“Femme qui n’a filé toute sa vie
Tâche à passer bien des choses sans bruit.”—La Fontaine.
THE sun’s good-will to shine even usually on the place
favoured heavenly origin. A hill, too, each red-cheeked
dawn perchance found tell-tale ; for of it half appeared to
have been crushed by three streets piled against the raw
side of the remnant—mere one-storey cottages the loftiest
gables seemed, seen from the land, while ships, in which
many men might pass months not over-cramped, shadowed with sails the
doorways, and”scrawled with rigging the outlook toward the river.
“ But old women’s tales stumble beginning ; they know the end better,”
so the folk themselves said, who should have been well-informed ; certain it
is children pick flowers, and girls even among green fruit find some sweet.
Kitty’s crib next beneath the sky was made bright by sun-flowers turned
to gaze over the roof ; the fronts being so gay that wharf-loungers got
cricked necks, unable to take eyes off dancing windows attractive as though
a buxom wench were at toilette behind every lattice.
Scattered on several hills, the town showed a general tendency to huddle
in the bottoms, leaving grass, pasture for single donkeys and goats, above,
where wind bullied butterflies.
Each morning old Kitty clattered down, basket on arm, and took her way
through the market ; not that she had, but lacked, business : so from
morning to night went odd-jobbing for anyone.
There was bustle, as when ant-hills stand base to base, on stone steps, on
wooden, through streets which had better have been stairs, of scandal-
mongers who spiced jolly lives with small malice. One stood face to face
with heaven, as did drunkards and idiots, at street-corners; so many the
ups and downs were.
A dwarf innocent started from the wharves at nightfall to climb between
the houses, a great labour foredoomed of unsuccess, yet with smiles
attempted. “ Luck to you ” lads shouted, hurrying past to their sweet-
hearts; or, with a girl, dawdled, and whispering laughed : she coyly looked
pity. Endless steps, on which at length weakly his body found rest : the
dew-moist slab inducing dreams, Kitty, benignant as he whom Jacob saw
from the foot of a ladder mounting higher still, was revealed.
“ I had supper alone last night”—“When none talks in the dark, one
counts every turn between cold sheets,” mornings and evenings, going or
returning, she said to this almost dumb beast, who, adoring through vague
years, had grown as faithful as habit. Crude expectancies of bliss, such as,
inspired by the lubber’s chaff in his vacant head, made song, she, plain of
speech as person, fostered ; thus beer-begotten the drama grew ; rivals
appeared—David, a mason, whose Welsh name was made difficult by
redundance of consonants beyond a legend’s retention (on this simple one
he even wished some grafted), who had come to learn what might be from
foreign stone-cutters at work on the new St. Mary’s church.
Gay fellows, noisy as birds, their jargoning not better understood, like a
colony of over-sea daws, busily they laboured and had nigh filled the build-
ing with saints, and covered it in devils. One of them made a second
rival ; after a fortnight of silent acquaintance-making, they would chat
each day, when she passed, for as much as twenty minutes, neither of them
repaid save by the outflow.
To work, of all but a loin-cloth he jauntily stripped himself. So much
coquetry, however, a dandy never got from a fine suit ; such artifice was in
a napkin, neither girl nor matron could pass without her eye being drawn
thither and thus led to contemplation of splendid nudity.
The chips sprang in the sun ; merrily the ring of the chisel on the stone
followed the short thud of the mallet ; industrious, he never turned but for
Kitty and a tavern-wench with flagon, which was perhaps his secret.
David had come, silent man, from mountains. Not caring to ask ques-
tions, he put up at a wharf-side lodging : all gay wags knew the house ;
the riff-raff sneaked thither when honest folk and rooks went home ; damp
dust stank between slatternly scrubbed boards. Fagged, he sat down
(economy lit no candle) and dozed ; laughter hung round him drowsily,
grew harsher, and broke through his nap ; from the next room, up ram-
shackle hoarding, light climbed in lines to the rafters, blotted out evidently
by a huge wardrobe near the door.
Women, who talked loudly to be overheard, using what words ! David
knew he was fallen among harlots. David was pious ; still pious men are
tempted. He was ; and remembered how much had been forgiven to Solo-
mon and that great king his namesake. They were kings.
No curtain hid the stars. These women might not be clean, so many
lewd men as there are in towns. Starting, he discovered they were naked ;
some leant against the planks,’bending them, broadening the chinks, through
which they peeped joking of his sleep’s soundness. The boards so bulged
that light, creeping round, suggested features, hints to discovery; ambi-
guity of indication lured David, as it used old geographers, through slight-
ness of positive knowledge, to locate in unknown parts mountains, fertile
districts, and where rivers ran : sudden fear lest the hoarding give dissi-
pated these studies. Hurriedly, while they, remiss, flagged, he crept
tip-toe, lifting his stool to within the blank caused by the press, got
up, and began working the nails, which held the top where was the most
strain, with strong leathery finger and thumb, till they came out ; with the
third it would do. Descending he set ajar the door, during a burst of
uproar. Just when again his board yearned like a tree about to bring forth
a dryad, ready, he gave the last wrench. The dwarf, sleeping, was passed,
before, slackening speed, he shook the nail free from his indented thumb,
which he put in his mouth. Still with each step a bare arm and leg shot
after the leaning plank awkwardly : uncanny; he almost fancied claws.
