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almost paternal care of Lucy Savile was to be thrown

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WESSEX TALES

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 book of wall-paper patterns which lay on a bench
for his choice, was leaving to keep another engage-
ment, when Barnet said, ' Is the tomb finished yet for
Mrs. Downe?'

' 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.

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

'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 open porch.

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

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WESSEX TALES

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 prepara-
tions to make that could not be made in half-an-hour,
he mechanically descended and resumed his occupa-
tion 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 begin-
ning 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
study-table.'

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

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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,

1 C. DOWNE.'

1 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 had never been seen
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

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WESSEX TALES

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 rail-
way 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

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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 him-
self, and deserved to be remembered in his native
town. He greeted Downe heartily, offering his con-
gratulations.

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 ? '

1 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
public.'

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 spec-
tators 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

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WESSEX TALES

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 ? '

4 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 posses-
sion. By eleven o'clock the heap of papers in and
before Barnet's grate had reached formidable dimen-
sions, 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

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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 dis-
pose 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 know-
ledge 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 habita-
tion 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.



IX

TWENTY-ONE years and six months do not pass with-
out 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 rail-
way 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 in-
firmities of its own like its elder fellows. Its archi-
tecture, 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 dis-
appeared 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

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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
lamplighter was passing by.

The farmers merely acknowledged by their counte-
nances 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-along.'

' 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 station.'

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

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WESSEX TALES

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, pre-
ceded 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 book-
seller'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 obvious.

At length he said, 4 Is old Mr. Watkins still
alive?' in a voice which had a curious youthful
cadence in it even now.

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

'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 some generations.'

' 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

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WESSEX TALES

married and living in other parts of the town. Mrs.
Downe lives alone.'

' Quite alone ? '

' 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 shamb-
ling, 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.

1 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 un-
grateful ! ' 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

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

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.'


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