The weaker vessel, p.1
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       The Weaker Vessel, p.1

          W. W. Jacobs / Humor
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The Weaker Vessel

Produced by David Widger


NIGHT WATCHES


By W.W. Jacobs


THE WEAKER VESSEL


Mr. Gribble sat in his small front parlour in a state of angryamazement. It was half-past six and there was no Mrs. Gribble; worsestill, there was no tea. It was a state of things that had onlyhappened once before. That was three weeks after marriage, and on thatoccasion Mr. Gribble had put his foot down with a bang that had echoeddown the corridors of thirty years.


The fire in the little kitchen was out, and the untidy remains of Mrs.Gribble's midday meal still disgraced the table. More and more dazed,the indignant husband could only come to the conclusion that she hadgone out and been run over. Other things might possibly account for herbehaviour; that was the only one that would excuse it.


His meditations were interrupted by the sound of a key in the frontdoor, and a second later a small, anxious figure entered the room and,leaning against the table, strove to get its breath. The process wasnot helped by the alarming distension of Mr. Gribble's figure.


"I--I got home--quick as I could--Henry," said Mrs. Gribble, panting.


"Where is my tea?" demanded her husband. "What do you mean by it? Thefire's out and the kitchen is just as you left it."


"I--I've been to a lawyer's, Henry," said Mrs. Gribble, "and I had towait."


"Lawyer's?" repeated her husband.


"I got a letter this afternoon telling me to call. Poor Uncle George,that went to America, is gone."


"That is no excuse for neglecting me," said Mr. Gribble. "Of coursepeople die when they are old. Is that the one that got on and mademoney?"


His wife, apparently struggling to repress a little excitement, nodded."He--he's left me two hundred pounds a year for life, Henry," she said,dabbing at her pale blue eyes with a handkerchief. "They're going topay it monthly; sixteen pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence a month.That's how he left it."


"Two hund--" began Mr. Gribble, forgetting himself. "Two hun----Go andget my tea! If you think you're going to give yourself airs becauseyour uncle's left you money, you won't do it in my house."


He took a chair by the window, and, while his wife busied herself in thekitchen, sat gazing in blank delight at the little street. Two hundreda year! It was all he could do to resume his wonted expression as hiswife re-entered the room and began to lay the table. His manner,however, when she let a cup and saucer slip from her trembling fingersto smash on the floor left nothing to be desired.


"It's nice to have money come to us in our old age," said Mrs. Gribble,timidly, as they sat at tea. "It takes a load off my mind."


"Old age!" said her husband, disagreeably. "What d'ye mean by old age?I'm fifty-two, and feel as young as ever I did."


"You look as young as ever you did," said the docile Mrs. Gribble. "Ican't see no change in you. At least, not to speak of."


"Not so much talk," said her husband. "When I want your opinion of mylooks I'll ask you for it. When do you start getting this money?"


"Tuesday week; first of May," replied his wife. "The lawyers are goingto send it by registered letter."


Mr. Gribble grunted.


"I shall be sorry to leave the house for some things," said his wife,looking round. "We've been here a good many years now, Henry."


"Leave the house!" repeated Mr. Gribble, putting down his tea-cup andstaring at her.


"Leave the house! What are you talking about?"


"But we can't stay here, Henry," faltered Mrs. Gribble. "Not with allthat money. They are building some beautiful houses in Charlton Grovenow--bathroom, tiled hearths, and beautiful stained glass in the frontdoor; and all for twenty-eight pounds a year."


"Wonderful!" said the other, with a mocking glint in his eye.


"And iron palings to the front garden, painted chocolate-colour pickedout with blue," continued his wife, eyeing him wistfully.


Mr. Gribble struck the table a blow with his fist. "This house is goodenough for me," he roared; "and what's good enough for me is good enoughfor you. You want to waste money on show; that's what you want.Stained glass and bow-windows! You want a bow-window to loll about in,do you? Shouldn't wonder if you don't want a servant-gal to do thework."


