My mother had married beneath her, they said, for she’d been to school and been in service in a good family, and she taught me to read and write and cipher in the old days, when I was a little kid along of ’er in the barge. So we named our little kid Mary to be like our boat, and as soon as she was big enough, I taught ’er all my mother had taught me, and when she was about eight year old my Tom’s great-uncle James, who was a tinsmith by trade, left us a bit of money—over L 200 it were.
‘Not a penny of it shall I spend,’ says my Tom when he heard of it; ’we’ll send our Mary to school with that, we will; and happen she’ll be a lady’s-maid and get on in the world.’
So we put her to boarding-school in Maidstone, and it was like tearing the heart out of my body. And she’d been away from us a fortnight, and the barge was like hell without her, Tom said, and I felt it too though I couldn’t say it, being a Christian woman; and one night we’d got the barge fast till morning in Stoneham Lock, and we were a-settin’ talking about her.
‘Don’t you fret, old woman,’ says Tom, with the tears standin’ in his eyes, ’she’s better off where she is, and she’ll thank us for it some day. She’s ‘appier where she is,’ says ’e, ’nor she would be in this dirty old barge along of us.’
And just as he said it, I says, ‘’Ark! what’s that?’ And we both listened, and if it wasn’t that precious child standing on the bank callin’ ‘Daddy,’ and she’d run all the way from Maidstone in ’er little nightgown, and a waterproof over it.
P’raps if we’d been sensible parents, we should ’ave smacked ’er and put ’er back next day; but as it was we hugged ’er, and we hugged each other till we was all out o’ breath, and then she set up on ’er daddy’s knee, and ‘ad a bit o’ cold pork and a glass of ale for ’er supper along of us, and there was no more talk of sendin’ ’er back to school. But we put by the bit of money to set ’er up if she should marry or want to go into business some day.
And she lived with us on the barge, and though I ses it there wasn’t a sweeter girl nor a better girl atwixt London and Tonbridge.
When she was risin’ seventeen, I looked for the young men to be comin’ after ’er; and come after ’er they did, and more than one and more than two, but there was only one as she ever give so much as a kind look to, and that was Bill Jarvis, the blacksmith’s son at Farleigh. Whenever our barge was lyin’ in the river of a Sunday, he would walk down in ’is best in the afternoon to pass the time of day with us, and presently it got to our Mary walking out with ’im regular.
‘Blest if it ain’t going to be “William and Mary” after all,’ says my old man.
’He was pleased, I could see, for Bill Jarvis, he’d been put to his father’s trade, and ’e might look to come into his father’s business in good time, and barrin’ a bit of poaching, which is neither here nor there, in my opinion there wasn’t a word to be said against ’im.