected to hear at that time of the day and week.
'O Lord!' I thought, 'she's tried every other way, and now she's
ringing the bell, and she'll fetch up the whole village, and what
will become of me?'
I made the best haste I could, but I could see more than one black
dot moving up the hill before me that showed me folks on their way
home had heard the bell and was going to see what it meant. And when
I got up there they were trying the big door of the church, not
knowing it was the little side one where the key was, and Jack, he
come up almost the same moment I did, and I knew well enough he had
come to get that note out of her prayer-book for fear some one else
should see it.
'Here, I've got the key in my pocket,' says he, and with that he
opened the door, the bell clang, clang, clanging from the tower all
the time like as if the bellringer was drunk and had got a wager on
to get more beats out of the bell in half an hour than the next man.
Whoever it was that was ringing the bell--and I could give a pretty
good guess who it was--didn't seem to hear us coming, and they went
up the aisle and pulled back the red baize curtain that hides the
bottom of the tower where the ringers stand on Sundays, and there
was Mattie with her old green gown on, and her hair all loose and
down her back with the hard work of bellringing, I suppose, and her
face as white as the bald-faced stag as is painted on the sign down
at the inn in the village. And directly she saw Jack, I knew it was
all over, for she let go the rope and it swung up like a live thing
over our heads, and she made two steps to Jack and had him round the
neck before them all.
'O Jack!' she cried, 'don't look like that.
I came to fetch your letter, and somebody locked me in.'
Jack, he turned to me, and his face was so that I should have been
afraid to have been along of him in a lonely place.
'This is your doings,' says he, 'and all that pack of lies you told
me was out of your own wicked head.'
He had got his arm round her, and was holding on as if she was
something worth having, instead of a silly girl in a frock three
'I don't know what you mean, I'm sure,' I said; 'it was only a
'A joke!' says he. 'Lies, I call it, and I know they're lies by the
very touch of her in my arm here.'
'Oh, well!' I said, 'if you can't take joking better than this, it's
the last time I'll ever try joking with you.'
And I walked out of the church, and the other folks who had run up
to see what was the matter come out with me. And they two was left
I suppose it was only human nature that, as I come round the church,
I should get on the top of a tombstone and look in to see what they
was doing. It was the little window where a pane was broken by a
stone last summer, and so I heard what they was saying. He was
trying to tell her what I had told him--quite as much for her own
good as for mine, as you have seen; but she didn't seem to want to
'Oh, never mind all that now, Jack,' she says, with arms round his
neck. 'What does it matter about a silly joke now that I have got
you, and it's all right betwixt us?'
I thought it my duty to go straight home and tell uncle she was up
in the church, kissing and cuddling with Jack Halibut; and he took
his stick and started off after her.
But he met them at the garden gate, and Jack, he came forward, and
'Mr. Kenworthy, I have had hard thoughts of you this three year, but
I see you was right, for if I had never gone away, I should never
have been able to keep my little girl as she should be kept, and as
I can now, thanks be! and I should never have known how dear she has
loved me this three year.'
And uncle, like the soft-hearted old thing he is, he holds out his
hands, and he says, 'God bless you, my boy, it was for your own good
And they went in to supper.
As for me, I went to bed. I had had all the supper I wanted. And
uncle has never been the same to me since, though I'm sure I tried
to act for the best.
IT was my first place and my last, and I don't think we should have
got on in business as we have if it hadn't been for me being for six
or seven years with one of the first families in the county. Though
only a housemaid, you can't help learning something of their ways.
At any rate, you learn what gentlefolks like, and what they can't
abide. But the worst of being housemaid where there's a lot of
servants kept is, that one or other or all of the men-servants is
sure to be wanting to keep company with you. They have nothing else
to do in their spare time, and I suppose it's handy having your
sweetheart living in the house. It doesn't give you so much trouble
with going out in the evening, if not fine.
The coachman was promised to the cook, which, I believe, often takes
place. Tim, the head groom, was a very nice, genteel fellow, and I
daresay I might have taken up with him, if I hadn't met with my
James, though never with John, who was the plague of my life. To
begin with, he had a black whisker, that I couldn't bear to look at,
let alone putting one's face against it, as I should have had to
have done when married, no doubt. And he had a roving black eye,
very yellowy in the white of it, and hair that looked all black and
bear's-greasy, though he always said he never put anything on it
except a little bay rum in moderation.
They tell me I was a pretty girl enough in those days, though looks
is less important than you might think to a housemaid, if only she
dresses neat and has a small waist. And I suppose I must think that
John really did love me in his scowling, black whiskery way. He was
a good footman, I will say that, and had been with the master three
years, and the best of characters; but whatever he might have
thought, I never would have had anything to do with him, even if
James and me had had seas between us broad a-rolling for ever and
ever Amen. He asked me once and he asked me twice, and it was 'no'
and 'no' again. And I had even gone so far as to think that perhaps
I should have to give up a good place to get out of his way, when
master's uncle, old Mr. Oliver, and his good lady, came to stay at
the Court, and with them came James, who was own man to Mr. Oliver.
Mr. Oliver was the funniest-looking old gent I ever see, if I may
say so respectfully. He was as bald as an egg, with a sort of frill
of brown hair going from ear to ear behind; and as if that wasn't
enough, he was shaved as clean as a whistle, as though he had made
up his mind that people shouldn't say that it had all gone to beard
and whiskers, anyway. He wrote books, a great many of them, and you
may often see his name in the papers, and he was for ever poking
about into what didn't concern him, and my Lady, she said to me when
she found me a little put out at him asking about how things went on
in the servants' hall, she said to me--
'You mustn't mind him, Mary,' she said; 'you know he likes to find
out all that he can about everything, so as to put it in his books.'
And he certainly talked to every one he came across--even the
stable-boys--in a way that you could hardly think becoming from a
gentleman to servants, if he wasn't an author, and so to have
allowances made for him, poor man! He talked to the housemaids, and
he talked to the groom, and he talked to the footman that waited on
him at lunch when he had it late, as he did sometimes, owing to him
having been kept past the proper time by his story-writing, for he
wrote a good part of the day most days, and often went up to London
while he was staying with us--to sell his goods, I suppose. He wore
curious clothes, not like most gentlemen, but all wool things, even
to his collars and his boots, which were soft and soppy like felt;
and he took snuff to that degree I wouldn't have believed any human
nose could have borne it, and he must have been a great trial to
Mrs. Oliver until she got used to him and his pottering about all
over the house in his soft-soled shoes; and the mess he made of his
pocket-handkerchieves and his linen!
