To Please His
Wife by Thomas Hardy
The interior of St. James's Church, in Havenpool Town, was slowly
darkening under the close clouds of a winter afternoon. It was
Sunday: service had just ended, the face of the parson in the pulpit
was buried in his hands, and the congregation, with a cheerful sigh
of release, were rising from their knees to depart.
For the moment the stillness was so complete that the surging of the
sea could be heard outside the harbour-bar. Then it was broken by
the footsteps of the clerk going towards the west door to open it in
the usual manner for the exit of the assembly. Before, however, he
had reached the doorway, the latch was lifted from without, and the
dark figure of a man in a sailor's garb appeared against the light.
The clerk stepped aside, the sailor closed the door gently behind
him, and advanced up the nave till he stood at the chancel-step. The
parson looked up from the private little prayer which, after so many
for the parish, he quite fairly took for himself; rose to his feet,
and stared at the intruder.
'I beg your pardon, sir,' said the sailor, addressing the minister in
a voice distinctly audible to all the congregation. 'I have come
here to offer thanks for my narrow escape from shipwreck. I am given
to understand that it is a proper thing to do, if you have no
The parson, after a moment's pause, said hesitatingly, 'I have no
objection; certainly. It is usual to mention any such wish before
service, so that the proper words may be used in the General
Thanksgiving. But, if you wish, we can read from the form for use
after a storm at sea.'
'Ay, sure; I ain't particular,' said the sailor.
The clerk thereupon directed the sailor to the page in the prayer-
book where the collect of thanksgiving would be found, and the rector
began reading it, the sailor kneeling where he stood, and repeating
it after him word by word in a distinct voice. The people, who had
remained agape and motionless at the proceeding, mechanically knelt
down likewise; but they continued to regard the isolated form of the
sailor who, in the precise middle of the chancel-step, remained fixed
on his knees, facing the east, his hat beside him, his hands joined,
and he quite unconscious of his appearance in their regard.
When his thanksgiving had come to an end he rose; the people rose
also, and all went out of church together. As soon as the sailor
emerged, so that the remaining daylight fell upon his face, old
inhabitants began to recognize him as no other than Shadrach
Jolliffe, a young man who had not been seen at Havenpool for several
years. A son of the town, his parents had died when he was quite
young, on which account he had early gone to sea, in the Newfoundland
He talked with this and that townsman as he walked, informing them
that, since leaving his native place years before, he had become
captain and owner of a small coasting-ketch, which had providentially
been saved from the gale as well as himself. Presently he drew near
to two girls who were going out of the churchyard in front of him;
they had been sitting in the nave at his entry, and had watched his
doings with deep interest, afterwards discussing him as they moved
out of church together. One was a slight and gentle creature, the
other a tall, large-framed, deliberative girl. Captain Jolliffe
regarded the loose curls of their hair, their backs and shoulders,
down to their heels, for some time.
'Who may them two maids be?' he whispered to his neighbour.
'The little one is Emily Hanning; the tall one Joanna Phippard.'
'Ah! I recollect 'em now, to be sure.'
He advanced to their elbow, and genially stole a gaze at them.
'Emily, you don't know me?' said the sailor, turning his beaming
brown eyes on her.
'I think I do, Mr. Jolliffe,' said Emily shyly.
The other girl looked straight at him with her dark eyes.
'The face of Miss Joanna I don't call to mind so well,' he continued.
'But I know her beginnings and kindred.'
They walked and talked together, Jolliffe narrating particulars of
his late narrow escape, till they reached the corner of Sloop Lane,
in which Emily Hanning dwelt, when, with a nod and smile, she left
them. Soon the sailor parted also from Joanna, and, having no
especial errand or appointment, turned back towards Emily's house.
She lived with her father, who called himself an accountant, the
daughter, however, keeping a little stationery-shop as a supplemental
provision for the gaps of his somewhat uncertain business. On
entering Jolliffe found father and daughter about to begin tea.
