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Dene hollow : a novel online

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reasonable probability of recovery. He had no knowledge
of his assailant : whoever it was, he had come behind him,
as he sat bending over his desk, and struck him down

The Guildhall was crowded : a case exciting so much in-
terest had rarely occurred in Worcester. Independent of the
station in life of the prisoner, and of his good looks, his youth,
and his popularity with most people, there were the attendant
circumstances — the marriage of his brother in the morning,
the death of Mrs. Pickering. Of the last sad fact they did
not tell him. "Let him get his examination over, poor fel-
low ! " said they in kindness. And he stood before the court,
upright, frank, unfettered by grief. " He must have done
it in a moment of passion, said his sorrowing friends and
the public ; for the facts seemed too clear against him for
disbelief — the long-continued ill-feeling known to exist be-
tween him and the old clerk, who had persistently taken his
brother Richard's part ; the quarrelling of the morning, as
heard by Dance, and which the pi'isoner did not deny ; and
the absence of any one else in the office. Richard Pickering,
his breast beating with a horrible conviction that none else
could have been guilty, was not one publicly to denoiince his
brother. He affected to assume his innocence, and he stood
by him to afford him all the countenance in his power.

The facts were testified to — those gathered on the first
moment of discovery, and others since. Dance spoke of the
jangling — as he still called it — between the clerk and his
young master. Mr. Corney proved his visit, and that upon
its termination he left Mr. Stone and William Pickering alone,
and he could see that they were not friendly. This was about
twenty minutes past ten. Mr. Corney added, in answer to a
question, that he had heard nothing of William Pickering's
intention to depart home ; on the contrary, he said he should
be at the office all day. Subsequently

Yes, but then he had not opened his mother's note, inter-
rupted the prisoner, who, up to this point, acknowledged all
that was said to be correct. But, he continued, the instant

54 Dene Hollow.

he read the note he started for home, knowing how little
time there was to lose : and he told old Stone that he need
not be cross on Richard's account any longer, for after all he
was going to be his best man. He knew no more.

Mr. Corney resumed : A little before eleven he went back
to the office, to say he'd take the hops at the price offered, and
was horrified to find old Mr. Stone on the ground, as he
thought, dead. He raised an alarm ; some people ran in from
the streets, and he went himself in search of Dance, whom
he found in the warehouse; somebody else ran for a constable,
others for a surgeon. Of course the conclusion arrived at
was, that Mr. William Pickering had done the deed.

The bench appeared to be arriving at the same.

"Not so fast, gentlemen," said William Pickering's
lawyer : and he put forth another witness.

It was Mr. Kilpin, the hop-merchant, a gentleman well
known in the town. He deposed that he had called in at the
Messrs. Pickering's office that morning between half-past ten
and eleven. Mr. Stone was alone, writing at his desk. He
stayed talking to him three or four minutes, and left at a
quarter to eleven. He was enabled to state the time posi-
tively from the fact, that

" Why, then, it could not have been William Pickering;
he was at home at that very time," burst forth Mary

The bench silenced her ; but she saw now why she had
been brought to the Guildhall.

Mr. Kilpin resumed, taking up the thread of his sentence
as if no interruption had occurred —

" From the fact that, as I passed St. Nicholas Church, it
chimed the three-quarters past ten. I was on my way to
catch the Pershore coach, for I was going by it as far as
Whittington, and it was at that moment turning the corner of
Broad Street. I had to make a run for it, and to holloa out,
and the coachman pulled up opposite the Old Bank. When I
got back from Whittington this afternoon," added the wit-
ness, " I accidentally met Mr. William Pickering's lawyei*,
and learnt what had occurred."

Next came the evidence of Mary Barber, that William
Pickering was in his mother's house at three-quarters past
ten. Of course there could be no further doubt of his inno-
cence after this. Meanwhile the prisoner had been writing
a few lines with a pencil on a piece of paper, and it was

An Episode in Mary Barbers Life. 55

passed over to his brother. Something in the demeanour of
one of the witnesses as he gave his evidence had powerfully
struck him.

" I have an idea, Richard, that the guilty man is Dance.
Take care that he does not escape. If lie has done this, he may
also have been the pilferer of your petty cash. Try and get it all
cleared up, for the sake of the mother 's peace."

" For the sake of the mother's peace ! " echoed Richard,
with an aching heart. " Poor William little dreams of the
blow in store for him."

