A dead silence. The men were thinking and looking inquiringly at the dripping woman, who was too bewildered to reply.
‘Where is Mrs. Thresher? her can tell us,’ said the pilot.
But Mrs. Thresher was gone to her room to turn her old man out of it and prepare for the contingency of receiving the poor woman into it.
Still silence. The men’s brows were wrinkled with hard thought. It was broken by the rumbling bass of the bargeman. ‘Dress-improver!’
‘Must the little maid have one?’
‘Of course. All females have dress-improvers,’ said the bargeman, putting and swelling with consciousness of superior knowledge. ‘Four-and-ten is about the figure.’
‘That makes five articles apiece, mates,’ said the pierkeeper, checking them off on his fingers: ‘thumb for gown, fore and middle fingers stand for petticoats, the last but one for stays, and the little chap is dress-improver. Now, then, mates, see what we can raise among us for the poor creatures.’
The party moved along the quay towards the pawnshop, the Yorkshire skipper revolving, cap in hand, among the members.
‘I’ve been considering,’ said he, after a while, ‘as how I might find the lass a berth aboard my vessel if she could get shut (rid) of the bairn. We could do wi’ a woman to cook and wash for us; and shoo might addle (earn) a few shillings that road. What do you think o’ that, mates? And what dost’ a say to it thysel’, lass?’
The dazed woman looked at the Yorkshireman without understanding his proposal. He repeated it in more intelligible form; then she comprehended it, and her wan face lighted up, only to dull again.
‘May I take my Joanna?’
‘That’s the scratch,’ said the skipper. ‘Shoo’s wick as a scoprill (lively as a teetotum), and I’d be glad if I could; but we can’t find room for little bairns.’
The pilot explained: ‘Can’t find room on board for little maidens.’
‘What is to become of my Joanna?’ asked the bewildered woman, looking with blank eyes about her.
The man with a vein of sarcasm in him, who had before suggested the Union, threw out another suggestion, likewise ironical. ‘As you’re about to get clothes of Mr. Lazarus,