We was just standin’ here at about eleven in the evenin’, an’ the moon was beginnin’ to rise. We could see the little patch of light growin’ bigger an’ bigger, just as it is now, an’ we knew that before many moments the light would be up over the sea. My back was to the sea, an’ Bill was leanin’ agin’ the handrail, just like you now.
It ain’t much, sir, after all; leastwise to you; but it was, aye, an’ it is, a deal to me, for it has all my life in it, such as it is. There’s a deal of poetry an’ story-tellin’ in books; but, Lor’ bless ye, if ye could see the heart right through of even such men as me, you’d have no need o’ books when you wanted poetry and romance. I often think that them chaps in them don’t feel a bit more nor we do when things is happenin’; it’s only when they’re written down that they become heroes an’ martyrs, an’ suchlike. Why, Bill was as big a hero as any of them. I often wished as how I could write, that I might tell all about him.
Howsumdever, if I can’t write, I can talk, an’ if you’re not in a hurry, an’ll wait till I tell you all, I’ll be proud. It does me good to talk about Bill.
Well, when I turned round an’ faced Bill I see his eyes with the light in ’em, an’ they was glistenin’. Bill gives a big gulp, an’ says to me:
“Joe, the world’s a big place, big enough for you an’ me to live in without quarrelin’. An’, mayhap, the same God as made one woman would make another, an’ we might both live an’ be happy. You an’ me has been comrades for long, an’ God knows that, next to Mary, I’d be sad to see you die, so whatever comes, we won’t quarrel or think hard of one another, sure we won’t, Joe.”
He put out his hand, an’ I took it sudden. We held hands for a long time. I thought he was in low spirits, and I wished to cheer him, so I says:
“Why, Bill, who talks o’ dyin’ that’s as hearty as we?”
He shook his head sadly, an’ says he:
”Joe, I don’t vally my life at a pin’s head, an’ I ain’t afraid to die. For her sake or for yours – aye, even for her pleasure – I’d – No matter. Just see if I turn coward if I ever get the chance to do her a service.”
Well, we stood there for a long time. Neither of us said a word, for I didn’t like to speak, although I would several times have liked to ask him a question. An’ then I gave up wishin’ to speak, an’ began to think, like him.
I thought of all the time Bill an’ me had been friends an’ comrades, an’ how fond we were both of Mary, an’ she of us. Ye see, when we was all children, the little thing took such a fancy for both of us that we couldn’t help likin’ her for it, and so we became, in course of time, like big brothers to her. She would come down on the shore with Bill an’ me an’ sit quiet all the day an’ never say a word or do anything to annoy us or put us out. Sometimes we’d go out sailin’, an’ then she would come an’ sit beside whoever was steerin’ till he’d ask her to come up an’ sit on his knee. Then she’d put up her little arms round his neck an’ kiss him, an’ would stay as quiet as a mouse till she’d have to change her place. That was the way, sir, that we both came to be so fond of her.
An’, sure enough, when she began to grow up, Bill an’ me wanted none other but her. An’ the more she grew, the prouder we were of her, till at last we found out that we were both of us in love with her. But we never told her so, or let her see it; an’ she had grown up so amongst us that she never suspected it. She said so long after.
Then Bill an’ me held a kind of council about what was to be done, an’ so we came to be talkin’ on the bridge that night. Mary was growin’ into a young woman, an’ we feared that some other chap might take her fancy, if one of us didn’t get her at once. Bill was very serious, far more serious than me, for I had somehow got the idea into my head as how Mary cared for me, an’ as long as I felt that I couldn’t feel either unhappy or downhearted.
All at once Bill’s face grew brighter, an’ there was a soft look in his eyes.
”Joe,” he says, “whatever happens, Mary must never hang her head. The lass is tender-hearted, and she likes both of us, we know; an’ as she can only love one of us, it might pain her to think that when she was marryin’ one man she was leavin’ a hole in the life of his comrade. So she must never know as how we both love her, if we can prevent it.”
To read the rest of this story visit:
“Greater Love” at bramstoker.org