Part 3 out of 5
lamp struck through the drizzle under Charlson's umbrella, so as
just to illumine his face against the shade behind, and show that
his eye was turned up under the outer corner of its lid, whence it
leered with impish jocoseness as he thrust his tongue into his
'Come,' said Barnet gravely, 'we'll have no more of that.'
'No, no--of course not,' Charlson hastily answered, seeing that his
humour had carried him too far, as it had done many times before.
He was profuse in his apologies, but Barnet did not reply. Of one
thing he was certain--that scandal was a plant of quick root, and
that he was bound to obey Lucy's injunction for Lucy's own sake.
He did so, to the letter; and though, as the crocus followed the
snowdrop and the daffodil the crocus in Lucy's garden, the harbour-
road was a not unpleasant place to walk in, Barnet's feet never trod
its stones, much less approached her door. He avoided a saunter
that way as he would have avoided a dangerous dram, and took his
airings a long distance northward, among severely square and brown
ploughed fields, where no other townsman came. Sometimes he went
round by the lower lanes of the borough, where the rope-walks
stretched in which his family formerly had share, and looked at the
rope-makers walking backwards, overhung by apple-trees and bushes,
and intruded on by cows and calves, as if trade had established
itself there at considerable inconvenience to Nature.
One morning, when the sun was so warm as to raise a steam from the
south-eastern slopes of those flanking hills that looked so lovely
above the old roofs, but made every low-chimneyed house in the town
as smoky as Tophet, Barnet glanced from the windows of the town-
council room for lack of interest in what was proceeding within.
Several members of the corporation were present, but there was not
much business doing, and in a few minutes Downe came leisurely
across to him, saying that he seldom saw Barnet now.
Barnet owned that he was not often present.
Downe looked at the crimson curtain which hung down beside the
panes, reflecting its hot hues into their faces, and then out of the
window. At that moment there passed along the street a tall
commanding lady, in whom the solicitor recognized Barnet's wife.
Barnet had done the same thing, and turned away.
'It will be all right some day,' said Downe, with cheering sympathy.
'You have heard, then, of her last outbreak?'
Downe depressed his cheerfulness to its very reverse in a moment.
'No, I have not heard of anything serious,' he said, with as long a
face as one naturally round could be turned into at short notice.
'I only hear vague reports of such things.'
'You may think it will be all right,' said Barnet drily. 'But I
have a different opinion . . . No, Downe, we must look the thing in
the face. Not poppy nor mandragora--however, how are your wife and
Downe said that they were all well, thanks; they were out that
morning somewhere; he was just looking to see if they were walking
that way. Ah, there they were, just coming down the street; and
Downe pointed to the figures of two children with a nursemaid, and a
lady walking behind them.
'You will come out and speak to her?' he asked.
'Not this morning. The fact is I don't care to speak to anybody
'You are too sensitive, Mr. Barnet. At school I remember you used
to get as red as a rose if anybody uttered a word that hurt your
Barnet mused. 'Yes,' he admitted, 'there is a grain of truth in
that. It is because of that I often try to make peace at home.
Life would be tolerable then at any rate, even if not particularly
'I have thought more than once of proposing a little plan to you,'
said Downe with some hesitation. 'I don't know whether it will meet
your views, but take it or leave it, as you choose. In fact, it was
my wife who suggested it: that she would be very glad to call on
Mrs. Barnet and get into her confidence. She seems to think that
Mrs. Barnet is rather alone in the town, and without advisers. Her
impression is that your wife will listen to reason. Emily has a
wonderful way of winning the hearts of people of her own sex.'
'And of the other sex too, I think. She is a charming woman, and
you were a lucky fellow to find her.'
'Well, perhaps I was,' simpered Downe, trying to wear an aspect of
being the last man in the world to feel pride. 'However, she will
be likely to find out what ruffles Mrs. Barnet. Perhaps it is some
misunderstanding, you know--something that she is too proud to ask
you to explain, or some little thing in your conduct that irritates
her because she does not fully comprehend you. The truth is, Emily
would have been more ready to make advances if she had been quite
sure of her fitness for Mrs. Barnet's society, who has of course
been accustomed to London people of good position, which made Emily
fearful of intruding.'
Barnet expressed his warmest thanks for the well-intentioned
proposition. There was reason in Mrs. Downe's fear--that he owned.
'But do let her call,' he said. 'There is no woman in England I
would so soon trust on such an errand. I am afraid there will not
be any brilliant result; still I shall take it as the kindest and
nicest thing if she will try it, and not be frightened at a
When Barnet and Downe had parted, the former went to the Town
Savings-Bank, of which he was a trustee, and endeavoured to forget
his troubles in the contemplation of low sums of money, and figures
in a network of red and blue lines. He sat and watched the working-
people making their deposits, to which at intervals he signed his
name. Before he left in the afternoon Downe put his head inside the
'Emily has seen Mrs. Barnet,' he said, in a low voice. 'She has got
Mrs. Barnet's promise to take her for a drive down to the shore to-
morrow, if it is fine. Good afternoon!'
Barnet shook Downe by the hand without speaking, and Downe went
The next day was as fine as the arrangement could possibly require.
As the sun passed the meridian and declined westward, the tall
shadows from the scaffold-poles of Barnet's rising residence
streaked the ground as far as to the middle of the highway. Barnet
himself was there inspecting the progress of the works for the first
time during several weeks. A building in an old-fashioned town
five-and-thirty years ago did not, as in the modern fashion, rise
from the sod like a booth at a fair. The foundations and lower
courses were put in and allowed to settle for many weeks before the
superstructure was built up, and a whole summer of drying was hardly
sufficient to do justice to the important issues involved. Barnet
stood within a window-niche which had as yet received no frame, and
thence looked down a slope into the road. The wheels of a chaise
were heard, and then his handsome Xantippe, in the company of Mrs.
Downe, drove past on their way to the shore. They were driving
slowly; there was a pleasing light in Mrs. Downe's face, which
seemed faintly to reflect itself upon the countenance of her
companion--that politesse du coeur which was so natural to her
having possibly begun already to work results. But whatever the
situation, Barnet resolved not to interfere, or do anything to
hazard the promise of the day. He might well afford to trust the
issue to another when he could never direct it but to ill himself.
His wife's clenched rein-hand in its lemon-coloured glove, her stiff
erect figure, clad in velvet and lace, and her boldly-outlined face,
passed on, exhibiting their owner as one fixed for ever above the
level of her companion--socially by her early breeding, and
materially by her higher cushion.
Barnet decided to allow them a proper time to themselves, and then
stroll down to the shore and drive them home. After lingering on at
the house for another hour he started with this intention. A few
hundred yards below 'Chateau Ringdale' stood the cottage in which
the late lieutenant's daughter had her lodging. Barnet had not been
so far that way for a long time, and as he approached the forbidden
ground a curious warmth passed into him, which led him to perceive
that, unless he were careful, he might have to fight the battle with
himself about Lucy over again. A tenth of his present excuse would,
however, have justified him in travelling by that road to-day.
He came opposite the dwelling, and turned his eyes for a momentary
glance into the little garden that stretched from the palings to the
door. Lucy was in the enclosure; she was walking and stooping to
gather some flowers, possibly for the purpose of painting them, for
she moved about quickly, as if anxious to save time. She did not
see him; he might have passed unnoticed; but a sensation which was
not in strict unison with his previous sentiments that day led him
to pause in his walk and watch her. She went nimbly round and round
the beds of anemones, tulips, jonquils, polyanthuses, and other old-
fashioned flowers, looking a very charming figure in her half-
mourning bonnet, and with an incomplete nosegay in her left hand.
Raising herself to pull down a lilac blossom she observed him.
'Mr. Barnet!' she said, innocently smiling. 'Why, I have been
thinking of you many times since Mrs. Barnet went by in the pony-
carriage, and now here you are!'
'Yes, Lucy,' he said.
Then she seemed to recall particulars of their last meeting, and he
believed that she flushed, though it might have been only the fancy
of his own supersensitivenesss.
'I am going to the harbour,' he added.
'Are you?' Lucy remarked simply. 'A great many people begin to go
there now the summer is drawing on.'
Her face had come more into his view as she spoke, and he noticed
how much thinner and paler it was than when he had seen it last.
'Lucy, how weary you look! tell me, can I help you?' he was going to
cry out.--'If I do,' he thought, 'it will be the ruin of us both!'
He merely said that the afternoon was fine, and went on his way.
As he went a sudden blast of air came over the hill as if in
contradiction to his words, and spoilt the previous quiet of the
scene. The wind had already shifted violently, and now smelt of the
The harbour-road soon began to justify its name. A gap appeared in
the rampart of hills which shut out the sea, and on the left of the
opening rose a vertical cliff, coloured a burning orange by the
sunlight, the companion cliff on the right being livid in shade.
Between these cliffs, like the Libyan bay which sheltered the
shipwrecked Trojans, was a little haven, seemingly a beginning made
by Nature herself of a perfect harbour, which appealed to the
passer-by as only requiring a little human industry to finish it and
make it famous, the ground on each side as far back as the daisied
slopes that bounded the interior valley being a mere layer of blown
sand. But the Port-Bredy burgesses a mile inland had, in the course
of ten centuries, responded many times to that mute appeal, with the
result that the tides had invariably choked up their works with sand
and shingle as soon as completed. There were but few houses here:
a rough pier, a few boats, some stores, an inn, a residence or two,
a ketch unloading in the harbour, were the chief features of the
settlement. On the open ground by the shore stood his wife's pony-
carriage, empty, the boy in attendance holding the horse.
When Barnet drew nearer, he saw an indigo-coloured spot moving
swiftly along beneath the radiant base of the eastern cliff, which
proved to be a man in a jersey, running with all his might. He held
up his hand to Barnet, as it seemed, and they approached each other.
The man was local, but a stranger to him.
'What is it, my man?' said Barnet.