Mrs. Oliver was a round little fat bunch of a woman, if I may say so
in speaking of master's own aunt by marriage, and him a baronet. She
had the most lovely jewellery, and was very fond of wearing it of an
evening, more than most people do when they are staying with
relations and there's no company. She never spoke much except to
say, 'Yes, Dick dear,' and 'No, Dick dear,' when they spoke to each
other; but they were as fond of each other as pigeons on a roof, and
always very pleasant-spoken and nice to wait on.
As for James, he was the jolliest man I ever met, and cook said the
same. He was like Sam Weller in the book, or would have been if he
had lived in those far-off times; but footmen are more genteel now
than they were then.
Anyway, he hadn't been at the Court twenty-four hours before he was
first favourite with every one, and cook made him a Welsh rabbit
with her own hands, 'cause he hadn't been able to get his dinner
comfortable with the rest of us--a thing she wouldn't have done for
Sir William himself at that time of night. As for me, the first time
he looked at me with his jolly blue eyes--it was when he met me
carrying a tray the first morning after he came--my heart gave a
jump inside my print gown, and I said to it as I went downstairs--
'You've met your master, I'm thinking'; and if I did go to church
with him the very first Sunday, which was more than ever I had done
with any of the others, it was after he had asked me plain and
straight to go to church with him some day for good and all.
Now, the next morning, quite early, I was dusting the library, when
John come in with his black face like a thundercloud.
'Look here, Mary,' he says; 'what do you mean by going to church
with that stuck-up London trumpery?'
'Mind your own business,' says I, sharp as you please.
'I am,' he says. 'You are my business--the only business I care a
damn about, or am ever likely to. You don't know how I love you,
Mary,' he says. And I was sorry for him as he spoke. 'I would lie
down in the dirt for you to walk on if it would do you any good, so
long as you didn't walk over me to get to some other chap.'
'I am very sorry for you, John,' says I, 'but I've told you, not
once or twice, but fifty times, that it can never be. And there are
plenty of other girls that would be only too glad to walk out with a
young man like you without your troubling yourself about me.'
He was walking up and down the room like a cat in a cage. Presently
he began to laugh in a nasty, sly, disagreeable way.
'Oh! you think he'll marry you, do you?' says he. 'But he's just
amusing himself with you till he gets back to London to his own
girl. You let him see you was only amusing yourself with him, and
you come out with me when you get your evening.'
And he took the dusting-brush out of my hand, and caught hold of my
'It's all a lie!' I cried; 'and I wonder you can look me in the face
and tell it. Him and me are going to be married as soon as he has
saved enough for a little public, and I never want to speak to you
again; and if you don't let go of my hands, I'll scream till I fetch
the house down, master and all, and then where will you be?'
He scowled at that, but he let my hands go directly.
'Have it your own way,' he said. 'But I tell you, you won't marry
him, and you'll find he won't want to marry you, and you'll marry
me, my girl. And when you have married me, you shall cry your eyes
out for every word you have said now.'
'Oh, shall I, Mr. Liar?' says I, for my blood was up; 'before that
happens, you'll have to change him into a liar and me into a fool
and yourself into an honest man, and you'll find that the hardest of
all.' And with that I threw the dusting-brush at him--which was a
piece of wicked temper I oughtn't to have given way to--and ran out
of the door, and I heard him cursing to himself something fearful as
I went down the passage.
'Good thing the gentlefolks are abed still,' I said to myself; and I
didn't tell a soul about it, even cook, the truth being I was
Well, everything went on pretty much the same as usual for two or
three weeks, and I thought John was getting the better of his
silliness, because he made a show of being friendly to James and was
respectful to me, even when we was alone. Then came that dreadful
day that I shall never forget if I live to be a hundred years old.
Dinner was half an hour later than usual on account of Mr. Oliver
having gone up to town on his business; but he didn't get home when
expected, and they sat down without him after all. I was about my
work, turning down beds and so forth, and I had done Mrs. Oliver's
about ten minutes, and was in my lady's room, when Mrs. Oliver's own
maid came running in with a face like paper.
'Oh, what ever shall I do?' she cried, wringing her hands, as they
say in books, and I always thought it nonsense, but she certainly
did, though I never saw any one do it before or since.
'What is it?' I asked her.
'It's my mistress's diamond necklace,' she said. 'She was going to
wear it to-night. And then she said, No, she wouldn't; she'd have
the emeralds, and I left it on the dressing-table instead of locking
it up, and now it's gone!'
I went into Mrs. Oliver's room with her, and there was the jewel-box
with the pretty shining things turned out on the dressing-table, for
Mrs. Oliver had a heap of jewellery that had come to her from her
own people, and she as fond of wearing it as if she was slim and
twenty, instead of being fifty, and as round as an orange. We looked
on the dressing-table and we looked on the floor, and we looked in
the curtains to see if it had got in any of them. But look high,
look low, no diamond necklace could we find. So at last Scott--that
was Mrs. Oliver's maid--said there was nothing for it but to go and
tell her mistress. The ladies were in the drawing-room by this time.
So she went down all of a tremble, and in the hall there was Mrs.
Oliver looking anxious out of the front door, which was open, it
being summer and the house standing in its own park.
'Mr. Oliver is very late, Scott,' she says. 'I am getting anxious
And as she spoke, and before Scott could answer, there was his step
on the gravel, and he came in at the front door with his little
black bag in his hand that I suppose he carried his stories in to
see if people would like to buy them.
'Hullo! Scott,' he says, 'have you seen a ghost?' And, indeed, she
looked more dead than alive. She gulped in her throat, but she could
'Here, young woman,' says Mr. Oliver to me, 'you haven't lost your
head altogether. What's it all about?'
So I told him as well as I could, and by this time master had come
out and my Lady, and you never saw any one so upset as they were.
All the house was turned out of window, hunting for the necklace;
though, of course, not having legs, it couldn't have walked by
itself out of Mrs. Oliver's room. All the servants was called up,
even to the kitchen-maid; and those who were not angry, were
frightened, and, what with fright and anger, there wasn't one of us,
I do believe, as didn't look as they had got the necklace on under
their clothes that very minute. John was very angry indeed. 'Do they
think we'd take their dirty necklace?' he said, as we were going up.