'O, I didn't know it was tea-time,' he said. 'Ay, I'll have a cup
with much pleasure.'
He remained to tea and long afterwards, telling more tales of his
seafaring life. Several neighbours called to listen, and were asked
to come in. Somehow Emily Hanning lost her heart to the sailor that
Sunday night, and in the course of a week or two there was a tender
understanding between them.
One moonlight evening in the next month Shadrach was ascending out of
the town by the long straight road eastward, to an elevated suburb
where the more fashionable houses stood--if anything near this
ancient port could be called fashionable--when he saw a figure before
him whom, from her manner of glancing back, he took to be Emily.
But, on coming up, he found she was Joanna Phippard. He gave a
gallant greeting, and walked beside her.
'Go along,' she said, 'or Emily will be jealous!'
He seemed not to like the suggestion, and remained. What was said
and what was done on that walk never could be clearly recollected by
Shadrach; but in some way or other Joanna contrived to wean him away
from her gentler and younger rival. From that week onwards, Jolliffe
was seen more and more in the wake of Joanna Phippard and less in the
company of Emily; and it was soon rumoured about the quay that old
Jolliffe's son, who had come home from sea, was going to be married
to the former young woman, to the great disappointment of the latter.
Just after this report had gone about, Joanna dressed herself for a
walk one morning, and started for Emily's house in the little cross-
street. Intelligence of the deep sorrow of her friend on account of
the loss of Shadrach had reached her ears also, and her conscience
reproached her for winning him away.
Joanna was not altogether satisfied with the sailor. She liked his
attentions, and she coveted the dignity of matrimony; but she had
never been deeply in love with Jolliffe. For one thing, she was
ambitious, and socially his position was hardly so good as her own,
and there was always the chance of an attractive woman mating
considerably above her. It had long been in her mind that she would
not strongly object to give him back again to Emily if her friend
felt so very badly about him. To this end she had written a letter
of renunciation to Shadrach, which letter she carried in her hand,
intending to send it if personal observation of Emily convinced her
that her friend was suffering.
Joanna entered Sloop Lane and stepped down into the stationery-shop,
which was below the pavement level. Emily's father was never at home
at this hour of the day, and it seemed as though Emily were not at
home either, for the visitor could make nobody hear. Customers came
so seldom hither that a five minutes' absence of the proprietor
counted for little. Joanna waited in the little shop, where Emily
had tastefully set out--as women can--articles in themselves of
slight value, so as to obscure the meagreness of the stock-in-trade;
till she saw a figure pausing without the window apparently absorbed
in the contemplation of the sixpenny books, packets of paper, and
prints hung on a string. It was Captain Shadrach Jolliffe, peering
in to ascertain if Emily were there alone. Moved by an impulse of
reluctance to meet him in a spot which breathed of Emily, Joanna
slipped through the door that communicated with the parlour at the
back. She had frequently done so before, for in her friendship with
Emily she had the freedom of the house without ceremony.
Jolliffe entered the shop. Through the thin blind which screened the
glass partition she could see that he was disappointed at not finding
Emily there. He was about to go out again, when Emily's form
darkened the doorway, hastening home from some errand. At sight of
Jolliffe she started back as if she would have gone out again.
'Don't run away, Emily; don't!' said he. 'What can make ye afraid?'
'I'm not afraid, Captain Jolliffe. Only--only I saw you all of a
sudden, and--it made me jump!' Her voice showed that her heart had
jumped even more than the rest of her.
'I just called as I was passing,' he said.
'For some paper?' She hastened behind the counter.
'No, no, Emily; why do ye get behind there? Why not stay by me? You
seem to hate me.'
'I don't hate you. How can I?'
'Then come out, so that we can talk like Christians.'
Emily obeyed with a fitful laugh, till she stood again beside him in
the open part of the shop.
'There's a dear,' he said.