'A terrible calamity!' the boatman hastily explained. Two ladies
had been capsized in a boat--they were Mrs. Downe and Mrs. Barnet of
the old town; they had driven down there that afternoon--they had
alighted, and it was so fine, that, after walking about a little
while, they had been tempted to go out for a short sail round the
cliff. Just as they were putting in to the shore, the wind shifted
with a sudden gust, the boat listed over, and it was thought they
were both drowned. How it could have happened was beyond his mind
to fathom, for John Green knew how to sail a boat as well as any man
'Which is the way to the place?' said Barnet.
It was just round the cliff.
'Run to the carriage and tell the boy to bring it to the place as
soon as you can. Then go to the Harbour Inn and tell them to ride
to town for a doctor. Have they been got out of the water?'
'One lady has.'
'Mrs. Barnet. Mrs. Downe, it is feared, has fleeted out to sea.'
Barnet ran on to that part of the shore which the cliff had hitherto
obscured from his view, and there discerned, a long way ahead, a
group of fishermen standing. As soon as he came up one or two
recognized him, and, not liking to meet his eye, turned aside with
misgiving. He went amidst them and saw a small sailing-boat lying
draggled at the water's edge; and, on the sloping shingle beside it,
a soaked and sandy woman's form in the velvet dress and yellow
gloves of his wife.
All had been done that could be done. Mrs. Barnet was in her own
house under medical hands, but the result was still uncertain.
Barnet had acted as if devotion to his wife were the dominant
passion of his existence. There had been much to decide--whether to
attempt restoration of the apparently lifeless body as it lay on the
shore--whether to carry her to the Harbour Inn--whether to drive
with her at once to his own house. The first course, with no
skilled help or appliances near at hand, had seemed hopeless. The
second course would have occupied nearly as much time as a drive to
the town, owing to the intervening ridges of shingle, and the
necessity of crossing the harbour by boat to get to the house, added
to which much time must have elapsed before a doctor could have
arrived down there. By bringing her home in the carriage some
precious moments had slipped by; but she had been laid in her own
bed in seven minutes, a doctor called to her side, and every
possible restorative brought to bear upon her.
At what a tearing pace he had driven up that road, through the
yellow evening sunlight, the shadows flapping irksomely into his
eyes as each wayside object rushed past between him and the west!
Tired workmen with their baskets at their backs had turned on their
homeward journey to wonder at his speed. Halfway between the shore
and Port-Bredy town he had met Charlson, who had been the first
surgeon to hear of the accident. He was accompanied by his
assistant in a gig. Barnet had sent on the latter to the coast in
case that Downe's poor wife should by that time have been reclaimed
from the waves, and had brought Charlson back with him to the house.
Barnet's presence was not needed here, and he felt it to be his next
duty to set off at once and find Downe, that no other than himself
might break the news to him.
He was quite sure that no chance had been lost for Mrs. Downe by his
leaving the shore. By the time that Mrs. Barnet had been laid in
the carriage, a much larger group had assembled to lend assistance
in finding her friend, rendering his own help superfluous. But the
duty of breaking the news was made doubly painful by the
circumstance that the catastrophe which had befallen Mrs. Downe was
solely the result of her own and her husband's loving-kindness
He found Downe in his office. When the solicitor comprehended the
intelligence he turned pale, stood up, and remained for a moment
perfectly still, as if bereft of his faculties; then his shoulders
heaved, he pulled out his handkerchief and began to cry like a
child. His sobs might have been heard in the next room. He seemed
to have no idea of going to the shore, or of doing anything; but
when Barnet took him gently by the hand and proposed to start at
once, he quietly acquiesced, neither uttering any further word nor
making any effort to repress his tears.
Barnet accompanied him to the shore, where, finding that no trace
had as yet been seen of Mrs. Downe, and that his stay would be of no
avail, he left Downe with his friends and the young doctor, and once
more hastened back to his own house.
At the door he met Charlson. 'Well!' Barnet said.
'I have just come down,' said the doctor; 'we have done everything,
but without result. I sympathize with you in your bereavement.'
Barnet did not much appreciate Charlson's sympathy, which sounded to
his ears as something of a mockery from the lips of a man who knew
what Charlson knew about their domestic relations. Indeed there
seemed an odd spark in Charlson's full black eye as he said the
words; but that might have been imaginary.
'And, Mr. Barnet,' Charlson resumed, 'that little matter between us-
-I hope to settle it finally in three weeks at least.'
'Never mind that now,' said Barnet abruptly. He directed the
surgeon to go to the harbour in case his services might even now be
necessary there: and himself entered the house.
The servants were coming from his wife's chamber, looking helplessly
at each other and at him. He passed them by and entered the room,
where he stood mutely regarding the bed for a few minutes, after
which he walked into his own dressing-room adjoining, and there
paced up and down. In a minute or two he noticed what a strange and
total silence had come over the upper part of the house; his own
movements, muffled as they were by the carpet, seemed noisy, and his
thoughts to disturb the air like articulate utterances. His eye
glanced through the window. Far down the road to the harbour a roof
detained his gaze: out of it rose a red chimney, and out of the red
chimney a curl of smoke, as from a fire newly kindled. He had often
seen such a sight before. In that house lived Lucy Savile; and the
smoke was from the fire which was regularly lighted at this time to
make her tea.
After that he went back to the bedroom, and stood there some time
regarding his wife's silent form. She was a woman some years older
than himself, but had not by any means overpassed the maturity of
good looks and vigour. Her passionate features, well-defined, firm,
and statuesque in life, were doubly so now: her mouth and brow,
beneath her purplish black hair, showed only too clearly that the
turbulency of character which had made a bear-garden of his house
had been no temporary phase of her existence. While he reflected,
he suddenly said to himself, I wonder if all has been done?
The thought was led up to by his having fancied that his wife's
features lacked in its complete form the expression which he had
been accustomed to associate with the faces of those whose spirits
have fled for ever. The effacement of life was not so marked but
that, entering uninformed, he might have supposed her sleeping. Her
complexion was that seen in the numerous faded portraits by Sir
Joshua Reynolds; it was pallid in comparison with life, but there
was visible on a close inspection the remnant of what had once been
a flush; the keeping between the cheeks and the hollows of the face
being thus preserved, although positive colour was gone. Long
orange rays of evening sun stole in through chinks in the blind,
striking on the large mirror, and being thence reflected upon the
crimson hangings and woodwork of the heavy bedstead, so that the
general tone of light was remarkably warm; and it was probable that
something might be due to this circumstance. Still the fact
impressed him as strange. Charlson had been gone more than a
quarter of an hour: could it be possible that he had left too soon,
and that his attempts to restore her had operated so sluggishly as
only now to have made themselves felt? Barnet laid his hand upon
her chest, and fancied that ever and anon a faint flutter of
palpitation, gentle as that of a butterfly's wing, disturbed the
stillness there--ceasing for a time, then struggling to go on, then
breaking down in weakness and ceasing again.
Barnet's mother had been an active practitioner of the healing art
among her poorer neighbours, and her inspirations had all been
derived from an octavo volume of Domestic Medicine, which at this
moment was lying, as it had lain for many years, on a shelf in
Barnet's dressing-room. He hastily fetched it, and there read under
the head 'Drowning:'-
'Exertions for the recovery of any person who has not been immersed
for a longer period than half-an-hour should be continued for at
least four hours, as there have been many cases in which returning
life has made itself visible even after a longer interval.
'Should, however, a weak action of any of the organs show itself
when the case seems almost hopeless, our efforts must be redoubled;
the feeble spark in this case requires to be solicited; it will
certainly disappear under a relaxation of labour.'
Barnet looked at his watch; it was now barely two hours and a half
from the time when he had first heard of the accident. He threw
aside the book and turned quickly to reach a stimulant which had
previously been used. Pulling up the blind for more light, his eye
glanced out of the window. There he saw that red chimney still
smoking cheerily, and that roof, and through the roof that somebody.
His mechanical movements stopped, his hand remained on the blind-
cord, and he seemed to become breathless, as if he had suddenly
found himself treading a high rope.
While he stood a sparrow lighted on the windowsill, saw him, and
flew away. Next a man and a dog walked over one of the green hills
which bulged above the roofs of the town. But Barnet took no
We may wonder what were the exact images that passed through his
mind during those minutes of gazing upon Lucy Savile's house, the
sparrow, the man and the dog, and Lucy Savile's house again. There
are honest men who will not admit to their thoughts, even as idle
hypotheses, views of the future that assume as done a deed which
they would recoil from doing; and there are other honest men for
whom morality ends at the surface of their own heads, who will
deliberate what the first will not so much as suppose. Barnet had a
wife whose pretence distracted his home; she now lay as in death; by
merely doing nothing--by letting the intelligence which had gone
forth to the world lie undisturbed--he would effect such a
deliverance for himself as he had never hoped for, and open up an
opportunity of which till now he had never dreamed. Whether the
conjuncture had arisen through any unscrupulous, ill-considered
impulse of Charlson to help out of a strait the friend who was so
kind as never to press him for what was due could not be told; there
was nothing to prove it; and it was a question which could never be
asked. The triangular situation--himself--his wife--Lucy Savile--
was the one clear thing.
From Barnet's actions we may infer that he SUPPOSED such and such a
result, for a moment, but did not deliberate. He withdrew his hazel
eyes from the scene without, calmly turned, rang the bell for
assistance, and vigorously exerted himself to learn if life still
lingered in that motionless frame. In a short time another surgeon
was in attendance; and then Barnet's surmise proved to be true. The
slow life timidly heaved again; but much care and patience were
needed to catch and retain it, and a considerable period elapsed
before it could be said with certainty that Mrs. Barnet lived. When
this was the case, and there was no further room for doubt, Barnet
left the chamber. The blue evening smoke from Lucy's chimney had
died down to an imperceptible stream, and as he walked about
downstairs he murmured to himself, 'My wife was dead, and she is
It was not so with Downe. After three hours' immersion his wife's
body had been recovered, life, of course, being quite extinct.
Barnet on descending, went straight to his friend's house, and there
learned the result. Downe was helpless in his wild grief,
occasionally even hysterical. Barnet said little, but finding that
some guiding hand was necessary in the sorrow-stricken household,
took upon him to supervise and manage till Downe should be in a
state of mind to do so for himself.