'It's enough to ruin all of us, this kind of thing happening, and
leaving the doors open so that any one could get in and walk clear
off with it without a stain on their character, and us left with
none to speak of'
So when master had asked us all a lot of questions, and we were told
we could go, John stepped out and said--
'I am sure I am only expressing the feelings of my fellow-servants
when I say that we should wish our boxes searched and our rooms, so
that there shall be no chance for any one to say afterwards that it
lays at any of our doors.'
And Mrs. Oliver began to cry, and she said 'No, no, she wouldn't put
that insult on any one.' But Mr. Oliver, who hadn't been saying
much, though so talkative generally, but kept taking snuff at a rate
that was dreadful to see, he said--
'The young man is quite right, my dear; and if you don't mind,' he
says to master, 'I think it had better be done.'
And so it was done, and I don't know how to write about it now,
though it was never true. They came to my room and they looked into
all my drawers and boxes except my little hat-tin, and when they
wanted the key of that, I said, silly-like, not having any idea that
they could think that I could do such a thing, 'I'd rather you
didn't look into that. It's only some things I don't want any one to
And the reason was that I'd got some bits of things in it that I'd
got the week before in the town towards getting my things for the
wedding ready, and I felt somehow I didn't want any one to see them
till James did. And they all looked very queer at me when I said
that, and my Lady said--
'Mary, give me the key at once.'
So I did, and oh! I shall never forget it. They took out the
flannel, and the longcloth and things, and the roll of embroidery
that I was going to trim them with, and rolled inside that, if
you'll believe me, there was the necklace like a shining snake
coiled up. I never said a word, being struck silly. I didn't cry or
even say anything as people do in books when these things happen to
them; but Mrs. Oliver burst out crying, God bless her for it! and my
Lady said, 'O Mary, I'd never have believed it of you any more than
I would of myself!'
And Mr. Oliver he said to master, 'Have all the servants into the
library, William. Perhaps some one else is in it too.'
But nobody said a word to say that it wasn't me, and indeed how
I should think it's like being had up for murder, standing there in
the library with all the servants holding off from me as if I had
got something catching, and master and my Lady and Mr. and Mrs.
Oliver in leather armchairs, all of a row, looking like a bench of
magistrates. I could not think, though I tried hard--I could only
feel as if I was drowning and fighting for breath.
'Now, Mary,' says Master, 'what have you got to say?'
'I never touched it, sir,' I said; 'I never put it there; I don't
know who did; and may God forgive them, for I never could.'
Then my Lady said, 'Mary, I can hardly believe it of you even now,
but why wouldn't you let us have the key of your box?'
Then I turned hot and cold all of a minute, and I looked round, and
there wasn't a face that looked kind at me except Mr. Oliver's, and
he nodded at me, taking snuff all over his fat white waistcoat.
'Speak up, girl,' he said, 'speak up.'
So then I said, 'I'm a-going to be married, my Lady, and it was bits
of things I'd got towards my wedding clothes.'
I looked at James to see if he believed it, and his face was like
lead, and his eyes wild that used to be so jolly, and to see him
look like that made my heart stand still, and I cried out--
'O my God, strike me down dead, for live I can't after this!'
And at that, James spoke up, and he said, speaking very quick and
steady, 'I wish to confess that I took it, and I put it in her box,
thinking to take it away again after. We were to have been married,
and I wanted the money to start in a little pub.'
And everybody stood still, and you could have heard a pin drop, and
Mr. Oliver went on nodding his head and taking snuff till I could
have killed him for it; and I looked at James, and I could have
fallen at his feet and worshipped him, for I saw in a minute why he
said it. He believed it was me, and he wanted to save me. So then I
said to master--
'The thing was found in my box, sir, and I'll take the consequences
if I have to be hanged for it. But don't you believe a word James
says. He never touched it. It wasn't him.'
'How do you know it wasn't him,' says master very sharp. 'If you
didn't take it, how do you know who did?'
'How do I know?' I cried, forgetting for a moment who I was speaking
to. 'Why, if you'd half a grain of sense among the lot of you, you'd
know why I know it's not him. If you felt to a young man like I feel
to James, you'd know in your heart that he could not have done such
a thing, not if there was fifty diamond necklaces found in fifty
pockets on him at the same time.'
They said nothing, but Mr. Oliver chuckled in his collar till I'd
have liked to strangle him with my two hands round his fat throat.
And I went on--
'I'm as sure he didn't do it as I am that I didn't do it myself, and
as he would have been that I didn't if he had really loved me, as he
said, instead of believing that I could do such a thing, and trying
to save me with a black lie--God bless him for it.'
And James he never looked at me, but he said again, 'Don't mind
her--she's off her head with fright about me. You send me off to
prison as soon as you like, sir.'
And still none of the others spoke, but Mr. Oliver leaned back in
his chair, and he clapped his hands softly as though he was at a
play. 'Bravo!' he says, 'bravo!'
And the others looked at him as if they thought he had gone out of
'It's a very pretty drama, very nicely played, but now it's time to
put an end to it. Do you want to see the villain?' he says to
master, and master never answering him, only staring, he turned
quite sharp and sudden and pointed to John as he stood near the door
with his black eyes burning like coals. 'You took it,' said Mr.
Oliver, 'and you put it in Mary's box. Oh! you needn't start. I know
it's true without that.'
John had started, but he pulled himself together in a minute. The
man had pluck, I will say that. He spoke quite firm and respectful.
'And why should I have done that, sir, if you please, when all the
house knows that I have been courting Mary fair and honest this two
Mr. Oliver tapped his snuff-box and grinned all over his big smooth
face. 'When you do your courting fair and honest, young man, you
should be careful not to do it in the library with the window open.
I was in the verandah, and I heard you threaten that she should
never marry James, and that she should marry you; and that you would
be revenged on her for her bad taste in preferring him to you.'
John drew a deep breath. 'That's nothing, sir, is it?' he says to
master. 'Every one in the house knows I have been sorry for a hasty
word, and have been the best friends with both of them for these
Mr. Oliver got up and put his snuff-box on the table, and his hands
in his trouser pockets. 'You can send for the police, William,' he
said to master, 'because as a matter of fact, I saw the
black-whiskered gentleman with the necklace in his hand. I did get
home late to-night, but not so late as you thought, and I came in
through the open door and was up in my dressing-room when that
scoundrel sneaked into my wife's room and took the necklace to ruin
an innocent girl with. What a thorough scoundrel you are, though,
aren't you?' he said to John.
