Ellen was tall and a slight figure, and as pretty as a picture in her Sunday clothes, and prettier than any picture on a working day, with her sleeves rolled up to her shoulder and the colour in her face like a rose, and her brown, hair all twisted up rough anyhow; and, of course, she was much sought after and flattered. But I couldn’t have done it myself, I think, even if I had been sought after twice as much and twice as handsome. No, I couldn’t, not after the doctor had said that father’s heart was weak, and any sudden shock might bring an end to him.
But, oh! poor dear, she was my sister—my own only sister—and it’s not the time now to be hard on her, and she where she is.
She was walking regular with a steady young man, who worked through the week at Hastings, and come home here on a Sunday, and she would have married him and been as happy as a queen, I know; and all her looking in the glass, and dressing herself pretty, would have come to being proud of her babies and spending what bits she could get together in making them look smart; but it was not to be.
Young Barber, the grocer’s son, who had a situation in London, he come down for his summer holiday, and then it was ’No, thank you kindly,’ to poor Arthur Simmons, that had loved her faithful and true them two years, and she was all for walking with young Mr. Barber, besides running into the shop twenty times a day when no occasion was, just for a word across the counter.
And father wasn’t the best pleased, but he was always a silent man, very pious, and not saying much as he sat at his bench, for he had been brought up to the shoemaking and was very respected among Pevensey folks. He would hum a hymn or two at his work sometimes, but he was never a man of words. When young Barber went back to London, Ellen, she began to lose her pretty looks. I had never thought much of young Barber. There was something common about him—not like the labouring men, but a kind of town commonness, which is twenty times worse to my thinking; and if I didn’t like him before, you may guess I didn’t waste much love on him when I see poor Ellen’s looks.
Now, if I am to tell you this story at all, I must tell it very steady and quiet, and not run on about what I thought or what I felt, or I shan’t never have the heart to go through it. The long and short of it was that a month hadn’t passed over our heads after young Barber leaving, when one morning our Ellen wasn’t there. And she left a note, nailed to father’s bench, to say she had gone off with her true love, and father wasn’t to mind, for she was going to be married.
Father, he didn’t say a word, but he turned a dreadful white, and blue his lips were, and for one dreadful moment I thought that I had lost him too. But he come round presently. I ran across to the Three Swans to get a drop of brandy for him; and I looked at her letter again, and I looked at him, and we both see that neither of us believed that she was going to be married. There was something about the very way of the words as she had written them which showed they weren’t true.