BUT THE OTHER GETS IN
To Tommy, a swaggerer, came Shovel sour-visaged; having now no cap of
his own, he exchanged with Tommy, would also have bled the blooming
mouth of him, but knew of a revenge that saves the knuckles: announced,
with jeers and offensive finger exercise, that "it" had come.
Shovel was a liar. If he only knowed what Tommy knowed!
If Tommy only heard what Shovel had heard!
Tommy was of opinion that Shovel hadn't not heard anything.
Shovel believed as Tommy didn't know nuthin.
Tommy wouldn't listen to what Shovel had heard.
Neither would Shovel listen to what Tommy knew.
If Shovel would tell what he had heard, Tommy would tell what he knew.
Well, then, Shovel had listened at the door, and heard it mewling.
Tommy knowed it well, and it never mewled.
How could Tommy know it?
'Cos he had been with it a long time.
Gosh! Why, it had only comed a minute ago.
This made Tommy uneasy, and he asked a leading question cunningly. A
boy, wasn't it?
No, Shovel's old woman had been up helping to hold it, and she said it
were a girl.
Shutting his mouth tightly; which was never natural to him, the startled
Tommy mounted the stair, listened and was convinced. He did not enter
his dishonored home. He had no intention of ever entering it again. With
one salt tear he renounced--a child, a mother.
On his way downstairs he was received by Shovel and party, who planted
their arrows neatly. Kids cried steadily, he was told, for the first
year. A boy one was bad enough, but a girl one was oh lawks. He must
never again expect to get playing with blokes like what they was.
Already she had got round his old gal who would care for him no more.
What would they say about this in Thrums?
Shovel even insisted on returning him his cap, and for some queer
reason, this cut deepest. Tommy about to charge, with his head down, now
walked away so quietly that Shovel, who could not help liking the funny
little cuss, felt a twinge of remorse, and nearly followed him with a
magnanimous offer: to treat him as if he were still respectable.
Tommy lay down on a distant stair, one of the very stairs where _she_
had sat with him. Ladies, don't you dare to pity him now, for he won't
stand it. Rage was what he felt, and a man in a rage (as you may know if
you are married) is only to be soothed by the sight of all womankind in
terror of him. But you may look upon your handiwork, and gloat, an you
will, on the wreck you have made. A young gentleman trusted one of you;
behold the result. O! O! O! O! now do you understand why we men cannot
If she had told him flat that his mother, and his alone, she would have,
and so there was an end of it. Ah, catch them taking a straight road.
But to put on those airs of helplessness, to wave him that gay good-by,
and then the moment his back was turned, to be off through the air
on--perhaps on her muff, to the home he had thought to lure her from. In
a word, to be diddled by a girl when one flatters himself he is
diddling! S'death, a dashing fellow finds it hard to bear. Nevertheless,
he has to bear it, for oh, Tommy, Tommy, 'tis the common lot of man.
His hand sought his pocket for the penny that had brought him comfort in
dark hours before now; but, alack, she had deprived him even of it.
Never again should his pinkie finger go through that warm hole, and at
the thought a sense of his forlornness choked him and he cried. You may
pity him a little now.
Darkness came and hid him even from himself. He is not found again until
a time of the night that is not marked on ornamental clocks, but has an
hour to itself on the watch which a hundred thousand or so of London
women carry in their breasts; the hour when men steal homewards
trickling at the mouth and drawing back from their own shadows to the
wives they once went a-maying with, or the mothers who had such travail
at the bearing of them, as if for great ends. Out of this, the
drunkard's hour, rose the wan face of Tommy, who had waked up somewhere
clammy cold and quaking, and he was a very little boy, so he ran to his
Such a shabby dark room it was, but it was home, such a weary worn woman
in the bed, but he was her son, and she had been wringing her hands
because he was so long in coming, and do you think he hurt her when he
pressed his head on her poor breast, and do you think she grudged the
heat his cold hands drew from her warm face? He squeezed her with a
violence that put more heat into her blood than he took out of it.
