“There ain’t no shame, in saying that; it’s truth,” composedly answered Peckaby. “Brother Jarrum said, didn’t he, as the wives had a parlour a-piece. Why do they? ‘Cause they be obleeged to be kep’ apart, for fear o’ damaging each other, a-tearing and biting and scratching, and a-pulling of eyes out. A nice figure you’d cut among ’em! You’d be a-wishing yourself home again afore you’d tried it for a day. Don’t you be a fool, Susan Peckaby.”
“Don’t you!” retorted she. “I wonder you ain’t afraid o’ some judgment falling on you. Lies is sure to come home to people.”
“Just take your thoughts back to the time as we had the shop here, and plenty o’ custom in it. One day you saw me just a-kissing of a girl in that there corner—leastways you fancied as you saw me,” corrected Peckaby, coughing down his slip. “Well, d’ye recollect the scrimmage? Didn’t you go a’most mad, never keeping’ your tongue quiet for a week, and the place hardly holding of ye? How ’ud you like to have eight or ten more of ’em, my married wives, like you be, brought in here?”
“You are a fool, Peckaby. The cases is different.”
“Where’s the difference?” asked Peckaby. “The men be men, out there; and the women be women. I might pertend as I’d had visions and revelations sent to me, and dress myself up in a black coat and a white neck-an-kecher, and suchlike paycock’s plumes—I might tar and feather myself if I pleased, if it come to that—and give out as I was a prophit and a Latter Day Saint; but where ’ud be the difference, I want to know? I should just be as good and as bad a man as I be now, only a bit more of a hypocrite. Saints and prophits, indeed! You just come to your senses, Susan Peckaby.”
“I haven’t lost ’em yet,” answered she, looking inclined to beat him.
“You have lost ’em; to suppose as a life, out with them reptiles, could be anything but just what I telled you—a hell. It can’t be otherways. It’s again human female natur. If you went angry mad with jealousy, just at fancying you see a innocent kiss give upon a girl’s face, how ’ud you do, I ask, when it come to wives? Tales runs as them ‘saints’ have got any number a-piece, from four or five, up to seventy. If you don’t come to your senses, Mrs. Peckaby, you’ll get a walloping, to bring you to ‘em; and that’s about it. You be the laughing-stock o’ the place as it is.”
He swung out at the door, and took his way towards the nearest public-house, intending to solace himself with a pint of ale, in lieu of tea, of which he saw no chance. Mrs. Peckaby burst into a flood of tears, and apostrophised the expected white donkey in moving terms: that he would forthwith appear and bear her off from Peckaby and trouble, to the triumphs and delights of New Jerusalem.
Lionel, meanwhile, went to Roy’s dwelling. Roy, he found, was not in it. Mrs. Roy was; and, by the appearance of the laid-out tea-table, she was probably expecting Roy to enter. Mrs. Roy sat doing nothing, her arms hung listlessly down, her head also; sunk apparently in that sad state of mind—whatever may have been its cause—which was now habitual to her. By the start with which she sprang from her chair, as Lionel Verner appeared at the open door, it may be inferred that she took him for her husband. Surely nobody else could have put her in such tremor.