“A Rapid Courtship” By Vernon Ralston


This story, first printed in “The People’s Friend” in May 1915, was subtitled “How Love Flourished At Blackpool”.

There were lots of stories about World War I in the magazine at this point in time. This one offers a slightly different perspective — a perspective on current events that might be more commonly found in today’s “Friend”.

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Hiram Watters had snatched a brief week from turning shells at Sheffield to take a little much-needed rest at a Blackpool boarding house, in company with his friends, Mr and Mrs Maskery.

Mr Watters was warmly received, as the shortage of young men was positively painful.

It is true that most of the girls staying there were either engaged to, walking out with, or in correspondence with, Territorials or Kitchener’s Boys. Nevertheless there were others, and, in the absence of khaki, Mr Watters, proudly wearing his button “On War Service”, was exceedingly welcome.

A company, or at least a platoon, of charmers were ready to annex him as their lawful prey.

Now, directly Hiram Watters entered the boarding house dining room, and he fell head over ears in love with a brown-eyed damsel, who glanced up at him with demure interest.

“Lot of nice girls for you, Hiram,” said Mr Maskery. “If you’re not careful, one of them will be nabbing you this week, and then you’re done for.”

“Done for! That’s what you call it!” exclaimed Mrs Maskery. “You’ll be saying next that you were done for when you wedded me!”

“So I was,” said Mr Maskery sadly. “When I see three tables full of nice girls, and scarce a man amongst ’em, and think of the time I might have had, I feel I rushed things when I wedded you, missis.”

“That’s rather a nice girl with brown eyes over there,” said Mr Watters, anxious to prevent the controversy between husband and wife from developing.

Mrs Maskery surveyed the girl with a shrewd glance.

“Well, she’s not much to look at, but she don’t wear one of them horrid low-necked blouses, and by the fit of her blouse she made it herself. That’s a sign she’s a careful young person.”

“It’s nowt of the sort,” interposed Mr Maskery. “They make blouses to get them husbands, and they only wants husbands to buy blouses for ’em. It’s a queer merry-go-round of a world. She’s a nice little waist. I’d like to slip my arm around it.”

“Sam!” snapped Mrs Maskery. “If you forget that you’re married, I don’t.”

“You trust me, Hiram,” said Mr Maskery, “I’ll get you an intro to her after tea.”

Now, Mr Maskery had a way with the ladies. Five minutes after tea he was in deep converse with the brown-eyed damsel. Ten minutes after tea he was introducing Miss Mabel Price to Mr Hiram Watters, and suggesting that they should all go to the ballroom at the Tower together.

It was a delightful evening. Hiram Watters danced half the night in a kind of ecstatic delirium with Mabel Price. The rest of the time he danced in anxious expectation with Mrs Maskery.

But somehow, in the presence of the charming stranger, Mr Watters was almost dumb.

When she said it was a hot room, he replied: “Very hot”; when she said that the floor was nice, he said: “Very nice”. Yet Mr Maskery, even with a wife’s critical eye on him, could chat to Mabel through the dances in the cheeriest fashion.

Even when he escorted the girl home, Mr Watters could not overcome his painful shyness.

He told her so often that it was a beautiful starlit night that the damsel might have been pardoned had she described the starlight as all moonshine.

When he had to leave her at the boarding house, he sought out Mr Maskery in the smoke-room.

“Go in and win,” remarked Mr Maskery. “The missis gives her consent. She says Mabel Price isn’t a bad sort, which is something, considering she’s good looking. Well, did you kiss her outside before you came in?”

“No — I didn’t quite know how she’d take it.”

“On her cheeks if she weren’t used to kissing — on her lips if she was,” remarked Mr Maskery sagely.

The next day it was evident to everyone in the boarding house that Hiram Watters was deeply in love.

When a young man puts marmalade in his tea because he’s looking at a girl’s profile, his case is hopeless. The other girls knew it all at once, and save for a few of piratical dispositions, gave up all attempt to chase the young man.

Mrs Maskery, who was an amiable managing person, soon took the love affair into her own hands.

“It’s all right, Hiram,” she said. “I’ve let her know that you’re making three pound a week and have money saved for furnishing. And that here’s two girls in Sheffield just mad to have you.”

“How dare you tell her such lies about me and girls! She’ll think that I may be half-engaged to them. Perhaps she’ll never speak to me again.”

“Bless the lad, that’s the way to make the girl keen on you. Why, I don’t think I’d have married Sam there if Hilda Brown hadn’t been chasing him up hill and down dale.

“Now, she likes you — I’m sure of it — for all the time I was talking about you she was listening hard, and pretending to change the subject. Just you let her know straight what you think of her, and it’ll be all right, and I’ll make Sam buy me a new costume for the wedding.”

But the worst of it was that love, which makes some people blind, made Mr Watters dumb.

He prepared scores of speeches. He even purchased novelettes to see how the heroes proposed. But he never found a single hero who managed to propose in dumb show.

At last he consulted Mr Maskery.

“Look here, Sam,” he said. “How did you manage to propose?”

Mr Maskery scratched his head.

“Lemme see. I don’t exactly remember. Ah, this was it. I’d been walking out with Kate about six months when one night I sees a small house with a good yard to keep a dog in. So I says to her, ‘Kate, if we can get that house, shall us get wed at Whitsuntide?’, and she says, ‘Not unless the oven’s right. I’m not going to a house with a bad oven.’

“Well, the oven was right — so there we was — all settled.”

“But you see I haven’t got a house to show her.”

Mr Maskery scratched his head once more.

“You take her past furniture shops and say to ‘er, ‘Wouldn’t them armchairs look well in our front room?’ That’s what I call a tactful way of putting it.”

Still even the furniture shop scheme would not work. Mr Watters stood dumb in front of them. He walked beside the charmer on the promenade in the evenings, never even daring to put an arm around her waist, tough every other couple they met seemed to be entwined together.

Mr Maskery groaned as he walked behind them with his wife.

***

At last the final night of the visit arrived.

“Now or never,” said Mr Maskery to his friend. “You go in and win. She’ll never forgive you if you don’t propose tonight. It’s your last chance. Be a sport and rush it.”

But the fact that it was his last chance made Hiram even more nervous.

As they strolled up and down the front he could say nothing except that the tide was coming in, and that the stars were very bright. 

The evening passed away, and at last Mabel Price said a little snappishly for such a bright girl:

“It’s time we were getting back.”

Meekly, Mr Watters turned to go. His chance had vanished.

And then Wilhelm intervened.

At that moment a rumour of approaching Zeppelins reached Blackpool, and every light was instantly turned off.

“Zeppelins!” shouted a gleeful flapper in the dark.

“Oh, Zeppelins!” said Mabel Price, and stumbled right into Hiram Watters’ arms. He held her first to support her, and secondly because he liked it.

Two seconds later, regardless of the possible advent of Hun-ships, he was kissing Mabel Price repeatedly, persistently, confidently, and jubilantly.

It was very late when they got back to the boarding house. The lights had just been turned up. Mr Maskery at the door surveyed the young couple with the eye of an expert.

“Well, when’s the wedding to be?” he said. “Now, now, you can’t fool me. I know what it is when a girl comes in with her hair half-tumbling down.”


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Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.