A POOR MAN'S HOUSE
"We understand the artificial better than the natural. More soul, but less talent, is contained in the simple than in the complex."—NOVALIS.
London: John Lane The Bodley Head New York: John Lane Compy. MCMIX All rights reserved
Turnbull and Spears, Printers, Edinburgh
TO BOB AND TO EDWARD GARNETT
A few chapters, chosen from the completed work, have appeared in the Albany Review, the Daily News and Country Life. To the editors of those periodicals the author's acknowledgments are due.
The substance of "A Poor Man's House" was first recorded in a journal, kept for purposes of fiction, and in letters to one of the friends to whom the book is dedicated. Fiction, however, showed itself an inappropriate medium. I was unwilling to cut about the material, to modify the characters, in order to meet the exigencies of plot, form, and so on. I felt that the life and the people were so much better than anything I could invent. Besides which, I found myself in possession of conclusions, hot for expression, which could not be incorporated at all into fiction. "A Poor Man's House" consists then of the journal and letters, subjected to such slight re-arrangement as should enable me to draw the truest picture I could within the limits of one volume.
Primarily the book aims at presenting a picture of a typical poor man's house and life. Incidentally, certain conclusions are expressed which—needless to say—are very tentative and are founded not alone on this poor man's house. Of the book as a picture, it is not the author's place to speak. But its opinions, and the manner of arriving at them, do require some explanation; the right to hold such opinions some substantiation.
Educated people usually deal with the poor man's life deductively; they reason from the general to the particular; and, starting with a theory, religious, philanthropic, political, or what not, they seek, and too easily find, among the millions of poor, specimens—very frequently abnormal—to illustrate their theories. With anything but human beings, that is an excellent method. Human beings, unfortunately, have individualities. They do what, theoretically, they ought not to do, and leave undone those things they ought to do. They are even said to possess souls—untrustworthy things beyond the reach of sociologists. The inductive method—reasoning from the particular to the general—though it lead to a fine crop of errors, should at least help to counterbalance the psychological superficiality of the deductive method; to counterbalance, for example, the nonsense of those well-meaning persons who go routing about among the poor in search of evil, and suppose that they can chain it up with little laws. Chained dogs bite worst.
For myself, I can only claim—I only want to claim—that I have lived among poor people without preconceived notions or parti pris; neither as parson, philanthropist, politician, inspector, sociologist nor statistician; but simply because I found there a home and more beauty of life and more happiness than I had met with elsewhere. So far as is possible to a man of middle-class breeding, I have lived their life, have shared their interests, and have found among them some of my closest and wisest friends. Perhaps I may reasonably anticipate one type of criticism by adding that I have felt something of the pinch and hardship of the life, as well as enjoyed its picturesqueness. Since the book was first written, it has fallen to me, on an occasion of illness, to take over for some days all the housekeeping and cooking; and I have worked on the boats sometimes fifteen hours a day, not as an amateur, but for hard and—what is more to the point—badly-needed coin. It took the gilt off the gingerbread, but it didn't spoil the gingerbread!
Would it were possible to check by ever so little the class-conceit of those people who think that they can manage the poor man's life better than he can himself; who would take advantage of their education to play ducks and drakes with his personal affairs. For it is my firm belief that in the present phase of national evolution, and as regards the things that really matter, the educated man has more to learn of the poor man than to teach him. Even Nietzsche, the philosopher of aristocracy, went so far as to say that in the so-called cultured classes, the believers in 'modern ideas,' nothing is perhaps so repulsive as their lack of shame, the easy insolence of eye and hand with which they touch, taste, and finger everything; and it is possible that even yet there is more relative nobility of taste, and more tact for reverence among the people, among the lower classes of the people, especially among peasants, than among the newspaper-reading demi-monde of intellect, the cultured class.
A POOR MAN'S HOUSE
EGREMONT VILLAS, SEACOMBE, April.
The sea is merely grinding against the shingle. The Moondaisy lies above the sea-wall, in the gutter, with her bottom-boards out and a puddle of greenish water covering her garboard strake. Her hunchbacked Little Commodore is dead. The other two of her old crew, George Widger and Looby Smith are nowhere to be seen: they must be nearly grown up by now. The fishermen themselves appear less picturesque and salty than they used to do. It is slack time after a bad herring season. They are dispirited and lazy, and very likely hungry.
These old lodgings of mine, with their smug curtains, aspidestria plant, china vases and wobbly tables and chairs....
But I can hear the sea-gulls screaming, even here.
[Sidenote: GEORGE GONE TO SEA]
Yesterday morning I met young George Widger, now grown very lanky but still cat-like in his movements. He was parading the town with a couple of his mates, attired in a creased blue suit with a wonderful yellow scarf around his neck, instead of the faded guernsey and ragged sea-soaked trousers in which he used to come to sea. What was up? I asked his father, and Tony had a long rigmarole to tell me. George had got a sweetheart. Therefore George had begun to look about him for a sure livelihood. George was not satisfied with a fisherman's prospects. "Yu works and drives and slaves, and don't never get no forarder." So George had gone to the chief officer of coastguards without saying a word to his father and had been found fit. George had joined the Navy. He was going off to Plymouth that very day at dinner-time.
It is like a knight of romance being equipped by his lady for the wars. But what must be the difficulty to a young fisherman of earning his bread and cheese, when all he can do for his sweetheart is to leave her forthwith! There's a fine desperation in it.
Tony seemed rather proud. "They 'ouldn't think as I had a son old enough for the Navy, wude they, sir? I married George's mother, her that's dead, when I wer hardly olden'n he is. I should ha' joined the Navy meself if it hadn' been for the rheumatic fever what bent me like. I am. 'Tis a sure thing, you see—once yu'm in it an' behaves yourself—wi' a pension at the end o'it. But I'm so strong an' capable-like for fishing as them that's bolt upright, on'y I 'ouldn't ha' done for the Navy. Aye! the boy's right. Fishing ain't no job for a man nowadays; not like what it used to be. They'll make a man of him in the Navy."
In the evening, after dark, I saw Tony again. He was standing outside a brilliantly lighted grocer's shop, his cap awry as usual, and a reefer thrown over his guernsey. Something in the despondency of his attitude haled me across the road. "Well, Tony? George is there by now?"
"Iss ... I-I-I w-wonder what the boy's thinking o'it now...."
The man was crying his heart out. "I come'd hereto 'cause it don' seem 's if I can stay in house. Went in for some supper a while ago, but I cuden' eat nort. 'Tisn' 's if he'd ever been away from home before, yu know."
"Come along down to the Shore Road, Tony."
It seemed wrong, hardly decent, to let his grief spend itself in the lighted-up street. The Front was deserted and dark, for there was rain in the wind, and the sound of the surf had a quick savage chop in it. Away, over the sea, was a great misty blackness.
As we walked up and down, Tony talked between tears and anger—tears for himself and George, anger at the cussedness of things. He looked straight before him, to where the row of lamps divided the lesser from the greater darkness, the town noises from the chafing surf; it is the only time I have ever seen a fisherman walk along shore without a constant eye on the sea.
"He's taken and gone away jest as he was beginning to be o' some use wi' the boats, an' I thought he wer settling down. I didn' know what wer going on, not till he came an' told me he wer off. But 'tisn' that, though I bain't so strong as I was to du all the work be meself; 'tis what he's a-thinking now he've a-lef' home an' 'tis tu late to come back if he wants tu. He's ther, sure 'nuff, an' that's all about it."
In the presence of grief, we are all thrown back on the fine old platitudes we affect to despise. "You mustn't get down over it, Tony," I said. "That won't make it a bit the better. If he's steady—woman, wine and the rest—he'll get on right enough. He's got his wits about him; knows how to sail a boat and splice a rope. That's the sort they want in the Navy, I suppose. He'll make his way, never fear. Think how you'll trot him out when he comes home on leave. Why, they say a Devon man's proper place is the Navy."
"Iss, they du. I should ha' been there meself if it hadn' been for the rheumatics—jest about coming out on a pension now, or in the coastguards. I be in the Royal Naval Reserve, but I ain't smart enough, like, for the Navy. The boy...."
"He's as smart and strong as they make 'em."
"Aye! he's smart, or cude be, but he'll hae to mind what he's a-doin' there. They won't put up wi' no airs like he've a-give'd me. Yu've got to du what yu'm told, sharp, an' yu mustn't luke [look] what yu thinks, let 'lone say it, or else yu'll find yourself in chokey [cells] 'fore yu knows where yu are. 'Tis like walking on a six-inch plank, in the Navy, full o' rules an' regylations; an' he won't get fed like he was at home nuther, when us had it."
[Sidenote: GROG AS A SLEEPING DRAUGHT]
"Why don't you go to bed and sleep, Tony?"
"How can I sleep wi' me head full o' what the boy's thinking o'it all!"
More walking and he calmed down a little.
"Come and have some hot grog for a sleeping draught, Tony, and then go home to bed."
"Had us better tu?"
"Come along, man; then if you go straight to bed you'll sleep."
"I on'y wish I cude. The boy must be turned in by this time. 'Tis like as if I got a picture of him in my mind, where he is, an' he ain't happy—I knows."
When Tony went down the narrow roadway, homewards, he had had just the amount of grog to make him sleep: no more, no less. That father's grief—the boy gone to sea, the father left stranded ashore—it was bad to listen to. While going up town, I wondered with how much sorrow the Navy is recruited. We look on our sailors rather less fondly than on the expensive pieces of machinery we send them to sea in. I don't think I shall ever again be able to regard the Navy newspaper-fashion. It seems as if someone of mine belongs to it....
Lucky George! to be so much missed.
This morning, when I saw Tony on the Front, he was more than a little awkward; looked shyly at me, from under his peaked cap, as if to read in my face what I thought of him. He had slept after all, and spoke of the hot grog as a powerful, strange invention, new to him as a sleeping draught. When, in talking, I said that I have only a back bedroom and a fripperied sitting room, and that my old lodgings do not please me as they used to, he clapped me on the shoulder with a jollity intended, I think, to put last night out of my mind. "What a pity yu hadn't let we know yu cuden't find lodgings to your liking. Us got a little room in house where they sends people sometimes from the Alexandra Hotel when they'm full up. My missis 'ould du anything to make 'ee comfor'able. Yu an't never see'd her, have 'ee? Nice little wife, I got. Yu let us know when yu be coming thees way again; that is, if yu don' mind coming wi' the likes o' us. We won't disturb 'ee."
[Sidenote: A NOISY PLACE]
Good fellow! It was his thanks. However I shall be going home to-morrow. Tony Widger lives, I believe, somewhere down the Gut, in Under Town, a place they call the Seacombe slum. You can see a horde of children pouring in and out of the Gut all day long, and in the evening the wives stand at the seaward end of it, to gossip and await their husbands. Noisy place....