'You mustn't say that, Captain Jolliffe; because the words belong to
'Ah! I know what you mean. But, Emily, upon my life I didn't know
till this morning that you cared one bit about me, or I should not
have done as I have done. I have the best of feelings for Joanna,
but I know that from the beginning she hasn't cared for me more than
in a friendly way; and I see now the one I ought to have asked to be
my wife. You know, Emily, when a man comes home from sea after a
long voyage he's as blind as a bat--he can't see who's who in women.
They are all alike to him, beautiful creatures, and he takes the
first that comes easy, without thinking if she loves him, or if he
might not soon love another better than her. From the first I
inclined to you most, but you were so backward and shy that I thought
you didn't want me to bother 'ee, and so I went to Joanna.'
'Don't say any more, Mr. Jolliffe, don't!' said she, choking. 'You
are going to marry Joanna next month, and it is wrong to--to--'
'O, Emily, my darling!' he cried, and clasped her little figure in
his arms before she was aware.
Joanna, behind the curtain, turned pale, tried to withdraw her eyes,
but could not.
'It is only you I love as a man ought to love the woman he is going
to marry; and I know this from what Joanna has said, that she will
willingly let me off! She wants to marry higher I know, and only
said "Yes" to me out of kindness. A fine, tall girl like her isn't
the sort for a plain sailor's wife: you be the best suited for
He kissed her and kissed her again, her flexible form quivering in
the agitation of his embrace.
'I wonder--are you sure--Joanna is going to break off with you? O,
are you sure? Because--'
'I know she would not wish to make us miserable. She will release
'O, I hope--I hope she will! Don't stay any longer, Captain
He lingered, however, till a customer came for a penny stick of
sealing-wax, and then he withdrew.
Green envy had overspread Joanna at the scene. She looked about for
a way of escape. To get out without Emily's knowledge of her visit
was indispensable. She crept from the parlour into the passage, and
thence to the front door of the house, where she let herself
noiselessly into the street.
The sight of that caress had reversed all her resolutions. She could
not let Shadrach go. Reaching home she burnt the letter, and told
her mother that if Captain Jolliffe called she was too unwell to see
Shadrach, however, did not call. He sent her a note expressing in
simple language the state of his feelings; and asked to be allowed to
take advantage of the hints she had given him that her affection,
too, was little more than friendly, by cancelling the engagement.
Looking out upon the harbour and the island beyond he waited and
waited in his lodgings for an answer that did not come. The suspense
grew to be so intolerable that after dark he went up the High Street.
He could not resist calling at Joanna's to learn his fate.
Her mother said her daughter was too unwell to see him, and to his
questioning admitted that it was in consequence of a letter received
from himself; which had distressed her deeply.
'You know what it was about, perhaps, Mrs. Phippard?' he said.
Mrs. Phippard owned that she did, adding that it put them in a very
painful position. Thereupon Shadrach, fearing that he had been
guilty of an enormity, explained that if his letter had pained Joanna
it must be owing to a misunderstanding, since he had thought it would
be a relief to her. If otherwise, he would hold himself bound by his
word, and she was to think of the letter as never having been
Next morning he received an oral message from the young woman, asking
him to fetch her home from a meeting that evening. This he did, and
while walking from the Town Hall to her door, with her hand in his
arm, she said:
'It is all the same as before between us, isn't it, Shadrach? Your
letter was sent in mistake?'
'It is all the same as before,' he answered, 'if you say it must be.'
'I wish it to be,' she murmured, with hard lineaments, as she thought
Shadrach was a religious and scrupulous man, who respected his word
as his life. Shortly afterwards the wedding took place, Jolliffe
having conveyed to Emily as gently as possible the error he had
fallen into when estimating Joanna's mood as one of indifference.
A month after the marriage Joanna's mother died, and the couple were
obliged to turn their attention to very practical matters. Now that
she was left without a parent, Joanna could not bear the notion of
her husband going to sea again, but the question was, What could he
do at home? They finally decided to take on a grocer's shop in High
Street, the goodwill and stock of which were waiting to be disposed
of at that time. Shadrach knew nothing of shopkeeping, and Joanna
very little, but they hoped to learn.