One September evening, four months later, when Mrs. Barnet was in
perfect health, and Mrs. Downe but a weakening memory, an errand-boy
paused to rest himself in front of Mr. Barnet's old house,
depositing his basket on one of the window-sills. The street was
not yet lighted, but there were lights in the house, and at
intervals a flitting shadow fell upon the blind at his elbow. Words
also were audible from the same apartment, and they seemed to be
those of persons in violent altercation. But the boy could not
gather their purport, and he went on his way.
Ten minutes afterwards the door of Barnet's house opened, and a tall
closely-veiled lady in a travelling-dress came out and descended the
freestone steps. The servant stood in the doorway watching her as
she went with a measured tread down the street. When she had been
out of sight for some minutes Barnet appeared at the door from
'Did your mistress leave word where she was going?' he asked.
'Is the carriage ordered to meet her anywhere?'
'Did she take a latch-key?'
Barnet went in again, sat down in his chair, and leaned back. Then
in solitude and silence he brooded over the bitter emotions that
filled his heart. It was for this that he had gratuitously restored
her to life, and made his union with another impossible! The
evening drew on, and nobody came to disturb him. At bedtime he told
the servants to retire, that he would sit up for Mrs. Barnet
himself; and when they were gone he leaned his head upon his hand
and mused for hours.
The clock struck one, two; still his wife came not, and, with
impatience added to depression, he went from room to room till
another weary hour had passed. This was not altogether a new
experience for Barnet; but she had never before so prolonged her
absence. At last he sat down again and fell asleep.
He awoke at six o'clock to find that she had not returned. In
searching about the rooms he discovered that she had taken a case of
jewels which had been hers before her marriage. At eight a note was
brought him; it was from his wife, in which she stated that she had
gone by the coach to the house of a distant relative near London,
and expressed a wish that certain boxes, articles of clothing, and
so on, might be sent to her forthwith. The note was brought to him
by a waiter at the Black-Bull Hotel, and had been written by Mrs.
Barnet immediately before she took her place in the stage.
By the evening this order was carried out, and Barnet, with a sense
of relief, walked out into the town. A fair had been held during
the day, and the large clear moon which rose over the most prominent
hill flung its light upon the booths and standings that still
remained in the street, mixing its rays curiously with those from
the flaring naphtha lamps. The town was full of country-people who
had come in to enjoy themselves, and on this account Barnet strolled
through the streets unobserved. With a certain recklessness he made
for the harbour-road, and presently found himself by the shore,
where he walked on till he came to the spot near which his friend
the kindly Mrs. Downe had lost her life, and his own wife's life had
been preserved. A tremulous pathway of bright moonshine now
stretched over the water which had engulfed them, and not a living
soul was near.
Here he ruminated on their characters, and next on the young girl in
whom he now took a more sensitive interest than at the time when he
had been free to marry her. Nothing, so far as he was aware, had
ever appeared in his own conduct to show that such an interest
existed. He had made it a point of the utmost strictness to hinder
that feeling from influencing in the faintest degree his attitude
towards his wife; and this was made all the more easy for him by the
small demand Mrs. Barnet made upon his attentions, for which she
ever evinced the greatest contempt; thus unwittingly giving him the
satisfaction of knowing that their severance owed nothing to
jealousy, or, indeed, to any personal behaviour of his at all. Her
concern was not with him or his feelings, as she frequently told
him; but that she had, in a moment of weakness, thrown herself away
upon a common burgher when she might have aimed at, and possibly
brought down, a peer of the realm. Her frequent depreciation of
Barnet in these terms had at times been so intense that he was
sorely tempted to retaliate on her egotism by owning that he loved
at the same low level on which he lived; but prudence had prevailed,
for which he was now thankful.
Something seemed to sound upon the shingle behind him over and above
the raking of the wave. He looked round, and a slight girlish shape
appeared quite close to him, He could not see her face because it
was in the direction of the moon.
'Mr. Barnet?' the rambler said, in timid surprise. The voice was
the voice of Lucy Savile.
'Yes,' said Barnet. 'How can I repay you for this pleasure?'
'I only came because the night was so clear. I am now on my way
'I am glad we have met. I want to know if you will let me do
something for you, to give me an occupation, as an idle man? I am
sure I ought to help you, for I know you are almost without
She hesitated. 'Why should you tell me that?' she said.
'In the hope that you will be frank with me.'
'I am not altogether without friends here. But I am going to make a
little change in my life--to go out as a teacher of freehand drawing
and practical perspective, of course I mean on a comparatively
humble scale, because I have not been specially educated for that
profession. But I am sure I shall like it much.'
'You have an opening?'
'I have not exactly got it, but I have advertised for one.'
'Lucy, you must let me help you!'
'Not at all.'
'You need not think it would compromise you, or that I am
indifferent to delicacy. I bear in mind how we stand. It is very
unlikely that you will succeed as teacher of the class you mention,
so let me do something of a different kind for you. Say what you
would like, and it shall be done.'
'No; if I can't be a drawing-mistress or governess, or something of
that sort, I shall go to India and join my brother.'
'I wish I could go abroad, anywhere, everywhere with you, Lucy, and
leave this place and its associations for ever!'
She played with the end of her bonnet-string, and hastily turned
aside. 'Don't ever touch upon that kind of topic again,' she said,
with a quick severity not free from anger. 'It simply makes it
impossible for me to see you, much less receive any guidance from
you. No, thank you, Mr. Barnet; you can do nothing for me at
present; and as I suppose my uncertainty will end in my leaving for
India, I fear you never will. If ever I think you CAN do anything,
I will take the trouble to ask you. Till then, good-bye.'
The tone of her latter words was equivocal, and while he remained in
doubt whether a gentle irony was or was not inwrought with their
sound, she swept lightly round and left him alone. He saw her form
get smaller and smaller along the damp belt of sea-sand between ebb
and flood; and when she had vanished round the cliff into the
harbour-road, he himself followed in the same direction.
That her hopes from an advertisement should be the single thread
which held Lucy Savile in England was too much for Barnet. On
reaching the town he went straight to the residence of Downe, now a
widower with four children. The young motherless brood had been
sent to bed about a quarter of an hour earlier, and when Barnet
entered he found Downe sitting alone. It was the same room as that
from which the family had been looking out for Downe at the
beginning of the year, when Downe had slipped into the gutter and
his wife had been so enviably tender towards him. The old neatness
had gone from the house; articles lay in places which could show no
reason for their presence, as if momentarily deposited there some
months ago, and forgotten ever since; there were no flowers; things
were jumbled together on the furniture which should have been in
cupboards; and the place in general had that stagnant, unrenovated
air which usually pervades the maimed home of the widower.
Downe soon renewed his customary full-worded lament over his wife,
and even when he had worked himself up to tears, went on volubly, as
if a listener were a luxury to be enjoyed whenever he could be
'She was a treasure beyond compare, Mr. Barnet! I shall never see
such another. Nobody now to nurse me--nobody to console me in those
daily troubles, you know, Barnet, which make consolation so
necessary to a nature like mine. It would be unbecoming to repine,
for her spirit's home was elsewhere--the tender light in her eyes
always showed it; but it is a long dreary time that I have before
me, and nobody else can ever fill the void left in my heart by her
loss--nobody--nobody!' And Downe wiped his eyes again.
'She was a good woman in the highest sense,' gravely answered
Barnet, who, though Downe's words drew genuine compassion from his
heart, could not help feeling that a tender reticence would have
been a finer tribute to Mrs. Downe's really sterling virtues than
such a second-class lament as this.
'I have something to show you,' Downe resumed, producing from a
drawer a sheet of paper on which was an elaborate design for a
canopied tomb. 'This has been sent me by the architect, but it is
not exactly what I want.'
'You have got Jones to do it, I see, the man who is carrying out my
house,' said Barnet, as he glanced at the signature to the drawing.
'Yes, but it is not quite what I want. I want something more
striking--more like a tomb I have seen in St. Paul's Cathedral.
Nothing less will do justice to my feelings, and how far short of
them that will fall!'
Barnet privately thought the design a sufficiently imposing one as
it stood, even extravagantly ornate; but, feeling that he had no
right to criticize, he said gently, 'Downe, should you not live more
in your children's lives at the present time, and soften the
sharpness of regret for your own past by thinking of their future?'
'Yes, yes; but what can I do more?' asked Downe, wrinkling his
It was with anxious slowness that Barnet produced his reply--the
secret object of his visit to-night. 'Did you not say one day that
you ought by rights to get a governess for the children?'
Downe admitted that he had said so, but that he could not see his
way to it. 'The kind of woman I should like to have,' he said,
'would be rather beyond my means. No; I think I shall send them to
school in the town when they are old enough to go out alone.'
'Now, I know of something better than that. The late Lieutenant
Savile's daughter, Lucy, wants to do something for herself in the
way of teaching. She would be inexpensive, and would answer your
purpose as well as anybody for six or twelve months. She would
probably come daily if you were to ask her, and so your housekeeping
arrangements would not be much affected.'
'I thought she had gone away,' said the solicitor, musing. 'Where
does she live?'
Barnet told him, and added that, if Downe should think of her as
suitable, he would do well to call as soon as possible, or she might
be on the wing. 'If you do see her,' he said, 'it would be
advisable not to mention my name. She is rather stiff in her ideas
of me, and it might prejudice her against a course if she knew that
I recommended it.'
Downe promised to give the subject his consideration, and nothing
more was said about it just then. But when Barnet rose to go, which
was not till nearly bedtime, he reminded Downe of the suggestion and
went up the street to his own solitary home with a sense of
satisfaction at his promising diplomacy in a charitable cause.
The walls of his new house were carried up nearly to their full
height. By a curious though not infrequent reaction, Barnet's
feelings about that unnecessary structure had undergone a change; he
took considerable interest in its progress as a long-neglected
thing, his wife before her departure having grown quite weary of it
as a hobby. Moreover, it was an excellent distraction for a man in
the unhappy position of having to live in a provincial town with
nothing to do. He was probably the first of his line who had ever
passed a day without toil, and perhaps something like an inherited
instinct disqualifies such men for a life of pleasant inaction, such
as lies in the power of those whose leisure is not a personal
accident, but a vast historical accretion which has become part of
Thus Barnet got into a way of spending many of his leisure hours on
the site of the new building, and he might have been seen on most
days at this time trying the temper of the mortar by punching the
joints with his stick, looking at the grain of a floor-board, and
meditating where it grew, or picturing under what circumstances the
last fire would be kindled in the at present sootless chimneys. One
day when thus occupied he saw three children pass by in the company
of a fair young woman, whose sudden appearance caused him to flush
'Ah, she is there,' he thought. 'That's a blessed thing.'
