“‘Well,’ says she, ’you suggested a partnership, and I agreed to it. What more do you want?’
“‘I want to know the name of the firm,’ says he.
“‘Mr. and Mrs. Wrench,’ says she, turning round to him and holding out her hand. ‘How will that suit you?’
“‘That’ll do me all right,’ answers he. ’And I’ll try and give satisfaction,’ adds he.
“‘I believe you,’ says she.
“And in that way they made a fresh start, as it were.”
“It’s competition,” replied Henry, “that makes the world go round. You never want a thing particularly until you see another fellow trying to get it; then it strikes you all of a sudden that you’ve a better right to it than he has. Take barmaids: what’s the attraction about ’em? In looks they’re no better than the average girl in the street; while as for their temper, well that’s a bit above the average—leastways, so far as my experience goes. Yet the thinnest of ’em has her dozen, making sheep’s-eyes at her across the counter. I’ve known girls that on the level couldn’t have got a policeman to look at ’em. Put ’em behind a row of tumblers and a shilling’s-worth of stale pastry, and nothing outside a Lincoln and Bennett is good enough for ’em. It’s the competition that’s the making of ’em.
“Now, I’ll tell you a story,” continued Henry, “that bears upon the subject. It’s a pretty story, if you look at it from one point of view; though my wife maintains—and she’s a bit of a judge, mind you—that it’s not yet finished, she arguing that there’s a difference between marrying and being married. You can have a fancy for the one, without caring much about the other. What I tell her is that a boy isn’t a man, and a man isn’t a boy. Besides, it’s five years ago now, and nothing has happened since: though of course one can never say.”
“I would like to hear the story,” I ventured to suggest; “I’ll be able to judge better afterwards.”
“It’s not a long one,” replied Henry, “though as a matter of fact it began seventeen years ago in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was a wild young fellow, and always had been.”
“Who was?” I interrupted.
“Tom Sleight,” answered Henry, “the chap I’m telling you about. He belonged to a good family, his father being a Magistrate for Monmouthshire; but there had been no doing anything with young Tom from the very first. At fifteen he ran away from school at Clifton, and with everything belonging to him tied up in a pocket-handkerchief made his way to Bristol Docks. There he shipped as boy on board an American schooner, the Cap’n not pressing for any particulars, being short-handed, and the boy himself not volunteering much. Whether his folks made much of an effort to get him back, or whether they didn’t, I can’t tell you. Maybe, they thought a little roughing it would knock