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Victorian Short Stories: Troubled Marriages

'A Poor Stick'
By Arthur Morrison
(Tales of Mean Streets, London: Methuen and Co., 1894) Published by permission of
Methuen and Co.
Mrs. Jennings (or Jinnins, as the neighbours would have it) ruled absolutely at home,
when she took so much trouble as to do anything at all there--which was less often than
might have been. As for Robert her husband, he was a poor stick, said the neighbours.
And yet he was a man with enough of hardihood to remain a non-unionist in the erectors'
shop at Maidment's all the years of his service; no mean test of a man's fortitude and
resolution, as many a sufferer for independent opinion might testify. The truth was that
Bob never grew out of his courtship-blindness. Mrs. Jennings governed as she pleased,
stayed out or came home as she chose, and cooked a dinner or didn't, as her inclination
stood. Thus it was for ten years, during which time there were no children, and Bob bore
all things uncomplaining: cooking his own dinner when he found none cooked, and
sewing on his own buttons. Then of a sudden came children, till in three years there were
three; and Bob Jennings had to nurse and to wash them as often as not.
Mrs. Jennings at this time was what is called rather a fine woman: a woman of large scale
and full development; whose slatternly habit left her coarse black hair to tumble in snake-
locks about her face and shoulders half the day; who, clad in half-hooked clothes, bore
herself notoriously and unabashed in her fullness; and of whom ill things were said
regarding the lodger. The gossips had their excuse. The lodger was an irregular young
cabinet-maker, who lost quarters and halves and whole days; who had been seen abroad
with his landlady, what time Bob Jennings was putting the children to bed at home; who
on his frequent holidays brought in much beer, which he and the woman shared, while
Bob was at work. To carry the tale to Bob would have been a thankless errand, for he
would have none of anybody's sympathy, even in regard to miseries plain to his eye. But
the thing got about in the workshop, and there his days were made bitter.
At home things grew worse. To return at half-past five, and find the children still
undressed, screaming, hungry and dirty, was a matter of habit: to get them food, to wash
them, to tend the cuts and bumps sustained through the day of neglect, before lighting a
fire and getting tea for himself, were matters of daily duty. 'Ah,' he said to his sister, who
came at intervals to say plain things about Mrs. Jennings, 'you shouldn't go for to set a
man agin 'is wife, Jin. Melier do'n' like work, I know, but that's nach'ral to 'er. She ought
to married a swell 'stead o' me; she might 'a' done easy if she liked, bein' sich a fine gal;
but she's good-'arted, is Melier; an' she can't 'elp bein' a bit thoughtless.' Whereat his
sister called him a fool (it was her customary goodbye at such times), and took herself
Bob Jennings's intelligence was sufficient for his common needs, but it was never a vast
intelligence. Now, under a daily burden of dull misery, it clouded and stooped. The base