A card from Tony Widger:
Dear Sir in reply to your letter I have let to the hotel which is full for the 28th july until the 6th Aus, but I have one little room to the back but you did not say about the time it would take you to walk down also John to Saltmeadow have let so you can have that room if you can manage or you can see when you come down their are a lot of People in Seacombe or you write and let me know and I will see if I can get rooms for you if you tell me about the time you will be hear from yours Truly Anthony Widger.
Risky; but never mind. There is always the sea. It is something to have the certainty of a bed at the end of a long day's tramp. Besides, I want to see Tony, and George too, if by chance he is at home. And there may be a little fishing. And—
And stepping westward seems to be A kind of heavenly destiny.
That's the real feeling at the back of my mind. I want to go west, towards the sunset; over Dartmoor, towards Land's End, where the departing ships go down into the sea.
After a hundred miles of dusty road, it is good to snuff the delicately salted air. The bight of the Exe, where we crossed it by steam launch, was only a make-believe for the sea. How wonderfully the slight rippling murmur of a calm sea flows into, and takes possession of one's mind.
I stood by the shore and watched the boats, and was very peaceful. Then I went down the Gut to the house that I guessed was Anthony Widger's. Many children watched me with their eyes opened wide at my knapsack. A pleasant looking old woman—short, stout, charwoman-shaped—came out of the passage just as I raised my hand to knock the open door. "Are you Mrs Widger?" said I.
"Lor' bless 'ee! I ben't Mrs Widger. Here, Annie! Here's a gen'leman to see 'ee."
Mrs Widger, the afternoon Mrs Widger, is a quite slim woman who—strangely enough for a working man's wife—looks a good deal younger than she is. She has rather beautiful light brown hair and dresses tastefully. I am afraid she will not feel complimented if the old woman tells her of my mistake.
Her manner of receiving me indicated plainly a suspended judgment, inclined perhaps towards the favourable. I was shown my room, a little long back room, with ragged wall-paper, and almost filled up by a huge, very flat, squashy bed. After a wash-over (I did not ask for a bath for fear of exposing the lack of one) I went down to tea.
Bread, jam and cream were put before me, together with fairly good hot tea from a blue, smoky, enamelled tin teapot which holds any quantity up to a couple of quarts. Mrs Widger turned two guernseys, a hat, several odd socks, and a boot out of a great chintz-covered chair which lacked one of its arms. To my made conversation she replied shortly:
"Dear me!" "My!" "Did you ever...." She was taking stock of me.
Presently she went to a cupboard, which is also the coal-hole, and brought out an immense frying-pan, black both inside and out. She heated it till the fat ran; wiped out it with a newspaper; then placed in it three split mackerel. "For Tony's tea," she explained. "He's to sea now with two gen'lemen, but I 'spect he'll be in house sune."
Voices from the passage: "Mam! Tay! Mam, I wants my tay!"
A deeper voice: "Missis, wer's my tay? Got ort nice to eat?"
It was Tony himself, accompanied by a small boy and a slightly larger small girl.
"Hullo, sir! Yu'm come then. Do 'ee think you can put up wi' our little shanty? Missis ought to ha' laid for 'ee in the front room. Us got a little parlour, you know.—I be so wet as a drownded corpse, Missis!"
The two children stood on the other side of the table, staring at me as if I were a wild beast behind bars which they scarcely trusted. "'Tis a gen'leman!" exclaimed the girl.
"Coo'h!" the boy ejaculated.
Tony turned on them with make-believe anger: "Why don' 'ee git yer tay? Don' 'ee know 'tis rude to stare?"
"Now then, you children," Mrs Widger continued in a strident voice, buttering two hunks of bread with astonishing rapidity. "Take off thic hat, Mabel. Sit down, Jimmy."
"Coo'h! Jam!" said Jimmy. "Jam zide plaate, like the gen'leman, please, Mam Widger."
"When you've eat that."
I never saw children munch so fast.
Tony took off his boots and stockings, and wrung out the ends of his trousers upon the hearth-rug. He pattered to the oven; opened the door; sniffed.
"Her's got summat for my tay, I can see. What is it, Missis? Fetch it out——quick, sharp! Mackerel! Won' 'ee hae one, sir? Ther's plenty here."
Whilst Mrs Widger was helping him to the rest of his food, he ate the mackerel with his fingers. Finally, he soaked up the vinegar with bread, licked his finger-tips and turned towards me. "Yu'm in the courting chair, sir. That's where me an' Missis used to sit when we was courting, en' it, Annie? Du 'ee see how we've a-broke the arm? When yu gets a young lady, us'll lend 'ee thic chair. Didn' know as I'd got a little wife like thees yer, did 'ee? Ay, Annie!"
He turned round and chucked her under the chin.
"G'out, you dirty cat!" cried Mrs Widger, flinging herself back in the chair—yet not displeased.
It was a pretty playful sight, although Mrs Widger's voice is rather like a newspaper boy's when she raises it.
This morning, when I arrived downstairs, the kitchen was all of a caddle. Children were bolting their breakfast, seated and afoot; were washing themselves and being washed; were getting ready and being got ready for school. Mrs Widger looked up from stitching the seat of a small boy's breeches in situ. "I've a-laid your breakfast in the front room."
Thither I went with a book and no uncertain feeling of disappointment.
[Sidenote: BREAKFAST IN THE PARLOUR]
The front room looks out upon Alexandra Square. It is, at once, parlour, lumber room, sail and rope store, portrait gallery of relatives and ships, and larder. It is a veritable museum of the household treasures not in constant use, and represents pretty accurately, I imagine, the extent to which Mrs Widger's house-pride is able to indulge itself. But I have had enough at Salisbury of eating my meals among best furniture and in the (printed) company of great minds. The noise in the kitchen sounded jolly. Now or never, I thought. So after breakfast, I returned to the kitchen and asked for what bad behaviour I was banished to the front room.
"Lor'! If yu don't mind this. On'y 'tis all up an' down here...."
I went yesterday to see my old landlady at Egremont Villas. She asked me where I was lodging.
"At Tony Widger's, in Alexandra Square."
"Why, that's in Under Town."
"Yes, in Under Town."
"Oh, law! I can't think how you can live in such a horrid place!"
On my assuring her that it was not so very horrid, she rearranged her silken skirts on the chair (a chair too ornamentally slight for her weight) and tilted up her nose. "I must get and lay the table," she said, "for a lady and gentleman that's staying with me. Very nice people."
[Sidenote: ALEXANDRA SQUARE]
Under Town has, in fact, an indifferent reputation among the elect. Not that it is badly behaved; far from it. The shallow-pated resent its not having drawn into line with their cheap notions of progress. If Under Town had put plate-glass windows into antique buildings.... Visitors to Seacombe, not being told, hardly so much as suspect the existence of its huddled old houses and thatched cottages. The shingle-paved Gut runs down unevenly from the Shore Road between a row of tall lodging houses and the Alexandra Hotel, then opens out suddenly into a little square which contains an incredible number of recesses and sub-corners, so to speak, with many more doors in them than one can discover houses belonging to the doors. Two cottages, I am told, have no ground floors at all. Cats sun themselves on walls or squat about gnawing fish bones. A houdan cockerel with bedraggled speckly plumage and a ragged crest hanging over one eye struts from doorstep to doorstep. The children, when any one strange walks through the Square, run like rabbits in a warren to their respective doors; stand there, and stare. Tony Widger's house is the largest. Once, when Under Town was Seacombe, a lawyer lived here—hence the front passage. It has a cat-trodden front garden, in which only wall-flowers and some box edging have survived. Over the front door is a broken trellis-work porch. Masts and spars lean against the wall. The house is built of red brick, straight up and down like an overgrown doll's house, but the whole of the wall is weathered and toned by the southerly gales which blow down the Gut from the open sea. Those same winds see to it that Alexandra Square does not smell squalid, however it may look. At its worst it is not so depressing as a row of discreet semi-detached villas. It is, I should imagine, a pretty accurate mirror of the lives that are lived in it—poor men's lives that scarcely anybody fathoms. If one looks for a moment at a house where people have starved, or are starving.... What a gift of hope they must possess—and what a sinking in their poor insides!
This morning they told me how my little hunchbacked Commodore died. He had been ailing, they said; had come to look paler and more pinched in his small sharp face. Then (it was a fisherman who told me this): "He was in to house one morning, an' I thought as 'e were sleepin', an' I said, 'Harry, will 'ee hae a cup o' tay; yu been sleeping an't 'ee?' An' 'e says, 'No, I an't; but I been sort o' dreaming.' An' 'e said as he'd see'd a green valley wi' a stream o' water, like, running down the middle o' it, an' 'e thought as 'e see'd Granfer there (that us losted jest before 'en) walking by the stream. A'terwards 'e sat on 's mother's lap, like 's if 'e wer a child again, though 'e wer nearly nineteen all but in size; an' 'e jest took an' died there, suddent an' quiet like; went away wi'out a word; an' us buried 'en last January up to the cementry on land."
So the Moondaisy's luckiest fisherman packed up and went.
It is astonishing how hungry and merry these children are, especially the boys. They rush into the kitchen at meal times and immediately make grabs at whatever they most fancy on the table.
[Sidenote: MAN AND GEN'LEMAN]
"Yu little cat!" says their mother, always as if she had never witnessed such behaviour before. "Yu daring rascal! Put down! I'll gie thee such a one in a minute. Go an' sit down to once." Then they climb into chairs, wave their grubby hands over the plates, in a pretence of grabbing something more, and spite of the whacks which sometimes fall, they gobble their food to the accompaniment of incessant tricks and roars of shrill laughter. Never were such disorderly, hilarious meals! If Tony is here they simply laugh at his threats of weird punishment, and if he comes in late from sea, they return again with him and make a second meal as big as the first. Sometimes, unless the food is cleared away quickly, they will clamour for a third meal, and clamour successfully. What digestions they must have to gobble so much and so fast!
To judge by their way of talking, they divide the world into folk and gentlefolk. "Who gie'd thee thic ha'penny?" Mrs Widger asked Jimmy.
"A man, to beach."
"G'out!" said Mabel. "Twas a gen'leman."
"Well, that ain't a man!"
Usually, at breakfast time, the voices of Tony's small nieces may be heard coming down the passage: "Aun-tieAnn-ie! Aunt-ieAnn-ie!" Their tousled, tow-coloured little heads peep round the doorway. If we have not yet finished eating, they are promptly ordered to 'get 'long home to mother.' Otherwise, they come right in and remain standing in the middle of the room, apparently to view me. Unable to remember which is Dora and which Dolly, I have nicknamed them according to their hair, Straighty and Curley. What they think of things, there is no knowing; for they blush at direct questions and turn their heads away. So also, when I have been going in and out of the Square, they have stopped their play to gaze at me, but have merely smiled shyly, if at all, in answer to my greetings. Yesterday, however, they had a skipping rope. I jumped over it. Instantly there was a chorus of laughter and chatter. The ice was broken. This morning, after a moment or two's consideration behind her veil of unbrushed hair, Straighty came and clambered upon the arm of the courting chair—dabbed a clammy little hand down my neck, whilst Curley plumped her fist on my knee and stayed looking into my face with very wondering smiling blue eyes. By the simple act of jumping a rope, I had gained their confidence; had proved I was really a fellow creature, I suppose. Now, when I pass through the Square, some small boy is sure to call out, "Where yu going?" And my name is brandished about among the children as if I were a pet animal. They have appropriated me. They have tamed that mysterious wild beast, 'the gen'leman.'
