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Belgium

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



BY W. H. CAFFYN

ABS AND HIS WIFE.

BY J. E. PATTERSON.

ABS sat in an old " Windsor " armchair. Desolation was in his heart, and an expression of hell was on his face. His grey eyes, searching and fairly large and quiet in their movements generally, were intently watching the big fire of sea-coal and wrecked ships' timbers. He was smoking a clay pipe, every puff from which was cut off sharply by the way his short-haired lips came together, with a slightly inward turn at the firm pressure of each other. The south-easterly gale that roared without and drew big, leaping flames into the black mouth of the high, wide chimney, was utterly unheeded by Abs who rarely heard his full name, Absalom.

In the cove below, where every boat had long been hauled beyond the reach of the boiling surf, and amongst the blackish, gigantic, fang-like rocks of the headland, great seas might roar and snarl and hiss their savagery into the darkness of the night ; yet the man who, without ever a boast or the company of his kind, had not missed being out in any such heavy weather for twenty odd years, watching coast-line and offing that he might give succour wherever the Almighty put it into his hands to give, and benefiting himself as often as lifeless wreckage came within his reach, this man now sat and smoked and looked at the fire, in a silence that was broken only by the regular purring of the kitten on his legs, the sharp, occasional crackling of the wood in the grate, and the intermittent whistle and moan of the breeze as its fury rose and fell around the cottage.

Had he not, but little more than half an hour ago, come indoors out of that welter of wind and sea for " a bite an' sup," some dry clothing and a fresh supply of matches and tobacco, after having been out since noonday, and five hours of it in the bitter darkness of that winter's night ? His fellows of the cove-hamlet had, since nightfall, drunk their ale and yarned in the comfort of The Mariner's Compass, in the little half-street fronting the beach ; or had sat in their own homes, listening to the raging elements, mending odds and ends of gear indoors, and ready for a call to anything that happened out of doors. And why should they do otherwise ? Were not the men of Holmsted on the one side and of Sandy Bay on the other, with their lifeboats and rocket-apparatus, always on the look-out at such times ? As for them and the cove and thereabouts generally, was not Abs—" Good Abs " to some of them, " Never-miss " to the more critical few was not he on the prowl, and would let them know if he wanted them at any-thing ? It was not for them to know that Abs had slipped back, from along by the western headland, to freshen himself up a little before Elsie, his young wife, went to bed ; or that he had found a brief note, scrawled by her and left pinned to the faded table-cloth right in the lamplight. That note now lay close to where he had found it. Its unintended brutal brevity was :

"DEAR ABS,

Bill and me are going away together. I can't stand this life no longer; it's driving me fair crazy. I shouldn't have married you ; it was wicked. My heart's erying all the time for something more than I've got here. God forgive me and comfort you.

" ELSIE."

After Abs had spelt the words in a low, audible tone, his fingers opened mechanically, letting the missive fall to the table again. Then he, beginning to grasp the full purport of the letter, had once more picked it up in the same quiet manner ; had still more carefully gone over the big, angular letters, dropped the note a second time, filled his pipe and sat down. Then the kitten had crept from an inside corner of the high, bright steel fender, tried to climb up his smooth, wet sea-boots, and had been lifted on to his knees. Now it stirred from its light sleep and began to play with a loose thread in his guernsey. Presently it drew Abs' attention. He looked down at it a little while, puffing steadily at his pipe all the time ; then said he :

" Aye, Kitty, it be you an' me now for it, little 'un. Didn't think as she could a left you, so mighty fond as she was to see your antics. Now we got it all to ourselves, you (a big, involuntary sigh half-choked him) an' me. . . . Poor little thing, nob'dy to give it milk two 'r three times a day. I'll have to come in an' tend to him a bit. On'y him an' me for it now." Another great sigh arose in his throat, and was instantly followed by a greater sob that made the kitten stop in its play to look up at his face. This utter loneliness, which had come down on him like a thunder-clap, was too much for even his strongly reserved nature. Other sobs were suppressed to some extent. His pipe fell on the fender, was smashed, and the pieces were left unheeded. The respect and the fear of his neighbours ; the wild storm and lives in probable jeopardy close at hand ; his shortcomings as a husband mostly a lack of demonstration, of appreciation in word and deed ; his narrow uprightness; and all the things of the past were alike forgotten in his crushing desolation of the moment.

