At this the old woman’s courage forsook her, and with a great cry she rushed from the room, eager to escape from this house of death and mystery. The bolts of the great door were stiff with age, and strange voices seemed to ring in her ears as she strove wildly to unfasten them. Her brain whirled. She thought that the dead in their distant rooms called to her, and that a devil stood on the step outside laughing and holding the door against her. Then with a supreme effort she flung it open, and heedless of her night-clothes passed into the bitter night. The path across the marshes was lost in the darkness, but she found it; the planks over the ditches slippery and narrow, but she crossed them in safety, until at last, her feet bleeding and her breath coming in great gasps, she entered the village and sank down more dead than alive on a cottage doorstep.
“Handsome is as ’andsome does,” said the night-watchman. It’s an old saying, but it’s true. Give a chap good looks, and it’s precious little else that is given to ’im. He’s lucky when ’is good looks ’ave gorn—or partly gorn—to get a berth as night-watchman or some other hard and bad-paid job.
One drawback to a good-looking man is that he generally marries young; not because ’e wants to, but because somebody else wants ’im to. And that ain’t the worst of it: the handsomest chap I ever knew married five times, and got seven years for it. It wasn’t his fault, pore chap; he simply couldn’t say No.
One o’ the best-looking men I ever knew was Cap’n Bill Smithers, wot used to come up here once a week with a schooner called the Wild Rose. Funny thing about ’im was he didn’t seem to know about ’is good looks, and he was one o’ the quietest, best-behaved men that ever came up the London river. Considering that he was mistook for me more than once, it was just as well.
He didn’t marry until ’e was close on forty; and then ’e made the mistake of marrying a widder-woman. She was like all the rest of ’em— only worse. Afore she was married butter wouldn’t melt in ’er mouth, but as soon as she ’ad got her “lines” safe she began to make up for it.
For the fust month or two ’e didn’t mind it, ’e rather liked being fussed arter, but when he found that he couldn’t go out for arf an hour without having ’er with ’im he began to get tired of it. Her idea was that ’e was too handsome to be trusted out alone; and every trip he made ’e had to write up in a book, day by day, wot ’e did with himself. Even then she wasn’t satisfied, and, arter saying that a wife’s place was by the side of ’er husband, she took to sailing with ’im every v’y’ge.
Wot he could ha’ seen in ’er I don’t know. I asked ’im one evening—in a roundabout way—and he answered in such a long, roundabout way that I didn’t know wot to make of it till I see that she was standing just behind me, listening. Arter that I heard ’er asking questions about me, but I didn’t ’ave to listen: I could hear ’er twenty yards away, and singing to myself at the same time.