He did not dream, Richard Pickering ; he acted. Givino-
a hint to the officer to look after Dance, he pressed up to his
brother, then being released from custody.

"William," he whispered, " tell me the truth in this
solemn moment — and it is more sadly solemn than you are as
yet cognizant of — have you really not touched that missino-
money ? As I lay awake last night thinking of it, I be<ran
to fancy I might have been making a mistake all through.
If so "

" If so, we shall be the good friends that we used to be,"
heartily interrupted William, as he clasped his brother's
ready hand. " On my sacred word, I never touched it ; I
could not do so : and you must have been prejudiced to fancy
it. I'll lay any money Dance will turn out to have been the
black sheep. Both looks and tones were false as he gave his

And William Pickering was right. Dance was so effec-
tually "looked after" that night, that some ugly facts came
out, and he was quietly taken into custody. True enough,
the black sheep had been nobody else. He had skilfully
pilfered the petty sums of money ; he had struck down Mr.
Stone as he sat at his desk, to take a couple of sovereigns he
saw lying in it. The old gentleman recovered, and gave
evidence on the trial at the following March Assizes, and
Richard and William Pickering from henceforth were more
closely knit together.

But the singular circumstances attendant on the death of
Mrs. Pickering — her apparition (for could it be anything
less ?) that appeared to Mary Barber— became public pro-
perty. People talked of it with timid glances and hushed
voices ; and for a long while neither girl nor woman would
pass through the two fields alone.

$6 Dene Hollow.

And that is the ending. If I have been unduly minute
in regard to the dress, or other points, I only reiterate the
minuteness given at the time by Mary Barber. She fully
believed — and she was good, and honest, and truthful — that
the spirit of her sister came to lead her to the house (where
otherwise she would not have gone), there to meet William
Pickering, and be the means of establishing his innocence :
and would so believe to her dying day.

And now, the episode related, we go on with the story of
Dene Hollow.



It was lovely autumn weather. The Becchhurst Dene woods
were glowing with their rich tints in the October sunshine ;
the sky was blue and cloudless as in the sweetest day of

Turning out at the lodge gates of Beechhurst Dene, was a
kind of mail-phaeton ; a high yellow vehicle, all the fashion
at the period. The horses were iron-grey, fine, valuable
animals ; high steppers, but steady withal, and much like
their owner, Sir Dene Clanwaring. Sir Dene sat in the
carriage to-day by the side of his son Geoffry, who was driv-
ing. Sweeping out of the avenue right across the highway,
Geoffrey turned the horses' heads down a road that looked
newly made.

New it was. Sir Dene Clanwaring had carried out his pro-
ject — some deemed it his folly — and lost no time in complet-
ing what he had set his mind upon — a near way to the village
of Hurst Leet. It was a fine, white, broad road ; leading
from Sir Dene's gates downwards — for the ground descended,
you remember — and winding round right into the middle of
the hamlet. Hurst Leet was proud of it. Sir Dene was
proud of it. It had cost Sir Dene more funds than he had
believed possible; a costly toy, he was apt to whisper in
the privacy of his own heart ; but nevertheless he could
afford it, and he said complacently that the convenience of
the road would well repay its outlay. Some three weeks
had elapsed now sir»ce it was finished ; and Sir Dene had
driven down and up it nearly every day.

All trace of the widow Barber's cottage was gone. That
estimable but (iu the opinion of Mr. Drew) cantankerous

The Shadow on the Hollow. 57

old lady had been forced out of her life-long home. There
had been a scene at her departure. Lady-day — the period by
which she was ordered to begone— came and passed; and Mrs.
Barber had neither removed herself nor her chattels. Another
day's grace they gave her, together with a peremptory com-
mand : but the widow did not stir. She had lived in the old
place for six-and-seventy years, she pleaded ; she could not, in
the nature of things, last much longer — oh if they would but
let her stay in it for that short remaining time ! Earnestly
did she pray for this boon, as though she had been praying for
her life. Sir Dene was made acquainted with this contu-
macious behaviour — doubly cantankerous, wrathful Drew
called her now — and he, Sir Dene, full of wrath also, issued
the edict for her ejection. Geoffry Clanwaring, ever good-
hearted, alone put in a protest, asking his father to grant the
poor distressed woman's prayer, seconding her plea that it
could not be for long. But Sir Dene sharply told his son not
to be foolish — the new road could not wait for her pleasure.
So, on the following morning, sundry men presented them-
selves at the "Widow Barber's, quietly but forcibly put her
goods outside the door, and turned her cow and pig and
chickens into the road. She had to follow them : and she
went meekly forth, weeping and wringing her hands. Mary
Barber hired a couple of rooms for her mother and some of her
furniture to take refuge in ; and the cow and pig and fowls
were sold to the highest bidder on the spot. But the fact
created a great deal of scandal in the neighbourhood, and Sir
Dene received some harsh blame. Sir Dene excused himself
by saying that the extreme measure of ejecting her in that
very summary manner belonged to his bailiff, Drew. But he
could not get out of the fact that he had given his edict for
her removal : and Jonathan Drew might have reasonably re-
torted on the grumblers with the question — How was he to
get the old woman out when she refused to go ?

