But Christmas 1914 wasn’t happy. Beat lost her baby, and was laid up for several weeks. It never occurred to me to reach out to my wife. She was seemingly content, surrounded by her female relations, and I thought I shouldn’t intrude. But if I have to pinpoint when a certain coldness seeped into our relationship, I would say that it dated from that time. Why Beat blamed me for stoically going to work every day, I’ll never know.
When she rose from her sick bed, my pretty wife was replaced by a termagant, who sniped at me from dawn to dusk. She chided me for dressing too noisily in the morning, for splashing water on the floor, for forgetting to clean the sink, for opening the door too loudly, or for messing up one of her precious napkins when eating. She would scold loudly, shrilly even, right there in front of company. People would drink tea, their faces averted, as she dressed me down. Occasionally, Ma Hough would attempt to intercede.
“Beat, dear,” she would say tentatively. “I’m sure Bob didn’t mean to upset you.”
But Beat always ignored her. “Just look at the mess he’s made,” she would screech. “You’d never think I’d spent all day scrubbing that floor. Look at the trail of mud he’s brought in. He never thinks about me, oh no, that’s definitely too much to ask.”
So I’d clump out of the house, and go to the Stanley Arms for supper.
“How’s Beat?” the Publican’s wife would ask as she brought me my food. “Still poorly is she?”
“Yes,” I would answer. “She’s not well. I don’t want to bother her.”
“What a good husband you are,” she would say, before returning to the other customers, while I sat there, wondering why I’d bothered to marry Beat at all.
As 1915 turned into 1916, things didn’t improve. Father passed away, and Mother moved to Deptford, to stay with one of my sisters. When Beat suggested that her parents come and live with us, I agreed. I’d always been fond of Ma Hough, who was a good cook, and Pa Hough was quiet, unobtrusive. By then, everyone was tightening their belts as the U-boat raids continued on Merchant shipping. [To be continued.]