The Jilting of Jane

As I sit writing in my study, I can hear our Jane bumping her way
downstairs with a brush and dust-pan. She used in the old days to sing
hymn tunes, or the British national song for the time being, to these
instruments, but latterly she has been silent and even careful over her
work. Time was when I prayed with fervor for such silence, and my wife
with sighs for such care, but now they have come we are not so glad as we
might have anticipated we should be. Indeed, I would rejoice secretly,
though it may be unmanly weakness to admit it, even to hear Jane sing
“Daisy,” or, by the fracture of any plate but one of Euphemia’s best green
ones, to learn that the period of brooding has come to an end.

Yet how we longed to hear the last of Jane’s young man before we heard the
last of him! Jane was always very free with her conversation to my wife,
and discoursed admirably in the kitchen on a variety of topics–so well,
indeed, that I sometimes left my study door open–our house is a small
one–to partake of it. But after William came, it was always William,
nothing but William; William this and William that; and when we thought
William was worked out and exhausted altogether, then William all over
again. The engagement lasted altogether three years; yet how she got
introduced to William, and so became thus saturated with him, was always a
secret. For my part, I believe it was at the street corner where the Rev.
Barnabas Baux used to hold an open-air service after evensong on Sundays.
Young Cupids were wont to flit like moths round the paraffin flare of that
center of High Church hymn-singing. I fancy she stood singing hymns there,
out of memory and her imagination, instead of coming home to get supper,
and William came up beside her and said, “Hello!” “Hello yourself!” she
said; and etiquette being satisfied, they proceeded to talk together.

As Euphemia has a reprehensible way of letting her servants talk to her,
she soon heard of him. “He is _such_ a respectable young man, ma’am,”
said Jane, “you don’t know.” Ignoring the slur cast on her acquaintance,
my wife inquired further about this William.

“He is second porter at Maynard’s, the draper’s,” said Jane, “and gets
eighteen shillings–nearly a pound–a week, m’m; and when the head porter
leaves he will be head porter. His relatives are quite superior people,
m’m. Not laboring people at all. His father was a greengrocer, m’m, and
had a churner, and he was bankrup’ twice. And one of his sisters is in a
Home for the Dying. It will be a very good match for me, m’m,” said Jane,
“me being an orphan girl.”

“Then you are engaged to him?” asked my wife.

“Not engaged, ma’am; but he is saving money to buy a ring–hammyfist.”

“Well, Jane, when you are properly engaged to him you may ask him round
here on Sunday afternoons, and have tea with him in the kitchen;” for my
Euphemia has a motherly conception of her duty towards her maid-servants.
And presently the amethystine ring was being worn about the house, even
with ostentation, and Jane developed a new way of bringing in the joint so
that this gage was evident. The elder Miss Maitland was aggrieved by it,
and told my wife that servants ought not to wear rings. But my wife looked
it up in _Enquire Within_ and _Mrs. Motherly’s Book of Household
Management_, and found no prohibition. So Jane remained with this
happiness added to her love.

The treasure of Jane’s heart appeared to me to be what respectable people
call a very deserving young man. “William, ma’am,” said Jane one day
suddenly, with ill-concealed complacency, as she counted out the beer
bottles, “William, ma’am, is a teetotaler. Yes, m’m; and he don’t smoke.
Smoking, ma’am,” said Jane, as one who reads the heart, “_do_ make
such a dust about. Beside the waste of money. _And_ the smell.
However, I suppose they got to do it–some of them…”

William was at first a rather shabby young man of the ready-made black
coat school of costume. He had watery gray eyes, and a complexion
appropriate to the brother of one in a Home for the Dying. Euphemia did
not fancy him very much, even at the beginning. His eminent respectability
was vouched for by an alpaca umbrella, from which he never allowed himself
to be parted.

“He goes to chapel,” said Jane. “His papa, ma’am—-”

“His _what_, Jane?”

“His papa, ma’am, was Church: but Mr. Maynard is a Plymouth Brother, and
William thinks it Policy, ma’am, to go there too. Mr. Maynard comes and
talks to him quite friendly when they ain’t busy, about using up all the
ends of string, and about his soul. He takes a lot of notice, do Mr.
Maynard, of William, and the way he saves his soul, ma’am.”

