I had as good a time as most young fellows when I was young. My father farmed a bit of land down Malling way, and I walked out with the prettiest girl in our parts. Jenny was her name, Jenny Teesdale; her people come from the North. Pretty as a pink Jenny was, and neat in her ways, and would make me a good wife, every one said, even my own mother; and when a man’s mother owns that about a girl he may know he’s got hold of a treasure. Now Jenny—her name was Jane, but we called her Jenny for short—she had a cousin Amelia, who was apprenticed to the millinery and dress-making in Maidstone; the two had been brought up together from little things, and they was that fond of each other it was a pleasure to see them together. I was fond of Amelia, too, like as a brother might be; and when Jenny and me walked out of a Sunday, as often as not Amelia would come with us, and all went on happy enough for a while. Then I began to notice Jenny didn’t seem to care so much about walking out, and one Sunday afternoon she said she had a headache and would rather stay at home by the fire; for it was early spring, and the days chilly. Amelia and me took a turn by ourselves, and when we got back to Teesdale’s farm, there was Jenny, wonderfully brisked up, talking and laughing away with young Wheeler, whose father keeps the post-office. I was not best pleased, I can tell you, but I kept a still tongue in my head; only, as time went on, I couldn’t help seeing Jenny didn’t seem to be at all the same to me, and Amelia seemed sad, too.
I was in the hairdressing then, and serving my time, so it was only on Sundays or an evening that I could get out. But at last I said to myself, ’This can’t go on; us three that used to be so jolly, we’re as flat as half a pint of four ale; and I’ll know the reason why,’ says I, ‘before I’m twenty-four hours older.’ So I went to Teesdale’s with that clear fixed in my head.
Jenny was not in the house, but Amelia was. The old folks had gone to a Magic Lantern in the schoolroom, and Amelia was alone in the house.
‘I’ll have it out with her,’ thinks I; so as soon as we had passed the time of day and asked after each other’s relations, I says, ’Look here, Amelia, what is it that’s making mischief between you and me and Jenny, as used to be so jolly along of each other?’
She went red, and she went white and red again.
’Don’t ’e ask me, Tom—don’t ‘e now, there’s a good fellow.’
And, of course, I asked her all the more.
Then says she, ‘Jenny’ll never forgive me if I tell you.’
‘Jenny shan’t never know,’ says I; and I swore it, too.
Then says Amelia, ’I can’t abear to tell you, Tom, for I know it will break your ’eart. But
Jenny, she don’t care for you no more; it’s Joe Wheeler as she fancies now, and she’s out with him this very minute, as here we stand.
‘I’ll wring her neck for her,’ says I. Then when I had taken time to think a bit, ‘I can’t believe this, Amelia,’ says I, ’not even from you. I must ask Jenny.’