She was his second wife, and so there was between them that truce which is never held between a man and his first woman.
He was one for the women, and as such, an exception among the colliers. In spite of their prudery, the neighbour women liked him; he was big, naïve, and very courteous with them; he was so, even to his second wife.
Being a large man of considerable strength and perfect health, he earned good money in the pit. His natural courtesy saved him from enemies, while his fresh interest in life made his presence always agreeable. So he went his own way, had always plenty of friends, always a good job down pit.
He gave his wife thirty-five shillings a week. He had two grown-up sons at home, and they paid twelve shillings each. There was only one child by the second marriage, so Radford considered his wife did well.
Eighteen months ago, Bryan and Wentworth’s men were out on strike for eleven weeks. During that time, Mrs. Radford could neither cajole nor entreat nor nag the ten shillings strike-pay from her husband. So that when the second strike came on, she was prepared for action.
Radford was going, quite inconspicuously, to the publican’s wife at the “Golden Horn”. She is a large, easy-going lady of forty, and her husband is sixty-three, moreover crippled with rheumatism. She sits in the little bar-parlour of the wayside public-house, knitting for dear life, and sipping a very moderate glass of Scotch. When a decent man arrives at the three-foot width of bar, she rises, serves him, surveys him over, and, if she likes his looks, says:
“Won’t you step inside, sir?”
If he steps inside, he will find not more than one or two men present. The room is warm, quite small. The landlady knits. She gives a few polite words to the stranger, then resumes her conversation with the man who interests her most. She is straight, highly-coloured, with indifferent brown eyes.
“What was that you asked me, Mr. Radford?”
“What is the difference between a donkey’s tail and a rainbow?” asked Radford, who had a consuming passion for conundrums.
“All the difference in the world,” replied the landlady.
“Yes, but what special difference?”
“I s’ll have to give it up again. You’ll think me a donkey’s head, I’m afraid.”
“Not likely. But just you consider now, wheer . . .”
The conundrum was still under weigh, when a girl entered. She was swarthy, a fine animal. After she had gone out:
“Do you know who that is?” asked the landlady.
“I can’t say as I do,” replied Radford.
“She’s Frederick Pinnock’s daughter, from Stony Ford. She’s courting our Willy.”
“And a fine lass, too.”
“Yes, fine enough, as far as that goes. What sort of a wife’ll she make him, think you?”
“You just let me consider a bit,” said the man. He took out a pocket-book and a pencil. The landlady continued to talk to the other guests.
Radford was a big fellow, black-haired, with a brown moustache, and darkish blue eyes. His voice, naturally deep, was pitched in his throat, and had a peculiar, tenor quality, rather husky, and disturbing. He modulated it a good deal as he spoke, as men do who talk much with women. Always, there was a certain indolence in his carriage.
“Our mester’s lazy,” his wife said. “There’s many a bit of a jab wants doin’, but get him to do it if you can.”
But she knew he was merely indifferent to the little jobs, and not lazy.
He sat writing for about ten minutes, at the end of which time, he read:
“I see a fine girl full of life.
I see her just ready for wedlock,
But there’s jealousy between her eyebrows
And jealousy on her mouth.
I see trouble ahead.
Willy is delicate.
She would do him no good.
She would never see when he wasn’t well,
She would only see what she wanted —”
So, in phrases, he got down his thoughts. He had to fumble for expression, and therefore anything serious he wanted to say he wrote in “poetry”, as he called it.
Presently, the landlady rose, saying:
“Well, I s’ll have to be looking after our mester. I s’ll be in again before we close.”
Radford sat quite comfortably on. In a while, he too bade the company good-night.
When he got home, at a quarter-past eleven, his sons were in bed, and his wife sat awaiting him. She was a woman of medium height, fat and sleek, a dumpling. Her black hair was parted smooth, her narrow-opened eyes were sly and satirical, she had a peculiar twang in her rather sleering voice.
“Our missis is a puss-puss,” he said easily, of her. Her extraordinarily smooth, sleek face was remarkable. She was very healthy.
He never came in drunk. Having taken off his coat and his cap, he sat down to supper in his shirt-sleeves. Do as he might, she was fascinated by him. He had a strong neck, with the crisp hair growing low. Let her be angry as she would yet she had a passion for that neck of his, particularly when she saw the great vein rib under the skin.
“I think, missis,” he said, “I’d rather ha’e a smite o’ cheese than this meat.”
“Well, can’t you get it yourself?”
“Yi, surely I can,” he said, and went out to the pantry.
“I think, if yer comin’ in at this time of night, you can wait on yourself,” she justified herself.
She moved uneasily in her chair. There were several jam-tarts alongside the cheese on the dish he brought.
“Yi, Missis, them tan-tafflins’ll go down very nicely,” he said.
“Oh, will they! Then you’d better help to pay for them,” she said, amiably, but determined.
“Now what art after?”
“What am I after? Why, can’t you think?” she said sarcastically.