To the management of this grocery business they now devoted all their
energies, and continued to conduct it for many succeeding years,
without great success. Two sons were born to them, whom their mother
loved to idolatry, although she had never passionately loved her
husband; and she lavished upon them all her forethought and care.
But the shop did not thrive, and the large dreams she had entertained
of her sons' education and career became attenuated in the face of
realities. Their schooling was of the plainest, but, being by the
sea, they grew alert in all such nautical arts and enterprises as
were attractive to their age.
The great interest of the Jolliffes' married life, outside their own
immediate household, had lain in the marriage of Emily. By one of
those odd chances which lead those that lurk in unexpected corners to
be discovered, while the obvious are passed by, the gentle girl had
been seen and loved by a thriving merchant of the town, a widower,
some years older than herself, though still in the prime of life. At
first Emily had declared that she never, never could marry any one;
but Mr. Lester had quietly persevered, and had at last won her
reluctant assent. Two children also were the fruits of this union,
and, as they grew and prospered, Emily declared that she had never
supposed that she could live to be so happy.
The worthy merchant's home, one of those large, substantial brick
mansions frequently jammed up in old-fashioned towns, faced directly
on the High Street, nearly opposite to the grocery shop of the
Jolliffes, and it now became the pain of Joanna to behold the woman
whose place she had usurped out of pure covetousness, looking down
from her position of comparative wealth upon the humble shop-window
with its dusty sugar-loaves, heaps of raisins, and canisters of tea,
over which it was her own lot to preside. The business having so
dwindled, Joanna was obliged to serve in the shop herself; and it
galled and mortified her that Emily Lester, sitting in her large
drawing-room over the way, could witness her own dancings up and down
behind the counter at the beck and call of wretched twopenny
customers, whose patronage she was driven to welcome gladly: persons
to whom she was compelled to be civil in the street, while Emily was
bounding along with her children and her governess, and conversing
with the genteelest people of the town and neighbourhood. This was
what she had gained by not letting Shadrach Jolliffe, whom she had so
faintly loved, carry his affection elsewhere.
Shadrach was a good and honest man, and he had been faithful to her
in heart and in deed. Time had clipped the wings of his love for
Emily in his devotion to the mother of his boys: he had quite lived
down that impulsive earlier fancy, and Emily had become in his regard
nothing more than a friend. It was the same with Emily's feelings
for him. Possibly, had she found the least cause for jealousy,
Joanna would almost have been better satisfied. It was in the
absolute acquiescence of Emily and Shadrach in the results she
herself had contrived that her discontent found nourishment.
Shadrach was not endowed with the narrow shrewdness necessary for
developing a retail business in the face of many competitors. Did a
customer inquire if the grocer could really recommend the wondrous
substitute for eggs which a persevering bagman had forced into his
stock, he would answer that 'when you did not put eggs into a pudding
it was difficult to taste them there'; and when he was asked if his
'real Mocha coffee' was real Mocha, he would say grimly, 'as
understood in small shops.'
One summer day, when the big brick house opposite was reflecting the
oppressive sun's heat into the shop, and nobody was present but
husband and wife, Joanna looked across at Emily's door, where a
wealthy visitor's carriage had drawn up. Traces of patronage had
been visible in Emily's manner of late.
'Shadrach, the truth is, you are not a business-man,' his wife sadly
murmured. 'You were not brought up to shopkeeping, and it is
impossible for a man to make a fortune at an occupation he has jumped
into, as you did into this.'
Jolliffe agreed with her, in this as in everything else.
'Not that I care a rope's end about making a fortune,' he said
cheerfully. 'I am happy enough, and we can rub on somehow.'