And he was very considerate, too: not a word of reproach in him, though
he knew very well what that bundle in the back of the bed was.
She guessed that he had heard the news and stayed away through jealousy
of his sister, and by and by she said, with a faint smile, "I have a
present for you, laddie." In the great world without, she used few
Thrums words now; you would have known she was Scotch by her accent
only, but when she and Tommy were together in that room, with the door
shut, she always spoke as if her window still looked out on the bonny
Marywellbrae. It is not really bonny, it is gey an' mean an' bleak, and
you must not come to see it. It is just a steep wind-swept street, old
and wrinkled, like your mother's face.
She had a present for him, she said, and Tommy replied, "I knows," with
"Such a bonny thing."
"Bonny enough," he said bitterly.
"Look at her, laddie."
But he shrank from the ordeal, crying, "No, no, keep her covered up!"
The little traitor seemed to be asleep, and so he ventured to say,
eagerly, "It wouldn't not take long to carry all our things to another
house, would it? Me and Shovel could near do it ourselves."
"And that's God's truth," the woman said, with a look round the room.
"But what for should we do that?"
"Do you no see, mother?" he whispered excitedly. "Then you and me could
slip away, and--and leave her--in the press."
The feeble smile with which his mother received this he interpreted
thus, "Wherever we go'd to she would be there before us."
"The little besom!" he cried helplessly.
His mother saw that mischievous boys had been mounting him on his
horse, which needed only one slap to make it go a mile; but she was a
spiritless woman, and replied indifferently, "You're a funny litlin."
Presently a dry sob broke from her, and thinking the child was the
cause, soft-hearted Tommy said, "It can't not be helped, mother; don't
cry, mother, I'm fond on yer yet, mother; I--I took her away. I found
another woman--but she would come."
"She's God's gift, man," his mother said, but she added, in a different
tone, "Ay, but he hasna sent her keep."
"God's gift!" Tommy shuddered, but he said sourly, "I wish he would take
her back. Do you wish that, too, mother?"
The weary woman almost said she did, but her arms--they gripped the baby
as if frightened that he had sent for it. Jealous Tommy, suddenly
deprived of his mother's hand, cried, "It's true what Shovel says, you
don't not love me never again; you jest loves that little limmer!"
"Na, na," the mother answered, passionate at last, "she can never be to
me what you hae been, my laddie, for you came to me when my hame was in
hell, and we tholed it thegither, you and me."'
This bewildered though it comforted him. He thought his mother might be
speaking about the room in which they had lived until six months ago,
when his father was put into the black box, but when he asked her if
this were so, she told him to sleep, for she was dog-tired. She always
evaded him in this way when he questioned her about his past, but at
times his mind would wander backwards unbidden to those distant days,
and then he saw flitting dimly through them the elusive form of a child.
He knew it was himself, and for moments he could see it clearly, but
when he moved a step nearer it was not there. So does the child we once
were play hide and seek with us among the mists of infancy, until one
day he trips and falls into the daylight. Then we seize him, and with
that touch we two are one. It is the birth of self-consciousness.
Hitherto he had slept at the back of his mother's bed, but to-night she
could not have him there, the place being occupied, and rather sulkily
he consented to lie crosswise at her feet, undressing by the feeble fire
and taking care, as he got into bed, not to look at the usurper. His
mother watched him furtively, and was relieved to read in his face that
he had no recollection of ever having slept at the foot of a bed before.
But soon after he fell asleep he awoke, and was afraid to move lest his
father should kick him. He opened his eyes stealthily, and this was
neither the room nor the bed he had expected to see.
