“My wife! Not a bit on’t. You needn’t come here with that gammon, missis, whoever you be. My wife’s gone off to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.”
He slammed to the casement. Mrs. Peckaby, what with the rain and what with the disappointment, burst into tears. In the same moment, sundry other casements opened, and all the heads in the vicinity—including the blacksmith Chuffs, and Mrs. Chuff’s—were thrust out to condole with their neighbour, Mrs. Peckaby.
“Had she been and come back a’ready?” “Did she get tired of the saints so soon as this—or did they get tired of her?” “What sort of a city, was it?” “Which was most plentiful—geese or sage?” “How many wives, besides herself, had the gentleman that she chose?” “Who took care of the babies?” “Did they have many public dances?” “Was veils for the bonnets all the go?” “Was it a paradise or warn’t it?” “And how was Brother Jarrum?”
Amongst the many questions asked, those came prominently, tingling on the ears of the unhappy Mrs. Peckaby. Too completely prostrate with events to retort, she suddenly let drop her gown, that she had kept so carefully turned, and clapped both her hands upon her face. Then came a real, genuine question from the next door casement—Mrs. Green’s.
“Ain’t that your plum-coloured gownd? What’s come to it?”
Mrs. Peckaby, somewhat aroused, looked at the gown in haste. What had come to it? Patches of dead-white, looking not unlike paint, covered it about on all sides, especially behind. The shawl had caught some white, too, and the green leather gloves looked, inside, as though they had had a coat of whitewash put on them. Her beautiful gownd! laid by so long!—what on earth had ruined it like that?
Chuff, the blacksmith, gave a great grin from his window. “Sure that there donkey never was painted down white!” quoth he.
That it had been painted down white and with exceedingly wet paint too, there could be little doubt. Some poor donkey humble in his coat of gray, converted into a fine white animal for the occasion, by Peckaby and Chuff and their cronies. Mrs. Peckaby shrieked and sobbed with mortification, and drummed frantically on her house door. A chorus of laughter echoed from all sides, and Peckaby’s casement flew open again.
“Will you stop that there knocking, then?” roared Peckaby, “Disturbing a man’s night’s rest.”
“I will come in then, Peckaby,” she stormed, plucking up a little spirit in her desperation. “I be your wife, you know I be, and I will come in.”
“My good woman, what’s took you?” cried Peckaby, in a tone of compassionating suavity. “You ain’t no wife of mine. My wife’s miles on her road by this time. She’s off to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.”
A new actor came up to the scene—no other than Jan Verner. Jan had been sitting up with some poor patient, and was now going home. To describe his surprise when he saw the windows alive with nightcapped heads, and Mrs. Peckaby in her dripping discomfort, in her paint, in her state altogether, outward and inward, would be a long task. Peckaby himself undertook the explanation, in which he was aided by Chuff; and Jan sat himself down on the public pump, and laughed till he was hoarse.