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OUR SHORT STORY. I

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OUR SHORT STORY. I — < THE WIDOW'S MITES, I By VINCENT EMS. I Capper, boatman, of Tar. ea-coughed nervously once or twice, fidgeted about in his corner of the jetty -.eat, licked his lips, and then screwed his coarage up to the point of saying what he had been trying to say for the last hour. "It ain't fixed up for certain, Ben," he said, "but don't he surprised if you 'ear I'm ge'etin' married at Christmas." Be.-i-).Ir. Benjamin Doe, also of Tarsea, and likewise a boatman—looked up from the tliole pin he was whittling. You?" he gasped. "You gettin' married? Ain't what I've suffered taught you no lesson, then? I'd have thought I'd 'ave teen a walkin' warnin' against 'oly matri- monyone o' them examples sent special by Providence for other folks not to foller, same as it says in the Scriptures." "You've said a score or more of times that you were 'appy enough when you was mar- ried," said Joe. "An' I'll say it again!" said Ben. "My 'pore missus was the best o' wives, an' there a better mother in the county, but she'd always got a sort o' contrairy twist in 'er, an' although I don't want to say a word ugaiu.-t 'er, secin' she's dead an' gone, I reckon she went 'a bit too far in the con- trairy business when she died an' left me w, th ix chil-dreii-a pair o' twins an' four single 'uns, an' none of 'em over eight! I've forgiven 'cr," continued Ben, tears in his eves, "but all the same I shall stick to it that "it was contrairy, 'er dyin' when she did." "P'raps she couldn't 'elp it," suggested Joe. "She could, if she 'adn't been contrairy an' get up an' done a fortnight's washin' when she ought to 'ave stayed in bed, same as the doctor ordered 'er. So 'ere's me with six little 'uns to look after! I've got to put to bed at night, get 'em up in the mornin', cook for 'cm, feed 'cm, bath an' dress 'an it's fair turnin' me rcy-specially the dressin'. I can dress a boy some'ow, but darn me if I can a gal- '•a^ofc no how "All wimmen ain't contrairy," said Joe, il. ain't everyone that 'as six, an' leaves "elTI." "Yon never know your luck," said Ben gloomily. Who s the woman you've been gettin' round?" "She's a widder, name o' Benton, an' she's stayin' at Mrs. Green's for a month. She's 'ad n bit of a operation, an' a lady s he used to work for is payin' for 'er to 'ave a rest an' get well again. I rather think she's on for another 'u.sband, an' although I ain't breathed a word to 'er on the subject, not yet, I've got an idea that if I was to say to 'er: Mrs. Benton, ma'am, I ain't never been rn,rrl*e, on account of the young lady I to call Mrs. Capper 'avin' gone -off with another chap. which although it was thirty years ago, sort o' set me against wimmen, but I respects you, ma am, an' likes you, an' 'avin' been given to under- stand that you're on the look out for a -d thit you're decent man. 'ere I am, on offer for better an' wome, if you'll 'ave me '-she'd say she would." "Was that 'er I saw you talkin' with last Friday?" asked Ben. "That was 'cr." said Joe, flrtshing. "She tiii't a bad figger of a woman," ad- mitted Ben. "She ain't!" agreed Joe. "An' she can cook, too! She was kind enough to make me a pudclin' last Sunday, an' I'll take my affvdavy the King never ad' a better one! An' as for iiiei,diii -W ell, look 'ere, Ben! A tailor couldn't beat that Joe stood up and showed his re-seated trousers. "Mrs. Green called cut to me that MM, Benton 'ad mended all the children's clothes, darned all their socks, an' cut their "air, an' there wasn't another thing she could find for 'er to do! So, as I'd beeft neighbourly, an' obligin if there was any- thin' I wanted mendin' I'd only got to 'and it over an' it would be done right away. So I passed these trousers over," concluded Joe with a grin. "She seems sort o' 'andy," said Ben. 'Andy echoed Joe scornfully. "She's more than 'andy—she's an out-an'-out marvel, 'specially with kids. Mrs. Green says the place 'as been a Parrydiso since she's been there an' took the children off 'er 'ands. Mrs. Green's got five, you know, Ben, an' with a 'usband who was at the war, it's "I've got six." said Ben gIlIDIly, "an' a missus in Icai-eii. That's worse! I .say, Joe," he resumed, with an apparent change of subject, "me an' you 'ave been pal.- and partners for a good many years, 3aven't we? An' I've always done my best for yeu, 'aven't I?" "You have'" agreed Joe emphatically. I'd 'ave been dead three times if it 'adn't been for you. You've been one of the best, Ben, an' I don't never forget it." "Then," said Ben, "I want you to re- member it special, now, by doin' me a kind- ness. If this widder wants to get mar- ried again, an' you 'aven't said nothin'. to 'er, not yet, 'and 'er over to me My six want lookin' after dreadful, an' from what you say Mr. Benton would be the very one to do it You don't want to get mar- ried at your time o' life, Joe, an' "-plror- ing- his trump card-" you jn-omised after I'd pulled you out of the water that last time, an' worked oil you for a couple of hours, an' brought the life back to you when the doctor said you was gone, that if -ever the time came when you could do any thin' for me you'd do it. You've got your chance now. Joe! Joe scratched his head and considered the matter for a minute or two. Then, with a little sigh of renunciation, he responded to Ben's appeal. "I'll give up my chance to you, Ben," he said. "You've a right to it. All the same, it's a bit of a disappointment, as I'd pictured myself bein' married an' 'appy an' comfortable for the rest o' my life. Of course, if she won't 'ave you, it's under- stood that I can try my luck, then. 