Presently we heard that the head porter at Maynard’s had left, and that
William was head porter at twenty-three shillings a week. “He is really
kind of over the man who drives the van,” said Jane, “and him married,
with three children.” And she promised in the pride of her heart to make
interest for us with William to favor us so that we might get our parcels
of drapery from Maynard’s with exceptional promptitude.

After this promotion a rapidly-increasing prosperity came upon Jane’s
young man. One day we learned that Mr. Maynard had given William a book.
“‘Smiles’ ‘Elp Yourself,’ it’s called,” said Jane; “but it ain’t comic. It
tells you how to get on in the world, and some what William read to me was
_lovely_, ma’am.”

Euphemia told me of this, laughing, and then she became suddenly grave.
“Do you know, dear,” she said, “Jane said one thing I did not like. She
had been quiet for a minute, and then she suddenly remarked, ‘William is a
lot above me, ma’am, ain’t he?'”

“I don’t see anything in that,” I said, though later my eyes were to be
opened.

One Sunday afternoon about that time I was sitting at my writing-desk–
possibly I was reading a good book–when a something went by the window. I
heard a startled exclamation behind me, and saw Euphemia with her hands
clasped together and her eyes dilated. “George,” she said in an
awe-stricken whisper, “did you see?”

Then we both spoke to one another at the same moment, slowly and solemnly:
“_A silk hat! Yellow gloves! A new umbrella!_”

“It may be my fancy, dear,” said Euphemia; “but his tie was very like
yours. I believe Jane keeps him in ties. She told me a little while ago,
in a way that implied volumes about the rest of your costume, ‘The master
_do_ wear pretty ties, ma’am.’ And he echoes all your novelties.”

The young couple passed our window again on their way to their customary
walk. They were arm in arm. Jane looked exquisitely proud, happy, and
uncomfortable, with new white cotton gloves, and William, in the silk hat,
singularly genteel!

That was the culmination of Jane’s happiness. When she returned, “Mr.
Maynard has been talking to William, ma’am,” she said, “and he is to serve
customers, just like the young shop gentlemen, during the next sale. And
if he gets on, he is to be made an assistant, ma’am, at the first
opportunity. He has got to be as gentlemanly as he can, ma’am; and if he
ain’t, ma’am, he says it won’t be for want of trying. Mr. Maynard has took
a great fancy to him.”

“He _is_ getting on, Jane,” said my wife.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Jane thoughtfully; “he _is_ getting on.”

And she sighed.

That next Sunday as I drank my tea I interrogated my wife. “How is this
Sunday different from all other Sundays, little woman? What has happened?
Have you altered the curtains, or re-arranged the furniture, or where is
the indefinable difference of it? Are you wearing your hair in a new way
without warning me? I perceive a change clearly, and I cannot for the life
of me say what it is.”

Then my wife answered in her most tragic voice, “George,” she said, “that
William has not come near the place to-day! And Jane is crying her heart
out upstairs.”

There followed a period of silence. Jane, as I have said, stopped singing
about the house, and began to care for our brittle possessions, which
struck my wife as being a very sad sign indeed. The next Sunday, and the
next, Jane asked to go out, “to walk with William,” and my wife, who never
attempts to extort confidences, gave her permission, and asked no
questions. On each occasion Jane came back looking flushed and very
determined. At last one day she became communicative.

“William is being led away,” she remarked abruptly, with a catching of the
breath, apropos of tablecloths. “Yes, m’m. She is a milliner, and she can
play on the piano.”

“I thought,” said my wife, “that you went out with him on Sunday.”

“Not out with him, m’m–after him. I walked along by the side of them, and
told her he was engaged to me.”

“Dear me, Jane, did you? What did they do?”

“Took no more notice of me than if I was dirt. So I told her she should
suffer for it.”

“It could not have been a very agreeable walk, Jane.”

“Not for no parties, ma’am.”

“I wish,” said Jane, “I could play the piano, ma’am. But anyhow, I don’t
mean to let _her_ get him away from me. She’s older than him, and her
hair ain’t gold to the roots, ma’am.”

It was on the August Bank Holiday that the crisis came. We do not clearly
know the details of the fray, but only such fragments as poor Jane let
fall. She came home dusty, excited, and with her heart hot within her.