Casting an interested glance over the rising building and the busy
workmen, Lucy Savile and the little Downes passed by; and after that
time it became a regular though almost unconscious custom of Barnet
to stand in the half-completed house and look from the ungarnished
windows at the governess as she tripped towards the sea-shore with
her young charges, which she was in the habit of doing on most fine
afternoons. It was on one of these occasions, when he had been
loitering on the first-floor landing, near the hole left for the
staircase, not yet erected, that there appeared above the edge of
the floor a little hat, followed by a little head.
Barnet withdrew through a doorway, and the child came to the top of
the ladder, stepping on to the floor and crying to her sisters and
Miss Savile to follow. Another head rose above the floor, and
another, and then Lucy herself came into view. The troop ran hither
and thither through the empty, shaving-strewn rooms, and Barnet came
Lucy uttered a small exclamation: she was very sorry that she had
intruded; she had not the least idea that Mr. Barnet was there: the
children had come up, and she had followed.
Barnet replied that he was only too glad to see them there. 'And
now, let me show you the rooms,' he said.
She passively assented, and he took her round. There was not much
to show in such a bare skeleton of a house, but he made the most of
it, and explained the different ornamental fittings that were soon
to be fixed here and there. Lucy made but few remarks in reply,
though she seemed pleased with her visit, and stole away down the
ladder, followed by her companions.
After this the new residence became yet more of a hobby for Barnet.
Downe's children did not forget their first visit, and when the
windows were glazed, and the handsome staircase spread its broad low
steps into the hall, they came again, prancing in unwearied
succession through every room from ground-floor to attics, while
Lucy stood waiting for them at the door. Barnet, who rarely missed
a day in coming to inspect progress, stepped out from the drawing-
'I could not keep them out,' she said, with an apologetic blush. 'I
tried to do so very much: but they are rather wilful, and we are
directed to walk this way for the sea air.'
'Do let them make the house their regular playground, and you
yours,' said Barnet. 'There is no better place for children to romp
and take their exercise in than an empty house, particularly in
muddy or damp weather such as we shall get a good deal of now; and
this place will not be furnished for a long long time--perhaps
never. I am not at all decided about it.'
'O, but it must!' replied Lucy, looking round at the hall. 'The
rooms are excellent, twice as high as ours; and the views from the
windows are so lovely.'
'I daresay, I daresay,' he said absently.
'Will all the furniture be new?' she asked.
'All the furniture be new--that's a thing I have not thought of. In
fact I only come here and look on. My father's house would have
been large enough for me, but another person had a voice in the
matter, and it was settled that we should build. However, the place
grows upon me; its recent associations are cheerful, and I am
getting to like it fast.'
A certain uneasiness in Lucy's manner showed that the conversation
was taking too personal a turn for her. 'Still, as modern tastes
develop, people require more room to gratify them in,' she said,
withdrawing to call the children; and serenely bidding him good
afternoon she went on her way.
Barnet's life at this period was singularly lonely, and yet he was
happier than he could have expected. His wife's estrangement and
absence, which promised to be permanent, left him free as a boy in
his movements, and the solitary walks that he took gave him ample
opportunity for chastened reflection on what might have been his lot
if he had only shown wisdom enough to claim Lucy Savile when there
was no bar between their lives, and she was to be had for the
asking. He would occasionally call at the house of his friend
Downe; but there was scarcely enough in common between their two
natures to make them more than friends of that excellent sort whose
personal knowledge of each other's history and character is always
in excess of intimacy, whereby they are not so likely to be severed
by a clash of sentiment as in cases where intimacy springs up in
excess of knowledge. Lucy was never visible at these times, being
either engaged in the school-room, or in taking an airing out of
doors; but, knowing that she was now comfortable, and had given up
the, to him, depressing idea of going off to the other side of the
globe, he was quite content.
The new house had so far progressed that the gardeners were
beginning to grass down the front. During an afternoon which he was
passing in marking the curve for the carriage-drive, he beheld her
coming in boldly towards him from the road. Hitherto Barnet had
only caught her on the premises by stealth; and this advance seemed
to show that at last her reserve had broken down.
A smile gained strength upon her face as she approached, and it was
quite radiant when she came up, and said, without a trace of
embarrassment, 'I find I owe you a hundred thanks--and it comes to
me quite as a surprise! It was through your kindness that I was
engaged by Mr. Downe. Believe me, Mr. Barnet, I did not know it
until yesterday, or I should have thanked you long and long ago!'
'I had offended you--just a trifle--at the time, I think?' said
Barnet, smiling, 'and it was best that you should not know.'
'Yes, yes,' she returned hastily. 'Don't allude to that; it is past
and over, and we will let it be. The house is finished almost, is
it not? How beautiful it will look when the evergreens are grown!
Do you call the style Palladian, Mr. Barnet?'
'I--really don't quite know what it is. Yes, it must be Palladian,
certainly. But I'll ask Jones, the architect; for, to tell the
truth, I had not thought much about the style: I had nothing to do
with choosing it, I am sorry to say.'
She would not let him harp on this gloomy refrain, and talked on
bright matters till she said, producing a small roll of paper which
he had noticed in her hand all the while, 'Mr. Downe wished me to
bring you this revised drawing of the late Mrs. Downe's tomb, which
the architect has just sent him. He would like you to look it
The children came up with their hoops, and she went off with them
down the harbour-road as usual. Barnet had been glad to get those
words of thanks; he had been thinking for many months that he would
like her to know of his share in finding her a home such as it was;
and what he could not do for himself, Downe had now kindly done for
him. He returned to his desolate house with a lighter tread; though
in reason he hardly knew why his tread should be light.
On examining the drawing, Barnet found that, instead of the vast
altar-tomb and canopy Downe had determined on at their last meeting,
it was to be a more modest memorial even than had been suggested by
the architect; a coped tomb of good solid construction, with no
useless elaboration at all. Barnet was truly glad to see that Downe
had come to reason of his own accord; and he returned the drawing
with a note of approval.
He followed up the house-work as before, and as he walked up and
down the rooms, occasionally gazing from the windows over the
bulging green hills and the quiet harbour that lay between them, he
murmured words and fragments of words, which, if listened to, would
have revealed all the secrets of his existence. Whatever his reason
in going there, Lucy did not call again: the walk to the shore
seemed to be abandoned: he must have thought it as well for both
that it should be so, for he did not go anywhere out of his
accustomed ways to endeavour to discover her.
The winter and the spring had passed, and the house was complete.
It was a fine morning in the early part of June, and Barnet, though
not in the habit of rising early, had taken a long walk before
breakfast; returning by way of the new building. A sufficiently
exciting cause of his restlessness to-day might have been the
intelligence which had reached him the night before, that Lucy
Savile was going to India after all, and notwithstanding the
representations of her friends that such a journey was unadvisable
in many ways for an unpractised girl, unless some more definite
advantage lay at the end of it than she could show to be the case.
Barnet's walk up the slope to the building betrayed that he was in a
dissatisfied mood. He hardly saw that the dewy time of day lent an
unusual freshness to the bushes and trees which had so recently put
on their summer habit of heavy leafage, and made his newly-laid lawn
look as well established as an old manorial meadow. The house had
been so adroitly placed between six tall elms which were growing on
the site beforehand, that they seemed like real ancestral trees; and
the rooks, young and old, cawed melodiously to their visitor.
The door was not locked, and he entered. No workmen appeared to be
present, and he walked from sunny window to sunny window of the
empty rooms, with a sense of seclusion which might have been very
pleasant but for the antecedent knowledge that his almost paternal
care of Lucy Savile was to be thrown away by her wilfulness.
Footsteps echoed through an adjoining room; and bending his eyes in
that direction, he perceived Mr. Jones, the architect. He had come
to look over the building before giving the contractor his final
certificate. They walked over the house together. Everything was
finished except the papering: there were the latest improvements of
the period in bell-hanging, ventilating, smoke-jacks, fire-grates,
and French windows. The business was soon ended, and Jones, having
directed Barnet's attention to a roll of wall-paper patterns which
lay on a bench for his choice, was leaving to keep another
engagement, when Barnet said, 'Is the tomb finished yet for Mrs.
'Well--yes: it is at last,' said the architect, coming back and
speaking as if he were in a mood to make a confidence. 'I have had
no end of trouble in the matter, and, to tell the truth, I am
heartily glad it is over.'
Barnet expressed his surprise. 'I thought poor Downe had given up
those extravagant notions of his? then he has gone back to the altar
and canopy after all? Well, he is to be excused, poor fellow!'
'O no--he has not at all gone back to them--quite the reverse,'
Jones hastened to say. 'He has so reduced design after design, that
the whole thing has been nothing but waste labour for me; till in
the end it has become a common headstone, which a mason put up in
half a day.'
'A common headstone?' said Barnet.
'Yes. I held out for some time for the addition of a footstone at
least. But he said, "O no--he couldn't afford it."'
'Ah, well--his family is growing up, poor fellow, and his expenses
are getting serious.'
'Yes, exactly,' said Jones, as if the subject were none of his. And
again directing Barnet's attention to the wall-papers, the bustling
architect left him to keep some other engagement.
'A common headstone,' murmured Barnet, left again to himself. He
mused a minute or two, and next began looking over and selecting
from the patterns; but had not long been engaged in the work when he
heard another footstep on the gravel without, and somebody enter the
Barnet went to the door--it was his manservant in search of him.
'I have been trying for some time to find you, sir,' he said. 'This
letter has come by the post, and it is marked immediate. And
there's this one from Mr. Downe, who called just now wanting to see
you.' He searched his pocket for the second.