The floor was bare save for a sheepskin beside the bed. Tommy always
stood on the sheepskin while he was dressing because it was warm to the
feet, though risky, as your toes sometimes caught in knots in it. There
was a deal table in the middle of the floor with some dirty crockery
on it and a kettle that would leave a mark, but they had been left there
by Shovel's old girl, for Mrs. Sandys usually kept her house clean. The
chairs were of the commonest, and the press door would not remain shut
unless you stuck a knife between its halves; but there, was a gay blue
wardrobe, spotted white where Tommy's mother had scraped off the mud
that had once bespattered it during a lengthy sojourn at the door of a
shop; and on the mantelpiece was a clock in a little brown and yellow
house, and on the clock a Bible that had been in Thrums. But what Tommy
was proudest of was his mother's kist, to which the chests of Londoners
are not to be compared, though like it in appearance. On the inside of
the lid of this kist was pasted, after a Thrums custom, something that
his mother called her marriage lines, which she forced Shovel's mother
to come up and look at one day, when that lady had made an innuendo
Tommy did not understand, and Shovel's mother had looked, and though she
could not read, was convinced, knowing them by the shape.
Tommy lay at the foot of the bed looking at this room, which was his
home now, and trying to think of the other one, and by and by the fire
helped him by falling to ashes, when darkness came in, and packing the
furniture in grotesque cloths, removed it piece by piece, all but the
clock. Then the room took a new shape. The fireplace was over there
instead of here, the torn yellow blind gave way to one made of spars of
green wood, that were bunched up at one side, like a lady out for a
walk. On a round table there was a beautiful blue cloth, with very few
gravy marks, and here a man ate beef when a woman and a boy ate bread,
and near the fire was the man's big soft chair, out of which you could
pull hairs, just as if it were Shovel's sister.
Of this man who was his father he could get no hold. He could feel his
presence, but never see him. Yet he had a face. It sometimes pressed
Tommy's face against it in order to hurt him, which it could do, being
all short needles at the chin.
Once in those days Tommy and his mother ran away and hid from some one.
He did not know from whom nor for how long, though it was but for a
week, and it left only two impressions on his mind, the one that he
often asked, "Is this starving now, mother?" the other that before
turning a corner she always peered round it fearfully. Then they went
back again to the man and he laughed when he saw them, but did not take
his feet off the mantelpiece. There came a time when the man was always
in bed, but still Tommy could not see his face. What he did see was the
man's clothes lying on the large chair just as he had placed them there
when he undressed for the last time. The black coat and worsted
waistcoat which he could take off together were on the seat, and the
light trousers hung over the side, the legs on the hearthrug, with the
red socks still sticking in them: a man without a body.
But the boy had one vivid recollection of how his mother received the
news of his father's death. An old man with a white beard and gentle
ways, who often came to give the invalid physic, was standing at the
bedside, and Tommy and his mother were sitting on the fender. The old
man came to her and said, "It is all over," and put her softly into the
big chair. She covered her face with her hands, and he must have thought
she was crying, for he tried to comfort her. But as soon as he was gone
she rose, with such a queer face, and went on tiptoe to the bed, and
looked intently at her husband, and then she clapped her hands joyously
At last Tommy fell asleep with his mouth open, which is the most
important thing that has been told of him as yet, and while he slept day
came and restored the furniture that night had stolen. But when the boy
woke he did not even notice the change; his brain traversed the hours it
had lost since he lay down as quickly as you may put on a stopped clock,
and with his first tick he was thinking of nothing but the deceiver in
the back of the bed. He raised his head, but could only see that she had
crawled under the coverlet to escape his wrath. His mother was asleep.
Tommy sat up and peeped over the edge of the bed, then he let his eyes
wander round the room; he was looking for the girl's clothes, but they
were nowhere to be seen. It is distressing to have to tell that what was
in his mind was merely the recovery of his penny. Perhaps as they were
Sunday clothes she had hung them up in the wardrobe? He slipped on to
the floor and crossed to the wardrobe, but not even the muff could he
find. Had she been tired, and gone to bed in them? Very softly he
crawled over his mother, and pulling the coverlet off the child's face,
got the great shock of his childhood.
It was another one!
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