He arose and put the kitten down, where he saw the tiny paper-ball that Elsie had made for it to play with. But it came back to his feet. The repressed feeling of a score years was making his heart like a stout bag at bursting point. In a way, penitently he thought of the complaint he had made to Elsie at noon. After stroking the animal he gave it some milk. He looked around the room, and a sense of comfort struck him as it had not done till now. He noted (as he had silently done in the past) how Elsie had kept everything " spick an' span." He saw, too, in a more vague way, how the deft fingers and finer taste of a woman had put a touch of beauty here, of attractive homeliness there, of tidiness over all, giving to the whole room a soothing suggestion of femininity such as it had never possessed whilst Mrs. Corton (the wife of a neighbour) had " looked after the house and that " for him. Here his loneliness surged back with renewed vigour. In the midst of it his gaze casually met a reminder of Bill an old pipe on the window-ledge, where the latter had been accustomed to sit and read in the day-time this Bill whose life he had saved a few weeks ago. Uttering the first curse that had come to his lips for many a year, Abs placed the kitten on the hearth-rug, thundered heavily into the scullery, then out to the raging weather and the blackness. The outer door was banged at his heels. He thrust his arms into the oilskin coat as he stumbled along, and felt worse than he did when he killed Seth Jenks in his own defence twenty-two years ago, when he swore an oath never again to fight for himself.

When Bill put the question to her Would she go away with him ?—Elsie, giving way suddenly to her long-pent-up flood of feeling, had flung respectability to the howling wind, slipped into a heavy black jacket, put on a hat, and gone. Immediately on their leaving the cottage Elsie struck into a side-path that skirted the high land above the head of the cove and crossed the main road leading from Holmsted into the hamlet. Not a word was said. She had not been the tempter, had not flaunted before him either her mute misery, the narrows which hemmed her in, or any allurement of lip or eye or gesture ; no more had he thrown actual blandishments at her. Their mutual under-standing was mainly one of accepted inference, the beginning of which had been his casual remark that life seemed to be pretty dull to the inhabitants of Bender Cove. Never had there been a protracted conversation between them on any part of the subject, as it so deeply affected her, only a flashing comment here and there, an answer, a sympathy of understanding, and the matter had gone untouched for hours afterwards, sometimes for days. Others in the same circumstances would have found Abs a fruitful topic ; not so with them ; only twice had a shortcoming of his been mentioned. Wondering how such a man had become possessed of so young and fine-looking a wife, Bill had found himself stirring to her physical attractions ; this was immediately after he understood the situation. But instinct told him that Elsie was no woman for an intrigue under her husband's roof not even if that husband was as bad as Abs was good, but narrow and wordless. To her Bill was cheerful without foolery ; he had a few words of appreciation for things done, was quick to see a point and say a word or not as might be needed, but less warmth in his glances at such times would have been more to Abs. Bill was good to look at, appeared to be clean in his living, and of an age that was natural to her own. Further than this there had been no opportunity, no need for her to examine. Superficially he was clear-eyed generally, a genial fire compared to the austere Abs, and was strong with the strength of common-sense.

Had he asked Elsie if she loved him, her reply would have been a quiet, truthful and conclusive " No." In that starved heart of hers she admired him, seeing him daily at his best. Inevitably he stood up as a contrast to Abs, and the husband was eclipsed in the reflection. But, caught in an hour of rebellion that was hard to keep under owing to that unusual complaint of Abs, when he was in the house at noontime and in a moment of warm sympathy being applied to a loneliness that cried out in its suppression, Elsie had said " Yes " to the invitation, and was out of the house ere ten minutes had passed, leading the way because he did not know it, and now feeling, curiously, that she was the stronger of the two and must be the guide as much for that as for local reasons. Thus they kept along, buffeted by the gale, hampered by the darkness, and bumping their shoulders together when he tried to gain a position at her side ; on which occasions Elsie said quietly, " You'd better follow on," and maintained her pace, which was as steady and as evenly progressive as any man in the hamlet could have sustained in the same circumstances.

