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Friendly Brook
by [?]

‘Same way with Jim an’ his mother,’ Jesse went on. ‘There was talk betwixt ’em after a few years o’ not takin’ any more week-end money for Mary; but let alone she never passed a farden in the mire ‘thout longin’s, Jim didn’t care, like, to push himself forward into the Society’s remembrance. So naun came of it. The week-end money would ha’ made no odds to Jim–not after his uncle willed him they four cottages at Eastbourne an’ money in the bank.’

‘That was true, too, then? I heard something in a scadderin’ word-o’-mouth way,’ said Jabez.

‘I’ll answer for the house property, because Jim he requested my signed name at the foot o’ some papers concernin’ it. Regardin’ the money in the bank, he nature-ally wouldn’t like such things talked about all round the parish, so he took strangers for witnesses.’

‘Then ’twill make Mary worth seekin’ after?’

‘She’ll need it. Her Maker ain’t done much for her outside nor yet in.’

‘That ain’t no odds.’ Jabez shook his head till the water showered off his hat-brim. ‘If Mary has money, she’ll be wed before any likely pore maid. She’s cause to be grateful to Jim.’

‘She hides it middlin’ close, then,’ said Jesse. ‘It don’t sometimes look to me as if Mary has her natural rightful feelin’s. She don’t put on an apron o’ Mondays ‘thout being druv to it–in the kitchen or the hen-house. She’s studyin’ to be a school-teacher. She’ll make a beauty! I never knowed her show any sort o’ kindness to nobody–not even when Jim’s mother was took dumb. No! ‘Twadn’t no stroke. It stifled the old lady in the throat here. First she couldn’t shape her words no shape; then she clucked, like, an’ lastly she couldn’t more than suck down spoon-meat an’ hold her peace. Jim took her to Doctor Harding, an’ Harding he bundled her off to Brighton Hospital on a ticket, but they couldn’t make no stay to her afflictions there; and she was bundled off to Lunnon, an’ they lit a great old lamp inside her, and Jim told me they couldn’t make out nothing in no sort there; and, along o’ one thing an’ another, an’ all their spyin’s and pryin’s, she come back a hem sight worse than when she started. Jim said he’d have no more hospitalizin’, so he give her a slate, which she tied to her waist-string, and what she was minded to say she writ on it.’

‘Now, I never knowed that! But they’re valley-folk,’ Jabez repeated.

”Twadn’t particular noticeable, for she wasn’t a talkin’ woman any time o’ her days. Mary had all three’s tongue…. Well, then, two years this summer, come what I’m tellin’ you. Mary’s Lunnon father, which they’d put clean out o’ their minds, arrived down from Lunnon with the law on his side, sayin’ he’d take his daughter back to Lunnon, after all. I was working for Mus’ Dockett at Pounds Farm that summer, but I was obligin’ Jim that evenin’ muckin’ out his pig-pen. I seed a stranger come traipsin’ over the bridge agin’ Wickenden’s door-stones. ‘Twadn’t the new County Council bridge with the handrail. They hadn’t given it in for a public right o’ way then. ‘Twas just a bit o’ lathy old plank which Jim had throwed acrost the brook for his own conveniences. The man wasn’t drunk–only a little concerned in liquor, like–an’ his back was a mask where he’d slipped in the muck comin’ along. He went up the bricks past Jim’s mother, which was feedin’ the ducks, an’ set himself down at the table inside–Jim was just changin’ his socks–an’ the man let Jim know all his rights and aims regardin’ Mary. Then there just about was a hurly-bulloo? Jim’s fust mind was to pitch him forth, but he’d done that once in his young days, and got six months up to Lewes jail along o’ the man fallin’ on his head. So he swallowed his spittle an’ let him talk. The law about Mary was on the man’s side from fust to last, for he showed us all the papers. Then Mary come downstairs–she’d been studyin’ for an examination–an’ the man tells her who he was, an’ she says he had ought to have took proper care of his own flesh and blood while he had it by him, an’ not to think he could ree-claim it when it suited. He says somethin’ or other, but she looks him up an’ down, front an’ backwent, an’ she just tongues him scadderin’ out o’ doors, and he went away stuffin’ all the papers back into his hat, talkin’ most abusefully. Then she come back an’ freed her mind against Jim an’ his mother for not havin’ warned her of her upbringin’s, which it come out she hadn’t ever been told. They didn’t say naun to her. They never did. I’d ha’ packed her off with any man that would ha’ took her–an’ God’s pity on him!’