One boy, Jimmy—a very fair-headed, blue-eyed, chubby little chap, seven years old—Tony's eldest boy at home—seems to have taken a particular fancy to me. Whether it began with bananas, or with my giving him a pick-a-back to the top of the cliffs, I hardly know. At all events he has decided that I am a desirable friend. He has shown me his small properties—his pencil, and his boats that he makes out of a piece of wood with wing-feathers for sails and a piece of tin, stuck into the bottom, for centre-keel;—has told me what standard he is in at school; and one of the first things I hear whenever he comes into the house, is: "Mam! Wher's Mister Ronals?"
[Sidenote: JIMMY OUT TO TEA]
To-day, on my way to the Tuckers' to tea, I passed Jimmy's school. The boys were just let loose. Jimmy left a yelling group of them to come along with me. Nearby the Tuckers' gate, I told him where I was going, and said Good-bye. Jimmy fell behind. But whilst we were at tea, I repeatedly saw a white head sneaking round the laurels outside the window, and blue eyes peeping. Miss Tucker had him in; whereupon, rather shyly, with hands horribly grubby from the school slates, Jimmy ate much bread and butter and many cakelets, and ended up by tucking three apples into his blouse. He came home very pleased indeed with himself.
Tony was almost angry. "However come'd 'ee, Missis, to let 'em go out to a gen'leman's to tay in thic mess?"
"Stupid! How cude I help o'it?"
"What did 'ee think o'it, Jimmy?"
"The lady gie'd I dree apples!"
Tony, though shocked, was also pleased; Jimmy delighted. Every now and then he draws himself up with a "Coo'h! I been out to tay wi' Mister Ronals!"
They have a strange way, these children, of placing their hands on one, smiling up into one's face, and saying nothing. It has the effect of making one feel their separate, distinct personalities, and, additionally, of making one feel rather proud of the approbation of those small personages who think so much and divulge so little.
There has been no fishing. Either the sea has been too rough to ride to a slingstone for blinn and conger, or else too calm, so that the mackerel hookers could not sail out and therefore no fresh bait was to be had. It is quite useless to fish for conger with stale bait. Tony tells me that I ought to be here in a month's time, when he will have fewer pleasure parties to attend to, and will go out for mackerel, rowing if he cannot sail. He says there will have to be a good September hooking season, because, though the summer has been fair, the fisherfolk have not succeeded in putting by enough money to last out the winter, should the herrings fail to come into the bay, as they have failed the last few years. I should like to work at the mackerel hooking with him. Indeed, although I am looking forward to a glorious tramp across Dartmoor, yet I am more than half sorry that I have a room bespoken at Prince Town for the day after to-morrow.
 A heavy stone used instead of an anchor over rocks, among which an anchor might get stuck and lost.
 After the end of July, the mackerel are mostly caught not in nets, but by trailing a line behind a sailing boat.
[Sidenote: AN INOPPORTUNE REMARK]
Putting aside one or two things that are unpleasant—a few disagreeables resolutely faced—it is wonderful how rapidly one feels at home here. The welcome, the goodfellowship, is so satisfying. This morning, the visitor from the hotel, who has Mrs Widger's front room, so far presumed on the fact that we were educated men among uneducated—both gen'lemen, Tony would say—as to remark flippantly though not ungenially, "The Widgers are not bad sorts, are they? I say, what a mouth Mrs Widger's got!"
Mrs Widger has a noticeably wide mouth; I know that perfectly well; but I can hardly say how indignant I felt at his light remark; how insulted; as if he had spoken slightingly of someone belonging to me.
PRINCE TOWN, August.
When I took leave of the Widgers, there was the question of payment for my board and lodging. We were just finishing breakfast; the children had been driven out, Mrs Widger was resting awhile, and the table, the whole kitchen, was in extreme disorder.
I asked Mrs Widger what I owed, and, as I had expected, she replied only: "What you'm minded to pay."
"Three and six a day," I suggested.
"Not so much as that," said Mrs Widger. "'Tisn't like as if us could du for 'ee like a proper lodging house."
"Don' 'ee think, Missis," said Tony, "as we might ask 'en jest to make hisself welcome."
It was out of the question, of course. The mackerel season has been so bad. Mrs Widger shot at Tony a look he failed to see. Otherwise, she did not let herself appear to have heard him.
The discussion hung.
"Say three shillings, then," I suggested again.
"That 'll du," returned Mrs Widger, allowing nothing of the last few minutes' brain-work to show itself in her voice.
[Sidenote: HOTEL LIFE]
Mrs Widger knows what it is to have to keep house and feed several hungry children on earnings which vary from fairly large sums (sums whose very largeness calls for immediate spending) to nothing at all for weeks together.
As I was setting out, Jimmy said to his mother: "Don' 'ee let Mister Ronals go, Mam 'Idger." He followed me to the end of the Gut; would have come farther had I not sent him back. That, and Tony's desire to make me welcome, brightened the bright South Devon sunshine. I kept within sight of the sea as long as possible. The little sailing boats on it looked so nimble. I have a leaning to go back, a sort of hunger....
[Sidenote: DAWDLING v. WALKING]
I don't think I can remain here. To-morrow I shall move on, and tramp around the county back to Seacombe. The Moor is as splendid as ever, but this hotel life, following so soon on the life of Under Town.... Though the good, well-cooked food, neither so greasy nor so starchy as Mrs Widger's, is an agreeable change, I sit at the table d'hote and rage within. I am compelled to hear a conversation that irritates me almost beyond amusement at it. These people here are on holiday. Most of them, by their talk, were never on anything else. They chirp in lively or bored fashion, as the case may be, of the things that don't matter, of the ornamentations, the superfluities and the relaxations of life. At Tony Widger's they discuss—and much more merrily—the things that do matter; the means of life itself. Here, they say: "Is the table d'hote as good as it might be? Is the society what it might be? Is it not a pity that there is no char-a-banc or a motor service to Cranmere Pool and Yes Tor?" There, the equivalent question is: "Shall us hae money to go through the winter? Shall us hae bread and scrape to eat?" Here, a man wonders if in the strong moorland air some slight non-incapacitating ailment will leave him: illness is inconvenient and disappointing, but not ruinous. There, Tony wonders if the exposure and continual boat-hauling are not taking too much out of him; if he is not ageing before his time; if he will not be past earning before the younger children are off his hands. Here, they laugh at trifles, keeping what is serious behind a veil of conventional manners, lest, appearing in broad daylight, it should damp their spirits. There, they laugh too, and at countless trifles; but also courageously, in the face of fate itself. By daring Nemesis, they partially disarm her. With a laugh and a jest—no matter if it be a raucous laugh and a coarse jest—they assert: "What will be, will be; us can't but du our best, for 'tis the way o'it." Here, they skate over a Dead Sea upon the ice of convention; but there, they swim in the salted waters, swallow great gulps, and nevertheless strike out manfully, knowing no more than anyone else exactly where the shore lies, yet possessing, I think, an instinct of direction. Here, comfort is at stake: there, existence. Coming here is like passing from a birth and death chamber into a theatre, where, if the actors have lives of their own, apart from mummery, it is their business not to show them. It is like watching a game from the grand stand, instead of playing it; betting on a race instead of running it. The transition hither is hard to make. Retired athletes, we know, suffer from fatty degeneration of the heart; retired men of affairs decay. I have walked lately at five miles an hour with the Widgers, and I do not relish dawdling at the rate of two with these people here. Better risk hell for heaven than lounge about paradise for ever.
UNDER TOWN, SEACOMBE, September.
A fine tramp from Totnes—and such a welcome back! Jimmy met me three-quarters of a mile up the road, very much farther than he usually strays from the beach. "I thought as yu was coming this way 'bout now, Mister Ronals. Dad's been out hooking an' catched five dozen mackerel before breakfast. Mam's sick. I be coming out wiv yu t'morrow morning. Dad couldn't go out after breakfast, 'cause it come'd on to blow. I've 'schanged my pencil, what yu give'd me, for a knife wi' two blades." So anxious was he to take me in house that he scarcely allowed me time to go down to the Front and look at the sea and at the boats lying among a litter of nets and gear the length of the sunny beach.
Mrs Widger hastened to bring out the familiar big enamelled teapot, flung the cloth over the table and began to cut bread and butter. "Coo'h! tay!" exclaimed Jimmy. "That's early, 'cause yu be come, Mister Ronals."
"Be yu glad Mr Ronals 's come back?" his mother asked.
[Sidenote: THE CHILDREN]
"What for?" I asked jocularly.
"'Cause yu gives us bananas—an' pennies sometimes."
"'Sthat all yu'm glad for?" said Mrs Widger. "Pennies an' bananas?"
"No vear!" said Jimmy; and he meant it.
All the while, Tommy (Jimmy's younger brother, about five years old) was sitting up to table, looking at the jam-jar with one eye and at me with the other. He squints most comically, and is a more self-contained young person than Jimmy. Four of the children are at home; Bessie, Mabel, Jimmy and Tommy; George and the eldest girl are away. Bessie and Mabel, too, are out the greater part of the day, either at school, or else helping their aunts, or minding babies (poor little devils!), or running errands for the many relatives who live hereabout. Both of them are more featureless, show less of the family likeness, than the boys. One cannot so easily forecast their grown-up appearance. At times, during the day, they come in house with a rush, but say little, except to blurt out some (usually inaccurate) piece of news, or to tell their step-mother that: "Thic Jimmy's out to baych—I see'd 'en—playin' wi' some boys, an' he's got his boots an' stockings so wet as...."
"Jest let 'en show his face in here! He shan't hae no tea! He shall go straight to bed!" shouts Mrs Widger, confident that hunger will eventually drive Jimmy into her clutches.
The two girls, in fact, do not seem to enter so fully as the boys into the life of the household, though they are always very ready to take up the responsibility of keeping the boys in order.
"Jimmy! Tommy—there! Mother, look at thic Jimmy! Mother, Tommy's fingering they caakes!"
"I'll gie thee such a one in a minute! Let 'lone.... Ther thee a't, Mabel, doin' jest the same, 's if a gert maid like yu didn't ought to know better."
"Did 'ee ever hear the like o'it?" asks Tony. "Such a buzz! Shut up, will 'ee, or I'll gie thee summut to buzz for! Wher's thic stick?"
The children merely laugh at him.
