Part 3 out of 3
necks for them.
And we 'ad to go on up and down the river as usual, for it was our
livin', you see, and we couldn't get away from the place where
everybody knew the slight that had been put upon my Pretty. You'd
think p'raps that was as bad as might be, but it wasn't the worst.
We was beginnin' June then, and by the end of August I knew that
what my Pretty 'ad gone through at the church was nothin' to what
she'd got to go through. Her face got pale and thin, and she didn't
fancy 'er food.
I suppose I ought to 'ave bin angry with her, for we'd always kept
ourselves respectable; and I know if you spare the rod you spoil the
child, and I felt I ought to tell her I didn't 'old with such
wickedness; so one night when 'er father, 'e was up at the Rose and
Crown, and she, a-settin' on the bank with 'er elbows on 'er knees
and 'er chin in 'er 'ands, I says to 'er, 'You can't 'ide it no
longer, my girl: I know all about it, you wicked, bad girl, you.'
And then she turned and looked at me like a dog does when you 'it
it. 'O mother,' says she, 'O mother!' And with that I forgot
everything about bein' angry with 'er, and I 'ad 'er in my arms in a
minute, and we was 'oldin' each other as hard as hard.
'It was the night before the weddin',' says she, in a whisper. 'O
mother, I didn't think there was any harm in it, and us so nearly
man and wife.'
'My Pretty,' says I, for she was cryin' pitiful, 'don't 'e take on
so, don't: there'll be the little baby by-and-by, and us 'ull love
it as dear as if you'd been married in church twenty times over.'
'Ah, but father,' says she; 'he'll kill me when 'e knows.'
Well, I put 'er to bed and I made 'er a cup of strong tea, and I
kissed 'er and covered 'er up with my heart like lead, and nobody as
ain't a mother can know what a merry-go-round of misery I'd got in
my head that night. And when my old man come 'ome I told 'im, and
'Don't be 'ard on the girl, for God's sake,' says I, 'for she's our
own child and our only child, and it was the night before the
weddin' as should 'ave bin.'
''Ard on 'er?' says 'e, and I'd never 'eard 'is voice so soft, not
even when 'e was courtin' me, or when my Pretty was a little un, and
'e hushin' her to sleep. ''Ard on 'er? 'Ard on my precious lamb? It
ain't us men who is 'ard on them things, it's you wimmen-folk; the
day before 'er weddin', too!'
Then 'e was quiet for a bit--then 'e takes 'is shoes off so as not
to make a clatter on the steps near where she slept, and 'e comes
out in a minute with my Bible in 'is 'and.
'Now,' says 'e, very quiet, 'you needn't be afraid of my bein' 'ard
on 'er, but if ever I meet 'im, I'll 'ave 'is blood, if I swing for
it, and I'm goin' to swear it on this 'ere Bible--so help me God!'
He looked like a mad thing; his eyes was a-shinin' like lanterns,
and 'is face all pulled out of its proper shape; and 'e plumps down
on 'is knees there, on the deck, with the Bible in 'is 'ands. And
before I knew what I was doin', I'd caught the book out of 'is
'ands, and chucked it into the river, my own Bible, that my own
mother had given me when I was a little kid, and I threw my arms
round his neck, and held his head against my bosom, so that his
mouth was shut, and 'e couldn't speak.
'No, no, no, Tom,' says I, 'you mustn't swear it, and you shan't.
Think of the girl, think of your poor old woman, think of the poor
little kid that's comin', what ud us all do without you? And you
hanged for the sake of such trash as that! Why, 'e ain't worth it,'
says I, tryin' to laugh.
Then 'e got 'is 'ead out of my arms and stood lookin' about 'im,
like a man that's 'ad a bad dream and 'as just waked up. Then 'e
smacks me on the back, 'All right, old woman,' says 'e, 'we won't
swear nothin', but it'll be a bad day for him when 'e comes a-nigh
the William and Mary.'
So no more was said. And we got through the winter somehow, and the
baby was born, as fine a gell as ever you see; and what I said come
true, for we couldn't none of us 'ave loved the baby more if its
father and mother 'ad been married by an archbishop in Westminster
Abbey. And the folks we knew along the banks would have been kind to
my Pretty, but she wouldn't never show her face to any of them.
