“It’s my ’usband, miss,” said the Amazon, reluctantly releasing the flushed and dishevelled Richard; “’e left me and my five eighteen months ago. For eighteen months I ’aven’t ’ad a sight of ’is blessed face.”
She lifted the hem of her apron to her face and broke into discordant weeping.
“Don’t cry,” said Prudence, softly; “I’m sure he isn’t worth it.”
Mr. Catesby looked at her wanly. He was beyond further astonishment, and when Mrs. Truefitt entered the room with a laudable attempt to twist her features into an expression of surprise, he scarcely noticed her.
“It’s my Joe,” said Mrs. Porter, simply.
“Good gracious!” said Mrs. Truefitt. “Well, you’ve got him now; take care he doesn’t run away from you again.”
“I’ll look after that, ma’am,” said Mrs. Porter, with a glare at the startled Richard.
[Illustration: “I’ll look after that, ma’am.”]
“She’s very forgiving,” said Prudence. “She kissed him just now.”
“Did she, though,” said the admiring Mrs. Truefitt. “I wish I’d been here.”
“I can do it agin, ma’am,” said the obliging Mrs. Porter.
“If you come near me again—” said the breathless Richard, stepping back a pace.
“I shouldn’t force his love,” said Mrs. Truefitt; “it’ll come back in time, I dare say.”
“I’m sure he’s affectionate,” said Prudence.
Mr. Catesby eyed his tormentors in silence; the faces of Prudence and her mother betokened much innocent enjoyment, but the austerity of Mrs. Porter’s visage was unrelaxed.
“Better let bygones be bygones,” said Mrs. Truefitt; “he’ll be sorry by-and-by for all the trouble he has caused.”
“He’ll be ashamed of himself—if you give him time,” added Prudence.
Mr. Catesby had heard enough; he took up his hat and crossed to the door.
“Take care he doesn’t run away from you again,” repeated Mrs. Truefitt.
“I’ll see to that, ma’am,” said Mrs. Porter, taking him by the arm. “Come along, Joe.”
Mr. Catesby attempted to shake her off, but in vain, and he ground his teeth as he realised the absurdity of his position. A man he could have dealt with, but Mrs. Porter was invulnerable. Sooner than walk down the road with her he preferred the sallies of the parlour. He walked back to his old position by the fireplace, and stood gazing moodily at the floor.
Mrs. Truefitt tired of the sport at last. She wanted her supper, and with a significant glance at her daughter she beckoned the redoubtable and reluctant Mrs. Porter from the room. Catesby heard the kitchen-door close behind them, but he made no move. Prudence stood gazing at him in silence.
“If you want to go,” she said, at last, “now is your chance.”
Catesby followed her into the passage without a word, and waited quietly while she opened the door. Still silent, he put on his hat and passed out into the darkening street. He turned after a short distance for a last look at the house and, with a sudden sense of elation, saw that she was standing on the step. He hesitated, and then walked slowly back.