“Whatever have done it? why that wretch Peckaby,” retorted the aggrieved wife. “Don’t you never get married, Polly Dawson, if you want to keep on the right side of the men. They be the worst animals in all creation. Many a poor woman’s life has been aggrivated out of her.”
“If I do get married, I shan’t begin the aggrivation by wanting to be off to them saints at New Jerusalem,” impudently returned Polly Dawson.
Mrs. Peckaby received it meekly. What with the long-continued disappointment, the perpetual “aggrivations” of Peckaby, and the prospect of work before her, arising from the gratuitous pail of water, she was feeling unusually cowed down.
“I wish I was a hundred mile off,” she cried. “Nobody’s fate was never so hard as mine.”
“It’ll take you a good two hours to redd up,” observed Polly Dawson. “I’d rather you had to do it nor me.”
“I’d see it further—afore it should take me two hours—and Peckaby with it,” retorted Mrs. Peckaby, reviving to a touch of temper. “I shall but give it a lick and a promise; just mop up the wet, and dry the grate, and get a bit of fire alight. T’other things may go.”
Polly Dawson departed, and Mrs. Peckaby set to her work. By dint of some trouble, she contrived to obtain a cup of tea for herself after awhile, and then she sat on disconsolately as before. Night came on, and she had ample time to indulge her ruminations.
Peckaby had not been in. Mrs. Peckaby concluded he was solacing himself at that social rendezvous, the Plough and Harrow, and would come home in a state of beer. Between nine and ten he entered—hours were early in Deerham—and to Mrs. Peckaby’s surprise, he was not only sober, but social.
“It have turned out a pouring wet night,” cried he. And the mood was so unwonted, especially after the episode of the wet grate, that Mrs. Peckaby was astonished into answering pleasantly.
“Will ye have some bread and cheese?” asked she.
“I don’t mind if I do. Chuff, he gave me a piece of his bread and bacon at eight o’clock, so I ain’t over hungry.”
Mrs. Peckaby brought forth the loaf and the cheese, and Peckaby cut himself some and ate it. Then he went upstairs. She stayed to put the eatables away, raked out the fire, and followed. Peckaby was already in bed. To get into it was not a very ceremonious proceeding with him, as it is not with many others. There was no superfluous attire to throw off, there was no hindering time with ablutions, there were no prayers. Mrs. Peckaby favoured the same convenient mode, and she had just put the candle out, when some noise struck upon her ear.
It came from the road outside. They slept back, the front room having been the one let to Brother Jarrum; but in those small houses, at that quiet hour noises in the road were heard as distinctly back as front. There was a sound of talking, and then came a modest knock at Peckaby’s door.