'I've got you, mother, and I've got father and the baby, and I don't
want no one else,' says she.
My Tom, he wasn't never the same man after that night 'e 'd got out
the Bible to swear. He give up the drink, but it didn't make 'im no
cheerfuller, and 'e went to church now and then, a thing I'd never
known 'im do since we was married. And time went on, and it was
August again, with a big yellow moon in the sky.
My Pretty and the baby was in bed, and the old man and me, we was
just a-turnin' in, when we 'eard some one a-runnin' along the
tow-path. My old man puts 'is 'ead out to see who's there, and as 'e
looked a man come runnin' along close by where we was moored, and 'e
jumped on to our barge, not stoppin' to look at the name, and, 'For
God's sake, hide me!' says 'e, and it was a soldier in a red coat
with a scared face, as I see by the light of the moon. And it was
Bill Jarvis what 'ad brought our girl to shame and run away and left
'er on 'er weddin' morn; and I looked to see my old man take 'im by
the shoulder and chuck 'im into the water. And Jarvis didn't see
whose barge he'd come aboard of.
'I've got in a row,' says 'e; 'I knocked a man down and he's dead.
Oh, for God's sake, hide me! I've run all the way from Chatham.'
Then my old man, he steps out on the deck, and Jarvis, 'e see who it
was, and--'O my God!' says 'e, and 'e almost fell back in the water
in 'is fright.
Then my old man, 'e took that soldier by the arm, and 'e open the
door of the little cabin where my Pretty and 'er baby were. Then 'e
slammed it to again. 'No, I can't,' says 'e, 'by God, I can't.' And
before the soldier could speak, he'd dragged him down our cabin
stairs, and shoved 'im into 'is own bunk and chucked the covers over
'im. Then 'e come up to where I was standin' in the moonlight.
'What ever you done that for?' says I. 'Why not 'a give 'im up to
serve 'im out for what 'e done to our Pretty?'
He looked at me stupid-like. 'I don't know why,' says 'e, 'but I
can't'; and we stood there in the quiet night, me a-holding on to
'is arm, for I was shivering, so I could hardly stand.
And presently half a dozen soldiers come by with a sergeant.
'Hullo!' cries the sergeant, 'see any redcoat go this way?'
'He's gone up over the bridge,' says Tom, not turnin' a 'air, 'im
that I'd never 'eard tell a lie in his life before,--'You'll catch
'im if you look slippy; what's 'e done?'
'Only murder and desertion,' says the sergeant, as cheerful as you
'Oh, is that all?' says my old man; 'good-night to you.'
'Good-night,' says the sergeant, and off they went.
They didn't come back our way. We was a-goin' down stream, and we
passed Chatham next mornin'.
Bill Jarvis, 'e lay close in the bunk, and my Pretty, she wouldn't
come out of 'er cabin; and at Chatham, my old man, 'e says, 'I'm
goin' ashore for a bit, old woman; you lay-to and wait for me.' And
Then I went in to my Pretty and I told her all about it, for she
knew nothin' but that Jarvis was aboard; and when I'd told 'er, she
said, 'I couldn't 'a' done it, no, not for a kingdom.'
'No more couldn't I,' ses I. 'Father's a better chap nor you and me,
Presently my old man come back from the town, and he goes down to
the bunk where Bill Jarvis is lying, and 'e says, 'Look 'ere, Bill,'
says 'e, 'you didn't kill your man last night, and after all, it was
in a fair rough-and-tumble. The man's doing well. You take my tip
and go back and give yourself up; they won't be 'ard on you.'
And Bill 'e looked at 'im all of a tremble. 'By God,' says 'e,
'you're a good man!'
'It's more than you are, then, you devil,' says Tom. 'Get along, out
of my sight,' says 'e, 'before I think better of it.'
And that soldier was off that barge before you could say 'knife,'
and we didn't see no more of 'im.
But we was up at Hamsted Lock the next summer. The baby was
beginnin' to toddle about now; we'd called her Bessie for me. She
and her mother was a-settin' in the meadow pickin' the daisies, when
I see a soldier a-comin' along the meadow-path, and if it wasn't
that Bill Jarvis again. He stopped short when he saw my Pretty.