She looked again at the great house through the screen of bottled
'Rub on--yes,' she said bitterly. 'But see how well off Emmy Lester
is, who used to be so poor! Her boys will go to College, no doubt;
and think of yours--obliged to go to the Parish School!'
Shadrach's thoughts had flown to Emily.
'Nobody,' he said good-humouredly, 'ever did Emily a better turn than
you did, Joanna, when you warned her off me and put an end to that
little simpering nonsense between us, so as to leave it in her power
to say "Aye" to Lester when he came along.' This almost maddened
'Don't speak of bygones!' she implored, in stern sadness. 'But
think, for the boys' and my sake, if not for your own, what are we to
do to get richer?'
'Well,' he said, becoming serious, 'to tell the truth, I have always
felt myself unfit for this business, though I've never liked to say
so. I seem to want more room for sprawling; a more open space to
strike out in than here among friends and neighbours. I could get
rich as well as any man, if I tried my own way.'
'I wish you would! What is your way?'
'To go to sea again.'
She had been the very one to keep him at home, hating the semi-
widowed existence of sailors' wives. But her ambition checked her
instincts now, and she said: 'Do you think success really lies that
'I am sure it lies in no other.'
'Do you want to go, Shadrach?'
'Not for the pleasure of it, I can tell 'ee. There's no such
pleasure at sea, Joanna, as I can find in my back parlour here. To
speak honest, I have no love for the brine. I never had much. But
if it comes to a question of a fortune for you and the lads, it is
another thing. That's the only way to it for one born and bred a
seafarer as I.'
'Would it take long to earn?'
'Well, that depends; perhaps not.'
The next morning Shadrach pulled from a chest of drawers the nautical
jacket he had worn during the first months of his return, brushed out
the moths, donned it, and walked down to the quay. The port still
did a fair business in the Newfoundland trade, though not so much as
It was not long after this that he invested all he possessed in
purchasing a part-ownership in a brig, of which he was appointed
captain. A few months were passed in coast-trading, during which
interval Shadrach wore off the land-rust that had accumulated upon
him in his grocery phase; and in the spring the brig sailed for
Joanna lived on at home with her sons, who were now growing up into
strong lads, and occupying themselves in various ways about the
harbour and quay.
'Never mind, let them work a little,' their fond mother said to
herself. 'Our necessities compel it now, but when Shadrach comes
home they will be only seventeen and eighteen, and they shall be
removed from the port, and their education thoroughly taken in hand
by a tutor; and with the money they'll have they will perhaps be as
near to gentlemen as Emmy Lester's precious two, with their algebra
and their Latin!'
The date for Shadrach's return drew near and arrived, and he did not
appear. Joanna was assured that there was no cause for anxiety,
sailing-ships being so uncertain in their coming; which assurance
proved to be well grounded, for late one wet evening, about a month
after the calculated time, the ship was announced as at hand, and
presently the slip-slop step of Shadrach as the sailor sounded in the
passage, and he entered. The boys had gone out and had missed him,
and Joanna was sitting alone.
As soon as the first emotion of reunion between the couple had
passed, Jolliffe explained the delay as owing to a small speculative
contract, which had produced good results.
'I was determined not to disappoint 'ee,' he said; 'and I think
you'll own that I haven't!'
With this he pulled out an enormous canvas bag, full and rotund as
the money-bag of the giant whom Jack slew, untied it, and shook the
contents out into her lap as she sat in her low chair by the fire. A
mass of sovereigns and guineas (there were guineas on the earth in
those days) fell into her lap with a sudden thud, weighing down her
gown to the floor.
'There!' said Shadrach complacently. 'I told 'ee, dear, I'd do it;
and have I done it or no?'
Somehow her face, after the first excitement of possession, did not
retain its glory.
'It is a lot of gold, indeed,' she said. 'And--is this ALL?'
'All? Why, dear Joanna, do you know you can count to three hundred
in that heap? It is a fortune!'
'Yes--yes. A fortune--judged by sea; but judged by land--'
However, she banished considerations of the money for the nonce.