Barnet took the first letter--it had a black border, and bore the
London postmark. It was not in his wife's handwriting, or in that
of any person he knew; but conjecture soon ceased as he read the
page, wherein he was briefly informed that Mrs. Barnet had died
suddenly on the previous day, at the furnished villa she had
occupied near London.
Barnet looked vaguely round the empty hall, at the blank walls, out
of the doorway. Drawing a long palpitating breath, and with eyes
downcast, he turned and climbed the stairs slowly, like a man who
doubted their stability. The fact of his wife having, as it were,
died once already, and lived on again, had entirely dislodged the
possibility of her actual death from his conjecture. He went to the
landing, leant over the balusters, and after a reverie, of whose
duration he had but the faintest notion, turned to the window and
stretched his gaze to the cottage further down the road, which was
visible from his landing, and from which Lucy still walked to the
solicitor's house by a cross path. The faint words that came from
his moving lips were simply, 'At last!'
Then, almost involuntarily, Barnet fell down on his knees and
murmured some incoherent words of thanksgiving. Surely his virtue
in restoring his wife to life had been rewarded! But, as if the
impulse struck uneasily on his conscience, he quickly rose, brushed
the dust from his trousers and set himself to think of his next
movements. He could not start for London for some hours; and as he
had no preparations to make that could not be made in half-an-hour,
he mechanically descended and resumed his occupation of turning over
the wall-papers. They had all got brighter for him, those papers.
It was all changed--who would sit in the rooms that they were to
line? He went on to muse upon Lucy's conduct in so frequently
coming to the house with the children; her occasional blush in
speaking to him; her evident interest in him. What woman can in the
long run avoid being interested in a man whom she knows to be
devoted to her? If human solicitation could ever effect anything,
there should be no going to India for Lucy now. All the papers
previously chosen seemed wrong in their shades, and he began from
the beginning to choose again.
While entering on the task he heard a forced 'Ahem!' from without
the porch, evidently uttered to attract his attention, and footsteps
again advancing to the door. His man, whom he had quite forgotten
in his mental turmoil, was still waiting there.
'I beg your pardon, sir,' the man said from round the doorway; 'but
here's the note from Mr. Downe that you didn't take. He called just
after you went out, and as he couldn't wait, he wrote this on your
He handed in the letter--no black-bordered one now, but a practical-
looking note in the well-known writing of the solicitor.
'DEAR BARNET'--it ran--'Perhaps you will be prepared for the
information I am about to give--that Lucy Savile and myself are
going to be married this morning. I have hitherto said nothing as
to my intention to any of my friends, for reasons which I am sure
you will fully appreciate. The crisis has been brought about by her
expressing her intention to join her brother in India. I then
discovered that I could not do without her.
'It is to be quite a private wedding; but it is my particular wish
that you come down here quietly at ten, and go to church with us; it
will add greatly to the pleasure I shall experience in the ceremony,
and, I believe, to Lucy's also. I have called on you very early to
make the request, in the belief that I should find you at home; but
you are beforehand with me in your early rising.--Yours sincerely,
'Need I wait, sir?' said the servant after a dead silence.
'That will do, William. No answer,' said Barnet calmly.
When the man had gone Barnet re-read the letter. Turning eventually
to the wall-papers, which he had been at such pains to select, he
deliberately tore them into halves and quarters, and threw them into
the empty fireplace. Then he went out of the house; locked the
door, and stood in the front awhile. Instead of returning into the
town, he went down the harbour-road and thoughtfully lingered about
by the sea, near the spot where the body of Downe's late wife had
been found and brought ashore.
Barnet was a man with a rich capacity for misery, and there is no
doubt that he exercised it to its fullest extent now. The events
that had, as it were, dashed themselves together into one half-hour
of this day showed that curious refinement of cruelty in their
arrangement which often proceeds from the bosom of the whimsical god
at other times known as blind Circumstance. That his few minutes of
hope, between the reading of the first and second letters, had
carried him to extraordinary heights of rapture was proved by the
immensity of his suffering now. The sun blazing into his face would
have shown a close watcher that a horizontal line, which he had
never noticed before, but which was never to be gone thereafter, was
somehow gradually forming itself in the smooth of his forehead. His
eyes, of a light hazel, had a curious look which can only be
described by the word bruised; the sorrow that looked from them
being largely mixed with the surprise of a man taken unawares.
The secondary particulars of his present position, too, were odd
enough, though for some time they appeared to engage little of his
attention. Not a soul in the town knew, as yet, of his wife's
death; and he almost owed Downe the kindness of not publishing it
till the day was over: the conjuncture, taken with that which had
accompanied the death of Mrs. Downe, being so singular as to be
quite sufficient to darken the pleasure of the impressionable
solicitor to a cruel extent, if made known to him. But as Barnet
could not set out on his journey to London, where his wife lay, for
some hours (there being at this date no railway within a distance of
many miles), no great reason existed why he should leave the town.
Impulse in all its forms characterized Barnet, and when he heard the
distant clock strike the hour of ten his feet began to carry him up
the harbour-road with the manner of a man who must do something to
bring himself to life. He passed Lucy Savile's old house, his own
new one, and came in view of the church. Now he gave a perceptible
start, and his mechanical condition went away. Before the church-
gate were a couple of carriages, and Barnet then could perceive that
the marriage between Downe and Lucy was at that moment being
solemnized within. A feeling of sudden, proud self-confidence, an
indocile wish to walk unmoved in spite of grim environments, plainly
possessed him, and when he reached the wicket-gate he turned in
without apparent effort. Pacing up the paved footway he entered the
church and stood for a while in the nave passage. A group of people
was standing round the vestry door; Barnet advanced through these
and stepped into the vestry.
There they were, busily signing their names. Seeing Downe about to
look round, Barnet averted his somewhat disturbed face for a second
or two; when he turned again front to front he was calm and quite
smiling; it was a creditable triumph over himself, and deserved to
be remembered in his native town. He greeted Downe heartily,
offering his congratulations.
It seemed as if Barnet expected a half-guilty look upon Lucy's face;
but no, save the natural flush and flurry engendered by the service
just performed, there was nothing whatever in her bearing which
showed a disturbed mind: her gray-brown eyes carried in them now as
at other times the well-known expression of common-sensed rectitude
which never went so far as to touch on hardness. She shook hands
with him, and Downe said warmly, 'I wish you could have come sooner:
I called on purpose to ask you. You'll drive back with us now?'
'No, no,' said Barnet; 'I am not at all prepared; but I thought I
would look in upon you for a moment, even though I had not time to
go home and dress. I'll stand back and see you pass out, and
observe the effect of the spectacle upon myself as one of the
Then Lucy and her husband laughed, and Barnet laughed and retired;
and the quiet little party went gliding down the nave and towards
the porch, Lucy's new silk dress sweeping with a smart rustle round
the base-mouldings of the ancient font, and Downe's little daughters
following in a state of round-eyed interest in their position, and
that of Lucy, their teacher and friend.
So Downe was comforted after his Emily's death, which had taken
place twelve months, two weeks, and three days before that time.
When the two flys had driven off and the spectators had vanished,
Barnet followed to the door, and went out into the sun. He took no
more trouble to preserve a spruce exterior; his step was unequal,
hesitating, almost convulsive; and the slight changes of colour
which went on in his face seemed refracted from some inward flame.
In the churchyard he became pale as a summer cloud, and finding it
not easy to proceed he sat down on one of the tombstones and
supported his head with his hand.
Hard by was a sexton filling up a grave which he had not found time
to finish on the previous evening. Observing Barnet, he went up to
him, and recognizing him, said, 'Shall I help you home, sir?'
'O no, thank you,' said Barnet, rousing himself and standing up.
The sexton returned to his grave, followed by Barnet, who, after
watching him awhile, stepped into the grave, now nearly filled, and
helped to tread in the earth.
The sexton apparently thought his conduct a little singular, but he
made no observation, and when the grave was full, Barnet suddenly
stopped, looked far away, and with a decided step proceeded to the
gate and vanished. The sexton rested on his shovel and looked after
him for a few moments, and then began banking up the mound.
In those short minutes of treading in the dead man Barnet had formed
a design, but what it was the inhabitants of that town did not for
some long time imagine. He went home, wrote several letters of
business, called on his lawyer, an old man of the same place who had
been the legal adviser of Barnet's father before him, and during the
evening overhauled a large quantity of letters and other documents
in his possession. By eleven o'clock the heap of papers in and
before Barnet's grate had reached formidable dimensions, and he
began to burn them. This, owing to their quantity, it was not so
easy to do as he had expected, and he sat long into the night to
complete the task.
The next morning Barnet departed for London, leaving a note for
Downe to inform him of Mrs. Barnet's sudden death, and that he was
gone to bury her; but when a thrice-sufficient time for that purpose
had elapsed, he was not seen again in his accustomed walks, or in
his new house, or in his old one. He was gone for good, nobody knew
whither. It was soon discovered that he had empowered his lawyer to
dispose of all his property, real and personal, in the borough, and
pay in the proceeds to the account of an unknown person at one of
the large London banks. The person was by some supposed to be
himself under an assumed name; but few, if any, had certain
knowledge of that fact.
The elegant new residence was sold with the rest of his possessions;
and its purchaser was no other than Downe, now a thriving man in the
borough, and one whose growing family and new wife required more
roomy accommodation than was afforded by the little house up the
narrow side street. Barnet's old habitation was bought by the
trustees of the Congregational Baptist body in that town, who pulled
down the time-honoured dwelling and built a new chapel on its site.
By the time the last hour of that, to Barnet, eventful year had
chimed, every vestige of him had disappeared from the precincts of
his native place, and the name became extinct in the borough of
Port-Bredy, after having been a living force therein for more than
two hundred years.