Mrs. Gribble flushed guiltily, and caught her breath.


"We're going to live as we've always lived," pursued Mr. Gribble."Money ain't going to spoil me. I ain't going to put on no side justbecause I've come in for a little bit. If you had your way we shouldend up in the workhouse."


He filled his pipe and smoked thoughtfully, while Mrs. Gribble clearedaway the tea-things and washed up. Pictures, good to look upon, formedin the smoke-pictures of a hale, hearty man walking along the primrosepath arm-in-arm with two hundred a year; of the mahogany and plush ofthe saloon bar at the Grafton Arms; of Sunday jaunts, and the Oval onsummer afternoons.


He ate his breakfast slowly on the first of the month, and, the mealfinished, took a seat in the window with his pipe and waited for thepostman. Mrs. Gribble's timid reminders concerning the flight of timeand consequent fines for lateness at work fell on deaf ears. He jumpedup suddenly and met the postman at the door.


"Has it come?" inquired Mrs. Gribble, extending her hand.


By way of reply her husband tore open the envelope and, handing her thecovering letter, counted the notes and coin and placed them slowly inhis pockets. Then, as Mrs. Gribble looked at him, he looked at theclock, and, snatching up his hat, set off down the road.


He was late home that evening, and his manner forbade conversation.Mrs. Gribble, with the bereaved air of one who has sustained anirremediable loss, sighed fitfully, and once applied her handkerchief toher eyes.


"That's no good," said her husband at last; "that won't bring him back."


"Bring who back?" inquired Mrs. Gribble, in genuine surprise.


"Why, your Uncle George," said Mr. Gribble. "That's what you're turningon the water-cart for, ain't it?"


"I wasn't thinking of him," said Mrs. Gribble, trying to speak bravely."I was thinking of----"


"Well, you ought to be," interrupted her husband. "He wasn't my uncle,poor chap, but I've been thinking of him, off and on, all day. Thatbloater-paste you are eating now came from his kindness. I brought ithome as a treat."


"I was thinking of my clothes," said Mrs. Gribble, clenching her handstogether under the table. "When I found I had come in for that money,the first thing I thought was that I should be able to have a decentdress. My old ones are quite worn out, and as for my hat and jacket--"


"Go on," said her husband, fiercely. "Go on. That's just what I said:trust you with money, and we should be poorer than ever."


"I'm ashamed to be seen out," said Mrs. Gribble.


"A woman's place is the home," said Mr. Gribble; "and so long as I'msatisfied with your appearance nobody else matters. So long as I ampleased, that's everything. What do you want to go dressing yourself upfor? Nothing looks worse than an over-dressed woman."


"What are we going to do with all that money, then?" inquired Mrs.Gribble, in trembling tones.


"That'll do," said Mr. Gribble, decidedly. "That'll do. One o' thesedays you'll go too far. You start throwing that money in my teeth andsee what happens. I've done my best for you all these years, andthere's no reason to suppose I sha'n't go on doing so. What did yousay? What!"


Mrs. Gribble turned to him a face rendered ghastly by terror. "I--Isaid--it was my money," she stammered.


Mr. Gribble rose, and stood for a full minute regarding her. Then,kicking a chair out of his way, he took his hat from its peg in thepassage and, with a bang of the street-door that sent a current offresh, sweet air circulating through the house, strode off to theGrafton Arms.


It was past eleven when he returned, but even the spectacle of his wifelaboriously darning her old dress failed to reduce his good-humour inthe slightest degree. In a frivolous mood he even took a feather fromthe dismembered hat on the table and stuck it in his hair. He took thestump of a strong cigar from his lips and, exhaling a final cloud ofsmoke, tossed it into the fireplace.


"Uncle George dead," he said, at last, shaking his head. "Hadn'tpleasure acquaintance, but good man. Good
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