Then John, he shrugged his shoulders as much as to say, 'It's all up
now,' and he said to Mr. Oliver very politely, 'You are always fond
of poking your nose into other people's business, sir, and I daresay
you'd like to know why I did it. Oh yes. You know everything, you
do,' says John, growing very white, and speaking angry and quick,
'with your writing, and your snuff, and your gossiping with the
servants, which no gentleman would do, and your nasty, sneaking,
Jaeger-felt boots, and your silly old tub of a wife. I knew that
smooth-spoken man of yours would believe anything against her, and I
knew he would never marry her after a set-out like this, and I knew
I should get her when she found I stuck to her through it all, as I
should have done, and as I would have done too, if she had taken
fifty diamond necklaces.'
'Send for the police,' said master, but nobody moved. For Mrs.
Oliver, who had been crying like a waterworks ever since we came
down into the library, said quite sudden, 'O Dick dear! let him go.
Don't prosecute him. See, he's lost everything, and he's lost her,
and he must have been mad with love for her or he wouldn't have done
such a thing.'
Now, wasn't that a true lady to speak up like that for him after
what he'd said of her? Mr. Oliver looked surprised at her speaking
up like that, her that hardly ever said a word except 'Yes, Dick
dear,' and 'No, Dick dear,' and then he shrugs his shoulders and he
says, 'You are right, my dear, he's punished enough.'
And John turned to go like a dog that has been whipped; but at the
door he faced round, and he said to Mrs. Oliver, 'You're a good
woman, and I'm sorry I said what I did about you. But for the other
I'm not sorry, not if it was my last word.'
And with that he went out of the room, and out of the house through
the front door. He had no relations and he had no friends, and I
suppose he had nowhere to go with his character gone, and so it
happened that was truly his last word as far as any one knows. For
he was found next morning on the level-crossing after the down
express had passed.
You never saw such a fuss as every one made of me and James
afterwards. I might have been a queen and him a king. But when it
was all over it stuck in my mind that he oughtn't to have doubted
me, and so I wouldn't name the day for over a year, though Mrs.
Oliver had bought him a nice little hotel and given it to him
herself; but when the year was up, Mr. and Mrs. Oliver came down to
stay again, and seeing them brought it all back, and his having
tried to save me as he had seemed more than his having doubted me.
And so I married him, and I don't think any one ever made a better
match. James says he made a better match, and if I don't agree with
him, it's only right and proper that he should think so, and I thank
God that he does every hour of my life.
SON AND HEIR
SIR JASPER was always the best of masters to me and to all of us;
and he had that kind of way with him, masterful and gentle at the
same time, like as if he was kind to you for his own pleasure, and
ordering you about for your own good, that I believe any of us would
have cut our hand off at the wrist if he had told us to.
Lady Breynton had been dead this many a year. She hadn't come to her
husband with her hands empty. They say that Sir Jasper had been very
wild in his youth, and that my Lady's money had come in very handy
to pull the old place together again. She worshipped the ground Sir
Jasper walked on, as most women did that he ever said a kind word
to. But it never seemed to me that he took to her as much as you
might have expected a warm-hearted gentleman like him to do. But he
took to her baby wonderful. I was nurse to that baby from the first,
and a fine handsome little chap he was, and when my Lady died he was
wholly given over to my care. And I loved the child; indeed, I did
love him, and should have loved him to the end but for one thing,
and that comes in its own place in my story. But even those who
loved young Jasper best couldn't help seeing he hadn't his father's
winning ways. And when he grew up to man's estate, he was as wild as
his father had been before him. But his wild ways were the ways that
make young men enemies, not friends, and out of all that came to the
house, for the hunting, or the shooting, or what not, I used to
think there wasn't one would have held out a hand to my young master
if he had been in want of it. And yet I loved him because I had
brought him up, and I never had a child of my own. I never wished to
be married, but I used to wish that little Jasper had been my own
child. I could have had an authority over him then that I hadn't as
his nurse, and perhaps it might have all turned out differently.
There were many tales about Sir Jasper, but I didn't think it was my
place to listen to them.
Only, when it's your own eyes, it's different, and I couldn't help
seeing how like young Robert, the under-gamekeeper, was to the
Family. He had their black, curly hair, and merry Irish eyes, and
he, if you please, had just Sir Jasper's winning ways.
Why he was taken on as gamekeeper no one could make out, for when he
first came up to the Hall to ask the master for a job, they tell me
he knew no more of gamekeeping than I do of Latin. Young Robert was
a steady chap, and used to read and write of an evening instead of
spending a jolly hour or two at the Dove and Branch, as most young
fellows do, and as, indeed, my young master did too often. And Sir
Jasper, he gave him books without end and good advice, and would
have him so often about him he set everybody's tongue wagging to a
tune more merry than wise. And young Robert loved the master, of
course. Who didn't?
Well, there came a day when the Lord above saw fit to put out the
sunshine like as if it had been a bedroom candle; for Sir Jasper, he
was brought back from the hunting-field with his back broke.
I always take a pleasure in remembering that I was with him to the
last, and did everything that could be done for him with my own
hands. He lingered two days, and then he died.
It was the hour before the dawn, when there is always a wind, no
matter how still the night, a chilly wind that seems to find out the
marrow of your bones, and if you are nursing sick folk, you bank up
the fire high and watch them extra careful till the sun gets up.
Sir Jasper opened his eyes and looked at me--oh! so kindly. It
brings tears into my eyes when I think of it. 'Nelly,' he says, 'I
know I can trust you.'
And I said, 'Yes, sir.' And so he could, whatever it might have
been. What happened afterwards wasn't my fault, and couldn't have
been guarded against.
'Then go,' he said, 'to my old secretaire and open it.'
And I did. There was rows of pigeon-holes inside, and little drawers
with brass knobs.
'You take hold of the third knob from the right, Nelly,' said he.
'Don't pull it; give it a twist round.' I did, and lo and behold! a
little drawer jumped out at me from quite another part of the
'You see what's in it, Nelly?' says he.
It was a green leather case tied round with a bit of faded ribbon.
