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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 alive again.'

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.



VI

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 him-
self 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 apart-
ment, 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 within.

4 Did your mistress leave word where she was
going ? ' he asked.

4 No, sir.'

* Is the carriage ordered to meet her anywhere ? *

4 No, sir.'

' Did she take a latch-key ? '

No, sir.'

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,

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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 dis-
covered 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

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WESSEX TALES

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?'

4 1 only came because the night was so clear. I
am now on my way home.'

' I am glad we have met. I want to know if you

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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 friends.'

She hesitated. ' Why should you tell me that ? '
she said.

' In the hope that you will be frank with me.'

1 1 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 per-
spective, 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 some-
thing 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 seventy
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 un-
certainty 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.'

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WESSEX TALES

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
caught.

' 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 makes consolation so necessary
to a nature like mine. It would be unbecoming to
repine, for her spirit's home was elsewhere the

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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.'

4 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 forehead hopelessly.

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

US



WESSEX TALES

should like to have,' he said, ' would be rather beyond
my means. No ; I think I shall send them to schoo!
in the town when they are old enough to go out
alone.'

1 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 considera-
tion, 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.



VII



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 consider-
able 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
their natures.

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 com-
pany of a fair young woman, whose sudden appearance
caused him to flush perceptibly.

'Ah, she is there,' he thought. 'That's a blessed
thing.'

147



WESSEX TALES

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 forward.

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

148



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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-room.

' 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 play-
ground, 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 tor a long long time
perhaps never. I am not at all decided about it.'

4 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,

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WESSEX TALES

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

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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?'

4 1 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 over.'

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, in-
stead 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 construc-
tion, 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,



WESSEX TALES

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.



VIII

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


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Online LibraryThomas HardyThe writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) → online text (page 10 of 20)