As if tormented by the fear that she might be coming back
again — after the fashion of the slippers in the Eastern tale —
the men lost not a moment in commencing the work of de-
struction. Some bricks were out of the walls before the
weeping woman was beyond view. A rumour went abroad
of what was going on, and numbers of gazers came nocking
up to watch. They stayed to see it, talking freely. The
doors were off then, the windows out. The two chimneys
could be no more seen. "What with the work of dismantling,

58 Dene Hollow,

with tlie goods lying 1 in a heap outside, with the let-loose cow
and pig, and what with the increasing spectators, such a scene
of excitement and confusion had not been witnessed by the
rural population in their lives. It remained on their memories
as an epoch of local history, to be talked of at convivial meet-
ings and related by father to son : Sir Dene Clanwaring's
turning out of the poor old widow Barber, when she was nigh
upon her eightieth year.

Hands were quick. On the following day the rubbish of
bricks and mortar was ready to be carted away ; and on the
subsequent morning the new road was begun. Begun at both
ends : at the upper one opposite the gates of Beechhurst
Dene; at the lower one at Hurst Leet. Sir Dene was all im-
patience for the way to be completed, and many hands made
light work. Never a thought cast he to the grief of the un-
happy woman who had been rudely thrust from her shell, and
whose heart was breaking. Sir Dene was not by nature a
hard or harsh man ; but he had certainly acted both hardly
and harshly in this.

" So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are
done under the sun : and beheld the tears of such as were op-
pressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their
oppressors there was power ; but they had no comforter."

If ever there was a signal exemplification of the truthful
teaching of one, to whom God had given more than earthly
wisdom, it surely existed in this instance.

And now, behold the beautiful road completed — smooth,
compact, level as a bowling-green. See it this early morning,
as Sir Dene drives down it. The hill is at this end, com-
mencing at the very onset ; a long hill, but a gentle one : its
descent not steep at all ; not enough to cause good horses to
slacken speed, either down or up. No more trace is to be seen
of the widow's cottage, of its garden, its pig-sty, cow-shed,
than if they had never existed : the new road runs right
through the site. As to the meadow where her cow was wont
to graze, Sir Dene has ploughed it up, fencing it in from the
road. On the other side, the pathway remains still ; the high
bank above it remains ; and the extending branches of the
towering, waving elm trees cast their shadows on the road in
the sunlight, just as the same shadows had used to be cast on
the cottage. A fine road : and just now the pride of Sir Deno
Clanwaring's heart. It had not been Sir Dene's intention to

The Shadoiv on the Hollow.. 59

bestow upon it any particular name : lie did not think about
it ; but the workmen when making it, began to speak of it
familiarly amidst themselves as "The Hollow" — probably
because they had a portion of it to hollow out. This was
caught up by Hurst Leet, and converted into Dene's Hollow.
The appellation grew at length into " Dene Hollow." Dene
Hollow it remained.

Away they bowled, Sir Dene and his son. Geoffry, an ex-
perienced driver, had the reins well in hand. The calm,
bright, lovely autumn day was good to be out in.

" Who's that, Geoffry ? " asked the baronet, as a tall woman,
her face nearly hidden under its large quilted bonnet of faded
green silk, passed on the path, and courtesied to Sir Dene.

" It is Mary Barber, sir." And Geoffry silently wondered
that the woman upon whose mother had been committed that
act of injustice should continue to render active homage to Sir
Dene. Manners in those days were widely different from what
they are in these : reverence for the great was an institution.

