Page:Court Royal.djvu/16

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herself to clean the face of her mother with the skirt of her frock.

‘What is the meaning of this?’ said the man.

‘I wouldn’t be drownded,’ answered the child. ‘I told mother as much, but her paid no heed to what I said.’

‘Now then, missus,’ said he, addressing the woman with rough kindness, ‘what did you do it for?’

The poor creature made no reply. She sat, cuddled into a heap in the bottom, hugging her knees, with the water pouring off her. Her head was bowed on her bosom.

‘Did y’ hear, now?’ shouted the child, raising the sodden hair off the mother’s ear. ‘The gemman asked you a civil question, and you must answer him civil too. He asked you what made you do it.’

‘I am wretched,’ she replied in a faint voice; ‘my husband is dead. We have been starving. I can find no situation because of Joanna, and get no work. I did not know what to do with myself and her, and as us couldn’t find a situation on earth, I thought we’d go and get one in heaven.’

‘But I wouldn’t,’ put in the girl, emphatically, looking the boatman level in the eyes. ‘I told mother plain I was not agreeable. I don’t want to go to heaven—and,’ with a stamp on the bottom of the boat, ‘I won’t go.’

‘You’ve a will of your own, apparently,’ said the man, smiling.

‘I don’t choose to be drownded,’ answered the girl. Then she thrust her wet and dirty hair out of her face, and tried to knot it behind her head, ‘and I don’t choose as mother shall be, neither.’

‘I’ll tell you what, ma’am,’ said the pierkeeper; ‘two good things have combined for the saving of you to-day. First comes I. I was on the spot handy. Secondly, the tide was running out and leaving the Pool dry; so there was no depth available for drowning purposes.’ The boat touched the steps. ‘Up with you, both,’ he said, ‘and mind, no more of these games.’

The wretched woman obeyed meekly. The child strode up the stone stairs full of confidence, saying, but hardly in a tone of apology, ‘You know, mother, I was not agreeable.’

The woman staggered after her daughter to the pier, and then stood there helpless, dazed, looking about her without light in her eyes.

The water ran off her and formed a pond at her feet; the