Twenty-one years and six months do not pass without setting a mark
even upon durable stone and triple brass; upon humanity such a
period works nothing less than transformation. In Barnet's old
birthplace vivacious young children with bones like india-rubber had
grown up to be stable men and women, men and women had dried in the
skin, stiffened, withered, and sunk into decrepitude; while
selections from every class had been consigned to the outlying
cemetery. Of inorganic differences the greatest was that a railway
had invaded the town, tying it on to a main line at a junction a
dozen miles off. Barnet's house on the harbour-road, once so
insistently new, had acquired a respectable mellowness, with ivy,
Virginia creepers, lichens, damp patches, and even constitutional
infirmities of its own like its elder fellows. Its architecture,
once so very improved and modern, had already become stale in style,
without having reached the dignity of being old-fashioned. Trees
about the harbour-road had increased in circumference or disappeared
under the saw; while the church had had such a tremendous practical
joke played upon it by some facetious restorer or other as to be
scarce recognizable by its dearest old friends.
During this long interval George Barnet had never once been seen or
heard of in the town of his fathers.
It was the evening of a market-day, and some half-dozen middle-aged
farmers and dairymen were lounging round the bar of the Black-Bull
Hotel, occasionally dropping a remark to each other, and less
frequently to the two barmaids who stood within the pewter-topped
counter in a perfunctory attitude of attention, these latter sighing
and making a private observation to one another at odd intervals, on
more interesting experiences than the present.
'Days get shorter,' said one of the dairymen, as he looked towards
the street, and noticed that the lamp-lighter was passing by.
The farmers merely acknowledged by their countenances the propriety
of this remark, and finding that nobody else spoke, one of the
barmaids said 'yes,' in a tone of painful duty.
'Come fair-day we shall have to light up before we start for home-
'That's true,' his neighbour conceded, with a gaze of blankness.
'And after that we shan't see much further difference all's winter.'
The rest were not unwilling to go even so far as this.
The barmaid sighed again, and raised one of her hands from the
counter on which they rested to scratch the smallest surface of her
face with the smallest of her fingers. She looked towards the door,
and presently remarked, 'I think I hear the 'bus coming in from
The eyes of the dairymen and farmers turned to the glass door
dividing the hall from the porch, and in a minute or two the omnibus
drew up outside. Then there was a lumbering down of luggage, and
then a man came into the hall, followed by a porter with a
portmanteau on his poll, which he deposited on a bench.
The stranger was an elderly person, with curly ashen white hair, a
deeply-creviced outer corner to each eyelid, and a countenance baked
by innumerable suns to the colour of terra-cotta, its hue and that
of his hair contrasting like heat and cold respectively. He walked
meditatively and gently, like one who was fearful of disturbing his
own mental equilibrium. But whatever lay at the bottom of his
breast had evidently made him so accustomed to its situation there
that it caused him little practical inconvenience.
He paused in silence while, with his dubious eyes fixed on the
barmaids, he seemed to consider himself. In a moment or two he
addressed them, and asked to be accommodated for the night. As he
waited he looked curiously round the hall, but said nothing. As
soon as invited he disappeared up the staircase, preceded by a
chambermaid and candle, and followed by a lad with his trunk. Not a
soul had recognized him.
A quarter of an hour later, when the farmers and dairymen had driven
off to their homesteads in the country, he came downstairs, took a
biscuit and one glass of wine, and walked out into the town, where
the radiance from the shop-windows had grown so in volume of late
years as to flood with cheerfulness every standing cart, barrow,
stall, and idler that occupied the wayside, whether shabby or
genteel. His chief interest at present seemed to lie in the names
painted over the shop-fronts and on door-ways, as far as they were
visible; these now differed to an ominous extent from what they had
been one-and-twenty years before.
The traveller passed on till he came to the bookseller's, where he
looked in through the glass door. A fresh-faced young man was
standing behind the counter, otherwise the shop was empty. The
gray-haired observer entered, asked for some periodical by way of
paying for admission, and with his elbow on the counter began to
turn over the pages he had bought, though that he read nothing was
At length he said, 'Is old Mr. Watkins still alive?' in a voice
which had a curious youthful cadence in it even now.
'My father is dead, sir,' said the young man.
'Ah, I am sorry to hear it,' said the stranger. 'But it is so many
years since I last visited this town that I could hardly expect it
should be otherwise.' After a short silence he continued--'And is
the firm of Barnet, Browse, and Company still in existence?--they
used to be large flax-merchants and twine-spinners here?'
'The firm is still going on, sir, but they have dropped the name of
Barnet. I believe that was a sort of fancy name--at least, I never
knew of any living Barnet. 'Tis now Browse and Co.'
'And does Andrew Jones still keep on as architect?'
'He's dead, sir.'
'And the Vicar of St. Mary's--Mr. Melrose?'
'He's been dead a great many years.'
'Dear me!' He paused yet longer, and cleared his voice. 'Is Mr.
Downe, the solicitor, still in practice?'
'No, sir, he's dead. He died about seven years ago.'
Here it was a longer silence still; and an attentive observer would
have noticed that the paper in the stranger's hand increased its
imperceptible tremor to a visible shake. That gray-haired gentleman
noticed it himself, and rested the paper on the counter. 'Is MRS.
Downe still alive?' he asked, closing his lips firmly as soon as the
words were out of his mouth, and dropping his eyes.
'Yes, sir, she's alive and well. She's living at the old place.'
'In East Street?'
'O no; at Chateau Ringdale. I believe it has been in the family for
'She lives with her children, perhaps?'
'No; she has no children of her own. There were some Miss Downes; I
think they were Mr. Downe's daughters by a former wife; but they are
married and living in other parts of the town. Mrs. Downe lives
'Yes, sir; quite alone.'
The newly-arrived gentleman went back to the hotel and dined; after
which he made some change in his dress, shaved back his beard to the
fashion that had prevailed twenty years earlier, when he was young
and interesting, and once more emerging, bent his steps in the
direction of the harbour-road. Just before getting to the point
where the pavement ceased and the houses isolated themselves, he
overtook a shambling, stooping, unshaven man, who at first sight
appeared like a professional tramp, his shoulders having a
perceptible greasiness as they passed under the gaslight. Each
pedestrian momentarily turned and regarded the other, and the tramp-
like gentleman started back.
'Good--why--is that Mr. Barnet? 'Tis Mr. Barnet, surely!'
'Yes; and you are Charlson?'
'Yes--ah--you notice my appearance. The Fates have rather ill-used
me. By-the-bye, that fifty pounds. I never paid it, did I? . . .
But I was not ungrateful!' Here the stooping man laid one hand
emphatically on the palm of the other. 'I gave you a chance, Mr.
George Barnet, which many men would have thought full value
received--the chance to marry your Lucy. As far as the world was
concerned, your wife was a DROWNED WOMAN, hey?'
'Heaven forbid all that, Charlson!'
'Well, well, 'twas a wrong way of showing gratitude, I suppose. And
now a drop of something to drink for old acquaintance' sake! And
Mr. Barnet, she's again free--there's a chance now if you care for
it--ha, ha!' And the speaker pushed his tongue into his hollow
cheek and slanted his eye in the old fashion.
'I know all,' said Barnet quickly; and slipping a small present into
the hands of the needy, saddening man, he stepped ahead and was soon
in the outskirts of the town.
He reached the harbour-road, and paused before the entrance to a
well-known house. It was so highly bosomed in trees and shrubs
planted since the erection of the building that one would scarcely
have recognized the spot as that which had been a mere neglected
slope till chosen as a site for a dwelling. He opened the swing-
gate, closed it noiselessly, and gently moved into the semicircular
drive, which remained exactly as it had been marked out by Barnet on
the morning when Lucy Savile ran in to thank him for procuring her
the post of governess to Downe's children. But the growth of trees
and bushes which revealed itself at every step was beyond all
expectation; sun-proof and moon-proof bowers vaulted the walks, and
the walls of the house were uniformly bearded with creeping plants
as high as the first-floor windows.
After lingering for a few minutes in the dusk of the bending boughs,
the visitor rang the door-bell, and on the servant appearing, he
announced himself as 'an old friend of Mrs. Downe's.'
The hall was lighted, but not brightly, the gas being turned low, as
if visitors were rare. There was a stagnation in the dwelling; it
seemed to be waiting. Could it really be waiting for him? The
partitions which had been probed by Barnet's walking-stick when the
mortar was green, were now quite brown with the antiquity of their
varnish, and the ornamental woodwork of the staircase, which had
glistened with a pale yellow newness when first erected, was now of
a rich wine-colour. During the servant's absence the following
colloquy could be dimly heard through the nearly closed door of the
'He didn't give his name?'
'He only said "an old friend," ma'am.'
'What kind of gentleman is he?'
'A staidish gentleman, with gray hair.'
The voice of the second speaker seemed to affect the listener
greatly. After a pause, the lady said, 'Very well, I will see him.'
And the stranger was shown in face to face with the Lucy who had
once been Lucy Savile. The round cheek of that formerly young lady
had, of course, alarmingly flattened its curve in her modern
representative; a pervasive grayness overspread her once dark brown
hair, like morning rime on heather. The parting down the middle was
wide and jagged; once it had been a thin white line, a narrow
crevice between two high banks of shade. But there was still enough
left to form a handsome knob behind, and some curls beneath
inwrought with a few hairs like silver wires were very becoming. In
her eyes the only modification was that their originally mild
rectitude of expression had become a little more stringent than
heretofore. Yet she was still girlish--a girl who had been
gratuitously weighted by destiny with a burden of five-and-forty
years instead of her proper twenty.
'Lucy, don't you know me?' he said, when the servant had closed the
'I knew you the instant I saw you!' she returned cheerfully. 'I
don't know why, but I always thought you would come back to your old
She gave him her hand, and then they sat down. 'They said you were
dead,' continued Lucy, 'but I never thought so. We should have
heard of it for certain if you had been.'
'It is a very long time since we met.'
'Yes; what you must have seen, Mr. Barnet, in all these roving
years, in comparison with what I have seen in this quiet place!'
Her face grew more serious. 'You know my husband has been dead a
long time? I am a lonely old woman now, considering what I have
been; though Mr. Downe's daughters--all married--manage to keep me
'And I am a lonely old man, and have been any time these twenty
'But where have you kept yourself? And why did you go off so
'Well, Lucy, I have kept myself a little in America, and a little in
Australia, a little in India, a little at the Cape, and so on; I
have not stayed in any place for a long time, as it seems to me, and
yet more than twenty years have flown. But when people get to my
age two years go like one!--Your second question, why did I go away
so mysteriously, is surely not necessary. You guessed why, didn't
'No, I never once guessed,' she said simply; 'nor did Charles, nor
did anybody as far as I know.'