'Now, what I want you to do,' he says, 'is to lay that beside me
when it's all over. I have always had my doubts about the dead
sleeping so quiet as some folks say. But I think I shall sleep if
you lay that beside me, for I am very tired, Nelly,' he said, 'very
Then I went back to his bed, where he lay looking quite calm and
'The end has come very suddenly,' says he; 'but it is best this
Then we was both quiet a bit.
'I may be wrong,' he went on presently, his face quite straight, but
a laugh in his blue eye. 'I may be wrong, Nelly, but I think you
would like to kiss me before I die--I know well enough you'll do it
And when he said that, I was glad I had never kissed another man.
And soon after that, it being the coldest hour of all the night, he
moved his head on his pillow and said--
'I'm off now, Nelly, but you needn't wake the doctors. It's very
dark outside. Hand me out, my girl, hand me out.' So I gave him my
hand, and he died holding it. Whether I grieved much or little over
my old master is no one's business but my own. I went about the
house, and I did my duty--ever since Master Jasper had been grown up
I had been housekeeper. I did my duty, I say, and before the coffin
lid was screwed down I laid that green leather case under the shroud
by my master's side; and just as I had done it I turned round
feeling that some one was in the room, and there stood young Master
Jasper at the door looking at me.
'All's ready now,' I said to the undertaker's men, and called them
in, and young Master Jasper, he followed me along the passage. 'What
were you doing?'
'I was putting something in the master's coffin he told me to put
'What was it?' he asked, very sharp and sudden.
'How should I know?' says I. 'It's in a case. It may be some old
letter or a lock of hair as belonged to your mother.'
'Come into my room,' he said, and I followed him in. He looked very
pale and anxious, and when he'd shut the door he spoke--
'Look here, Nelly, I'm going to trust you. My father was very angry
with me about some little follies of mine, and he told me the other
night he had left a good slice of the estate away from me. Do you
think that packet you put in the coffin had anything to do with it?'
'Good Lord, bless your soul, sir, no,' I said. 'That was no will or
lawyer's letters, it was but some little token of remembrance he set
'Thanks, Nelly, that was all I wanted to know.'
No one ever knows who tells these things, but it had leaked out
somehow that that slice of the estate was to belong to young Robert
the gamekeeper, and you may be sure the tongues went wagging above a
bit. But it seemed to me, if it was so, my master was right to make
a proper provision for Robert as well as for Jasper. However, nobody
could be sure of anything until after the funeral.
The doctor was staying in the house, and master's younger brother,
besides the lawyer and young Master Jasper; so I had many things to
see to, and ought to have been tired enough to get to sleep easy the
night before he was buried. But somehow I couldn't sleep. I couldn't
help thinking of my master as I had known him all these years. Him
being always so gentle and so kind, and so light-hearted, it didn't
seem likely he could have had young Robert on his conscience all the
time; and yet what was I to think? And then my poor Jasper--I say
'poor,' but I never loved and pitied him less than I did that night.
He had lost such a father, and he could go troubling about whether
he had got the whole estate or not. So I lay awake, and I thought of
the coffin lying between its burning tapers in the great bedroom,
and I wished they had not screwed him down, for then I could have
gone, late as it was, and had another look at my master's face. And
as I lay it seemed to me that I heard a door opened, and then a
step, and then a key turned. Now, the master never locked his door,
so the key of that room turned rusty in the lock, and before I had
time to think more than that I was out of bed and in my
dressing-gown, creeping along the passage. Sure enough, my master's
door was open, as I saw by the streak of light across the corridor.
I walked softly on my bare feet, and no one could have heard me go
along the thick carpet. When I got to the door, I saw that what I
had been trying not to think of was really true. Master Jasper was
there taking the screws out of his father's coffin to see what was
in that green leather case.
I stood there and looked. I could not have moved, not for the
Queen's crown, if it had been offered me then and there. One after
another he took the screws out and laid them on the little bedside
table, where the master used to keep his pistols of a night. When
all the screws was out he lifted the lid in both his arms and set it
on the bed, where it lay looking like another coffin. Then he began
to search for what I had put in beside his father.
Now, I may be a heartless woman, and I suppose I am, or how account
for it? But when I saw my young master go to his father's coffin
like that, and begin to serve his own interest and his own
curiosity, every spark of love I had ever had for the boy died out,
and I cared no more for him than if he had been the first comer.
If he had kissed his father, or so much as looked kindly at the dead
face in the coffin, it would have been different. But he hadn't a
look or a thought to spare for him as gave him life, and had
humoured and spoiled and petted and made much of him all his twenty
years. Not a thought for his father; all his thoughts was to find
out what his father hadn't wished him to know.
Now I was feeling set that Master Jasper should never know what was
in that green leather case, and I cared no more for what he thought
or what he felt than I should have done if he had been a common
thief as, God forgive me, he was in my eyes at that hour. So I crept
behind him softly, softly, an inch at a time, till I got to where I
could see the coffin; and if you'll believe a foolish old woman, I
kept looking at that dead face till I nigh forgot what I was there
for. And while I was standing mazed like and stupid, young Master
Jasper had got out the green case, and was turning over what was in
it in his hands.
I got him by the two elbows behind, and he started like a horse that
has never felt even the whip will do at the spur's touch. Almost at
the same time my heart came leaping into my mouth, and if ever a
woman nearly died of fright, I was that woman, for some one behind
me put a hand on my shoulder and said, 'What's all this?'
Young Sir Jasper and I both turned sharp. It was the doctor. His
ears were as quick as mine, and he had heard the key too, I suppose.
Anyhow, there he was, and he picked up the papers young Sir Jasper
had let fall, and says he, 'I will deal with these, young gentleman.
Go you to your room.' And Sir Jasper, like a kicked hound, went.
Then I began to tell my share in that night's work. But the doctor
stopped me, for he had seen me and watched me all along. Then he
stood by the coffin, and went through what was in the little leather
'I must keep these now,' he said, 'but you shall keep your promise
and put them beside him before he is buried.'
And the next day, before the funeral, I went alone and saw my master
again, and gave him his little case back, and I thought I should
have liked him to know that I had done my best for him, but he could
not have known that without knowing of what young Sir Jasper had
done, and that would have broken his heart; so when all's said and
done, perhaps it's as well the dead know nothing.