Her intended destination at the time was Sandy Bay, the future to be decided on afterwards. To have gone to Holmsted or to Shorthaven would have been too foolish for several reasons. But at the forked paths east of the cove she made the mistake of taking the right-hand one—the one that led curvingly towards the bluff. Here the way was broader, leveller, and they could walk side by side. So on through the darkness and the bitter night they went, a fitting pair to the eye that looked no further, both strong, both stalwart and seemingly of the same make temperament-ally. Little was being said, little indeed, and that was mainly spoken by him, more for the sake of saying something than anything else ; her share was merely the making of short answers, mostly monosyllabic. Even what he said was not what was really occupying his thoughts. Elsie filled his mind, making him intermittently hug close to her with a sort of cub-like, half-apologetic, half-commanding fondness, which he blamed, in an unbelieving kind of way to the unevenness of the path. It was life's inevitable comedy breaking through its more persistent tragedy ; but they were too full of other things to allow of their seeing the intrusion.

Meanwhile, Elsie was thinking entirely of what she had left, back there in the humdrum little community, with nothing to break the dull stagnancy of its life except an occasional wreck, or a birth or death amongst the cove-dwellers; for marriages did not happen there. The young women went to domestic service or other work in towns like Holmsted, and there became wives, and the young men married and remained away or brought wives home with them. But of its quiet cleanliness in life who so warped in mind as not to do it justice there ? Elsie's soul was like the adjacent coast on which those incessant seas, at the behest of the gale, thundered and snarled and broke over in smotherings of white foam, a suspicion of which reached and spread this rough table-land where they were footing it hardly, wind-swept and chilled.

The mental breakers under which Elsie's soul was suffering, silently and with increasing pain, were Abs and his qualities as a husband ; the justice he gave to all acts and things ; the quiet uniformity of his doings ; the kitten —would he feed it and care for it ?—Yes, because he could not be other than just; would he be lonely ? Would he miss her much ? Here she was at fault. The general placidity of their lives together, combined with some lack of penetration and deduction on her part, had not given her even an inkling of that deep well of feeling which Abs had kept so carefully covered up ever since his young days a secreting which was more due to the fact that in all the intervening years there had been no occasion to stir the well, rather than to his desire to keep it hidden. Those words of his to the kitten, his fondling it, and his sobs would have been a long day's revelation to Elsie. She was now thinking, in a vague kind of manner, of the rough nobility and dignity of the life left there on the brow of the sloping cliff ; of her inability to go back to its clean though narrow monotony ; of what would be said of her in the little place, where such an act as this of hers had not happened before, so far as anyone could recollect.

This was the point that struck Elsie as she thought how meanly she was playing her part towards Abs the man who had striven hard for her night and day, had always been just to her and of how he might miss her. She had involuntarily jerked one hand to her heart, as though the pain was physical. Here was a breaker that shook her soul to its foundations. For about a fortnight she had hugged her hungering heart to herself, thinking of how much happier she would have been as the wife of Bill, and in a sense wishing that the two men would change places, even to seeing briefly the possibility of what had now come about.

Yet one phase of the matter had passed her by : What would be said of her by the wives of the cove ? Gossiping, sometimes quarrelling, occasionally backbiting women as they were, it was still their pride to be good mothers and true wives, each one of whom would rather have lost her right hand and continued to bear her burdens than have done as Elsie was doing now. Elsie became oblivious to the bitterness of the weather and heedless of where her steps were carrying her.

In the midst of this abstraction of hers, Bill's foot struck an obstacle in the path, and he stumbled gently against Elsie. At the same time he put an arm around her waist, and made to pull her to him. But she thrust him resolutely away, making him surprised both at her action and her physical strength, she saying, " No, no ! For God's sake let me alone yet a bit ! "

It was not back towards the headland that divided Bender Cove from Holmsted, to the deafening coast-line, where the air was full of fine spume, and the hissing surf and breaking rollers lent a greyish sort of light to the immediate darkness, that Abs went. For the first time in his life on such an occasion he passed neighbour Corton's cottage and trod heavily down the steep, winding, short road that led into the cove. A foul taste was in his mouth, and the great desolation had given way to an anger that was as great. " Bill " the name was as poison ; to Abs there was something vitriolic in its sound. And he so blind as he had been these two weeks ! He was not blaming Elsie; but by the Almighty if . The latch of the inn door fell under his thumb and he almost stumbled down the single step that led inward to find himself briefly confused by the light, the babble of tongues, the unhealthy warmth and an atmosphere which was thick with the fumes of ale and tobacco.