Soon the boys came in, and next Sunday Shadrach returned thanks to
God--this time by the more ordinary channel of the italics in the
General Thanksgiving. But a few days after, when the question of
investing the money arose, he remarked that she did not seem so
satisfied as he had hoped.
'Well you see, Shadrach,' she answered, 'WE count by hundreds; THEY
count by thousands' (nodding towards the other side of the Street).
'They have set up a carriage and pair since you left.'
'O, have they?'
'My dear Shadrach, you don't know how the world moves. However,
we'll do the best we can with it. But they are rich, and we are poor
The greater part of a year was desultorily spent. She moved sadly
about the house and shop, and the boys were still occupying
themselves in and around the harbour.
'Joanna,' he said, one day, 'I see by your movements that it is not
'It is not enough,' said she. 'My boys will have to live by steering
the ships that the Lesters own; and I was once above her!'
Jolliffe was not an argumentative man, and he only murmured that he
thought he would make another voyage.
He meditated for several days, and coming home from the quay one
afternoon said suddenly:
'I could do it for 'ee, dear, in one more trip, for certain, if--if--
'Do what, Shadrach?'
'Enable 'ee to count by thousands instead of hundreds.'
'If I might take the boys.'
She turned pale.
'Don't say that, Shadrach,' she answered hastily.
'I don't like to hear it! There's danger at sea. I want them to be
something genteel, and no danger to them. I couldn't let them risk
their lives at sea. O, I couldn't ever, ever!'
'Very well, dear, it shan't be done.'
Next day, after a silence, she asked a question:
'If they were to go with you it would make a great deal of
difference, I suppose, to the profit?'
''Twould treble what I should get from the venture single-handed.
Under my eye they would be as good as two more of myself.'
Later on she said: 'Tell me more about this.'
'Well, the boys are almost as clever as master-mariners in handling a
craft, upon my life! There isn't a more cranky place in the Northern
Seas than about the sandbanks of this harbour, and they've practised
here from their infancy. And they are so steady. I couldn't get
their steadiness and their trustworthiness in half a dozen men twice
'And is it VERY dangerous at sea; now, too, there are rumours of
war?' she asked uneasily.
'O, well, there be risks. Still . . . '
The idea grew and magnified, and the mother's heart was crushed and
stifled by it. Emmy was growing TOO patronizing; it could not be
borne. Shadrach's wife could not help nagging him about their
comparative poverty. The young men, amiable as their father, when
spoken to on the subject of a voyage of enterprise, were quite
willing to embark; and though they, like their father, had no great
love for the sea, they became quite enthusiastic when the proposal
Everything now hung upon their mother's assent. She withheld it
long, but at last gave the word: the young men might accompany their
father. Shadrach was unusually cheerful about it: Heaven had
preserved him hitherto, and he had uttered his thanks. God would not
forsake those who were faithful to him.
All that the Jolliffes possessed in the world was put into the
enterprise. The grocery stock was pared down to the least that
possibly could afford a bare sustenance to Joanna during the absence,
which was to last through the usual 'New-f'nland spell.' How she
would endure the weary time she hardly knew, for the boys had been
with her formerly; but she nerved herself for the trial.
The ship was laden with boots and shoes, ready-made clothing,
fishing-tackle, butter, cheese, cordage, sailcloth, and many other
commodities; and was to bring back oil, furs, skins, fish,
cranberries, and what else came to hand. But much trading to other
ports was to be undertaken between the voyages out and homeward, and
thereby much money made.
The brig sailed on a Monday morning in spring; but Joanna did not
witness its departure. She could not bear the sight that she had
been the means of bringing about. Knowing this, her husband told her
overnight that they were to sail some time before noon next day hence
when, awakening at five the next morning, she heard them bustling
about downstairs, she did not hasten to descend, but lay trying to
nerve herself for the parting, imagining they would leave about nine,
as her husband had done on his previous voyage. When she did descend
she beheld words chalked upon the sloping face of the bureau; but no
husband or sons. In the hastily-scrawled lines Shadrach said they
had gone off thus not to pain her by a leave-taking; and the sons had
chalked under his words: 'Good-bye, mother!'