[Sidenote: TONY'S WEDDING]
At supper to-night, Tony was talking about his second wedding and about his children, who, dead and alive, number twelve. "Iss, 'tis a round dozen, though I'd never ha' thought it," he said reckoning them up on his fingers. "Ther be six living an' four up to the cementry, an' two missing, like, what nobody didn' know nort about, did they, Annie? Janie—that's my first wife, afore this one,—her losted three boys when they was two year an' ten months old, an' one year an' seven months, an' nine months old. An' her died herself when Mabel here was six months old, didn' 'er, Annie? An' yu've a-losted Rosie, an' the ones what never appeared in public. Our last baby, after Tommy, wer two boys, twinses. One wer like George an' one like Tommy most; one wer my child an' t'other wer yours, Annie. Six on 'em dead! Aye, Tony've a see'd some trouble, I can tell 'ee, an' he ain't so old as what some on 'em be for their age, now, thru it all. But it du make a man's head turn like."
Mrs Widger's gaze at him while he talked about the dead children was wonderful to see—wide-eyed, soft, unflinching—wifely and motherly at once.
"John," Tony continued, speaking of his youngest brother who has only two children, "John du say as a man what's got seven or eight childern be better off than a man what's got on'y two, like he, 'cause he don't spend so much on 'em. 'Tis rot, I say! Certainly, he du spend so much on each o' his as us du on two o' ours p'raps; but I reckon a hundred pounds has to be wrenched an' hauled out o' these yer ol' rheumaticy arms o' mine for each child as us rears up."
"Yes—'t has—gude that," said Mrs Widger.
"'Tisn' that I don' du it willingly. I be willing enough. But it du maake a man du more'n he'd hae to du otherwise, an' it wears 'en out afore his time. Tony's an ol' man now, almost, after the rate, though he bain't but forty or thereabout, an' s'pose us has six or a dozen more come along, Annie...."
"Gude Lord! 'Twon't be so bad as that, for sure. An' if 'tis, can't be helped. Us must make shift wi' 'em."
Then they went on to talk about their wedding. Best remembered, apparently, are the hot wedding breakfast (an innovation then in these parts), the Honiton lace that Mrs Widger's mother made her, and the late arrival home from the village where they were married—a trick which procured them quietness, whilst depriving the people in the Square of an excitement they had stayed up half the night to witness. "When us come'd home, 'twas all so dark and quiet as a dead plaace, an' the chil'ern asleep upstairs, an' all," said Tony.
"Yes, 'twer," Mrs Widger broke in, her eyes brightening at the recollection of the successful trick. "But 'twer queer, like, wi' the childern asleep upstairs what wer to be mine, an' wasn't. I did wonder to meself what I wer starting on. Howsbe-ever I wer fair maazed all thic day. I wasn' ready when Tony drove out to where us lived, not I."
"No-o-o! Her had her sleeves tucked up like 's if her 'adn't finished her housework. Her wern't dressed nor nothin' to ree-ceive me."
"I didn' know what I wer doing all thic day."
"An' the parson, I had to pay for he, an' he give'd the money back to she 'cause her wer a nice li'I thing—bit skinny though. 'Twer a maazed muddle like. I ought to ha' had thic money be rights."
"G'out! But I did the ol' parson up here. Us didn' hae no banns put up to Seacombe. I told the clergyman to our home that Tony'd been livin' there dree days, or dree weeks, or whatever 'twas, an' he didn' know no better. 'Twon't be the first lie I've told, says I to meself n'eet [nor yet] the last. I saved thee thic money, Tony."
"Ah, yu'm a saving dear, ben' 'ee. Spends all my money."
"Well for yu! I should like to know what yu'd do wi' it if yu hadn't had me to lay it out for 'ee."
Tony did not wish to question that. The recollection of the wedding had put him in high spirits. He got up from his second supper (so long as food remains on the table he takes successive meals with intervals for conversation between them), and pirouetted round the table singing,
"Sweet Ev-eli-na, sweet Ev-eli-na! My lo-ove for yu-u Shall nev-ver, never die...."
He dragged Mrs Widger out of her chair, whisked her across the room. "There!" he said, setting her down flop. "'En't her a perty li'I dear!"
Once again, after another little supper, he got up and held Mrs Widger firmly by the chin, she kicking out at his shins the while. "Did 'ee ever see the like o'it? Eh? Fancy ol' Tony marryin' thic! Wouldn' 'ee like a kiss o'it? I du dearly. Don' I, Missis?"
"G'out!" says Mrs Widger, speaking furiously, but smiling affectionately. "G'out, you fule! Yu'm mazed!"
Tony returned to his third supper quite seriously, only remarking: "I daresay yu thinks Tony a funny ol' fule, don' 'ee?"
[Sidenote: BIRTH IN THE SQUARE]
That, I did not. Indeed, I begin to think them peculiarly wise. There is the spontaneity of animals about their play, and a good deal of the unembarassed movements of animals—with something very human superadded. One reads often enough about the love-light in the eyes of lovers, and sometimes one catches sight of it. Either frank ridicule, or else great reverence, is the mood for witnessing so delicate and strong, so racial a thing. Yet this love-light, seen in the eyes of a man and wife who have been married ten years, and have settled down long ago to the humdrum of married life, seems to me a far finer manifestation of the hither mysteries, a far greater triumph. What freshness, what perpetual rejuvenation they must possess! The more one regards such a thing, the more magnificent and far-reaching it appears. No philosophical bulwark against trouble can compare with it. Such love ceases to be a matter for novels and selected moments and certain lusty ages; ceases to be exceptional. It is the greatest of those very great things, the commonplaces. Tony tells me that when he comes in at night, cold from fishing, Mrs Widger always turns over to the other side of the bed, leaving him a warm place to creep into. Mrs Widger says that no matter what time Tony comes in or gets up, he never fails to make, and take her up, a cup o' tay. So does their love direct the prosaic details of living in one house together. I do not think I am wrong in fancying that it percolates right down through the household, and even contributes to the restfulness I feel here, spite of unorderly children and the strident voices. "Yu dang'd ol' fule!" can mean so much. Here it appears to be an expression of almost limitless confidence.
Mrs Widger has put me this time into the front bedroom, which overlooks the Square and has, through the Gut, a narrow view of the sea.
Tony's sister, who lives almost next door, is giving birth to a child this evening. I can see the light in her window—a brighter light than usual,—and the shadows passing across the yellow blind. Many other eyes are turned towards the window. There is a subdued chatter in the Square.
Little did I foresee what sleeping in the front bedroom means. Tony's sister gave birth to a boy about ten o'clock. On hearing that everything was as it should be, I went to bed, but, alack! not to sleep. For the subdued chatter grew into an uproar which continued till fully midnight. All the women in the neighbourhood seemed to have come this way; and they meg-megged, and they laughed, and when their children awoke they shouted up at the windows from outside. I heard snatches of childbearing adventures, astonishing yarns, interspersed with hard commonsense, not to say cynicism—the cynicism of people who cannot afford to embroider much the bare facts of existence or to turn their attention far from the necessities of life. "Her'll be weak," one woman said, "an' for a long time—never so strong as her was before. 'Tis always worse after each one you has, 'cepting the first, which is worst of all, I say. But there, her must take it as it comes...."
Sundry other bits of good practical philosophy I perforce listened to; and at last, when everybody had turned in (I imagined their pleasant lightheadedness as they snuggled under the bedclothes in the stuffy cottage rooms—the witticisms and echoes of laughter that were running through their heads); when, I say, everybody had turned in, an offended dog in the hotel yard began to howl.
If it were not that the window of the back bedroom is over the scullery, the ash-heap and the main drain, I would ask to move back there.
In Under Town a birth makes the stir that is due to such a stupendous event.
[Sidenote: THE KITCHEN]
The Widger's kitchen is an extraordinary room—fit shrine for that household symbol, the big enamelled tin teapot. At the NW. corner is the door to the scullery and to the small walled-in garden which contains—in order of importance—flotsam and jetsam for firewood, old masts, spars and rudders, and some weedy, grub-eaten vegetables. At the top of the garden is a tumble-down cat-haunted linhay, crammed to its leaky roof with fishing gear. No doubt it is the presence everywhere of boat and fishing gear which gives such a singular unity to the whole place.
The kitchen is not a very light room: its low small-paned window is in the N. wall. Then, going round the room, the courting chair stands in the NE. corner, below some shelves laden with fancy china and souvenirs—and tackle. The kitchener, which opens out into quite a comforting fireplace, is let into the E. wall, and close beside it is the provision cupboard, so situated that the cockroaches, having ample food and warmth, shall wax fat and multiply. Next, behind a low dirty door in the S. wall, is the coalhole, then the high dresser, and then the door to the narrow front passage, beneath the ceiling of which are lodged masts, spars and sails. The W. wall of the kitchen is decorated with Tony's Oddfellow 'cistificate,' with old almanacs and with a number of small pictures, all more or less askew.
There is an abundance of chairs, most of them with an old cushion on the seat, all of them more or less broken by the children's racket. Over the pictures on the warm W. wall—against which, on the other side, the neighbour's kitchener stands—is a line of clean underclothing, hung there to air. The dresser is littered with fishing lines as well as with dry provisions and its proper complement of odd pieces of china. Beneath the table and each of the larger chairs are boots and slippers in various stages of polish or decay. Every jug not in daily use, every pot and vase, and half the many drawers, contain lines, copper nails, sail-thimbles and needles, spare blocks and pulleys, rope ends and twine. But most characteristic of the kitchen (the household teapot excepted) are the navy-blue garments and jerseys, drying along the line and flung over chairs, together with innumerable photographs of Tony and all his kin, the greater number of them in seafaring rig.
Specially do I like the bluejacket photographs; magnificent men, some of them, though one strong fellow looks more than comical, seated amid the photographer's rustic properties with a wreath of artificial fern leaves around him and a broadly smiling Jolly-Jack-Tar face protruding from the foliage. Some battleships, pitching and tossing in fearful photographers' gales and one or two framed memorial cards complete the kitchen picture gallery.
 Composite pictures apparently; made from a photograph of a ship and of a bad painting of a hurricane.
It is a place of many smells which, however, form a not disagreeable blend.
An untidy room—yes. An undignified room—no. Kitchen; scullery (the scullery proper is cramped and its damp floor bad for the feet); eating room; sitting room; reception room; storeroom; treasure-house; and at times a wash-house,—it is an epitome of the household's activities and a reflexion of the family's world-wide seafaring. Devonshire is the sea county—at every port the Devonian dialect. It is probably the pictures and reminders of the broad world which, by contrast, make Mrs Tony's kitchen so very homely.