In an instant the general talk became a greater hubbub at the appearance of Abs. Did he want anyone or anything ? What was the matter ? What had happened ? Was there something aground on the Scar ? or what was it ? These and similar questions were all fired higgledy-piggledy at Abs. It was so strange a sight to see him blundering in there at such a time, unless he happened to be in need of them all ; and even then it was a wonder that he had not found a messenger to send for them, as usual, while he hurried back to the scene of the wreck or the launching of a boat. But Abs made no answer to any man, which was stranger still. He just shut the heavy, black door (whereto age had given an inward lean at the top), barring the foul night without. Then he made a sort of dissenting motion with his hand, as he passed along to the two-feet-square wicket and asked the landlord for a pint of ale. Surely this was past all understanding and more than enough to cause the sudden quietude. It was a night that would be forgotten by no man present a night that was to be counted as a landmark in time by which that generation would locate other happenings of less importance.

Abs took his pint of ale and sat down. Sheer amazement kept his companions silent for some minutes. Then general conversation was slowly resumed. Presently big Joe Brown (who was rather more " chummy " with Abs than the others were) said :

" W'ere's Bill, mate ? Strikes me as he oughter be out wi' you to-night, if any man did." Abs smoked in silence ; even his expression showed nothing of what he felt. To leave a question unanswered neither admitted nor denied it in that company. Another man, a little further away, muttered something about Bill " loafin' " his time away," and Brown added, " Yes, an not a month sin' Abs dragged him be the heels out o' the suck of that schooner. Looks as if that narrow squeak's fair filled his chest chock-a-block o' goin' to sea. Eh, mate ? " he queried to Abs.

" Mebbe," the latter replied, lifting his pint mug from the table. With that swig he finished the ale. Then he arose and made for the door, buttoning his coat and smoking as he went, but saying not a word. If Abs could have heard only a few of the many remarks which followed his disappearance they might have aroused him a little from the depth of his trouble. Every man present was firmly convinced that something had " gone mighty wrong wi' Abs sin' noontime." Some of them said there was madness and murder and other evil things in his eyes ; two or three of the elders thought that he "'peared to be worse 'an ever he was in them wild days, w' en he used to tramp over to Holmsted to seek a fight." Then Brown suddenly and resolutely left his seat, saying :

" That's so, an' here goes one as is a-goin' to see what's in it all."

In the meantime Abs had passed through the straggling little street, crossed the sharp head of the cove and was winding his way up the opposite declivity, in the direction of Sandy Bay or, it might be, with the intention of going towards the bluff that formed the north-eastern seaward defence of the cove, a spot which he usually visited in the course of such a night, the times of his going being dependent on the weight and force of the gale. On these occasions his pace was always fairly slow and easy ; now it was slow and heedless apparently. He still smoked his big-bowled pipe, but seemed not to know or to care whither he went or what he did.

On his way past the cottages in the hamlet Abs had seen, here and there where a blind was up or a door chanced to be opened as he went by, things which had thrust his loneliness back upon him. The homely comforts ; the filial and fraternal affection ; the neighbourliness of " peepin' in for a yarn " ; the cheeriness of such company generally all these features had combined in thrusting him back, in a sense, on to the barrenness of his own fireside. And, in that quiet way which satisfied him so completely, he had been as happy as ever a man need to be. Elsie was a fine sort of a woman, he remembered, well-set-up and with a pleasant face the like of which was not to be met in every ten miles of the coast. Two years and a half ago he had felt much silent pride in bringing her home as his wife from Shorthaven, where it was never understood why she had not married one of the young men around her there. And she quiet in her ways, like himself had seemed to be happy enough.

All this was passing through his mind, but in more detail, as he climbed up the steep way in that bitter darkness and in the teeth of the gale ; the bowl of his pipe being now in one hand then in the other, in part to keep them warm and in part to prevent the wind from blowing the hot ashes in his face. They had never had " words," he reflected. Her particular wants had been few, and he had crossed her in none of them. What, then, did she mean by writing that she could stand the life no longer ? What was there in it to drive her crazy ? These two points puzzled him. Many a time he had told himself, but only himself, that he had the best wife in Bender Cove best to look at and least to complain about.

Then Bill had come (dragged by Abs from certain death in the wreck of the schooner of which he had been mate), he the only survivor, tall and well-knit, the same as Elsie. And Abs had carried him up home, rubbed some life into him, and put him into dry clothes ; then had left him for Elsie to attend to with hot food. So Abs had gone out again into the night wild as this one with his life in his hands, and his face in the direction of this self-appointed duty, taking to himself neither honour, pride, nor ever a word of such talk as most men would have considered to be their modest right now and then on the matter. Nor had he ever seen that in and about and through it all, with all its nobility of sacrifice and humanity, there was a narrowness that made for suppression which was hardly human and for the general dislike of his fellows a narrowness that, to the majority of them, tended largely to obliterate all its accompanying qualities.