She rushed to the quay, and looked down the harbour towards the blue
rim of the sea, but she could only see the masts and bulging sails of
the Joanna; no human figures. ''Tis I have sent them!' she said
wildly, and burst into tears. In the house the chalked 'Good-bye'
nearly broke her heart. But when she had re-entered the front room,
and looked across at Emily's, a gleam of triumph lit her thin face at
her anticipated release from the thraldom of subservience.
To do Emily Lester justice, her assumption of superiority was mainly
a figment of Joanna's brain. That the circumstances of the
merchant's wife were more luxurious than Joanna's, the former could
not conceal; though whenever the two met, which was not very often
now, Emily endeavoured to subdue the difference by every means in her
The first summer lapsed away; and Joanna meagrely maintained herself
by the shop, which now consisted of little more than a window and a
counter. Emily was, in truth, her only large customer; and Mrs.
Lester's kindly readiness to buy anything and everything without
questioning the quality had a sting of bitterness in it, for it was
the uncritical attitude of a patron, and almost of a donor. The long
dreary winter moved on; the face of the bureau had been turned to the
wall to protect the chalked words of farewell, for Joanna could never
bring herself to rub them out; and she often glanced at them with wet
eyes. Emily's handsome boys came home for the Christmas holidays;
the University was talked of for them; and still Joanna subsisted as
it were with held breath, like a person submerged. Only one summer
more, and the 'spell' would end. Towards the close of the time Emily
called on her quondam friend. She had heard that Joanna began to
feel anxious; she had received no letter from husband or sons for
some months. Emily's silks rustled arrogantly when, in response to
Joanna's almost dumb invitation, she squeezed through the opening of
the counter and into the parlour behind the shop.
'YOU are all success, and _I_ am all the other way!' said Joanna.
'But why do you think so?' said Emily. 'They are to bring back a
fortune, I hear.'
'Ah! will they come? The doubt is more than a woman can bear. All
three in one ship--think of that! And I have not heard of them for
'But the time is not up. You should not meet misfortune half-way.'
'Nothing will repay me for the grief of their absence!'
'Then why did you let them go? You were doing fairly well.'
'I made them go!' she said, turning vehemently upon Emily. 'And I'll
tell you why! I could not bear that we should be only muddling on,
and you so rich and thriving! Now I have told you, and you may hate
me if you will!'
'I shall never hate you, Joanna.'
And she proved the truth of her words afterwards. The end of autumn
came, and the brig should have been in port; but nothing like the
Joanna appeared in the channel between the sands. It was now really
time to be uneasy. Joanna Jolliffe sat by the fire, and every gust
of wind caused her a cold thrill. She had always feared and detested
the sea; to her it was a treacherous, restless, slimy creature,
glorying in the griefs of women. 'Still,' she said, 'they MUST
She recalled to her mind that Shadrach had said before starting that
if they returned safe and sound, with success crowning their
enterprise, he would go as he had gone after his shipwreck, and kneel
with his sons in the church, and offer sincere thanks for their
deliverance. She went to church regularly morning and afternoon, and
sat in the most forward pew, nearest the chancel-step. Her eyes were
mostly fixed on that step, where Shadrach had knelt in the bloom of
his young manhood: she knew to an inch the spot which his knees had
pressed twenty winters before; his outline as he had knelt, his hat
on the step beside him. God was good. Surely her husband must kneel
there again: a son on each side as he had said; George just here,
Jim just there. By long watching the spot as she worshipped it
became as if she saw the three returned ones there kneeling; the two
slim outlines of her boys, the more bulky form between them; their
hands clasped, their heads shaped against the eastern wall. The
fancy grew almost to an hallucination: she could never turn her worn
eyes to the step without seeing them there.