The milliner’s mother, the milliner, and William had made a party to the
Art Museum at South Kensington, I think. Anyhow, Jane had calmly but
firmly accosted them somewhere in the streets, and asserted her right to
what, in spite of the consensus of literature, she held to be her
inalienable property. She did, I think, go so far as to lay hands on him.
They dealt with her in a crushingly superior way. They “called a cab.”
There was a “scene,” William being pulled away into the four-wheeler by
his future wife and mother-in-law from the reluctant hands of our
discarded Jane. There were threats of giving her “in charge.”

“My poor Jane!” said my wife, mincing veal as though she was mincing
William. “It’s a shame of them. I would think no more of him. He is not
worthy of you.”

“No, m’m,” said Jane. “He _is_ weak.

“But it’s that woman has done it,” said Jane. She was never known to bring
herself to pronounce “that woman’s” name or to admit her girlishness. “I
can’t think what minds some women must have–to try and get a girl’s young
man away from her. But there, it only hurts to talk about it,” said Jane.

Thereafter our house rested from William. But there was something in the
manner of Jane’s scrubbing the front doorstep or sweeping out the rooms, a
certain viciousness, that persuaded me that the story had not yet ended.

“Please, m’m, may I go and see a wedding tomorrow?” said Jane one day.

My wife knew by instinct whose wedding. “Do you think it is wise, Jane?”
she said.

“I would like to see the last of him,” said Jane.

“My dear,” said my wife, fluttering into my room about twenty minutes
after Jane had started, “Jane has been to the boot-hole and taken all the
left-off boots and shoes, and gone off to the wedding with them in a bag.
Surely she cannot mean–”

“Jane,” I said, “is developing character. Let us hope for the best.”

Jane came back with a pale, hard face. All the boots seemed to be still in
her bag, at which my wife heaved a premature sigh of relief. We heard her
go upstairs and replace the boots with considerable emphasis.

“Quite a crowd at the wedding, ma’am,” she said presently, in a purely
conversational style, sitting in our little kitchen, and scrubbing the
potatoes; “and such a lovely day for them.” She proceeded to numerous
other details, clearly avoiding some cardinal incident.

“It was all extremely respectable and nice, ma’am; but _her_ father
didn’t wear a black coat, and looked quite out of place, ma’am. Mr.
Piddingquirk–”

“_Who_?”

“Mr. Piddingquirk–William that was, ma’am–had white gloves, and a coat
like a clergyman, and a lovely chrysanthemum. He looked so nice, ma’am.
And there was red carpet down, just like for gentlefolks. And they say he
gave the clerk four shillings, ma’am. It was a real kerridge they had–not
a fly. When they came out of church there was rice-throwing, and her two
little sisters dropping dead flowers. And someone threw a slipper, and
then I threw a boot–”

“Threw a _boot_, Jane!”

“Yes, ma’am. Aimed at her. But it hit _him_. Yes, ma’am, hard. Gev
him a black eye, I should think. I only threw that one. I hadn’t the heart
to try again. All the little boys cheered when it hit him.”

After an interval–“I am sorry the boot hit _him_.”

Another pause. The potatoes were being scrubbed violently. “He always
_was_ a bit above me, you know, ma’am. And he was led away.”

The potatoes were more than finished. Jane rose sharply with a sigh, and
rapped the basin down on the table.

“I don’t care,” she said. “I don’t care a rap. He will find out his
mistake yet. It serves me right. I was stuck up about him. I ought not to
have looked so high. And I am glad things are as things are.”

My wife was in the kitchen, seeing to the higher cookery. After the
confession of the boot-throwing, she must have watched poor Jane fuming
with a certain dismay in those brown eyes of hers. But I imagine they
softened again very quickly, and then Jane’s must have met them.

“Oh, ma’am,” said Jane, with an astonishing change of note, “think of all
that _might_ have been! Oh, ma’am, I _could_ have been so happy!
I ought to have known, but I didn’t know…You’re very kind to let me talk
to you, ma’am…for it’s hard on me, ma’am…it’s har-r-r-r-d–”

And I gather that Euphemia so far forgot herself as to let Jane sob out
some of the fullness of her heart on a sympathetic shoulder. My Euphemia,
thank Heaven, has never properly grasped the importance of “keeping up her
position.” And since that fit of weeping, much of the accent of bitterness
has gone out of Jane’s scrubbing and brush work.

Indeed, something passed the other day with the butcher-boy–but that
scarcely belongs to this story. However, Jane is young still, and time and
change are at work with her. We all have our sorrows, but I do not believe
very much in the existence of sorrows that never heal.