“I’m not for thinkin’, missis.”
“No, I know you’re not. But wheer’s my money? You’ve been paid the Union today. Wheer do I come in?”
“Tha’s got money, an’ tha mun use it.”
“Thank yer. An’ ‘aven’t you none, as well?”
“I hadna, not till we was paid, not a ha’p’ny.”
“Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself to say so.”
“We’ll go shares wi’ th’ Union money,” she said. “That’s nothing but what’s right.”
“We shonna. Tha’s got plenty o’ money as tha can use.”
“Oh, all right,” she said. “I will do.”
She went to bed. It made her feel sharp that she could not get at him.
The next day, she was just as usual. But at eleven o’clock she took her purse and went up town. Trade was very slack. Men stood about in gangs, men were playing marbles everywhere in the streets. It was a sunny morning. Mrs. Radford went into the furnisher-and-upholsterer’s shop.
“There’s a few things,” she said to Mr. Allcock, “as I’m wantin’ for the house, and I might as well get them now, while the men’s at home, and can shift me the furniture.”
She put her fat purse on to the counter with a click. The man should know she was not wanting “strap”. She bought linoleum for the kitchen, a new wringer, a breakfast-service, a spring mattress, and various other things, keeping a mere thirty shillings, which she tied in a corner of her handkerchief. In her purse was some loose silver.
Her husband was gardening in a desultory fashion when she got back home. The daffodils were out. The colts in the field at the end of the garden were tossing their velvety brown necks.
“Sithee here, missis,” called Radford, from the shed which stood halfway down the path. Two doves in a cage were cooing.
“What have you got?” asked the woman, as she approached. He held out to her in his big, earthy hand a tortoise. The reptile was very, very slowly issuing its head again to the warmth.
“He’s wakkened up betimes,” said Radford.
“He’s like th’ men, wakened up for a holiday,” said the wife. Radford scratched the little beast’s scaly head.
“We pleased to see him out,” he said.
They had just finished dinner, when a man knocked at the door.
“From Allcock’s!” he said.
The plump woman took up the clothes-basket containing the crockery she had bought.
“Whativer hast got theer?” asked her husband.
“We’ve been wantin’ some breakfast-cups for ages, so I went up town an’ got ’em this mornin’,” she replied.
He watched her taking out the crockery.
“Hm!” he said. “Tha’s been on th’ spend, seemly.”
Again there was a thud at the door. The man had put down a roll of linoleum. Mr. Radford went to look at it.
“They come rolling in!” he exclaimed.
“Who’s grumbled more than you about the raggy oilcloth of this kitchen?” said the insidious, cat-like voice of the wife.
“It’s all right, it’s all right,” said Radford.
The carter came up the entry with another roll, which he deposited with a grunt at the door.
“An’ how much do you reckon this lot is?” he asked.
“Oh, they’re all paid for, don’t worry,” replied the wife.
“Shall yer gi’e me a hand, mester?” asked the carter.
Radford followed him down the entry, in his easy, slouching way. His wife went after. His waistcoat was hanging loose over his shirt. She watched his easy movement of well-being as she followed him, and she laughed to herself.
The carter took hold of one end of the wire mattress, dragged it forth.
“Well, this is a corker!” said Radford, as he received the burden.
“Now the mangle!” said the carter.
“What dost reckon tha’s been up to, missis?” asked the husband.
“I said to myself last wash-day, if I had to turn that mangle again, tha’d ha’e ter wash the clothes thyself.”
Radford followed the carter down the entry again. In the street, women were standing watching, and dozens of men were lounging round the cart. One officiously helped with the wringer.
“Gi’e him thrippence,” said Mrs. Radford.
“Gi’e him thysen,” replied her husband.
“I’ve no change under half a crown.”
Radford tipped the carter, and returned indoors. He surveyed the array of crockery, linoleum, mattress, mangle, and other goods crowding the house and the yard.
“Well, this is a winder!” he repeated.
“We stood in need of ’em enough,” she replied.
“I hope tha’s got plenty more from wheer they came from,” he replied dangerously.
“That’s just what I haven’t.” She opened her purse. “Two half-crowns, that’s every copper I’ve got i’ th’ world.”
He stood very still as he looked.
“It’s right,” she said.
There was a certain smug sense of satisfaction about her. A wave of anger came over him, blinding him. But he waited and waited. Suddenly his arm leapt up, the fist clenched, and his eyes blazed at her. She shrank away, pale and frightened. But he dropped his fist to his side, turned, and went out, muttering. He went down to the shed that stood in the middle of the garden. There he picked up the tortoise, and stood with bent head, rubbing its horny head.
She stood hesitating, watching him. Her heart was heavy, and yet there was a curious, cat-like look of satisfaction round her eyes. Then she went indoors and gazed at her new cups, admiringly.
The next week he handed her his half-sovereign without a word.
“You’ll want some for yourself,” she said, and she gave him a shilling. He accepted it.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52