Nevertheless they did not come. Heaven was merciful, but it was not
yet pleased to relieve her soul. This was her purgation for the sin
of making them the slaves of her ambition. But it became more than
purgation soon, and her mood approached despair. Months had passed
since the brig had been due, but it had not returned.
Joanna was always hearing or seeing evidences of their arrival. When
on the hill behind the port, whence a view of the open Channel could
be obtained, she felt sure that a little speck on the horizon,
breaking the eternally level waste of waters southward, was the truck
of the Joana's mainmast. Or when indoors, a shout or excitement of
any kind at the corner of the Town Cellar, where the High Street
joined the Quay, caused her to spring to her feet and cry: ''Tis
But it was not. The visionary forms knelt every Sunday afternoon on
the chancel-step, but not the real. Her shop had, as it were, eaten
itself hollow. In the apathy which had resulted from her loneliness
and grief she had ceased to take in the smallest supplies, and thus
had sent away her last customer.
In this strait Emily Lester tried by every means in her power to aid
the afflicted woman; but she met with constant repulses.
'I don't like you! I can't bear to see you!' Joanna would whisper
hoarsely when Emily came to her and made advances.
'But I want to help and soothe you, Joanna,' Emily would say.
'You are a lady, with a rich husband and fine sons! What can you
want with a bereaved crone like me!'
'Joanna, I want this: I want you to come and live in my house, and
not stay alone in this dismal place any longer.'
'And suppose they come and don't find me at home? You wish to
separate me and mine! No, I'll stay here. I don't like you, and I
can't thank you, whatever kindness you do me!'
However, as time went on Joanna could not afford to pay the rent of
the shop and house without an income. She was assured that all hope
of the return of Shadrach and his sons was vain, and she reluctantly
consented to accept the asylum of the Lesters' house. Here she was
allotted a room of her own on the second floor, and went and came as
she chose, without contact with the family. Her hair greyed and
whitened, deep lines channeled her forehead, and her form grew gaunt
and stooping. But she still expected the lost ones, and when she met
Emily on the staircase she would say morosely: 'I know why you've
got me here! They'll come, and be disappointed at not finding me at
home, and perhaps go away again; and then you'll be revenged for my
taking Shadrach away from 'ee!'
Emily Lester bore these reproaches from the grief-stricken soul. She
was sure--all the people of Havenpool were sure--that Shadrach and
his sons could not return. For years the vessel had been given up as
Nevertheless, when awakened at night by any noise, Joanna would rise
from bed and glance at the shop opposite by the light from the
flickering lamp, to make sure it was not they.
It was a damp and dark December night, six years after the departure
of the brig Joanna. The wind was from the sea, and brought up a
fishy mist which mopped the face like moist flannel. Joanna had
prayed her usual prayer for the absent ones with more fervour and
confidence than she had felt for months, and had fallen asleep about
eleven. It must have been between one and two when she suddenly
started up. She had certainly heard steps in the street, and the
voices of Shadrach and her sons calling at the door of the grocery
shop. She sprang out of bed, and, hardly knowing what clothing she
dragged on herself; hastened down Emily's large and carpeted
staircase, put the candle on the hall-table, unfastened the bolts and
chain, and stepped into the street. The mist, blowing up the street
from the Quay, hindered her seeing the shop, although it was so near;
but she had crossed to it in a moment. How was it? Nobody stood
there. The wretched woman walked wildly up and down with her bare
feet--there was not a soul. She returned and knocked with all her
might at the door which had once been her own--they might have been
admitted for the night, unwilling to disturb her till the morning.
It was not till several minutes had elapsed that the young man who
now kept the shop looked out of an upper window, and saw the skeleton
of something human standing below half-dressed.
'Has anybody come?' asked the form.
'O, Mrs. Jolliffe, I didn't know it was you,' said the young man
kindly, for he was aware how her baseless expectations moved her.
'No; nobody has come.'