The First Quarrel


‘Wait a little,’ you say, ‘you are sure it ’ll all come right,’
But the boy was born i’ trouble, an’ looks so wan an’ so white:
Wait! an’ once I ha’ waited—I hadn’t to wait for long.
Now I wait, wait, wait for Harry.—No, no, you are doing me wrong!
Harry and I were married: the boy can hold up his head,
The boy was born in wedlock, but after my man was dead;
I ha’ work’d for him fifteen years, an’ I work an’ I wait to the end.
I am all alone in the world, an’ you are my only friend.

Doctor, if you can wait, I’ll tell you the tale o’ my life.
When Harry an’ I were children, he call’d me his own little wife;
I was happy when I was with him, an’ sorry when he was away.
An’ when we play’d together, I loved him better than play;
He workt me the daisy chain—he made me the cowslip ball,
He fought the boys that were rude, an’ I loved him better than all.
Passionate girl tho’ I was, an’ often at home in disgrace,
I never could quarrel with Harry—I had but to look in his face.

There was a farmer in Dorset of Harry’s kin, that had need
Of a good stout lad at his farm; he sent, an’ the father agreed;
So Harry was bound to the Dorsetshire farm for years an’ for years;
I walked with him down to the quay, poor lad, an’ we parted in tears.
The boat was beginning to move, we heard them a-ringing the bell,
I’ll never love any but you, God bless you, my own little Nell.’

I was a child, an’ he was a child, an’ he came to harm;
There was a girl, a hussy, that workt with him up at the farm,
One had deceived her an’ left her alone with her sin an’ her shame,
And so she was wicked with Harry; the girl was the most to blame.

And years went over till I that was little had grown so tall,
The men would say of the maids, ‘Our Nelly’s the flower of ’em all.’
I didn’t take heed o’ them, but I taught myself all I could
To make a good wife for Harry, when Harry came home for good.

Often I seem’d unhappy, and often as happy too,
For I heard it abroad in the fields ‘I’ll never love any but you;’
‘I’ll never love any but you’ the morning song of the lark,
‘I’11 never love any but you’ the nightin gale’s hymn in the dark.

And Harry came home at last, but he look’d at me sidelong and shy,
Vext me a bit, till he told me that so many years had gone by,
I had grown so handsome and tall—that I might ha’ forgot him somehow—
For he thought—there were other lads—he was fear’d to look at me now.

Hard was the frost in the field, we were married o’ Christmas day,
Married among the red berries, an’ all as merry as May—
Those were the pleasant times, my house an’ my man were my pride,
We seem’d like ships i’ the Channel a-sailing with wind an’ tide.

But work was scant in the Isle, tho’ he tried the villages round,
So Harry went over the Solent to see if work could be found;
An’ he wrote ‘I ha’ six weeks’ work, little wife, so far as I know;
I’ll come for an hour to-morrow, an’ kiss you before I go.’

So I set to righting the house, for wasn’t he coming that day?
An’ I hit on an old deal-box that was pasted in a corner away,
It was full of old odds an’ ends, an’ a letter along wi’ the rest,
I had better ha’ put my naked hand in a hornets’ nest.

‘Sweetheart’—this was the letter—this was the letter I read—
‘You promised to find me work near you, an’ I wish I was dead—
Didn’t you kiss me an’ promise? you haven’t done it, my lad,
An’ I almost died o’ your going away, an’ I wish that I had.’

I too wish that I had—in the pleasant times that had past,
Before I quarrell’d with Harry—my quarrel—the first an’ the last.

For Harry came in, an’ I flung him the letter that drove me wild,
An’ he told it me all at once, as simple as any child,
‘What can it matter, my lass, what I did wi’ my single life?
I ha’ been as true to you as ever a man to his wife;
An’ she wasn’t one o’ the worst.’ ‘Then,’ I said, ‘I’m none o’ the best.’
An’ he smiled at me, ‘Ain’t you, my love? Come, come, little wife, let it rest!
The man isn’t like the woman, no need to make such a stir.’
But he anger’d me all the more, an’ I said ‘You were keeping with her,
When I was a-loving you all along an’ the same as before.’
An’ he didn’t speak for a while, an’ he anger’d me more and more.
‘Then he patted my hand in his gentle way, ‘Let bygones be!’
‘Bygones! you kept yours hush’d,’ I said, ‘when you married me!
By-gones ma’ be come-agains; an’ she—in her shame an’ her sin—
You’ll have her to nurse my child, if I die o’ my lying in!
You’ll make her its second mother! I hate her—an’ I hate you!’
Ah, Harry, my man, you had better ha’ beaten me black an’ blue
Than ha’ spoken as kind as you did, when I were so crazy wi’ spite,
‘Wait a little, my lass, I am sure it ’ill all come right.’

An’ he took three turns in the rain, an’ I watch’d him, an’ when he came in
I felt that my heart was hard, he was all wet thro’ to the skin,
An’ I never said ‘off wi’ the wet,’ I never said ‘on wi’ the dry,’
So I knew my heart was hard, when he came to bid me goodbye.
‘You said that you hated me, Ellen, but that isn’t true, you know;
I am going to leave you a bit—you’ll kiss me before I go?’

‘Going! you’re going to her—kiss her—if you will,’ I said—
I was near my time wi’ the boy, I must ha’ been light i’ my head—
‘I had sooner be cursed than kiss’d!’—I didn’t know well what I meant,
But I turn’d my face from him, an’ he turn’d his face an’ he went.

And then he sent me a letter, ‘I’ve gotten my work to do;
You wouldn’t kiss me, my lass, an’ I never loved any but you;
I am sorry for all the quarrel an’ sorry for what she wrote,
I ha’ six weeks’ work in Jersey an’ go to-night by the boat.’

An’ the wind began to rise, an’ I thought of him out at sea,
An’ I felt I had been to blame; he was always kind to me.
‘Wait a little, my lass, I am sure it ’ill all come right’—
An’ the boat went down that night—the boat went down that night.


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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.