Abs was now thinking of that night, of his leaving Bill to Elsie's ministrations ; then his thoughts went from one to another of the former's subsequent actions (it did not occur to him that his wife might have a share in the guilt) ; of how Bill first began to hang about the house, out-side but near by more than indoors; of his beginning to show in his talk that he thought of taking up long-shore work instead of going to sea ; then of how the man had regularly accompanied him from the house to the beach, in the morning, afternoon and early night, doing odd jobs for him, but always drifting back sooner or later to the house, and being found there by Abs, sitting and reading near the window, when he returned to a meal, while Elsie was silently going about her work and seeming to have no interest in life beyond her household duties. But, still, she had never been one of many words ; and during the past eighteen months or so it had become less and less her habit to talk, except on matters that had to be discussed, and even then at no greater length than necessity demanded.

Abs did not now feel the bitterness of the night, nor was he heeding the blackness of it. Every foot of the narrow way was familiar ground to his feet, and whilst they trod it mechanically, his mind was hard at work to find some-thing in the shape of buoys marking the channel along which Elsie and Bill had come to these devil's straits in which they and he now were. That crushing loneliness was again giving way to an anger which was terrible even in its repression. Thus he plodded on till he stood on the heights above Sandy Bay, saw that all was well down there, then turned about to reach the headland and follow the coast back to the cove. When he was about half-way to the bluff he came upon the ruins of the old fort and found a shelter under the inside of the biggest piece of wall, for he felt tired and a little sick of battling against the bitter cold and the darkness.

Not till Elsie began to realise rather than to hear the dull roar of the big seas around the foot of the headland did she get a glimmering that for nearly an hour she and Bill had toiled along the wrong path. Then she stopped, listened, and confided her fears to him. He hearkened also and came to the conclusion that the wild sea was not much further ahead, neither was it far away on their left. At this she explained the situation to him, saying that they must cross the waste land till they found the cliff-path to Sandy Bay. Ten minutes later they were in the path, and he resumed his interrupted efforts to break through her puzzling silence and her too evident desire to keep him at arm's length. Finding this of no avail, and beginning to feel that the fruit was losing some of its anticipated sweetness, he took to talking of Abs of his narrow goodness, his lack of warmth and other defects as a husband ; to all of which she gave brief replies. It was not a subject to her liking ; but she could not deny the truth.

Thus it was that they drew near the ruined fort, and the wind carried a sense of their words to Abs. At the first remarks, which were indistinct yet arrestingly familiar in their tone, he merely pricked up his ears and became alert mentally. Then clearly came Bill's urging to Elsie to shelter a while amongst the ruins ; she was refusing, but her words were too low to reach Abs. Yet Bill incited . . . And they drew nearer and seemed to stop. . . . They had turned an angle in the wall, thereby finding a sudden shelter, the comfort of which had somewhat pulled Elsie up almost unknown to her ; she leaned momentarily against the broken masonry, as her companion finished the remark he was then making an inferential sort of accusation as to Abs being too much of a " goody-goody glum 'un " to suit a woman of her kind. Elsie's answer was a vague conditional acceptance of his meaning, but the only word in it that reached her husband's ears was " Mebbe." This, however, was enough encouragement for Bill to pursue the subject ; meanwhile Elsie replied quietly, as best she could. She felt that it was not for her to substantiate charges against a husband who, for all his shortcomings, had behaved better to her than she had to him. And Abs now first became broadeningly aware of certain personal truths which he had so far missed, but was to miss no more.

Presently Bill resumed those attentions which she had already put off repeatedly, on one pretence or another. But here, halted out of the cold, raging wind, her excuses would have to be so much more limited that she at once resumed the journey, saying, with quiet firmness :

" Let's get down to Sandy Bay, or we shan't get lodgings to-night."

Still trying to detain her, less by hand than by word-of-mouth, Bill kept at her side. But in his whole manner there was still a strong sense of following ; of one who rather hung on than kept there by right or force of personality; of one who was secretly as much ashamed of his actions as he was the slave of his passion.

Then there was a crunching and a stumbling of feet amongst stones, as they neared the broken end of the wall, and Abs stepped out directly into the path. Even in the darkness and the suddenness of his appearance they knew him, so close he stood to them and so familiar and distinctive was his figure.