Arrived in the fine summer night, he met a meadow-sweet land-breeze, and
saw Kitty awaiting her lover ; dazed, from the stars she turned towards him:
over his stony-passive self, as, after drought, rains revivify the dusty track
of a hill-stream, trust washed ; he asked, as of a mother, a bed.
At his open lattice next morning, smiling that his bundle had not been
lost in his hurry, he saw her arrive from the well on the second terrace ;
as she lifted her yoke, firm, beaded shoulders, a contrast to last night’s lewd
gleam, shone blithely.
He became her lodger, and giant anxiety to the little half-man far below ;
but returned to his hills and kith, without having once quickened Kitty’s
Still well-conditioned, old rather by familiarity than age, her days, like
those of a plant, long ago had, like genet’s trot, kept up and down constantly
not evenly. The blood has a tricksy itch during the teens, which keeps one
a-tip-toe ; lively as a sea-cave all day long, would she laugh like its echoes.
On the road to a bean-feast once she had found every seat taken. When
the going began to jerk, making a confusion of impetus, and balance diffi-
cult to be kept, every one offered their knees, of course ; nearly all somehow
were fellows in that waggon. An uncle who had her in charge sat outside
on the rail singing with no savour of tune ; good man, he had thought
himself equally disgraced not to get drunk on saints’ days and like occa-
sions as to be anything but sober the rest of the year. She tried first one
then another of the proffered laps, none suiting till at last, lured by gay
dark eyes, she settled on knees of a foreign lad ; his jacket he had doubled
across them, though naturally a plump cushion, the whole made to exactly
suit the little romp by his keeping his heels off the ground : so that, in those
lie-a-bed times, no queen’s carriage had such capital springs ; while his
gibberish, sparely sprinkled with recognisable English, kept her in fits.
Suddenly the good uncle, still quite sober, was shot from his precarious
position into a hedge-bank.
Everybody got down in the roused dust to pick him up, his wrist broken,
his neck, wryed by bending above the lasts, only saved by a thick clump
of weeds, partly nettles ; their revenge distracted his attention from the
more serious disaster.
They put him under charge of an ill-grown loon. Then Kitty in tears
drew notice ; vainly was she assured, he would soon get better, this not
being her trouble ; now, she must go back. Such innocent fears were soon
laid : all vowed to take care of her ; the foreign friend repeating “ take
care” so funnily, she had to laugh.
An hour later those two words, so endearingly protective, kept purring
to her ears from amid sleek Gascon. He climbed like a monkey till fear
betrayed her, chased damsel-flies, or brought sprigs of bryony, their budded
green soft as love-bird down, to enrich her hair ; spider-webs, from which
shadows withdrew, shone like wide white disks, till she felt unsafely tall
and wished to sit down. Noon had stilled her limbs’ buoyancy, though
beneath saucy strays of hair her eyes continued dancing. All bodily per-
fections of errant knight and ballad hero—such an upset her young blood,
gaining no due expression in skipping feet, put her wits in—got jolted over
to his account ; every virtue of saint or bible story became part and parcel
of this unintelligible boy ; neither saint or angel stayed her, but she must
even draft from the blessed Lord himself, none else possessing sufficience.
What wonder she made small objection, when he kissed and they found
themselves alone deep in the sunshine ; nay, into the wood followed him
through mysterious places, which stir has quitted as the tide does caves
where a constant drip seems the faint pulse which tells that some one lives?
Here no heart beat but their own, passing down shady ways even to the
strange land of sleep—birthlike, dawnlit, as baby dreams long obliterated.
Inside the door, just beyond midnight, her mother and a candle first woke
her. The hasty run through late twilight for the waggon, drunken roys-
tering jolted through the night, all far-away : only those cooing unknown
words near, beneath a stuffy cloak : even when, parting, a neighbour dragged
her wrist, it seemed but some waif rudeness, pitiful in heaven.
“I’m in love, and we’ve slept together in the wood,” then questions, then
tears. Noticing the light, the good priest stepped in; taken into confidence,
he thought, seeing she loved him so, reporting with such high eulogy, it
were best to marry them, and undertook to hunt up the bridegroom, whose
name even was not known ; but the description was vivid. After visiting
two or three inns, he found him heavy with sleep as a winter dormouse,
turned the key, and took it away.
In time a new life, from no one knows where, was expected as witness
and consummation to this oddly arranged marriage.
A sharp fellow ; clever at his craft, wood-carving for the new choir;
gaining sufficient to pacify the mother : though often out at nights, drunk
—“ and worse” neighbours said. Winter drawing to a close, he grew dis-
contented, by no will of his married, mewed up with a girl unable to talk
with him ; till, returning one night to find mother-in-law and midwife
installed, being not more sober than uncle Ben on saint days, there ensued
a skirmish; he staggered upstairs into the room that she with a shriek filled:
all resulting in the small life’s return to its place.
Seemingly, she lay dead. When his wits came together, he could hear
neighbours below called by the infuriated beldames ; so let himself out of
window and by backways, hunted of accusing cries ; scuttled down to the
wharves, with fox-like wariness ; smuggled himself aboard a vessel which
stole silently seaward before dawn ; and thenceforth was drifted by un-
stable elements safely home to the unreflecting shallows of a blithe life.
T. STURGE MOORE
Moore, T. Sturge. “Old Kitty.” The Dial, vol. 3, 1893, pp. 27-30. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/dialv3-moore-kitty/