In Homespun

Part 5 - Her Marriage Lines

E. Nesbit

Chapter 2

Well, as I said, old Master and Mrs. Blake come back together from the station, and from that day forward Mrs. Blake was unbearabler than ever. And one day when Mr. Sigglesfield, the lawyer from Lewes, was in the parlour, she a-talking to him after he'd been up to see master (about his will, no doubt), she opened the parlour door sharp and sudden just as I was bringing the tea for her to have it with him like a lady - she opened the door sudden, as I say, and boxed my ears as I stood, and I should have dropped the tea-tray but for me being brought up a careful girl, and taught always to hold on to the tea-tray with all my fingers.

I'm proud to say I didn't say a word, but I put down that tea-tray and walked into the kitchen with my ear as hot as fire and my temper to match, which was no wonder and no disgrace. Then she come into the kitchen.

'You go this day month, Miss,' she says, 'a-listening at doors when your betters is a-talking. I'll teach you!' says she, and back she goes into the parlour.

But I took no notice of what she said, for Master Harry, he hired me, and I would take no notice from any one but him.

Mr. Sigglesfield was a-coming pretty often just then, and Harry he come to me one day, and he says -

'It's all right, Polly, and I must tell you because you're the same as myself, though I don't like to talk as if we was waiting for dead men's shoes. Long may he wear them! But father's told me he has left everything to me, right and safe, though I am the second son. My brother John never did get on with father, but when all's mine, we'll see that John don't starve.'

And that day week old master was a corpse.

He was found dead in his bed, and the doctor said it was old age and a sudden breaking up.

Mrs. Blake she cried and took on fearful, more than was right or natural, and when the will was to be read in the parlour after the funeral she come into the kitchen where I was sitting crying too - not that I was fond of old master, but the kind of crying there is at funerals is catching, I think, and besides, I was sorry for Master Harry, who was a good son, and quite broken down.

'You can come and hear the will read,' she says, 'for all your impudence, you hussy!'

And I don't know why I went in after her impudence, but I did. Mr. Sigglesfield was there, and some of the relations, who had come a long way to hear if they was to pull anything out of the fire; and Master Harry was there, looking very pale through all his sun-brownness. And says he, 'I suppose the will's got to be read, but my father, he told me what I was to expect. It's all to me, and one hundred to Mrs. Blake, and five pounds apiece to the servants.'

And Mr. Sigglesfield looks at him out of his ferret eyes, and says very quietly, 'I think the will had better be read, Mr. Alderton.'

'So I think,' says Mrs. Blake, tossing her head and rubbing her red eyes with her handkerchief at the same minute almost.

And read it was, and all us people sat still as mice, listening to the wonderful tale of it. For wonderful it was, though folded up very curious and careful in a pack of lawyer's talk. And when it was finished, Master Harry stood up on his feet, and he said -

'I don't understand your cursed lawyer's lingo. Does this mean that my father has left me fifty pounds, and has left the rest, stock, lock and barrel, to his wife Martha. Who in hell,' he says, 'is his wife Martha?'

And at that Mrs. Blake stood up and fetched a curtsy to the company.

'That's me,' she said, 'by your leave; married two months come Tuesday, and here's my lines.'

And there they were. There was no getting over them. Married at St. Mary Woolnoth, in London, by special licence.

'O you wicked old Jezebel!' says Master Harry, shaking his fist at her; 'here's a fine end for a young man's hopes! Is it true?' says he, turning to the lawyer. And Mr. Sigglesfield shakes his head and says -

'I am afraid so, my poor fellow.'

'Jezebel, indeed!' cries Mrs. Blake. 'Out of my house, my young gamecock! Get out and crow on your own dunghill, if you can find one.'

And Harry turned and went without a word. Then I slipped out too, and I snatched my old bonnet and shawl off their peg in the kitchen, and I ran down the lane after him.

'Harry,' says I, and he turned and looked at me like something that's hunted looks when it gets in a corner and turns on you. Then I got up with him and caught hold of his arm with both my hands. 'Never mind the dirty money,' says I. 'What's a bit of money,' I says - 'what is it, my dear, compared with true love? I'll work my fingers to the bone for you,' says I, 'and we're better off than her when all's said and done.'

'So we are, my girl,' says he; and the savage look went out of his face, and he kissed me for the second time.

Then we went home, arm-under-arm, to my mother's, and we told father and mother all about it; and mother made Harry up a bit of a bed on the settle, and he stayed with us till he could pull himself together and see what was best to be done.