And after the funeral we was all in the library to hear the will
read, and the lawyer he read out that the personal property went to
Robert the gamekeeper, and the entailed property would of course be
young Sir Jasper's.
And young Sir Jasper, oh that ever I should have called him my
boy!--he rose up in his place and said that his father was a doting
old fool and out of his mind, and he would have the law of them,
anyhow, and my late dear master not yet turned of fifty! And then
the doctor got up and he said--
'Stop a bit, young man; I have a word or two to say here.'
And he up and told before all the folks there straight out what had
passed last night, and how young Sir Jasper had willed to rob his
'Now, you'll want to know what was in the little green leather
case,' he says at the end. 'And it was this,--a lock of hair and a
wedding ring, and a marriage certificate, and a baptism certificate;
and you, Jasper, are but the son by a second marriage; and Sir
Robert, I congratulate you, for you are come to your own.'
'Do I get nothing, then?' shrieked young Sir Jasper, trembling like
a woman, and with the devil looking out of his eyes.
'Your father intended you to have the entailed estates, right or
wrong; that was his choice. But you chose to know what he wished to
hide from you, and now you know that the entailed estates belong to
'But the personalty?'
'You forget,' said the doctor, rubbing his hands, with a sour smile,
'that your father provided for that in the will to which you so much
'Then, curse his memory and curse you,' cried Jasper, and flung out
of the house; nor have I ever seen him again, though he did set
lawyer folk to work in London to drive Sir Robert out of his own
place. But to no purpose.
And Sir Robert, he lives in the old house, and is loved as his
father was before him by all he says a kind word to, and his kind
words are many.
And to me he is all that I used to wish the boy Jasper might be, and
he has a reason for loving me which Jasper never had.
For he said to me when he first spoke to me after his father's
'My mother was a farmer's girl,' he said, 'and your father was a
farmer, so I feel we come, as it were, of one blood; and besides
that, I know who my father's friends were. I never forget those
I still live on as a housekeeper at the Hall. My master left me no
money, but he bade his heir keep me on in my old place. I am glad to
think that he did not choose to leave me money, but instead the
great picture of himself that hung in the Hall. It hangs in my room
now, and looks down on me as I write.
ONE WAY OF LOVE
YOU don't believe in coincidences, which is only another way of
saying that all things work together for good to them that love
God--or them that don't, for that matter, if they are honestly
trying to do what they think right. Now I do.
I had as good a time as most young fellows when I was young. My
father farmed a bit of land down Malling way, and I walked out with
the prettiest girl in our parts. Jenny was her name, Jenny Teesdale;
her people come from the North. Pretty as a pink Jenny was, and neat
in her ways, and would make me a good wife, every one said, even my
own mother; and when a man's mother owns that about a girl he may
know he's got hold of a treasure. Now Jenny--her name was Jane, but
we called her Jenny for short--she had a cousin Amelia, who was
apprenticed to the millinery and dress-making in Maidstone; the two
had been brought up together from little things, and they was that
fond of each other it was a pleasure to see them together. I was
fond of Amelia, too, like as a brother might be; and when Jenny and
me walked out of a Sunday, as often as not Amelia would come with
us, and all went on happy enough for a while. Then I began to notice
Jenny didn't seem to care so much about walking out, and one Sunday
afternoon she said she had a headache and would rather stay at home
by the fire; for it was early spring, and the days chilly. Amelia
and me took a turn by ourselves, and when we got back to Teesdale's
farm, there was Jenny, wonderfully brisked up, talking and laughing
away with young Wheeler, whose father keeps the post-office. I was
not best pleased, I can tell you, but I kept a still tongue in my
head; only, as time went on, I couldn't help seeing Jenny didn't
seem to be at all the same to me, and Amelia seemed sad, too.
I was in the hairdressing then, and serving my time, so it was only
on Sundays or an evening that I could get out. But at last I said to
myself, 'This can't go on; us three that used to be so jolly, we're
as flat as half a pint of four ale; and I'll know the reason why,'
says I, 'before I'm twenty-four hours older.' So I went to
Teesdale's with that clear fixed in my head.
Jenny was not in the house, but Amelia was. The old folks had gone
to a Magic Lantern in the schoolroom, and Amelia was alone in the
'I'll have it out with her,' thinks I; so as soon as we had passed
the time of day and asked after each other's relations, I says,
'Look here, Amelia, what is it that's making mischief between you
and me and Jenny, as used to be so jolly along of each other?'
She went red, and she went white and red again.
'Don't 'e ask me, Tom--don't 'e now, there's a good fellow.'
And, of course, I asked her all the more.
Then says she, 'Jenny'll never forgive me if I tell you.'
'Jenny shan't never know,' says I; and I swore it, too.
Then says Amelia, 'I can't abear to tell you, Tom, for I know it
will break your 'eart. But
Jenny, she don't care for you no more; it's Joe Wheeler as she
fancies now, and she's out with him this very minute, as here we
'I'll wring her neck for her,' says I. Then when I had taken time to
think a bit, 'I can't believe this, Amelia,' says I, 'not even from
you. I must ask Jenny.'
'But that's just what you've swore not to do,' says she. 'She'll
never forgive me if you do, Tom; and what need of asking when for
the trouble of walking the length of the road you can see them
together? But if I tell you where to find them, you swear you won't
speak or make a fuss, because she'd know I'd told you?'
'I swear I won't,' says I.
'Well, then,' says Amelia, 'I don't seem to be acting fair to her;
but, take it the other way, I can't abear to stand by and see you
deceived, Tom. If you go by the churchyard an hour from now, you'll
see them in the porch; but don't you say a word to them, and never
say I told you. Now, be off, Tom,' says she.
It was early summer by this time, and the evenings long. I don't
think any man need envy me what I felt as I walked about the lanes
waiting till it was time to walk up to the church and find out for
certain that I'd been made a fool of.
It was dusk when I opened the churchyard gate and walked up the
There she was, sure enough, in her Sunday muslin with the violet
sprig, and her black silk jacket with the bugles, and her arm was
round Joe Wheeler's neck--confound him!--and his arms were round her
waist, both of them. They didn't see me, and I stood for a minute
and looked at them, and but for what I'd swore to Amelia I believe I
should have taken Wheeler by the throat and shaken the life out of
him then and there. But I had swore, and I turned sharp and walked
away, and I never went up to Teesdale's nor to my father's farm, but
I went straight back to Pound's, the man I was bound to, and I wrote
a letter to Jenny and one to Amelia, and in Amelia's I only said--
'DEAR AMELIA,--Thank you very much; you were quite right.
