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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
wh ; ch 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 wood-
work 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 follow-
ing colloquy could be dimly heard through the nearly
closed door of the drawing-room.

4 He didn't give his name ? '

4 He only said "an old friend," ma'am.'

' What kind of gentleman is he ? '

4 A staidish gentleman, with gray hair.'

167



WESSEX TALES

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 recti-
tude 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 door.

' 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 town again.'

She gave him her hand, and then they sat down.
1 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, con-
sidering what I have been ; though Mr. Downe's
daughters all married manage to keep me pretty
cheerful.'

168



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

And I am a lonely old man, and have been any
time these twenty years.'

' But where have you kept yourself ? And why
did you go off so mysteriously ? '

' 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 you ? '

' 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.
1 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

169



WESSEX TALES

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 tray,
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 acting.

' 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 the
world.'

4 Not after all this ! Why not ? '

1 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

170



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

quite out of my thoughts ; I have not the least
intention of marrying again.'

4 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.'

4 Well, yes,' said Barnet more slowly, dropping her
hand, which he had taken at the moment of pleading,
4 1 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 sup-
pose.' 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.

4 Good-night,' said Barnet, on the doorstep, as the
lamp shone in his face. 4 You are not offended with
me?'

4 Certainly not. Nor you with me ? '

4 I'll consider whether I am or not,' he pleasantly
replied. 'Good-night.'

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.

171



WESSEX TALES

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 im-
pressed her. After having his long period of pro-
bation 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 gentle-
manly of him, certainly ; it was more than gentle-
manly ; 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

172



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

resembling that of her early youth led her present
heart to belie her yesterday's words to him, and she
longed to see him again.

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 prob-
ably return in the course of the week.

The note was sent back, to be given to him im-
mediately on his arrival.

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.

April 1880.



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

I

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 wist-
fully 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 before.

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 im-
portant. 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

177



WESSEX TALES

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 brim-
ming 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 to-night 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 in-
spection they might have been perceived to be open
rush baskets one containing a turkey, and the other
some bottles of wine.

178



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

1 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 shut-
ting 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 en-
livened 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 hooked 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,

179



WESSEX TALES

though it is really all nonsense. I have had ex-
perience 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 me.'

' 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 say-
ing 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.'

1 Good,' said Johns. ' Serviceable is a wise word
in a bridegroom. I commend 'ee, 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 dying ? '

'Faith, why? But she will, because she will, I
suppose,' said Dairyman Johns.

4 H'm,' said Darton.

The lane they followed had been nearly straight
for several miles, but they now left it for a smaller
one which after winding uncertainly for some distance
forked into two. By night country roads are apt to
reveal ungainly qualities which pass without observa-

180



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

tion 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 few steps.

' Don't be out of heart, sonny,' he cried. ' Here's
a handpost. Ezra 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 spas-
modically to climb the post, baskets and all.

' Was there ever less head in a brainless world ? '
said Johns. ' Here, simple Ezzy, 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 spectacle.

' 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
ground.

1 What's the matter ? ' asked Darton.

1 Not a letter, sacred or heathen not so much as
would tell us the way to the town of Smokeyhole
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 tire-
some ride. I would have driven if I had known.'

' Nor I neither, sir,' said Ezra. ' These straps
plough my shoulder like a zull. If 'tis much further
to your lady's home, Maister Darton, I shall ask to be

181



WESSEX TALES

let carry half of these good things in my innerds
hee, hee ! '

' Don't you be such a reforming radical, Ezra,'
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.



II

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, only a mile or two from
King's- Hintock Court, yet quite shut away from that
mansion and its precincts. 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 condi-
tion on the approaching day.

The mother's bereavement had been so long ago

183



WESSEX TALES

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 white-
ness 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, hand-
some girl.

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, denot-
ing 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 inde-
pendently. ' 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


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