'Well, indeed! Now think it over again, and then look at me, and
say if you can't guess?'
She looked him in the face with an inquiring smile. 'Surely not
because of me?' she said, pausing at the commencement of surprise.
Barnet nodded, and smiled again; but his smile was sadder than hers.
'Because I married Charles?' she asked.
'Yes; solely because you married him on the day I was free to ask
you to marry me. My wife died four-and-twenty hours before you went
to church with Downe. The fixing of my journey at that particular
moment was because of her funeral; but once away I knew I should
have no inducement to come back, and took my steps accordingly.'
Her face assumed an aspect of gentle reflection, and she looked up
and down his form with great interest in her eyes. 'I never thought
of it!' she said. 'I knew, of course, that you had once implied
some warmth of feeling towards me, but I concluded that it passed
off. And I have always been under the impression that your wife was
alive at the time of my marriage. Was it not stupid of me!--But you
will have some tea or something? I have never dined late, you know,
since my husband's death. I have got into the way of making a
regular meal of tea. You will have some tea with me, will you not?'
The travelled man assented quite readily, and tea was brought in.
They sat and chatted over the meal, regardless of the flying hour.
'Well, well!' said Barnet presently, as for the first time he
leisurely surveyed the room; 'how like it all is, and yet how
different! Just where your piano stands was a board on a couple of
trestles, bearing the patterns of wall-papers, when I was last here.
I was choosing them--standing in this way, as it might be. Then my
servant came in at the door, and handed me a note, so. It was from
Downe, and announced that you were just going to be married to him.
I chose no more wall-papers--tore up all those I had selected, and
left the house. I never entered it again till now.'
'Ah, at last I understand it all,' she murmured.
They had both risen and gone to the fireplace. The mantel came
almost on a level with her shoulder, which gently rested against it,
and Barnet laid his hand upon the shelf close beside her shoulder.
'Lucy,' he said, 'better late than never. Will you marry me now?'
She started back, and the surprise which was so obvious in her
wrought even greater surprise in him that it should be so. It was
difficult to believe that she had been quite blind to the situation,
and yet all reason and common sense went to prove that she was not
'You take me quite unawares by such a question!' she said, with a
forced laugh of uneasiness. It was the first time she had shown any
embarrassment at all. 'Why,' she added, 'I couldn't marry you for
'Not after all this! Why not?'
'It is--I would--I really think I may say it--I would upon the whole
rather marry you, Mr. Barnet, than any other man I have ever met, if
I ever dreamed of marriage again. But I don't dream of it--it is
quite out of my thoughts; I have not the least intention of marrying
'But--on my account--couldn't you alter your plans a little? Come!'
'Dear Mr. Barnet,' she said with a little flutter, 'I would on your
account if on anybody's in existence. But you don't know in the
least what it is you are asking--such an impracticable thing--I
won't say ridiculous, of course, because I see that you are really
in earnest, and earnestness is never ridiculous to my mind.'
'Well, yes,' said Barnet more slowly, dropping her hand, which he
had taken at the moment of pleading, 'I am in earnest. The resolve,
two months ago, at the Cape, to come back once more was, it is true,
rather sudden, and as I see now, not well considered. But I am in
earnest in asking.'
'And I in declining. With all good feeling and all kindness, let me
say that I am quite opposed to the idea of marrying a second time.'
'Well, no harm has been done,' he answered, with the same subdued
and tender humorousness that he had shown on such occasions in early
life. 'If you really won't accept me, I must put up with it, I
suppose.' His eye fell on the clock as he spoke. 'Had you any
notion that it was so late?' he asked. 'How absorbed I have been!'
She accompanied him to the hall, helped him to put on his overcoat,
and let him out of the house herself.
'Good-night,' said Barnet, on the doorstep, as the lamp shone in his
face. 'You are not offended with me?'
'Certainly not. Nor you with me?'
'I'll consider whether I am or not,' he pleasantly replied. 'Good-
She watched him safely through the gate; and when his footsteps had
died away upon the road, closed the door softly and returned to the
room. Here the modest widow long pondered his speeches, with eyes
dropped to an unusually low level. Barnet's urbanity under the blow
of her refusal greatly impressed her. After having his long period
of probation rendered useless by her decision, he had shown no
anger, and had philosophically taken her words as if he deserved no
better ones. It was very gentlemanly of him, certainly; it was more
than gentlemanly; it was heroic and grand. The more she meditated,
the more she questioned the virtue of her conduct in checking him so
peremptorily; and went to her bedroom in a mood of dissatisfaction.
On looking in the glass she was reminded that there was not so much
remaining of her former beauty as to make his frank declaration an
impulsive natural homage to her cheeks and eyes; it must undoubtedly
have arisen from an old staunch feeling of his, deserving tenderest
consideration. She recalled to her mind with much pleasure that he
had told her he was staying at the Black-Bull Hotel; so that if,
after waiting a day or two, he should not, in his modesty, call
again, she might then send him a nice little note. To alter her
views for the present was far from her intention; but she would
allow herself to be induced to reconsider the case, as any generous
woman ought to do.
The morrow came and passed, and Mr. Barnet did not drop in. At
every knock, light youthful hues flew across her cheek; and she was
abstracted in the presence of her other visitors. In the evening
she walked about the house, not knowing what to do with herself; the
conditions of existence seemed totally different from those which
ruled only four-and-twenty short hours ago. What had been at first
a tantalizing elusive sentiment was getting acclimatized within her
as a definite hope, and her person was so informed by that emotion
that she might almost have stood as its emblematical representative
by the time the clock struck ten. In short, an interest in Barnet
precisely resembling that of her early youth led her present heart
to belie her yesterday's words to him, and she longed to see him
The next day she walked out early, thinking she might meet him in
the street. The growing beauty of her romance absorbed her, and she
went from the street to the fields, and from the fields to the
shore, without any consciousness of distance, till reminded by her
weariness that she could go no further. He had nowhere appeared.
In the evening she took a step which under the circumstances seemed
justifiable; she wrote a note to him at the hotel, inviting him to
tea with her at six precisely, and signing her note 'Lucy.'
In a quarter of an hour the messenger came back. Mr. Barnet had
left the hotel early in the morning of the day before, but he had
stated that he would probably return in the course of the week.
The note was sent back, to be given to him immediately on his
There was no sign from the inn that this desired event had occurred,
either on the next day or the day following. On both nights she had
been restless, and had scarcely slept half-an-hour.
On the Saturday, putting off all diffidence, Lucy went herself to
the Black-Bull, and questioned the staff closely.
Mr. Barnet had cursorily remarked when leaving that he might return
on the Thursday or Friday, but they were directed not to reserve a
room for him unless he should write.
He had left no address.
Lucy sorrowfully took back her note went home, and resolved to wait.
She did wait--years and years--but Barnet never reappeared.
INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP
The north road from Casterbridge is tedious and lonely, especially
in winter-time. Along a part of its course it connects with Long-
Ash Lane, a monotonous track without a village or hamlet for many
miles, and with very seldom a turning. Unapprized wayfarers who are
too old, or too young, or in other respects too weak for the
distance to be traversed, but who, nevertheless, have to walk it,
say, as they look wistfully ahead, 'Once at the top of that hill,
and I must surely see the end of Long-Ash Lane!' But they reach the
hilltop, and Long-Ash Lane stretches in front as mercilessly as
Some few years ago a certain farmer was riding through this lane in
the gloom of a winter evening. The farmer's friend, a dairyman, was
riding beside him. A few paces in the rear rode the farmer's man.
All three were well horsed on strong, round-barrelled cobs; and to
be well horsed was to be in better spirits about Long-Ash Lane than
poor pedestrians could attain to during its passage.
But the farmer did not talk much to his friend as he rode along.
The enterprise which had brought him there filled his mind; for in
truth it was important. Not altogether so important was it,
perhaps, when estimated by its value to society at large; but if the
true measure of a deed be proportionate to the space it occupies in
the heart of him who undertakes it, Farmer Charles Darton's business
to-night could hold its own with the business of kings.
He was a large farmer. His turnover, as it is called, was probably
thirty thousand pounds a year. He had a great many draught horses,
a great many milch cows, and of sheep a multitude. This comfortable
position was, however, none of his own making. It had been created
by his father, a man of a very different stamp from the present
representative of the line.
Darton, the father, had been a one-idea'd character, with a
buttoned-up pocket and a chink-like eye brimming with commercial
subtlety. In Darton the son, this trade subtlety had become
transmuted into emotional, and the harshness had disappeared; he
would have been called a sad man but for his constant care not to
divide himself from lively friends by piping notes out of harmony
with theirs. Contemplative, he allowed his mind to be a quiet
meeting-place for memories and hopes. So that, naturally enough,
since succeeding to the agricultural calling, and up to his present
age of thirty-two, he had neither advanced nor receded as a
capitalist--a stationary result which did not agitate one of his
unambitious, unstrategic nature, since he had all that he desired.
The motive of his expedition tonight showed the same absence of
anxious regard for Number One.
The party rode on in the slow, safe trot proper to night-time and
bad roads, Farmer Darton's head jigging rather unromantically up and
down against the sky, and his motions being repeated with bolder
emphasis by his friend Japheth Johns; while those of the latter were
travestied in jerks still less softened by art in the person of the
lad who attended them. A pair of whitish objects hung one on each
side of the latter, bumping against him at each step, and still
further spoiling the grace of his seat. On close inspection they
might have been perceived to be open rush baskets--one containing a
turkey, and the other some bottles of wine.
'D'ye feel ye can meet your fate like a man, neighbour Darton?'
asked Johns, breaking a silence which had lasted while five-and-
twenty hedgerow trees had glided by.
Mr. Darton with a half-laugh murmured, 'Ay--call it my fate!
Hanging and wiving go by destiny.' And then they were silent again.