And in the other I said--
Jenny, I've had pretty well enough of you; you can go to the devil
your own way. So no more at present from your sincere well-wisher
'P.S.--I'm going for a soldier.'
And I left everything: my master that I was bound to, and my trade
and my father. And I went straight off to London. And I should have
been a soldier right enough but that I fell in with a fireman, and
he persuaded me to go in for that business, which is just as
exciting as a soldier's, and a great deal more dangerous, most
times. And a fireman I was for six or eight years, but I never cared
to walk out with another girl when I thought of Jenny. I didn't tell
my folks where I'd gone, and for years I heard nothing from them.
And one night there was a fire in a street off the Borough--a high
house it was,--and I went up the ladder to a window where there was
a woman screaming, and directly I see her face I see it was Jenny.
I fetched her down the ladder right enough, and she clung round my
neck (she didn't know me from Adam), and said: 'Oh, go back and
fetch my husband.' And I knew it was Wheeler I'd got to go and find.
Then I went back and I looked for Wheeler.
There he was, lying on the bed, drunk.
Then the devil says to me, 'What call have you to go and find him,
the drunken swine? Leave him be, and you can marry Jenny, and let
bygones be bygones'; and I stood there half a minute, quite still,
with the smoke getting thick round me. Then, the next thing I knew,
there was a cracking under my feet and the boards giving way, and I
sprang across to Wheeler all in a minute, as anxious to save him as
if he'd been my own twin brother. There was no waking him, it was
lift him or leave him, and somehow or other I got him out; but that
minute I'd given to listening to Satan had very nearly chucked us
both to our death, and we only just come off by the skin of our
teeth. The crowd cheered like mad when I dragged him out.
I was burned awfully bad, and such good looks as I'd had burnt off
me, and I didn't know nothing plainly for many a long day.
And when I come to myself I was in a hospital, and there was a
sweet-faced charity sister sitting looking at me, and, by the Lord,
if it wasn't Amelia! And she fell on her knees beside me, and she
says, 'Tom, I must tell you.
Ever since I found religion I've known what a wicked girl I was. O
Tom, to see you lying there, so ill! O Tom, forgive me, or I shall
go mad, I know I shall!'
And, with that, she told me straight out, holding nothing back, that
what she'd said to me that night eight years ago was a lie, no
better; and that who I'd seen in the church porch with young Wheeler
was not Jenny at all, but Amelia herself, dressed in Jenny's things.
'Oh, forgive me, Tom!' says Amelia, the tears runnin' over her nun's
dress. 'Forgive me, Tom, for I can never forgive myself! I knew
Jenny didn't rightly care about you, Tom, and I loved you so dear.
And Wheeler wanted Jenny, and so I was tempted to play off that
trick on you; I thought you would come round to me after.'
I was weak still with my illness, but I put my hand on hers, and I
says, 'I do forgive you, Amelia, for, after all, you done it for
love of me. And are you a nun, my dear?' says I.
'No,' says she, 'I'm only on liking as it were; if I don't like them
or they don't like me, I can leave any minute.'
'Then leave, for God's sake,' says I, 'if you've got a bit of love
for me left. Let bygones be bygones, and marry me as soon as I come
out of this, for it's worth something to be loved as you've loved
me, Amelia, and I was always fond of you.'
'What?' says she. 'Me marry you, and be happy after all the harm
I've done? You run away from your articles and turned fireman, and
Jenny married to a drunken brute--no, Tom, no! I don't deserve to be
happy; but, if you forgive me, I shan't be as miserable as I was.'
'Well,' says I, 'if ever you think better of it let me know.'
And the curious thing is that, within two years, she did think
better of it--for why? That fire had sobered Wheeler more than
twenty thousand temperance tracts, and all the Sons of the Phoenix
and Bands of Hope rolled into one. He never touched a drop of drink
since that day, and Jenny's as happy as her kind ever is. I hear she
didn't fret over me more than a month, though perhaps that's only
what I deserved, writing to her as I did. And then Amelia she
said--'No such harm done then after all.' So she married me.
Now, you see, if I'd listened to Satan and hadn't pulled Wheeler
out, I shouldn't have got burned, and I shouldn't have got into the
hospital, and I shouldn't have found Amelia again, and then where
should I have been? Whereas now, we're farming the same bit of land
that my father farmed before us. And if this was a made-up story,
Amelia would have had to drowned herself or something, and I should
have gone a-weeping and a-wailing for Jenny all my born days; but as
it's true and really happened, Amelia and me have been punished
enough, I think; for eight years of unhappiness is only a few words
of print in a story-book, but when you've got to live them, every
day of them, eight years is eight years, as Amelia and I shall
remember till our dying day; and eight years unhappiness is enough
punishment for most of the wrong things a man can do, or a woman
either for that matter.
COALS OF FIRE
ALL my life I've lived on a barge. My father, he worked a barge from
London to Tonbridge, and 'twas on a barge I first see the light when
my mother's time come. I used to wish sometimes as I could 'ave
lived in a cottage with a few bits of flowers in the front, but I
think if I'd been put to it I should have chose the barge rather
than the finest cottage ever I see. When I come to be grown up and
took a husband of my own it was a bargeman I took, of course. He was
a good sort always, was my Tom, though not particular about Sundays
and churchgoings and such like, as my father always was. It used to
be a sorrow to me in my young married days to think as Tom was so
far from the Lord, and I used to pray that 'is eyes might be opened
and that 'e might be led to know the truth like me, which was vanity
on my part, for I've come to see since that like as not 'e was
nearer the Lord nor ever I was.
We worked the William and Mary, did Tom and me, and I used to think
no one could be 'appier than we was them first two years. Tom was as
kind as kind, and never said a hard word to me except when he was in
liquor; and as to liftin' his 'and to me, no, never in his life. But
after two years we got a little baby of our own, and then I knew as
I hadn't known what 'appiness was before. She was such a pretty
little thing, with yellow hair, soft and fluffy all over her head,
the colour of a new-hatched duck, and blue eyes and dear little
hands that I used to kiss a thousand times a day.