" W'are be you a-goin' ? " Abs grimly asked Bill.

" What's that to you ? " was the evasive query.

"I ax you w'are you be a-goin' ? " Abs repeated, and his words sounded hard as the bitter gale that whipped around them.

" To Sandy Bay," Bill sullenly replied, feeling yet only half aware that in the man before him there was a curious mastery which he could neither evade nor overcome.

" An' you ? " said Abs to Elsie quietly, before Bill could add another word. " W'are be your place tonight, Elsie ? "

" Home," said she simply, without hesitation, and making a move closer to him. A revulsion of feeling had been working on her since she left the cove, largely due to the awakening that was consequent on Bill's actions, but in part also to her having fully seen the forfeiture she was making ; this was now suddenly complete. In her heart she thanked God for her husband's appearance.

" Just take my oily then it 'ill keep a bit o' cold out an' bide aback o' that wall ten minutes 'r so, an' please the Lord we'll go horn' together agen," he said at once, and in the same quiet manner, but with a little less gentleness than when he asked her where she was going.

" But, Abs, Abs, you won't fight ! not here in the dark, like this, an' nobody to see ! " she cried, instinct and the hard-worn ethics of her class telling her instantly the hidden meaning of his words.

" Don't you fear, gurl," he answered passing the oiled coat over her shoulders. " I've got to put me mark on this, 'r w'are should I be i' the place. Besides, don't you take on. God'll see me through wi' it."

During this time Bill as quietly stood his ground, knowing that he must fight, whether he took or gave a hiding ; and feeling that, as man to man, he ought to be the victor, yet vaguely conscious of a strange sense of unavoidable punishment in and about Abs generally. Elsie began to plead for peace ; she feared that he was no physical match for Bill. Before she had uttered a dozen words a new influence appeared ; this was Brown, who, having learnt in the hamlet that Abs had been seen going up the eastern cliff after he left the inn, had tramped out to the headland in the wake of the runaways and was hurrying along in the expectation of overtaking Abs at any minute. He was upon them almost before they knew of his presence, and pulled up not a yard behind Bill, he momentarily amazed as they were. Then, with the manner of Abs in the inn as a key, Brown divined immediately the whole situation, passed around Bill and stood near to Abs and Elsie. Bill saw the action and knew the significance of it ; added to his curious feeling about Abs it almost caused him to turn on his heel and double around the ruins. Elsie at once asked Brown to interfere.

" Can't," he answered shortly "'Tisn't for any man to put his hand into a thing o' this sort, 'cept to help ; an' if Abs don't hammer him I'll hev to."

Abs led Elsie to where he had told her to go ; then he returned, and found big Joe Brown treading about a piece of adjacent ground to discover if it were level enough for the fight. Presently the latter announced that such was the case, so the two men stood up to each other in the biting gale, stripped and determined, whilst Brown crouched low on the grass in order to have the upper halves of the men between him and the leaden sky, the better to watch their actions and to see fair play.

Bill, who had the physical advantages, intended to give as much as he got, despite the fact that he now had no stomach for the fight ; but there was about Abs a certain air of righteous mastery the belief that God was on his side and would give him the victory, because he had kept his oath and never fought since Seth Jenks made him fight and died in consequence.

At Brown's signal, " Let go," they squared towards each other ; and suddenly Bill, before a blow could be struck, lurched forward, as if to butt Abs. The truth was his left foot had slipped abruptly backwards on the wet grass. Of this Abs was ignorant, and up went his knee with such force against Bill's forehead that the latter rolled over and lay still. For a minute or two Abs and Brown waited. Then the big man examined Bill and said :

" Put your things on, mate ; he's 'bout had enough ; but he'll be all right by-an'-by."

Slowly Abs put on his clothes again. By that time Bill was opening his eyes, with no more fight left in him, as he told Brown in answer to a question on that point. Then said Brown :

" Get you away hom', mate. I'll see him on his feet an' corn' on arter you."

Abs went to Elsie, and together they made for home, he saying, "Com' on, Elsie, gurl, let's get hom'—Kitty will be a-wantin' his supper ; and we'll see if we can't all be a bit more chummy together arter this. Com' on."

Thus they strode along through the gale, Elsie with no misgivings as to the future, except as to what her neighbours would think and show in their actions ; but on this point, as she afterwards discovered, she did not count on the wise and charitable silence of big Joe Brown.

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