'Tain't every woman would be on for marrvin' a widder man with a ready-made family o' six "That needn't be mentioned," said Ben firmly. "All you've got to do is to intro- duce me as a friend o' yours, an'—when I ain't there—lay it on thick about what I earn, an' 'ow I don't never smoke or drink "Eh?" queried Joe, astonished "Don 't never smoke or drink or swear or do anythin' continued Ben. "You can 'int that you're not a marryin' man, but that I'd be a reg'lar prize, an' if she was wise she'd snap me up quick." "All right," said Joe. ")! do my beat, honest an' fair, for you. All the same, it .don't seem quite right to 'ide up about them six of yours. Couldn't I give 'er a sort o' roundabout 'int-^omethin' -she couldn't get 'old of—but which I co%ld throw in her face afterwards if she came an' said I'd egged 'er on with false pretences F" "You can 'int that my first missus left eomethin' behind 'er terrible expensive, -which I'll 'and over to 'er for a present," grinned Ben. "You can give a wink an' say I'm pretty generous. But after all's said an' done, Joe, once me an' 'er are married, .each of us takin' the other for better an' worse, she'll 'ave to take to the children, even if six of them is worse than sh< thought! I ain't on so much for a wife foi myself as a mother for them." "Suppose Mrs. Green sees 'ow things are ?oin" between you an' the widow an' lets out about the children?" asked Joe. "Me an' Mrs. Green wilt 'ave a talk/' said Ben, "an' if ten shillings don't keep 'er mouth shut I'll be surprised!" < I Joe, very loyally, did his best fcr Ben, and Mrs. Green, for twenty shillings, kept her mouth shut. Thus, with Joe-short, rotund, rugged of face, and whiskered—out of the running, and Ben-tall, clean-shaven, and quite attractive—the sole competitor, small wonder is it that he won the race! The courting was done, the banns were up, and the wedding fixed at the somewhat early hour of nine, to give the bride time to cook the dinner—and to receive her I)resent. As ito the .latter, the widow was intensely curious. By putting two and two together she had decided that it couldn't be anything I cs..s than a real gold brooch set with djs* I mondtj. — Tbe joyful day came, and the wedding duly took place, Joe being best man But he deemed it wiser to plead the unexpected arrival of a couple of (non-existent) nephews as a sufficient reason to escape immediately iftcç the ceremony. He had no desire to be present when Ben gave his bride her pro. mised gift. A few days after the wedding Ben came down to the jetty, looking ravage and morose. "Well, Ben," began Joe, did she take to 'er nice present? D\Jd1 she——" He got no further, for Ben burst in with a flow of language most luridly rabid and entirely incoherent. "If you've done," remarked Joe, when Ben halted to take breath, "p'raps you'll say what's 'appened. I can't get no sense out of what you've said so far." Ben swallowed hard, and with an effort splattered out his tale. "When we got out of the cab she said she was lookin' forward to seein' my 'ouse an' what was in it, an' 'ad I got 'er present ready? I told 'er, so as to sort o' break the ice a bit, that there was half a dozen things in the 'ouse that might surprise 'er a bit, but I 'c-ped she'd like 'em, an' that. So we went into the kitchen, an' there was my six sittin' sort o' scared, but all cleaned up proper an' dressed in their best. Ir. Smith 'ad obliged me by seein' to that, Mrs. Green—who ought- to be b'¡J('d er'—'avin' asked to be excused There,' I says, there's the half-dozen things in the 'ous. that'll surprise you' They're, all mine —the whole lot of 'em I I thought me puttin' it in a joky way like that, that she'd laugh. But she didn't, Joe! She just stared as if they were images of murdered kids in the Chamber of 'Orrers Then she t'ays, 'An' where is the present I was to 'ave? Them six is the little present,' I answers back, laughin'. My first missus left them. behind 'er, an' they're terrible ex- pensive They think nothin' of gettin' through a gallon of milk a day, an' then 'ovv-Iin' for more 4 Oh,' says she, with a sort o' snap. I want to run into Mrs. Green's for a minute,' and she went off with a bounce. I waited till she came back "With 'er 'ands full of Mrs. Green's 'air?" grinned Joe expectantly. "No," snarled Ben. "She came back with 'er 'ands full o' kids-six of them! Six, Joe' 'Ere's my six,' she said, bold as anytbin'. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander They're what my first dear pore 'usband left he'ind 'im! I kept e'm as a surprise for you. My sister, who's been lookin' after them for me, brought 'em over the day before yesterday, an' Ntrs. Green was kind enough to keep 'em 4'11 I was ready to 'ave them.' you could 'ave knocked me down with a feather, Jce' Twelve of 'em to kpep" "Thank 'eaven!" paid Joe fervently. "Thank 'eaven'" echoed Ben, his face a study in rage and indignation. "You thank 'eaven because I've got to keep "No," said Joe, "I thank 'eaven that I ain't got to keep six'"

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