'Well, Mary?' says 'e.
'Well, Bill?' says she.
'Is that my kid?' says 'e.
'Whose else's would it be?' says she, flashing up at him; 'ain't it
enough to deceive a girl, and desert her, without throwing mud in
her face on the top of it all? Whose else's should the child be but
'Go easy,' says Bill, 'I didn't mean that, my girl. Look 'ere, says
'e, 'I got out of that scrape, thanks to your father, and I want to
let bygones be bygones, and I'll marry you to-morrow, if you like,
and be a father to the kid.'
Then Mary, she stood up on her feet, with the little one in 'er
'Marry you!' says she, 'I wouldn't marry you if you was the only man
in the world. Me marry a man as could serve a girl as you served me?
Not if it was to save me from hanging? Me give the kid a father like
you? Thank God, the child's my own, and you can't touch it. I tell
you,' says she, 'shame and all, I'd rather have things as they are,
than have married you in church and 'ave found out afterwards what a
cowardly beast you are.'
And with that she walks past 'im, looking like a queen, and down
into her cabin; and 'e was left a-standin' there sucking the end of
his stick and looking like a fool.
'I think, perhaps,' says I afterwards, 'you ought to 'ave let 'im
make an honest woman of you.'
'I'm as honest as I want to be,' says she, 'and the child is all my
own now.' So no more was said.
And things went on the same old sleepy way, like they always do on
the river, and we forgot the shame almost, in the pleasure of having
the little thing about us. And so the time went on, till one day at
Maidstone a Sister of Charity with one of those white caps and a big
cross round her neck, come down to the water's side inquiring for
'That's me,' says my old man.
'There's a young man ill in hospital,' says she. 'He's dying, I'm
afraid, and he wants to see you before he goes. It's typhoid fever,
but that's over now; he's dying of weakness, they say.'
And when we asked the young man's name, of course it was Bill
Jarvis. So we left my Pretty in charge of the barge, and my old man
and me, we went up to the hospital.
Bill was so changed you wouldn't 'ardly 'ave known 'im. From being a
fleshy, red-cheeked young fellow, he'd come to be as thin as a
skeleton, and 'is eyes seemed to fill half 'is face.
'I want to marry Mary,' says 'e. 'I'm dying, I can't do her and the
kid no 'arm now, and I should die easier if she'd marry me here; the
chaplain would do it--he said so.'
My old man didn't say nothin', but says I, 'I would dearly like her
to be made an honest woman of.'
'It's me that wants to be made an honest man of,' says Bill. And
with that my old man, he took his hand and shook it. Then says Bill
with the tears runnin' down his cheeks,--partly from weakness, I
suppose, for 'e wasn't the crying sort--'So help me God, I never
knew what a beast I was till that day I come to you in your barge
and you showed me what a man was, Tom Allbutt; you did, so, and I've
been trying to be a man ever since, and I've given up the drink, and
I've lived steady, and I've never so much as looked at another girl
since that night. Oh, get her to be my wife,' says 'e, 'and let me
And I went and fetched 'er, and she came along with me with the
child in her arms; and the chaplain married them then and there. I
don't know how it was the banns didn't have to be put up, but it was
'And you'll stay with me till I die,' says 'e, 'won't you, Mary, you
and the kid?'
But he didn't die, he got better, and there isn't a couple happier
than him and Mary, for all they've gone through.
And the doctor says it was Mary saved his life, for it was after he
had had a little talk with her that he took a turn for the better.
'Mary,' says 'e, 'I've been a bad lot, and you was in the right when
you called me a coward and a beast; but your father showed me what a
man was, and I've tried to be a man. You was fond of me once, Mary;
you'll love me a little when I'm gone, and don't let the kid think
unkind of her daddy.'
'Love you when you're gone?' says she, cryin' all over 'er face, and
kissin' 'im as if it was for a wager; 'you ain't a-goin' to die,
you're goin' to live along of me and baby. Love you when you're
gone?' says she, 'why, I've loved you all the time!' she says.