[Sidenote: A DUTCH AUCTION]
Almost every evening, just now, Mrs Widger goes off to a Dutch auction of hardware and trinkets at the Market House. She usually brings home some small purchase, worth about half the money she has paid; but if she were to go to an entertainment at the Seacombe Hall she would be not nearly so well amused as by the auctioneer and the other housewives, and at the end of the evening she would have nothing whatever to show for her money. Besides, the children would never go off to bed quietly if they imagined that she was going to a real entertainment. As she did not return very early last night, Tony and I got our own supper—bread, cheese, a great deal of Worcester sauce, and a pint of mother-in-law [stout and bitter] from the Alexandra. Then we drew up to the fire and smoked. John, healthy and powerful fellow, had been arguing in the daytime on the beach, that if a youth cannot do a man's work at seventeen, he never will. Tony disagreed. Twenty-five to thirty-five, he says, is a man's prime for strength and endurance together. Nevertheless, he is sure that he often did more than a man's work long before he was seventeen, which led him to talk about his boyhood, when Granfer and Gran Widger had frequently not enough food in the house for their many children to eat. "Us had to rough it when I wer a boy, I can tell 'ee," says Tony. "'Twer often bread an' a scraape o' fat an' Get 'long out o'it!"
[Sidenote: TONY'S DUTIES]
At nine years old, Tony was put with old Cloade, the grocer, now dead; and by the time he was twelve, he was earning four shillings a week, not a penny of which he ever saw or had as 'spending money'; for his mother used to go to the shop every Saturday night and lay out all poor Tony's wages in groceries. The only pocket-money he ever received was a copper or two 'thrown back' from what he could earn by going to sea for mackerel early enough to return to work by half-past six in the morning. Besides running errands, he had to clean boots and knives and to scrub out and tidy up the bar, which in those days was attached to every Devon grocery. Then he could go home to breakfast. And if old Cloade was going up on land, shooting, Tony had to get up and wake him at half-past three and to cork bottles or something of that sort before the master started out for his day's sport. And again, if Tony had fallen foul of any of the shop assistants during the day, had cheeked them perhaps, or stayed overlong at meals, then, waiting till closing time at eight or nine in the evening, they would send him a couple of miles inland, to the top of the hills, with a late parcel of groceries. His possible working day was from 3.30 a.m. to 10.0 p.m.
The chief part of his work, when he was not cleaning up or running errands, was the sorting of fruit and the cracking of sugar. Every nail of his fingers has come off more than once on account of the damage done them by the sugar-cracker. Better than any national event, he recollects the introduction of cube sugar. "When they tubs o' ready-cracked sugar fust come'd down to Seacombe, 'twer thought a gert thing—an' so 'twas."
Nearly every year an attack of (sub-acute?) rheumatic fever gave him a painful holiday, during which he crawled about the crowded cottage at home on his hands and knees. The one advantage of his irregularly long hours was that, if work were slack, he could linger over his meals. It was the assistants who kept a sharp eye on his movements. Them he hated—and cheeked. "The more I done, the worse they treated me. An' as I grow'd up an' did often enough more'n a man's work, so I got to know it. One day I stayed home more'n an hour to breakfast, an' one on 'em asted me wer I'd a-been, an' I said as I'd had me half-hour to breakfast, an' he said as I'd had an hour an' a half, an' I told 'en 'twern't no business o' his an' dared 'en to so much as touch me or I'd knock his head in, which I could easily ha' done—an' there wer the master standin' by! 'Fore I knowed, he gie'd me one under one yer wi' one hand, an' one under t'other yer wi' t'other hand; knocked me half silly; an' said if he had any more o' my chake he'd send me going thereupon. 'Iss, I said, 'an I will go, an' if I can't pick up a livin' on the baych wi' fishin' (I 'adn't no boats then, n'eet for years a'ter), an' if I couldn't pick up a livin' wi' fishin', I'd go to sea. An' I took an' lef the shop, an' went wi'out me pay due nor nort further about it.
"Well, I should think as I stayed away two or dree days, saying as, if I couldn' live by the sea, I'd go off tu sea. By'm-by, ol' Mr Cloade—I could al'ys get on all right wi' he hisself—'twer they assistants.... Mr Cloade come'd down to baych an' said as he'd rise me wages be two shillings, from four shillings to six a week. So I went back. But 'twern't for long, for I wer turned seventeen then, an' strong, an' I knowed that six shillin's a week, every penny o' which mother laid out in groceries—p'raps givin' me dreepence for meself latterly—that wern't no wage for me doing more'n a man's work, early an' laate, at everybody's beck an' call. 'Twern't vitty.
[Sidenote: BRUISED ORANGES AND BRUISES]
"It come'd soon a'ter.... I wer sorting oranges, an' one o' the assistants called like they al'ays did: 'Widger, Widger! Widger! Yer, Widger!' 'Twer al'ays, 'Widger! Widger!' in thic show—blarsted row! 'I wants 'ee to take thees yer parcel to Mr Brindley-Botton's (what used to live to Southview House) in time for lunch. Hurry up!'"
Tony, in short, put a couple of the bruised oranges into his pocket, ran off, and delivered his parcel at Southview House. On the way back, he ate one of the oranges and, boyishly, threw the peel about outside Mr Brindley-Botton's side gate. He heard someone shouting to him and—but without turning his head—he shouted "Hell about it!" airily back. Then, as it was the dinner hour, he loitered on the Green Patch to play marbles with some other lads, and to share the second bruised orange. On returning to Cloade's:
"Whu did I see but Mr Brindley-Botton's coachman wi' a little packet in white paper. 'Twas thic orange peel, all neatly done up, an' a li'I note saying as I'd a-been cheeky to him, which I hadn't, not knowingly. Mr Cloade, he called me into his little office, asted me what I'd been doing, where I went, an' where I got the oranges.
"'Bought 'em,' says I.
"'Twas a lie, an' I hadn't no need for to tell it, seeing I was al'ays free to take a bruised orange or two when I wer sorting of 'em. On'y I wer frightened. 'Where did you get them?' he asked.
"'Up to Mrs Ashford's for a penny,' says I.
"'Yes, sir,' says I.
"'Are you telling me a lie? I can find out, mind.'
"'No, sir,' I said.
"'Be you sure you ain't telling of a lie?'
"Then I broked down, an' I said they was bruised ones what I'd a-took. Father, he wer working to Mr Cloade's then, fishing being bad, an' the master called he. He walloped me—walloped me with a rope's end. An' I swore as I'd never go back no more, an' I didn't. Every time Father tried to make me, I up an' said as I'd go to sea.
[Sidenote: OUT DRIFTING ALL NIGHT]
"Ay! for all I'm a man now, I 'ouldn't like to work like I did then—more'n a man's work an' less'n a boy's pay, an' hardly a penny for meself. I tells John he don't know what 'tis to work like I did then. I'ouldn't du it no more."
But, with his father's boat, Tony did work far harder—hooking mackerel at dawn, in with a catch and out to sea again, or up on land hawking them round; out drifting all night; crabbing, lobster-potting, shrimping, wrinkling, or taking out frights, wet and dry, rough and calm, day and night. "Aye, an' I be suffering from it now. Thees yer bellyache what thins me every summer an' wears a fellow out, don't come from nothing but tearing about then. I wer al'ays on the tear, day an' night, in from sea to meals an' out again 'fore I'd had time to bolt down two mouthfuls. Often I wer so tired that Father'd hae to call me a dozen times afore I cude wake up, an' then I'd cry, cry, if I wer ten minutes laate to work—when I had summut to du on land, that was. Half the day I wer more asleep than awake, wi' bein' out fishing all night. But I didn' let 'em see it. Not I! Rather'n that, I'd go up to the closet an' catch off there for five minutes, before they shude see I wern't fit to du me work. An' I never had nort o' me own for years, for all I done. Whether I earned two pound, or thirty shillings, or nothing at all, I never had so much as a penny for pocket-money, to call me own. I had to take it all in house—aye! an' tips too, when I got 'em. Father, he wern't doing much then, an' ther were seven younger'n me. That's where my earnings went. An' me, as did the work, was wearing Mother's boots an' Father's jacket."
 Periwinkle gathering.
 Freights, i.e. pleasure parties.
When Tony was indisputably grown up, one half of what he earned went, according to custom, to the boat-owner, in this case his father, frequently had be thu to pay for repairs and new gear. That went on for years after he was married—'hauling an' rowing an' slaving an' pulling me guts out wi't!'—until, in fact, the present Mrs Widger insisted on his buying boats of his own.
[Sidenote: THE DEAD NOT WHOLLY SO]
Our talk shifted to Tony's first wife, who died (and Tony almost died too) as the result of the landlord's taking up the drains, and leaving them open, in the height of a hot summer. Tony told me about her people and her native place, a fishing village along the coast. He showed me photographs of her, and a framed, pathetically ugly, imitation cameo memorial, which is getting very dirty now. I knew he loved her very much. He nearly went out of his mind when she died, leaving him with four young children. The untidy little kitchen, with its bright fire, its deep shadows and its white clothes hung along the line; Tony's drooping figure, bent over the hearth in an old blue guernsey: the contrasting redness of his face, and the beam of light from a cracked lamp-shade falling across his wet, memory-stuck blue eyes.... The kitchen seemed full of the presence of the long-dead woman whom Tony was still grieving for in some underpart of his mind. "Iss, her was a nice woman," he said, "a gude wife to me; a gude wife: I hadn't no complaint to make against she."
The one shabby sentence hit into me all his sorrow, that which remains and that which has sunk into time.
* * * * *
The Mrs Widger that is, returned from the Dutch auction with an elaborate badly-plated cruet. "Al'ays using up my saxpinces what I has to slave for," said Tony.
"G'out! 'Tis jest what us wants."
"You won't never use it."
"We'll hae it out on thy birthday—there! Will that zatisfy thee?"
"Not afore then? I wer born at the end o' the year, an' that's why I al'ays gets lef' behind."
"Not a day before thy birthday! What'll yu be saying if I buys sauces to put in all they bottles?"
"Cut glass, is it?"
"No! What d'yu think?"
"What a woman 'tis! Gie yer Tony a kiss then."
"G'out yu fule!"
The wise fool took a kiss. We had a second supper and hot grog. We were merry. But when I said Good night, I saw in Tony's eyes a recognition that I had understood (so he felt, I think) some part of what he seldom, if ever, brings up now to talk about.
Only a yarn about a man's first wife.... If so, why did I go to bed feeling I had been privileged beyond the ordinary? Wives die every day; worn out, most of them. There came into my mind's eye with these thoughts a picture of the open sea; yet hardly a picture, for I was there in the midst of it. On the waves and low-lying clouds, and through the murk, was the glimmer of a light which, I felt, would make everything plain, did it but increase. For a moment it flickered up—and there, over the stormy sea, I saw death as a kindly illusion. I do not understand the wherefore of my little vision, nor why it made my heart give one curious great thump....
A cats' courtship beneath my window broke it off.
