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against him in the little town of his adoption.

Charlson had been in difficulties, and to oblige
him Barnet had put his name to a bill ; and, as he
had expected, was called upon to meet it when it fell
due. It had been only a matter of fifty pounds, which
Barnet could well afford to lose, and he bore no ill-
will to the thriftless surgeon on account of it. But
Charlson had a little too much brazen indifferentism
in his composition to be altogether a desirable
acquaintance.

' I hope to be able to make that little bill-business
right with you in the course of three weeks, Mr.
Barnet,' said Charlson with hail-fellow friendliness.

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

Barnet replied good-naturedly that there was no
hurry.

This particular three weeks had moved on in
advance of Charlson's present with the precision of
a shadow for some considerable time.

' I've had a dream,' Charlson continued. Barnet
knew from his tone that the surgeon was going to
begin his characteristic nonsense, and did not en-
courage him. ' I've had a dream,' repeated Charlson,
who required no encouragement. ' I dreamed that a
gentleman, who has been very kind to me, married a
haughty lady in haste, before he had quite forgotten
a nice little girl he knew before, and that one wet
evening, like the present, as I was walking up the
harbour-road, I saw him come out of that dear little
girl's present abode.'

Barnet glanced towards the speaker. The rays
from a neighbouring lamp struck through the drizzle
under Charlson's umbrella, so as just to illumine his
face against the shade behind, and show that his eye
was turned up under the outer corner of its lid,
whence it leered with impish jocoseness as he thrust
his tongue into his cheek.

' Come,' said Barnet gravely, ' we'll have no more
of that.'

c No, no of course not,' Charlson hastily answered,
seeing that his humour had carried him too far, as it
had done many times before. He was profuse in his
apologies, but Barnet did not reply. Of one thing
he was certain that scandal was a plant of quick
root, and that he was bound to obey Lucy's injunction
for Lucy's own sake.



Ill

HE did so, to the letter ; and though, as the crocus
followed the snowdrop and the daffodil the crocus in
Lucy's garden, the harbour-road was a not unpleasant
place to walk in, Barnet's feet never trod its stones,
much less approached her door. He avoided a
saunter that way as he would have avoided a danger-
ous dram, and took his airings a long distance north-
ward, among severely square and brown ploughed
fields, where no other townsman came. Sometimes
he went round by the lower lanes of the borough,
where the rope-walks stretched in which his family
formerly had share, and looked at the rope-makers
walking backwards, overhung by apple-trees and
bushes, and intruded on by cows and calves, as if
trade had established itself there at considerable
inconvenience to Nature.

One morning, when the sun was so warm as to
raise a steam from the south-eastern slopes of those
flanking hills that looked so lovely above the old
roofs, but made every low-chimneyed house in the
town as smoky as Tophet, Barnet glanced from the
windows of the town-council room for lack of interest
in what was proceeding within. Several members
of the corporation were present, but there was not
much business doing, and in a few minutes Downe
came leisurely across to him, saying that he seldom
saw Barnet now.

Barnet owned that he was not often present.

Downe looked at the crimson curtain which hung

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

down beside the panes, reflecting its hot hues into
their faces, and then out of the window. At that
moment there passed along the street a tall com-
manding lady, in whom the solicitor recognized
Barnet's wife. Barnet had done the same thing, and
turned away.

1 It will be all right some day,' said Downe, with
cheering sympathy.

'You have heard, then, of her last outbreak?'

Downe depressed his cheerfulness to its very
reverse in a moment. 'No, I have not heard of
anything serious,' he said, with as long a face as one
naturally round could be turned into at short notice.
1 1 only hear vague reports of such things.'

' You may think it will be all right,' said Barnet
drily. ' But I have a different opinion. . . . No,
Downe, we must look the thing in the face. Not
poppy nor mandragora however, how are your wife
and children ? '

Downe said that they were all well, thanks ; they
were out that morning somewhere ; he was just
looking to see if they were walking that way. Ah,
there they were, just coming down the street ; and
Downe pointed to the figures of two children with
a nursemaid, and a lady walking behind them.

' You will come out and speak to her ? ' he asked.

4 Not this morning. The fact is I don't care to
speak to anybody just now.'

' You are too sensitive, Mr. Barnet. At school
I remember you used to get as red as a rose if any-
body uttered a word that hurt your feelings.'

