And then I heard my mother. ‘Come home, James,’ she said, ’come home—it’s true. I told you you was too hard on them. Young folks will be young folks, and now, perhaps, our little girl has come to shame instead of being married decent, as she might have been, though Roman.’
Then there was silence for a bit, and then my father says, speaking softer, ‘Tell me again. I can’t think but what I’m dreaming.’
Then mother says—’Don’t I tell you she said she’d got the toothache, and she was going to lie down a bit, and I went to take her up some camomiles I’d been hotting, and she wasn’t there, and her bolsters and pillows, poor lamb, made up to pretend she was, and Johnson’s Ben, he see her along of William Birt by the Parson’s Shave with his arm round her—God forgive them both!’
Then says my father, ‘Here’s an end on’t. She’s no daughter o’ mine. If she was to come back to me, I’d turn her out of doors. Don’t let any one name her name to me never no more. I hain’t got no daughter,’ he said, ‘and may the Lord—’
I think my mother put her hands afore his mouth, for he stopped short, and mother, she said—
’Don’t curse them, James. You’ll be sorry for it, and they’ll have trouble enough without that.’
And with that father and mother must have gone away, and the other ringers stood talking a bit.
‘She’d best not come back,’ said the leader, John Evans. ’Out a-gallivanting with a young chap from five to eight as I understand! What’s the good of coming back? She’s lost her character, and a gal without a character, she’s like—like—’
‘Like a public-house without a licence,’ said the second ringer.
‘Or a cart without a horse,’ said the treble.
There was only one man spoke up for me—that was Jim Piper at the general shop. ‘I don’t believe no harm of that gal,’ says he, ’no more nor I would of my own missus, nor yet of him.’
‘Well, let’s hope for the best,’ said the others. But I had a sort of feeling they was hoping for the worst, because when things goes wrong, it’s always more amusing for the lookers-on than when everything goes right. Presently they went clattering down the steps, and all was dark, and there was me and William among the cobwebs and the owls, holding each other’s hands, and as cold as stone, both of us.
‘Well?’ says William, when everything was quiet again.
‘Well!’ says I. ’Good-bye, William. He won’t be as hard as his word, and if I couldn’t give you all my life to be a good wife to you, I have given you my character, it seems; not willing, it’s true; but there’s nothing I should grudge you, William, and I don’t regret it, and good-bye.’
But he held my hands tight.
‘Good-bye, William,’ I says again. ‘I’m going. I’m going home.’
‘Yes, my girl,’ says he, ’you are going home; you’re going home with me to my mother.’ And he was masterful enough then, I can tell you. ’If your father would throw you off without knowing the rights or wrongs of the story, it’s not for him you should be giving up your happiness and mine, my girl. Come home to my mother, and let me see the man who dares to say anything against my wife.’