The darkness thickened rapidly, at intervals shutting down on the
land in a perceptible flap, like the wave of a wing. The customary
close of day was accelerated by a simultaneous blurring of the air.
With the fall of night had come a mist just damp enough to
incommode, but not sufficient to saturate them. Countrymen as they
were--born, as may be said, with only an open door between them and
the four seasons--they regarded the mist but as an added
obscuration, and ignored its humid quality.
They were travelling in a direction that was enlivened by no modern
current of traffic, the place of Darton's pilgrimage being an old-
fashioned village--one of the Hintocks (several villages of that
name, with a distinctive prefix or affix, lying thereabout)--where
the people make the best cider and cider-wine in all Wessex, and
where the dunghills smell of pomace instead of stable refuse as
elsewhere. The lane was sometimes so narrow that the brambles of
the hedge, which hung forward like anglers' rods over a stream,
scratched their hats and curry-combed their whiskers as they passed.
Yet this neglected lane had been a highway to Queen Elizabeth's
subjects and the cavalcades of the past. Its day was over now, and
its history as a national artery done for ever.
'Why I have decided to marry her,' resumed Darton (in a measured
musical voice of confidence which revealed a good deal of his
composition), as he glanced round to see that the lad was not too
near, 'is not only that I like her, but that I can do no better,
even from a fairly practical point of view. That I might ha' looked
higher is possibly true, though it is really all nonsense. I have
had experience enough in looking above me. "No more superior women
for me," said I--you know when. Sally is a comely, independent,
simple character, with no make-up about her, who'll think me as much
a superior to her as I used to think--you know who I mean--was to
'Ay,' said Johns. 'However, I shouldn't call Sally Hall simple.
Primary, because no Sally is; secondary, because if some could be,
this one wouldn't. 'Tis a wrong denomination to apply to a woman,
Charles, and affects me, as your best man, like cold water. 'Tis
like recommending a stage play by saying there's neither murder,
villainy, nor harm of any sort in it, when that's what you've paid
your half-crown to see.'
'Well; may your opinion do you good. Mine's a different one.' And
turning the conversation from the philosophical to the practical,
Darton expressed a hope that the said Sally had received what he'd
sent on by the carrier that day.
Johns wanted to know what that was.
'It is a dress,' said Darton. 'Not exactly a wedding-dress; though
she may use it as one if she likes. It is rather serviceable than
showy--suitable for the winter weather.'
'Good,' said Johns. 'Serviceable is a wise word in a bridegroom. I
commend ye, Charles.'
'For,' said Darton, 'why should a woman dress up like a rope-dancer
because she's going to do the most solemn deed of her life except
'Faith, why? But she will, because she will, I suppose,' said
'H'm,' said Darton.
The lane they followed had been nearly straight for several miles,
but it now took a turn, and winding uncertainly for some distance
forked into two. By night country roads are apt to reveal ungainly
qualities which pass without observation during day; and though
Darton had travelled this way before, he had not done so frequently,
Sally having been wooed at the house of a relative near his own. He
never remembered seeing at this spot a pair of alternative ways
looking so equally probable as these two did now. Johns rode on a
'Don't be out of heart, sonny,' he cried. 'Here's a handpost.
Enoch--come and climm this post, and tell us the way.'
The lad dismounted, and jumped into the hedge where the post stood
under a tree.
'Unstrap the baskets, or you'll smash up that wine!' cried Darton,
as the young man began spasmodically to climb the post, baskets and
'Was there ever less head in a brainless world?' said Johns. 'Here,
simple Nocky, I'll do it.' He leapt off, and with much puffing
climbed the post, striking a match when he reached the top, and
moving the light along the arm, the lad standing and gazing at the
'I have faced tantalization these twenty years with a temper as mild
as milk!' said Japheth; 'but such things as this don't come short of
devilry!' And flinging the match away, he slipped down to the
'What's the matter?' asked Darton.
'Not a letter, sacred or heathen--not so much as would tell us the
way to the great fireplace--ever I should sin to say it! Either the
moss and mildew have eat away the words, or we have arrived in a
land where the natyves have lost the art o' writing, and should ha'
brought our compass like Christopher Columbus.'
'Let us take the straightest road,' said Darton placidly; 'I shan't
be sorry to get there--'tis a tiresome ride. I would have driven if
I had known.'
'Nor I neither, sir,' said Enoch. 'These straps plough my shoulder
like a zull. If 'tis much further to your lady's home, Maister
Darton, I shall ask to be let carry half of these good things in my
'Don't you be such a reforming radical, Enoch,' said Johns sternly.
'Here, I'll take the turkey.'
This being done, they went forward by the right-hand lane, which
ascended a hill, the left winding away under a plantation. The pit-
a-pat of their horses' hoofs lessened up the slope; and the ironical
directing-post stood in solitude as before, holding out its blank
arms to the raw breeze, which brought a snore from the wood as if
Skrymir the Giant were sleeping there.
Three miles to the left of the travellers, along the road they had
not followed, rose an old house with mullioned windows of Ham-hill
stone, and chimneys of lavish solidity. It stood at the top of a
slope beside King's-Hintock village-street; and immediately in front
of it grew a large sycamore-tree, whose bared roots formed a
convenient staircase from the road below to the front door of the
dwelling. Its situation gave the house what little distinctive name
it possessed, namely, 'The Knap.' Some forty yards off a brook
dribbled past, which, for its size, made a great deal of noise. At
the back was a dairy barton, accessible for vehicles and live-stock
by a side 'drong.' Thus much only of the character of the homestead
could be divined out of doors at this shady evening-time.
But within there was plenty of light to see by, as plenty was
construed at Hintock. Beside a Tudor fireplace, whose moulded four-
centred arch was nearly hidden by a figured blue-cloth blower, were
seated two women--mother and daughter--Mrs. Hall, and Sarah, or
Sally; for this was a part of the world where the latter
modification had not as yet been effaced as a vulgarity by the march
of intellect. The owner of the name was the young woman by whose
means Mr. Darton proposed to put an end to his bachelor condition on
the approaching day.
The mother's bereavement had been so long ago as not to leave much
mark of its occurrence upon her now, either in face or clothes. She
had resumed the mob-cap of her early married life, enlivening its
whiteness by a few rose-du-Barry ribbons. Sally required no such
aids to pinkness. Roseate good-nature lit up her gaze; her features
showed curves of decision and judgment; and she might have been
regarded without much mistake as a warm-hearted, quick-spirited,
She did most of the talking, her mother listening with a half-absent
air, as she picked up fragments of red-hot wood ember with the
tongs, and piled them upon the brands. But the number of speeches
that passed was very small in proportion to the meanings exchanged.
Long experience together often enabled them to see the course of
thought in each other's minds without a word being spoken. Behind
them, in the centre of the room, the table was spread for supper,
certain whiffs of air laden with fat vapours, which ever and anon
entered from the kitchen, denoting its preparation there.
'The new gown he was going to send you stays about on the way like
himself,' Sally's mother was saying.
'Yes, not finished, I daresay,' cried Sally independently. 'Lord, I
shouldn't be amazed if it didn't come at all! Young men make such
kind promises when they are near you, and forget 'em when they go
away. But he doesn't intend it as a wedding-gown--he gives it to me
merely as a gown to wear when I like--a travelling-dress is what it
would be called by some. Come rathe or come late it don't much
matter, as I have a dress of my own to fall back upon. But what
time is it?'
She went to the family clock and opened the glass, for the hour was
not otherwise discernible by night, and indeed at all times was
rather a thing to be investigated than beheld, so much more wall
than window was there in the apartment. 'It is nearly eight,' said
'Eight o'clock, and neither dress nor man,' said Mrs. Hall.
'Mother, if you think to tantalize me by talking like that, you are
much mistaken! Let him be as late as he will--or stay away
altogether--I don't care,' said Sally. But a tender, minute quaver
in the negation showed that there was something forced in that
Mrs. Hall perceived it, and drily observed that she was not so sure
about Sally not caring. 'But perhaps you don't care so much as I
do, after all,' she said. 'For I see what you don't, that it is a
good and flourishing match for you; a very honourable offer in Mr.
Darton. And I think I see a kind husband in him. So pray God
'twill go smooth, and wind up well.'
Sally would not listen to misgivings. Of course it would go
smoothly, she asserted. 'How you are up and down, mother!' she went
on. 'At this moment, whatever hinders him, we are not so anxious to
see him as he is to be here, and his thought runs on before him, and
settles down upon us like the star in the east. Hark!' she
exclaimed, with a breath of relief, her eyes sparkling. 'I heard
something. Yes--here they are!'
The next moment her mother's slower ear also distinguished the
familiar reverberation occasioned by footsteps clambering up the
roots of the sycamore.
'Yes it sounds like them at last,' she said. 'Well, it is not so
very late after all, considering the distance.'
The footfall ceased, and they arose, expecting a knock. They began
to think it might have been, after all, some neighbouring villager
under Bacchic influence, giving the centre of the road a wide berth,
when their doubts were dispelled by the new-comer's entry into the
passage. The door of the room was gently opened, and there
appeared, not the pair of travellers with whom we have already made
acquaintance, but a pale-faced man in the garb of extreme poverty--
almost in rags.
'O, it's a tramp--gracious me!' said Sally, starting back.
His cheeks and eye-orbits were deep concaves--rather, it might be,
from natural weakness of constitution than irregular living, though
there were indications that he had led no careful life. He gazed at
the two women fixedly for a moment: then with an abashed,
humiliated demeanour, dropped his glance to the floor, and sank into
a chair without uttering a word.
Sally was in advance of her mother, who had remained standing by the
fire. She now tried to discern the visitor across the candles.
'Why--mother,' said Sally faintly, turning back to Mrs. Hall. 'It
is Phil, from Australia!'
Mrs. Hall started, and grew pale, and a fit of coughing seized the
man with the ragged clothes. 'To come home like this!' she said.
'O, Philip--are you ill?'
'No, no, mother,' replied he impatiently, as soon as he could speak.
'But for God's sake how do you come here--and just now too?'
'Well, I am here,' said the man. 'How it is I hardly know. I've
come home, mother, because I was driven to it. Things were against
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