[Sidenote: THE "MOONDAISY"]
Five or six years ago, when I was ill and left Seacombe, as I thought, for good, I did not relish selling the Moondaisy. I was too fond of her. So I gave her to the two men who had asked for the first and second refusals of her, and neither of whom possessed a small sailing boat. But I reckoned without those superficial beach jealousies which overlie the essential solidarity of the fishermen. Neither man used her much. Neither man looked after her. She was a bone of contention that each feared to gnaw. While the poor little craft lay on the beach, or in the gutter above the sea-wall, the mice ate holes into her old sail and her gear was distributed half-way over Under Town.
Granfer, however, had in his cottage an old dinghy sail that fits the Moondaisy. Her yard and boom were in his linhay, the sheet and downhaul in Tony's. One oar, the tholepins, and the ballast bags have not yet been found. I bent on the sail, spliced the sheet to the boom; borrowed tholepins from Uncle Jake, ballast bags and a mackerel line with a very rusty hook from Tony, an oar from John—and, at last, put to sea.
 Granfer's brother, Tony's uncle.
The wind—westerly, off land—was too puffy for making the sheet fast. I held it with one hand and tried to fish with the other. In order not to stop the way of the boat and risk losing the lead on the sea-bottom, I wore her round to lew'ard, instead of tacking to wind'ard. A squall came down, the sail gybed quickly, and the boom slewed over with a jerk, just grazing the top of my head. Had that boom been a couple of inches lower, or my head an inch or two higher.... I should have been prevented from sailing the Moondaisy home, pending recovery from a bashed skull. Everything aboard that was loose, myself included, scuttled down to lew'ard with a horrid rattle. A malicious little gush of clear green water, just flecked with foam, spurted in over the gun'l amidships. I wondered whether I could have swum far with a cracked skull: the Moondaisy's iron drop-keel would have sunk her, of course. Why I was fool enough to wear the boat round so carelessly, I don't know.
Anyhow, I wound up the mackerel line; my catch, nil. Such an occurrence makes one very respectful towards the fisherman who singlehanded can sail his boat and manage five mackerel lines at once—one on the thwart to lew'ard and one to wind'ard; a bobber on the mizzen halyard and two bobbers on poles projecting from the boat. He must keep his hands on five lines, the tiller and the sheet; his eyes on the boat's course, the sea, the weather and the luff of the sail. Probably I know rather more of the theory of sailing than he does; but, when a squall blackens the sea to wind'ard, whilst I am thinking whether to run into the wind or ease off the sheet; whilst by doing neither or both, I very nearly capsize, or else stop the boat's way and lose my mackerel leads on the bottom—he, almost without thinking, does precisely what is needful, and another mackerel is hooked long before I should have brought the boat up into the wind again.
[Sidenote: FISHERMEN'S SKILL]
The greatest charm of sailing lies in this: that it is the art of making a boat move by dodging, by taking advantage of, a score of possible dangers. Except when running before the wind, it is the capsizing-power of the wind which propels the boat. The fisherman is an artist none the less because his skill seems partly inborn; because he sails his boat airily and carelessly, yet grimly—for life and the bread and cheese of it. The 'poor fisherman' for whom appeals to charity are made, as if he were a hardworking, chance-fed, picturesque but ignorant and helpless creature, is more than a trader, more than a skilled labourer in a factory. To a peculiar extent he sells himself as well as his skill and his goods. He lives contingently on his own life.
All that day the wind out in the Channel was blowing fresh from the sou'west, as we could see by the blackness of the horizon and the saw-edged sea-line beyond the outer headlands. During the afternoon, a ground-sea crept into the bay, silently rolling in like an unbidden unannounced guest who will not name his business. And when, at the turn of the tide, the breeze in-shore also backed to the sou'west, a busy lop was superposed on the long heaving swell. About half-past seven, the Widgers were gathered together near their boats.
 A lop is a short choppy sea raised by the immediate action of a breeze. A swell consists of the long heaving waves which follow, and sometimes precede, a storm. The diverse action of different sorts of waves on a shingle beach is interesting. Short seas (i.e. short from crest to crest), even when they are very high, have not nearly the force or run of a long, though much lower ground-swell; that is they neither run so far up the beach nor so greatly endanger the boats. All kinds of waves possess more run at spring than at neap tides. A lop on a swell at spring tide is therefore the most troublesome of all to the fishermen.
"What time be it high tide?" asked Granfer. "'Bout ten, en' it?"
"Had us better haul the boats up over?" said Tony. "Tides be dead, en't they?"
"No-o-o," replied Uncle Jake. "They 'en making."
"'Tis goin' to blow, I tell 'ee," said Granfer. "See how brassy the sun's going down. Swell coming in too. Boats up be boats safe."
"Hould yer bloody row," said John. "What be talking 'bout? Plenty o' time to haul up if the sea makes."
"All very well for yu," Tony protested, "living right up to Saltmeadow. If the sea urns up to the boats in the night yu won't be down to lend a hand, no, not wi' yer own boats. 'Tis us as lives to the beach what has to strain ourselves to bits hauling your boats up over so well as our own."
"Let 'em bide, then!"
"Looks dirty, I say," said Granfer. "Might jest so well haul up as bide here talking about it. I shan't sleep till I knows the boats be all right."
"Thee't better lie awake then. An't got no patience wi' making such a buzz afore you wants tu." With that, John shouldered his coat and strode homewards.
[Sidenote: JOHN WIDGER]
The rest of us pulled the boats up, John's included, till their stems touched the sea-wall, and we placed the two sailing boats, John's and Tony's, close beside the steps, handy for hauling up over if need should be.
Tony and Granfer went in house. Uncle Jake watched them go with an ironical smile on his wrinkled old face. "Don't like the looks o' this yer lop on a ground-swell," he said. "There! Did 'ee see how thic sea licked the baych? Let one o' they lift yer boat.... My zenses! 'Tis all up wi' it, an' I should pick it up in bits, up 'long, for firewood.—Well, John's gone home along...."
John is the youngest, handsomest and most powerfully built of the Widgers; the most independent, most brutal-tongued and most logical, though not, I fancy, the most perceptive. The inborn toughness, the family tendency to health and strength, which made fine men of the elder Widgers in spite of their youthful exposure and privations, has, in the case of John who underwent fewer hardships, resulted in the development, unimpeded, of a wonderful physique. "Never heard o' John being tired," says Uncle Jake.
Premature toil did not bend him; what he is the others had it in them to be, and by their labour helped to make him. Because his spirit has never been so buffeted, let alone broken, by hard times, he is also the most self-reliant. And like the majority of lucky men, he takes fate's forbearance as his due and adds it to his own credit. Fair-haired, blue-eyed, his clean-shaven face deeply and clearly coloured; a combination of the Saxon bulldog type with the seafaring man's alertness; his heavy yet lissome frame admirably half-revealed by the simplicity of navy-blue guernsey and trousers,—it is one of the sights of Seacombe to see him walk the length of the Front with his two small boys. He lacks, however, the gift of expressing himself, except when he is angry—and then in a torrent of thrashing words. He communicates his good-will by smiling all over his face with a tinge of mockery in his eyes and the bend of his long neck; whether mockery at oneself or at things in general is not evident. (It is mainly, I think, by smiling at one another that we remain the very good friends we are.) In any discussion, his "Do as yu'm minded then!" is his signal for making others do as he is minded. The advantages possessed by him—health, strength, clear-headedness, and good looks—he knows how to use, and that without scruple. He is never hustled by man or circumstance; seldom gives himself away; and seldom acknowledges an obligation. What one might reasonably expect him to do in return for help or even payment, he carelessly, deliberately, leaves undone, and performs instead some particularly nice action when it is least of all anticipated. His opinion is respected less because it is known, than because it isn't known, and by playing in the outer world with a crack football team he adds to his prestige here. "What du John say?" is often asked when it doesn't matter even what John thinks. Without gratitude for it, unconsciously perhaps, he exacts from others a sort of homage, which is certainly not rendered without protest. "There's more'n one real lady as John could ha' married if he'd a-been liked," I heard Granfer say over his beer one day. "The way they used to get he to take 'em out bathing in a boat.... Put 'en under the starn-sheets, I s'pose—he-he-he-he-he! But they real ladies du tire o' gen'lemen sometimes. Some on 'em had rather have a strong fellow like John. He married out o' the likes o' us, as 'twas. Her what he married used to eat wi' the gen'leman's family what her come'd yer with; sort o' companion-nurse her was."
[Sidenote: A NICE DISTINCTION]
Once, when the Moondaisy was mine, John charged me sixpence for putting me ashore from the steamer, after he had been earning money with my boat that very same day. There is no meanness in his face, and I wondered who had taught him so to distinguish between the borrowing of a private boat and the use of a craft that was on the beach for hire—a perfectly sound distinction. Probably it was some commercial-minded lodger or beach-chatterer, from whom he picked up the opinion that nowadays, to get on, you must run with the hare and hunt with the hounds—a precept which he quotes with cynical gusto but carries out only so far as suits his feelings. He aims at being businesslike, but the businesslike side of his character is the more superficial. Pride will not allow him to boggle over bargains. "Take it, or leave it," is his way. Most up-to-date in what he does do, he is no pioneer, and follows a lead grudgingly when innovations are in question. Most progressive outwardly, he is the most conservative at heart. A reader of his daily paper, he speaks the broadest Devon of them all; scrupulously groomed after the modern way, and a smoker of cigarettes (he was laughed out of a pipe I've heard say), he still wears the old-fashioned seaman's high-heeled shoes. Tobacco is his obvious, his humane, weakness. What his other weaknesses are, I don't know. He strikes one as master of his fate, never yet wrecked, nor contemplating it. Did such a misfortune occur ... who knows what would happen? He is now, in his youth, so full of strength.
* * * * *
About ten o'clock, Tony, who was snoozing in the courting chair (Mrs Widger had gone on to bed) woke up with a "How about they boats?" I went out to look.
[Sidenote: THE HIGH TIDE WAVES]
The sea was covered with that pallid darkness which comes over it when the moon is hidden behind low rain-clouds. Out of the darkness, the waves seemed to spring suddenly, without warning at one's very feet. Every now and then, when a swell and a lop came in together, their combined steady force and quick energy swept right up the beach, rattling the pebbles round the sterns of the boats. For the better part of an hour I waited. Then, after a sea had thrown some shingle right into a boat, I called Tony.
"'Tis past high water, en' it?" he said sleepily.
"Thee't better come out an' see for thyself!"
He dragged himself up and out. "'Tis al'ys like thees yer wi' the likes o' us. 'Tis a life o'it!"
"Aye," he said, "the say's goin' down now sure 'nuff. Better git in house again. Raining is it?"
"God! Look out!"
A sea lifted Tony's and John's sailing boats; was sweeping them down the beach. We rushed, one to each boat, and hung on. Another sea swept the pebbles from under our feet—it felt as if the solid earth were giving way.
"Those was the high tide waves," said Tony. "If us hadn' a-come out both they boats 'ould ha' been losted. Yu've a-saved John his—all by chance. Aye! that's like 'tis wi' us, I tell thee. Yu never knows.—Be 'ee going to bed now?"