"Oh, ay; servant at Farmer Owen's, I believe," remarked
Sir Dene airily : for indeed the episode of the ejection, to-
gether with Mary Barber's pleading visit, had well-nigh
passed from his mind : at least, it had lost its sting of annoy-
ance. " I didn't know her in that poke-bonnet. How is that
daughter of Owen's, Geoffry — she who married Old Arde's
relative. Any better ? Tou go there sometimes, don't you ? "

" To George Arde's ? Now and then, sir, when I am at
Worcester. Mrs. Arde is ill still."

" Talking of Owen, he wants his barn — take care, Geoff."

Without the slightest warning, without any apparent cause,
the horses had started. Both of them. Started violently, as
if in some great terror, and sprung right across the road with
a bound. It was just in the spot where the cottage had been.
Geoffry Clanwaring did all that a practised driver could do ;
but it was as nothing. The frightened animals bounded on
the bank and off again, upsetting the phaeton. There they
stood, plunging and kicking.

Geoffry was on his legs in an instant ; uninjured, save for a
bruise on the right shoulder and elbow — which he did not feel
until later. Some men, who happened to be passing on the
upper road by the gates of Beechhurst Dene, came running
down. The traces were cut, one of the shivering horses fell,
and lay still ; the other they soothed to quietness.

Which gave them time to look into the condition of Sir

60 Dene Hollow.

Dene. He had been pitched over GeofiVy's head, and was, of
course, much shaken. Moreover, he could not get up without
assistance. There was some damage to one of his ankles. A
severe sprain, they found ; not a fracture.

" It might have been worse," remarked Sir Dene. " What
in the world was it that frightened the horses, Geoffry ? "

" I don't know, sir : I am lost in wondering," was Geoffry's
puzzled answer. " There was nothing whatever to startle

" I am sure I saw nothing."

"There was nothing. Not a creature was near us, human
or animal. How shall we get you home, sir ? "

" Oh, I can manage to limp up, with your arm on one side,
and somebody else's on the other," returned the baronet. " I
hope the horses are all right. It might have been worse for
all of us, Geoff, my boy."

" Indeed, it might, father."

Yes, it might have been worse. But nevertheless one of
the horses, in plunging, had fatally injured itself, and had to
be shot. Cole, the farrier, had a day or two's hope over it —
that he could save it — but it proved futile. Sir Dene
was in a fine way, and told Cole he would almost as soon
have been shot himself. The affair created nearly as much
stir and talk in Hurst Leet as the turning out of the Widow
Barber had done.

Two or three evenings subsequent to this, Mary Barber set off
to see her mother — a small jug of buttered- ale in her hand,
Avhich Mrs. Owen had caused Mary to make. " Buttered-ale "
was a cordial thought much of in those days, and often sent by
the wealthy to the aged or sick. Mrs. Barber had found refuge
with John Pound and his wife, reuting their two upper rooms.
Or, rather, one room and a loft : the last being needed to stow
away the portion of her spare furniture that had not been sold.
The cottage was situated on the upper road, near Arde Hall ;
Pound being Squire Arde's waggoner.

Mary Bai-ber put her best foot foremost ; not only because
it looked likely to rain, but that the buttered-ale should reach
her mother while it was hot. The old lady was seated on the bit
of carpet before the fire ; her head leaning sideways on a chair.

" Why, mother, you be low in the world ! " was Mary's
salutation. " What be you down there for ? "

Mrs. Barber got up without making any particular answer,
and took her seat in the chair. " It's a bit shivery to-night,

The Shadow on the Hollow. 61

ain't it, child?" she asked. And a spectator might have
smiled at tall, hard, bony, middle-aged Mary Barber being
addressed as " child."

" No, it's quite warm, mother."

Could it be that this poor shrunken creature was the once
plump, healthy, well-conditioned woman who had lived in
that disputed cottage. Was it possible that only a few months
had made so great a change ? Alas, yes. And the marvel
was that she had lasted as long as this.

Literally she was no better than skin and bone. The face
had lost its roundness, the cheeks their fresh tinge ; the eyes
were sunken, and dim with a sadness that might be seen and
felt. Nothing had apparently ailed her to cause the change ;
her bodily health, save that the appetite had failed, had seemed
not to suffer. But inward grief, when it is hopeless and ex-
cessive, induces decay more rapidly in the aged than sickness
of body. Old Hester Barber's heart was broken.

