‘I don’t care how poor I be, father,’ said Mattie, ’it’s Jack I care about.’
‘There’s a girl all over,’ says uncle, for he was a sensible man in those days. ’The bit I’ve put by for you, lass, it’s enough for one, but it’s not enough for two. And when young Halibut can show as much, you shall be cried in church the very next Sunday. But, meantime, there must be no kisses, no more letters, and no more walking home from churches. Now, you give me your word—and keep it I know you will—like an honest girl.’
So Mattie she gave him her word, though much against her will; and as for Jack, I suppose, man-like, he didn’t care much about staying in the village after there was a stop put to his philandering and kissing and scent and so on. So what does he do, but he ups and offs to America (assisted emigration) ‘to make his fortune,’ says he.
And never word nor sign did we hear of him for three blessed years. Mattie was getting quite an old maid, nigh on two-and-twenty, and I was past nineteen, when one morning there come a letter from Jack.
My father and mother were dead this long time, so I lived with uncle and Mattie at the farm. What offers I had had is neither here nor there. At any rate, whatever they were, they weren’t good enough.
But Mattie might have been married twice over if she had liked, and to folks that would have been quite a catch to a girl like her getting on in years. She might have had young Bath for one, the strawberry grower; and what if he did drink a bit of a Saturday? He was taking his hundreds of pounds to the Bank every week in canvas bags, as all the world knew.
But no, she must needs hanker after Jack, and that’s why I say it’s such nonsense.
Well, when the letter come, I was up to my elbows in the jam-making—raspberry and currant it was,—and Mattie, she was down in the garden getting the last berries off the canes. My hands were stained up above the wrist with the currant juice, so I took the letter up by the corner of my apron and I went down the garden with it.
‘Mattie,’ I calls out, ’here’s a letter from that good-for-nothing fellow of yours.’
She couldn’t see me, and she thought I was chaffing her about him, which I often did, to keep things pleasant.
‘Don’t tease me, Jane,’ she says, ’for I do feel this morning as if I could hardly bear myself as it is.’
And as she said it I came out through the canes close to her with the letter in my hand. But when she see the letter she dropped the basket with the raspberries in it (they rolled all about on the ground right under the peony bush, for that was a silly, old-fashioned garden, with the flowers and fruit about it anyhow), and I had a nice business picking them up, and she threw her arms round my neck and kissed me, and cried like the silly little thing she was, and thanked me for bringing the letter, just as if I had anything to do with it, or any wish or will one way or another; and then she opened the letter, and seemed to forget all about me while she read it.