I stayed out a little while longer: the loss of boats means so much to men whose only capital they are. Just after Tony had gone in, the clouds parted and the moonlight burst with a sudden glory over the sea. In the moonglade, which reached from my feet to the far horizon, the waters heaved and curled, most silvery, as if they were alive. That was the wistful gentle sea from which, but a moment or two before, we had wrested back our property—that sea of little strivings within a large peace. I thought at the time that there was surely a God, and that as surely He was there. For which reason, I was glad, when I came in house, that Tony had gone on to bed.
* * * * *
This morning John asked me: "Whu's been moving my boat?"
"The sea, last night."
"I'm going to make a salvage claim on your insurance company."
"Happened to be out here and hung on, or else she'd have been swept down the beach."
"That's it—while yu were snug."
"Have 'ee got a cigarette on yu?—Match?—Thank yu."
[Sidenote: MRS PINN]
When I came into the kitchen early last evening, there was an old woman sitting bolt upright in the courting chair. At least, I came to the conclusion that she really was old after a moment or two's watchfulness. Her flowered hat, her shape—though a little angular and stiff,—her gestures and her bright lively damson-coloured eyes were all youthful enough. But one could see that her inquiet hands, which were folded on her lap, had been worn by many a washing-day. Her skin, though wrinkled, was taut over the outstanding facial bones, as if the wrinkles might have opened out and have equalized the strain, had age not hardened them to brown cracks—and the tan of her complexion had old age's lack of clearness. As so often happens when the teeth remain good in spite of receding gums, her mouth was tightly stretched semicircular-wise around them, and the lips had become a long, very long, expressionless line, shaded into prominence, as in a drawing, by a multitude of lines up and down, from chin and nose;—a Simian jaw, remindful of the Descent of Man. All the accumulated hand-to-mouth wisdom of generations of peasantry seemed to lurk behind the old woman's quick eyes; to be defying one.
I was introduced to her—Mrs Pinn, Mrs Widger's mother. She was bound to shake my proffered hand; she did it, half rising, with a comic mixture of respect and defiance; then sat back in the courting chair as if to intimate, 'I knows how to keep meself to meself, I du!'
I went outdoors, leaving them to talk; helped Tony haul up the beach his lumpy fourteen-foot sailing boat, the Cock Robin, and returned with him to supper.
"Hullo, Gran Pinn!" he roared. "Yu here! Didn' know I'd got a new mate for hauling up, did 'ee? Have her got 'ee yer drop o' stout eet? Us two'll take 'ee home if yu drinks tu much."
"Oh yu...." screeched Mrs Pinn with facetious rage followed by a swift collapse into company manners again.
"Thees yer be my mother-in-law, sir."
"Mr Whats-his-name knaws that, an' I knaws yu got he staying with 'ee—there!"
"Well then, gie us some supper then."
Mrs Pinn—'twas to be felt in the air—had been hearing all about me. Beside her glass of stout and ale, she looked a little less prim and defiant. But she was still on company manners. She sat delicately, on the extreme edge of a chair, by the side of, not facing, her plate of bread, cheese and pickles; approached them; mopped up, so to speak, a mouthful and a gulp; then receded into mere nodding propinquity. Her supper was a series of moppings-up. Me she kept much in her eye, and to my remarks ejaculated "Aw, my dear soul!" or "Did yu ever?" I said with feeble wit, in order to grease the conversation, that stout and bitter, being called mother-in-law, was just the thing for Mrs Pinn.
"Aw, my dear life!" she exclaimed, taking a mouthy sip. "What chake to be sure!"
It was Mrs Widger who, with a glint of amusement in her eyes, came tactfully to my rescue.
[Sidenote: MY NIGHTCAP]
About ten o'clock, Mrs Widger took down two glasses and the sugar basin, and set the conical broad-bottomed kettle further over the fire. Mrs Pinn glanced at the top shelf of the dresser where my whiskey bottle stands. Her bright eyes kept on returning to that spot. I should have liked to ask Mrs Pinn to take a glass, but knew I could not afford to let it be noised abroad that 'there's a young gen'leman to Tony Widger's very free with his whiskey.' I dared not make a precedent I should have to break; the breaking of which would give more disappointment than its non-creation. Equally well, I knew that it was no use going to bed without something to make me sleep.... I told Tony I would go out and look at the weather.
"Yu must 'scuse me 'companying of 'ee 'cause I got me butes off. My veet du ache!"
On my return, the bright eyes were still travelling to and fro, from bottle to glasses. I yawned, Tony yawned noisily, Mrs Widger capaciously. Mrs Pinn was herself infected. "'Tis time I was home.... Oh, Lor'!" she yawned.
She went; and when I asked Tony to share my customary nightcap, it was with ill-hidden glee that he replied as usual: "Had us better tu?"
His native politeness prevented him from saying anything, however, and Mrs Widger showed not a sign of having observed the little victory, so meanly necessary, so galling in every stage to the victor.
Tony declares that he will really and truly start mackerel hooking to-morrow morning—"if 'tis vitty," and "if the drifters an't catched nort," and "if 'tis wuth it," and "if he du."
A creaking and shaking in the timbers of the old house, very early this morning, must have half awakened me; then there was a muffled rap on my door. "Be 'ee goin' to git up?"
"Yes.... 'Course.... What time is it?"
The only answer was a pad-pad-pad down the stairs. I looked out over the bedclothes. The window, a grey patch barred with darker grey, was like a dim chilly ghost gazing at me from the opposite wall. By the saltiness of the damp air which blew across the room and by the grind of the shingle outside, I could tell that the wind was off sea. The sea itself was almost invisible—a swaying mistiness through which the white-horses rose and peeped at one, as if to say, "Come and share our frolic. Come and ride us."
[Sidenote: MACKEREL LINES]
Tony, sleepy and sheepish in the eyes, was pattering about the kitchen in his stockings (odd ones), his pants and his light check shirt. The fire was contrary. We scraped out ashes; poked in more wood and paper. Soon a gush of comfortable steam made the lid of the kettle dance. The big blue tin teapot was washed out, filled and set on the hob. The cupboards and front room were searched for cake. Tony went upstairs with a cup o' tay for the ol' doman and came down with a roll of biscuits. (Mrs Widger takes the biscuits to bed with her as maiden ladies take the plate basket, and for much the same reason.)
Faint light was showing through the north window of the kitchen. "Coom on!" said Tony. "Time we was to sea." He refilled the kettle, hunted out an old pair of trousers, rammed himself into a faded guernsey and picked up three mackerel lines from the dresser. He took some salted lasks from the brine-pot, blew out the lamp—and forth we went. After collecting together mast, sails and oars from where they were lying, strewn haphazard on the beach, we pushed and pulled the Cock Robin down to the water's edge, and filled up the ballast-bags with our hands, like irritable, hasty children playing at shingle-pies. "A li'l bit farther down. Look out! Jump in. Get hold the oars," commanded Tony. With a cussword or two (the oars had a horrid disposition to jump the thole-pins) we shoved and rowed off, shipping not more than a couple of buckets of water over the stern.
 The fishermen's line is very different from the tackle makers' arrangements. It varies a little locally. At Seacombe, the upper part consists of 2-3 fathoms of stoutish conger line, to take the friction over the gunwale, and 5-6 fathoms of finer line, to the end of which a conical 'sugarloaf' lead is attached by a clove hitch, the short end being laid up around the standing part for an inch or so and then finished off with the strong, neat difficue (corruption of difficult?) knot. A swivel, or better still simply an eyelet cut from an old boot, runs free, just above the lead, between the clove hitch and difficue knot. To the eyelet is attached the 'sid'—i.e., two or three fathoms of fine snooding;—to the sid a length of gut on which half an inch ofclay pipe-stem is threaded, and to the gut a rather large hook. The bait is a 'lask,' or long three-cornered strip of skin, cut from the tail of a mackerel. The older fishermen prefer a round lead, cast in the egg-shell of a gull, because it runs sweeter through the water, but with this form the fish's bite is difficult to feel on account of the jerk having to be transmitted through the heavy bulky piece of lead.
The lines are trailed astern of the boat as it sails up and down, where the mackerel are believed to be. When well on the feed they will bite, even at the pipe clay and bare hook, faster than they can be hauled inboard. River anglers and even some sea fishers are disposed to deny the amount of skill, alertness and knowledge which go to catching the greatest possible number of fish while they are up. It is often said that the mackerel allows itself to be caught as easily by a beginner as by an old hand. One or two mackerel may: mackerel don't. In hooking, as opposed to fishing fine with a rod, the sporting element is supplied by fish, not a fish; by numbers in a given time, not bend and break. The tackle brought to the sea by the superior angler, who thinks he knows more than those who have hooked mackerel for generations, is a wonder, delight, and irritation to professional fishermen: it is constructed in such robust ignorance of the habits, and manner of biting, of mackerel, and it ignores so obstinately the conditions of the sport. Likewise the fish ignore it.
[Sidenote: DAWN AT SEA]
Tony scrambled aboard over the starboard bow, his trousers and boots dripping. "'Tis al'ays like that, putting off from thees yer damn'd ol' baych. No won'er us gits the rhuematics." He hung the rudder, loosed the mizzen. I stepped the mast, hoisted the jib and lug, and made fast halyards and sheets. Our undignified bobbing, our impatient wallowing on the water stopped short. The wind's life entered into the craft. She bowed graciously to the waves. With a motion compounded of air and water, wings and a heaving, as if she were airily suspended over the sea, the Cock Robin settled to her course. Spray skatted gleefully over her bows and the wavelets made a gurgling music along the clinker-built strakes of her.
Tony put out the lines: tangled two of them, got in a tear, as he calls it, snapped the sid, bit the rusty hook off, spat out a shred of old bait, brought the boat's head too far into the wind, cursed the flapping sail and cursed the tiller, grubbed in his pockets for a new hook, and made tiny knots with clumsy great fingers and his teeth. "An't never got no gear like I used tu," he complained, and then, standing upright, with the tiller between his legs and a line in each outstretched hand, he unbuttoned his face and broke into the merriest of smiles. "What du 'ee think o' Tony then, getting in a tear fust start out? Do 'ee think he's maazed—or obsolete? But we'll catch 'em if they'm yer. Yu ought to go 'long wi' Uncle Jake. He'd tell 'ee summut—and the fish tu if they wasn't biting proper!"
By the time the lines were out, the dun sou'westerly clouds all around had raised themselves like a vast down-hanging fringe, a tremendous curtain, ragged with inconceivable delicacy at the foot, between which, and the water-line, the peep o' day stared blankly. The whitish light, which made the sea look deathly cold, was changed to a silvery sheen where the hidden cliffs stood. From immaterial shadows, looming over the surf-line, the cliffs themselves brightened to an insubstantial fabric, an airy vision, ruddily flushed; till, finally, ever becoming more earthy, they upreared themselves, high-ribbed and red, bush-crowned and splashed with green—our familiar, friendly cliffs, for each and every part of whom we have a name. The sun slid out from a parting of clouds in the east, warming the dour waves into playfulness.