My mother had married beneath her, they said, for she'd been to
school and been in service in a good family, and she taught me to
read and write and cipher in the old days, when I was a little kid
along of 'er in the barge. So we named our little kid Mary to be
like our boat, and as soon as she was big enough, I taught 'er all
my mother had taught me, and when she was about eight year old my
Tom's great-uncle James, who was a tinsmith by trade, left us a bit
of money--over L 200 it were.
'Not a penny of it shall I spend,' says my Tom when he heard of it;
'we'll send our Mary to school with that, we will; and happen she'll
be a lady's-maid and get on in the world.'
So we put her to boarding-school in Maidstone, and it was like
tearing the heart out of my body. And she'd been away from us a
fortnight, and the barge was like hell without her, Tom said, and I
felt it too though I couldn't say it, being a Christian woman; and
one night we'd got the barge fast till morning in Stoneham Lock, and
we were a-settin' talking about her.
'Don't you fret, old woman,' says Tom, with the tears standin' in
his eyes, 'she's better off where she is, and she'll thank us for it
some day. She's 'appier where she is,' says 'e, 'nor she would be in
this dirty old barge along of us.'
And just as he said it, I says, ''Ark! what's that?' And we both
listened, and if it wasn't that precious child standing on the bank
callin' 'Daddy,' and she'd run all the way from Maidstone in 'er
little nightgown, and a waterproof over it.
P'raps if we'd been sensible parents, we should 'ave smacked 'er and
put 'er back next day; but as it was we hugged 'er, and we hugged
each other till we was all out o' breath, and then she set up on 'er
daddy's knee, and 'ad a bit o' cold pork and a glass of ale for 'er
supper along of us, and there was no more talk of sendin' 'er back
to school. But we put by the bit of money to set 'er up if she
should marry or want to go into business some day.
And she lived with us on the barge, and though I ses it there wasn't
a sweeter girl nor a better girl atwixt London and Tonbridge.
When she was risin' seventeen, I looked for the young men to be
comin' after 'er; and come after 'er they did, and more than one and
more than two, but there was only one as she ever give so much as a
kind look to, and that was Bill Jarvis, the blacksmith's son at
Farleigh. Whenever our barge was lyin' in the river of a Sunday, he
would walk down in 'is best in the afternoon to pass the time of day
with us, and presently it got to our Mary walking out with 'im
'Blest if it ain't going to be "William and Mary" after all,' says
my old man.
'He was pleased, I could see, for Bill Jarvis, he'd been put to his
father's trade, and 'e might look to come into his father's business
in good time, and barrin' a bit of poaching, which is neither here
nor there, in my opinion there wasn't a word to be said against 'im.
And so things went along, and they was all jolly except me, but I
had it tugging at my heart day and night, that the little gell as
'ad been my very own these seventeen years wouldn't be mine no
longer soon, and, God forgive me, I hated Bill Jarvis, and I
wouldn't 'ave been sorry if I'd 'eard as 'arm 'ad come to him.
The wedding was fixed for the Saturday; we was to 'ave a nice little
spread at the Rose and Crown, and the young folks was to go 'ome and
stay at old Jarvis's at Farleigh, and I was to lose my Pretty. And
on the Friday night, my old man, 'e went up to the Rose and Crown to
see about things and to get a drink along of 'is mates, and when 'e
come back I looked to see 'im a little bit on maybe, as was only
natural, the night before the weddin' and all. But 'e come back
early, and 'e come back sober, but with a face as white as my apron.
'Bess,' says 'e to me, 'where's the girl?'
'She's in 'er bunk asleep,' says I, 'lookin' as pretty as a picture.
She's been out with 'er sweet'eart,' says I. 'O Tom, this is the
last night she'll lay in that little bunk as she's laid in every
night of 'er life, except that wicked fortnight we sent 'er to
'Look 'ere,' says 'e, speaking in a whisper, 'I've 'eard summat up
at the Rose and Crown: Bank's broke, and all our money's gone. I see
it in the paper, so it must be true.'
'You don't mean it, Tom,' says I; 'it can't be true.'
''Tis true, though, by God,' says 'e, ''ere, don't take on so, old
girl,' for I'd begun to cry. 'More's been lost on market-days, as
they say: our little girl's well provided for, for old Jarvis, 'e's
a warm man.'
'She won't 'ave a day's peace all 'er life,' says I, 'goin'
empty-'anded into that 'ouse. I know old Mother Jarvis--a cat: we'd
best tell the child, p'raps she won't marry 'im if she knows she's
nothing to take to 'im,' and, God forgive me, my 'eart jumped up at
'No, best leave it be,' says my old man, 'they're fair sweet on each
And so the next morning we all went up to the church, me cryin' all
the way as if it was 'er buryin' we was a-goin' to and not 'er
marryin'. The parson was at the church and a lot of folks as knew
us, us 'avin' bin in those parts so long; but none of the
bridegroom's people was there, nor yet the bridegroom.
And we waited and we waited, my Pretty as pale as a snowdrop in her
white bonnet. And when it was a hour past the time, Tom, 'e ups and
says out loud in the church, for all the parson and me said ''Ush!'
'I'm goin' back 'ome,' says 'e; 'there won't be no weddin' to-day;
'e shan't 'ave 'er now,' says my old man, 'not if 'e comes to fetch
'er in a coach and six cram full of bank-notes,' says 'e.
And with that 'e catches 'old of Mary in one and and me in the
other, and turns to go out of church, and at the door, who should we
meet but old Mother Jarvis, 'er that I'd called a cat in my wicked
spite only the day before. The tears was runnin' down her fat
cheeks, and as soon as she saw my Pretty, she caught 'er in 'er arms
and 'ugged 'er like as if she'd been 'er own. 'God forgive 'im,'
says she, 'I never could, for all he's my own son. He's gone off for
a soldier, and 'e left a letter sayin' you wasn't to think any more
of 'im, for 'e wasn't a marryin' man.'
'It's that dam money,' says my goodman, forgettin' 'e was in church;
'that was all 'e wanted, but it ain't what he'll get,' says 'e. 'You
keep 'im out of my way, for it 'ull be the worse for 'im if 'e comes
within the reach of my fisties.'
And with that we went along 'ome, the three of us. And the sun kept
a-shinin' just as if there was nothin' wrong, and the skylarks
a-singin' up in the blue sky till I would a-liked to wring their
Back to Full Books