" I've not been able to run down this last two days, mother,
as we've had our big wash on," said Mary, looking rather
keenly at the worn face by the help of the fire-light, for she
thought it was more changed than ever. She fancied,
moreover, that it had a greyish tinge on it, which she had
never observed before : and she did not much like to see it
now. " Here's a nice drop of buttered-ale, that the missis has
sent : it'll do you good."

" The missis is over kind, Mary ; carry back my duty to
her and my best thanks. But I don't feel as if I could touch
it, child. I don't feel to want nothing."

"That's all nonsense, mother. I'll light the candle."
Holding the candle, so that its light fell on her mother's
face, Mary Barber scanned it well. Yes, it was certainly grey
to-night, with a peculiar, leaden greyness. She put the
buttered-ale into a basin, and reached a spoon.

" Now, then, mother, sup it up afore it's quite cold. Never
mind about not wanting it : it'll cheer you up and warm you,,
whether you want it or not.

Holding the basin so that it rested on her knee, the dying
woman — for she was dying slowly — sipped a few spoonfuls.
Mary sat opposite, chatting.

" Did ye hear o' the accident to Sir Dene Clanwaring,
mother ? "

" Ay, I heer'd on't. Pound, he come up stairs here o' purpose
to tell me."

62 Dene Holloiv.

" It's cost a sight o' money to mend the carriage, Cole's son
says. And they've had to shoot the best horse."

Mrs. Barber, her spoon resting passive in the bnttered-ale,
shook her head in solemn silence.

"I had passed 'em not a minute afore, coming up the path
from Hurst Leet, where I had been on an errand for missis,"
continued Mary. " All fine and grand it looked, that turn-
out ; the horses, for power and safety, you might have took
a lease on. Before I had well got into the upper road by the
gates, there was a startling noise down there, and I looked
back. Mother, you might have floored me with a word when
I see the carriage, and the two gentlemen lying on the
ground, and the cattle plunging."
" Ay, ay," murmured Mrs. Barber.

" I didn't believe my own eyes. And what had done it I
could not think, for they had been going along as steady as
might be. They don't know what in the world it could ha'
been that the horses started at. Young Mr. Clanwaring was
at our house yesterday, and I heard him tell the master that
it 'ud always be a puzzle to him. Eat the stuff, mother."

" It was the Shadow," remarked the old woman, dropping
her voice almost to a whisper. " I'd lay my life, Mary, 'twas
the Shadow."

" The what ? " cried Mary.
"The Shadow."

Mary Barber, who had really not caught the word at first,
supposed that this must allude to the shadows cast on the
road by the trees. To any one but her mother she would
have met the assertion with unsparing ridicule.

" 'Twas not likely to have been that, mother. Why, the
trees be there always ; and their shadows, too, when the sun's
behind 'em. Them horses' feet feel just as much at home
amid the shadows as they do amid the stones."

" I said the Shadow, Mary. Not the shadows o' the

" What Shadow ? "
" The one I saw on the road."

Mary Barber believed the old mind was wandering. She
stared for a minute, without speaking.
" Eat your buttered-ale, mother."

Instead of that, Mrs. Barber stretched out her withered arm
and put the basin down on the table at her elbow.

" There's a shadow on that road, child. The poor dumb

The Shadoiv on the Hollow. 65

animals saw it, and were frightened at it. They see some-
times what man can't see. Maybe, it'll come now and again
at will, to lie on the Hollow."

Mary Barber was sufficisntly superstitions herself, and had
seen at least one ghost, as her friends knew ; but she was
wholly at fault in this. Instead of debating the point, she
stared harder than before at the grey face.

" It's a shadow to frighten the best of horses, it is, an' they
get to see it, Mary. It frightened me."

" Be you a wandering, mother ? " demanded Mary Barber,
in rather a hard tone.

" Me a wandering ! What put that in your head, child ? "

" Why, what else is it ? A talking in this way about
shadows ? ' '

" How long is it since this new road was opened ? " rejoined
Mrs. Barber — and certainly, in all save the subject, she
seemed to be quite as rational as usual. " What do they
call it again — Hollow Dene ? "

" Dene Hollow. It's more than three weeks now."

" Ay. Three weeks o' Tuesday last. John Pound, he
comes up stairs the evening afore ; Monday, that was ; and
said the workmen was a clearing off their tools, and the road
'ud be open to the parish on the morrow. When the morrow
came, I thought I'd put on my old red cloak and go out and
take a look at it. 'Twas a fine, sunshiny, beautiful day, warm
for September. I got to the place, Mary ; and I leaned my

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