'Twas all a wonder and a wild delight.
As I looked at Tony, while he glanced around with eyes that were at once curiously alert and dreamy, I saw that, in spite of use and habit, in spite of his taking no particular notice of what the sea and sky were like, except so far as they affected the sailing of the boat,—the dawn was creeping into him. Many such dawns have crept into him. They are a part of himself.
[Sidenote: A TENDERHEART BY NATURE]
"Look to your lew'ard line!" he cried, "they'm up for it!"
He hauled a mackerel aboard, and, catching hold of the shank of the hook, flicked the fish into the bottom of the boat with one and the same motion that flung the sid overboard again; and after it the lead. Wedging the mackerel's head between his knees, he bent its body to a curve, scraped off the scales near its tail, and cut a fresh lask from the living fish. He is a tenderheart by nature, but now: "That'll hae 'em!" he crowed.
The mackerel bit hotly at our new baits. Before the lines were properly out, in they had to come again. Flop-flop went the fish on the bottom-boards as we jerked them carelessly off the hooks. Every moment or two one of them would dance up and flip its tail wildly; beat on the bottom-boards a tattoo which spattered us with scales; then sink back among the glistening mass that was fast losing its beauty of colour, its opalescent pinks and steely blues, even as it died and stiffened.
 Undoubtedly, if the mackerel are only half on the feed, a fresh lask is better than any other bait, better than an equally brilliant salted lask. It is the shine of the bait at which the fish bite, as at a spinner, but probably the fresh lask leaves behind it in the water an odour or flavour of mackerel oil which keeps the shoal together and makes them follow the boat.
Suddenly the fish stopped biting, perhaps because the risen sun was shining down into the water. The wind dropped without warning, as southerly winds will do in the early morning, if they don't come on to blow a good deal harder. The Cock Robin wallowed again on the water. "We'm done!" said Tony. "Let's get in out o'it in time for the early market. There ain't no other boats out. Thees yer ought to fetch 'leven-pence the dizzen. We've made thees day gude in case nort else don't turn up."
While I rowed ashore, he struck sail, and threw the ballast overboard. Most pleasantly does that shingle ballast plop-rattle into the water when there is a catch of fish aboard. We ran in high upon a sea. Willing hands hauled the Cock Robin up the beach: we had fish to give away for help. The mackerel made elevenpence a dozen to Jemima Caley, the old squat fishwoman who wears a decayed sailor hat with a sprig of heather in it. "Yu don' mean to say yu've a-catched all they lovely fish!" she said with a rheumy twinkle, in the hope of getting them for tenpence.
"'Levenpence a dozen, Jemima!"
"Aw well then, yu must let I pay 'ee when I sold 'em. An't got it now. Could ha' gived 'ee tenpence down."
With a mackerel stuck by the gills on the tip of each finger, I came in house. The children were being got ready for school. When I returned downstairs with some of the fishiness washed off, Mrs Widger was distributing the school bank-cards and Monday morning pennies. (By the time the children leave school, they will have saved thus, penny by penny, enough to provide them with a new rig-out for service—or Sunday wear.) There was a frizzling in the topsy-turvy little kitchen.
[Sidenote: A DARING RASCAL]
"Mam! I wants some vish. Mam 'Idger...."
"Yu shall hae some fish another time."
"Well, jam zide plaate then."
Jimmy's finger was in the jampot.
"Yu daring rascal!" shrieks Mam Widger. "Get 'long to school with 'ee! Yu'll be late an' I shall hae the 'spector round. Get 'long—and see what I'll hae for 'ee when yu comes back."
"Coo'h! Bulls' eyes! Ay, mam? Good bye, Dad. Good bye, Mam. Bye, Mister Ronals. Gimme a penny will 'ee?"
"God damn the child—that ever I should say it—get 'long! I'll hae a bull's eye for 'ee. Now go on."
A tramp of feet went out through the passage.
Mrs Widger shovelled the crisp mackerel from the frying-pan into our plates. Tony soused his with vinegar from an old whiskey bottle. We lingered over our tea till he said: "Must go out an' clean they ther boats—the popples what they damn visitors' children chucks in for to amuse theirselves, not troubling to think us got to pick every one on 'em out be hand, an' looking daggers at 'ee when you trys to tell 'em o'it so polite as yu can. Ay, me—our work be never done."
"No more ain't mine!" snapped Mrs Widger, moving off to her washtub.
For the last two or three days there has been a large flat brown-paper parcel standing against the wall on the far side of my bed. I have wondered what it was.
This evening, after we had all finished tea, while Tony was puffing gingerly at a cigarette (he is nothing of a smoker) with his chair tilted back and a stockinged foot in Mrs Widger's lap, Jimmy said, as Jimmy usually says: "Gie us another caake, Mam 'Idger." He laid a very grubby hand on the cakelets.
"Yu li'l devil!" shouted his mother. "Take yer hands off or I'll gie 'ee such a one.... Yu'd eat an eat till yu busted, I believe; an yu'm that cawdy [finical] over what yu has gie'd 'ee...."
Tony took up the poker and made a feint at Jimmy, who jumped into the corner laughing loudly. With an amazing contrast in tone, Mrs Widger said quietly: "Wait a minute an' see what I got to show 'ee, if yu'm gude."
[Sidenote: ROSIE'S PHOTOGRAPH]
She went upstairs with that peculiar tread of hers—as if the feet were very tired but the rest of the body invincibly energetic,—and returned with the flat parcel. She undid the string, the children watching with greedy curiosity. She placed on the best-lighted chair an enlargement of a baby's photograph, in a cheap frame, all complete. "There!" she said.
"What is ut?" asked Tony. "Why, 'tis li'l Rosie!"
"Wer did 'ee get 'en?" he continued more softly. "Yu an't had 'en give'd 'ee?"
"Give'd me? No! Thic cheap-jack.... But 'tisn' bad, is it?"
"Why, thic man to the market-house—wer I got the cruet."
"O-oh! I didn' never see he.... What did 'ee pay 'en for thic then?"
"Never yu mind. 'Twasn't none o' yours what I paid. What do 'ee think o'it?"
"'Tisn' bad—very nice," remarked Tony, bending before the picture, examining it in all lights. "Iss; 'tisn' bad by no means. Come yer, Jimmy an' Tommy. Do 'ee know who that ther is?"
"Rosie!" whispered Jimmy.
"What was took up to cementry," added Tommy in a brighter voice.
"Iss, 'tis our li'l Rosie to the life (mustn' touch), jest like her was."
A moment's tension; then, "A surprise for 'ee, en' it?" Mrs Widger enquired.
"My ol' geyser!"
The children's riot began again. "Our Rosie...." they were saying. Mam 'Idger, slipping out of Tony's grasp, carried the picture off to the front room. She was sometime gone.
Wordsworth's We are Seven came into my mind:
"But they are dead; those two are dead! Their spirits are in heaven!" 'Twas throwing words away; for still The little maid would have her will, And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
I knew, of course, intellectually, that the poem records more than a child's mere fancy; but never before have I felt its truth, have I been caught up, so to speak, into the atmosphere of the wise, simple souls who are able to rob death of the worst of its sting by refusing to let the dead die altogether, even on earth. Rosie is dead and buried. I perceive also—I perceived, while Tony and the children stood round that picture—that Rosie is still here, in this house, hallowing it a little. The one statement is as much a fact as the other; but how much more delicately intangible, and perhaps how much truer, the second.
[Sidenote: ROSIE'S DEATH]
While we waited for Tony to come in to supper, Mrs Widger told me about Rosie's death. "It must be awful," she said, "to lose a child fo them as an't got nor more. I know how I felt it when Rosie was took. Nothing would please me for months after but to go up to the cementry, to her little grave. 'Most every evening I walked up after tea—didn' feel as if I could go to bed an' sleep wi'out. Tony had to fend for hisself if he wanted his supper early. Ther wasn't no reason, but it did ease me, like, to go up there, an' it heartened me a little for next day's work. 'Twas a sort o' habit, p'raps. What broke me of it was my bad illness. [When the twins, 'what nobody didn' know nort about,' were born.] At first, I used to think o' Rosie, when I were lyin' alone upstairs, most 'specially at night time if Tony wer out to sea an' it come'd on to blow a bit. I used to think, if ort happened to Tony.... Our room to the top o' the house, sways when it do blow. I don't trouble me head about Tony when he's to sea ordinary times—expects 'en when I sees 'en—but then I wer weak, like, an' full o' fancies. An' after I got about again I wer much too weak to go to cementry: I used to faint every time I come'd downstairs. Howsbe-ever, I did come down again, an' Tony used to go out and get me quinine wine and three-and-sixpenny port an' all sorts o' messes, to put me on me legs wi'out fainting. 'Twas thic illness as broke me o' going up to Rosie's grave."
"You walk up now on Sunday evenings...." I hazarded, recollecting that then the children run wild for a couple of hours and come in tired and dirty to cry for their mam.
"Yes...." said Mrs Widger.
I saw that I had trespassed into one of the little solitary tracts of her life.
"One day," she continued, backing the conversation with an imperfectly hidden effort, "when Dr Bayliss come to see me, Tony was asleep in the next bed, snoring under the clothes after a night to sea. Dr Bayliss didn' say nort, 'cept he said: 'Your husband's a fisherman, isn't he, Mrs Widger?' But I saw his shoulders a-shaking as he went out the door, an' that evening he sent me a bottle o' port wine out o' his own cellar, an' it did me a power o' gude. Tony—he was that ashamed o' hisself, though I told 'en 'twasn't nothing for a doctor to see 'en...."
[Sidenote: FRANKNESS AND SMUT]
At that moment Tony returned. He really was ashamed of the doctor finding him in bed, whether as a breach of manners or of propriety was not plain. Possibly the latter. He has an acute sense of decency, though its rules and regulations are not the same as those of the people he calls gentry. Our conversation here would hardly suit a drawing-room. Tony, if he comes in wet, thinks nothing of stripping down to his shirt. But, curiously enough, one of his chief complaints about the people who hire boats, is their occasionally unclean conversation. "The likes o' us 'ould never think of saying what they du. Me, I didn' know nort about half the things they say till I wer grow'd up an' learnt it from listening to the likes o' they. Yu'd hear bad language wi' us an' plain speaking, but never what some o' they talks about when they got no one to hear 'em 'cept us they hires, an' they thinks us don't matter." Tony is right, I believe. Most of the impropriety I used to hear at school, university, and in the smoking room, though often little but a reaction against silly conventions, a tilt against whited sepulchres,—was well-named smut. It was furtive, a distortion of life's facts and inimical therefore to life. Impropriety here, on the other hand, is a recognition of life's facts, an expression of life, a playful ebullition.