Stowsher slouched at a greater angle to the greasy door-post, and scowled under his hat-brim. It was a little, low, frowsy room opening into Jones’ Alley. She sat at the table, sewing—a thin, sallow girl with weak, colourless eyes. She looked as frowsy as her surroundings.
“Well, why don’t you go to some of them women, and get fixed up?”
She flicked the end of the table-cloth over some tiny, unfinished articles of clothing, and bent to her work.
“But you know very well I haven’t got a shilling, Ernie,” she said, quietly. “Where am I to get the money from?”
“Who asked yer to get it?”
She was silent, with the exasperating silence of a woman who has determined to do a thing in spite of all reasons and arguments that may be brought against it.
“Well, wot more do yer want?” demanded Stowsher, impatiently.
She bent lower. “Couldn't we keep it, Ernie?”
“Wot next?” asked Stowsher, sulkily—he had half suspected what was coming. Then, with an impatient oath, “You must be gettin’ ratty.”
She brushed the corner of the cloth further over the little clothes.
“It wouldn’t cost anything, Ernie. I’d take a pride in him, and keep him clean, and dress him like a little lord. He’ll be different from all the other youngsters. He wouldn’t be like those dirty, sickly little brats out there. He’d be just like you, Ernie; I know he would. I’ll look after him night and day, and bring him up well and strong. We’d train his little muscles from the first, Ernie, and he’d be able to knock ’em all out when he grew up. It wouldn’t cost much, and I’d work hard and be careful if you’d help me. And you’d be proud of him, too, Ernie—I know you would.”
Stowsher scraped the doorstep with his foot; but whether he was “touched”, or feared hysterics and was wisely silent, was not apparent.
“Do you remember the first day I met you, Ernie?” she asked, presently.
Stowsher regarded her with an uneasy scowl: “Well—wot o’ that?”
“You came into the bar-parlour at the ‘Cricketers’ Arms’ and caught a push of ’em chyacking your old man.”
“Well, I altered that.”
“I know you did. You done for three of them, one after another, and two was bigger than you.”
“Yes! and when the push come up we done for the rest,” said Stowsher, softening at the recollection.
“And the day you come home and caught the landlord bullying your old mother like a dog——”
“Yes; I got three months for that job. But it was worth it!” he reflected. “Only,” he added, “the old woman might have had the knocker to keep away from the lush while I was in quod. . . . But wot’s all this got to do with it?”
“He might barrack and fight for you, some day, Ernie,” she said softly, “when you’re old and out of form and ain’t got no push to back you.”
The thing was becoming decidedly embarrassing to Stowsher; not that he felt any delicacy on the subject, but because he hated to be drawn into a conversation that might be considered “soft”.
“Oh, stow that!” he said, comfortingly. “Git on yer hat, and I’ll take yer for a trot.”
She rose quickly, but restrained herself, recollecting that it was not good policy to betray eagerness in response to an invitation from Ernie.
“But—you know—I don’t like to go out like this. You can’t— you wouldn’t like to take me out the way I am, Ernie!”
“Why not? Wot rot!”
“The fellows would see me, and—and——”
“And . . . wot?”
“They might notice——”
“Well, wot o’ that? I want ’em to. Are yer comin’ or are yer ain’t? Fling round now. I can’t hang on here all day.”
They walked towards Flagstaff Hill.
One or two, slouching round a pub. corner, saluted with “Wotcher, Stowsher!”
“Not too stinkin’,” replied Stowsher. “Soak yer heads.”
“Stowsher’s goin’ to stick,” said one privately.
“An’ so he orter,” said another. “Wish I had the chanst.”
The two turned up a steep lane.
“Don’t walk so fast up hill, Ernie; I can’t, you know.”
“All right, Liz. I forgot that. Why didn’t yer say so before?”
She was contentedly silent most of the way, warned by instinct, after the manner of women when they have gained their point by words.
Once he glanced over his shoulder with a short laugh. “Gorblime!” he said, “I nearly thought the little beggar was a-follerin’ along behind!”
When he left her at the door he said: “Look here, Liz. ’Ere’s half a quid. Git what yer want. Let her go. I’m goin’ to graft again in the mornin’, and I’ll come round and see yer to-morrer night.”
Still she seemed troubled and uneasy.
“Well. Wot now?”
“S’posin’ it's a girl, Ernie.”
Stowsher flung himself round impatiently.
“Oh, for God’s sake, stow that! Yer always singin’ out before yer hurt. . . . There’s somethin’ else, ain’t there—while the bloomin’ shop’s open?”
“No, Ernie. Ain’t you going to kiss me? . . . I’m satisfied.”
“Satisfied! Yer don’t want the kid to be arst ’oo ’is father was, do yer? Yer’d better come along with me some day this week and git spliced. Yer don’t want to go frettin’ or any of that funny business while it’s on.”
“Oh, Ernie! do you really mean it?”—and she threw her arms round his neck, and broke down at last.
“So-long, Liz. No more funny business now—I’ve had enough of it. Keep yer pecker up, old girl. To-morrer night, mind.” Then he added suddenly: “Yer might have known I ain’t that sort of a bloke” —and left abruptly.
Liz was very happy.