Barnet mused. ' Yes,' he admitted, ' there is a
grain of truth in that. It is because of that I
often try to make peace at home. Life would be
tolerable then at any rate, even if not particularly
bright.'

' I have thought more than once of proposing a
little plan to you,' said Downe with some hesitation.
' I don't know whether it will meet your views, but

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WESSEX TALES

take it or leave it, as you choose. In fact, it was
my wife who suggested it : that she would be very
glad to call on Mrs. Barnet and get into her con-
fidence. She seems to think that Mrs. Barnet is
rather alone in the town, and without advisers. Her
impression is that your wife will listen to reason.
Emily has a wonderful way of winning the hearts
of people of her own sex.

'And of the other sex too, I think. She is a
charming woman, and you were a lucky fellow to
find her.'

' Well, perhaps I was,' simpered Downe, trying
to wear an aspect of being the last man in the world
to feel pride. ' However, she will be likely to find
out what ruffles Mrs. Barnet. Perhaps it is some
misunderstanding, you know something that she is
too proud to ask you to explain, or some little thing
in your conduct that irritates her because she does
not fully comprehend you. The truth is, Emily
would have been more ready to make advances if
she had been quite sure of her fitness for Mrs.
Barnet's society, who has of course been accustomed
to London people of good position, which made Emily
fearful of intruding.'

Barnet expressed his warmest thanks for the well-
intentioned proposition. There was reason in Mrs.
Downe's fear that he owned. ' But do let her call,'
he said. ' There is no woman in England I would
so soon trust on such an errand. I am afraid there
will not be any brilliant result ; still I shall take it
as the kindest and nicest thing if she will try it, and
not be frightened at a repulse. 1

When Barnet and Downe had parted, the former
went to the Town Savings-Bank, of which he was
a trustee, and endeavoured to forget his troubles in
the contemplation of low sums of money, and figures
in a network of red and blue lines. He sat and
watched the working-people making their deposits, to
which at intervals he signed his name. Before he

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

left in the afternoon Downe put his head inside the
door.

' Emily has seen Mrs. Barnet,' he said, in a low
voice. ' She has got Mrs. Barnet's promise to take
her for a drive down to the shore to-morrow, if it is
fine. Good afternoon ! '

Barnet shook Downe by the hand without speak-
ing, and Downe went away.



IV

THE next day was as fine as the arrangement could
possibly require. As the sun passed the meridian and
declined westward, the tall shadows from the scaffold-
poles of Barnet's rising residence streaked the ground
as far as to the middle of the highway. Barnet him-
self was there inspecting the progress of the works for
the first time during several weeks. A building in an
old-fashioned town five-and-thirty years ago did not, as
in the modern fashion, rise from the sod like a booth
at a fair. The foundations and lower courses were put
in and allowed to settle for many weeks before the
superstructure was built up, and a whole summer of
drying was hardly sufficient to do justice to the impor-
tant issues involved. Barnet stood within a window-
niche which had as yet received no frame, and thence
looked down a slope into the road. The wheels of a
chaise were heard, and then his handsome Xantippe,
in the company of Mrs. Downe, drove past on their
way to the shore. They were driving slowly ; there
was a pleasing light in Mrs. Downe's face, which
seemed faintly to reflect itself upon the countenance
of her companion \h&\. politesse du cceur which was so
natural to her having possibly begun already to work
results. But whatever the situation, Barnet resolved
not to interfere, or do anything to hazard the promise
of the day. He might well afford to trust the issue to
another when he could never direct it but to ill himself.
His wife's clenched rein-hand in its lemon-coloured
glove, her stiff erect figure, clad in velvet and lace,

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

and her boldly-outlined face, passed on, exhibiting
their owner as one fixed for ever above the level of
her companion socially by her early breeding, and
materially by her higher cushion.

Barnet decided to allow them a proper time to
themselves, and then stroll down to the shore and
drive them home. After lingering on at the house for
another hour he started with this intention. A few
hundred yards below ' Chateau Ringdale ' stood the
cottage in which the late lieutenant's daughter had her
lodging. Barnet had not been so far that way for a
long time, and as he approached the forbidden ground
a curious warmth passed into him, which led him to
perceive that, unless he were careful, he might have to
fight the battle with himself about Lucy over again.
A tenth of his present excuse would, however, have
justified him in travelling by that road to-day.

He came opposite the dwelling, and turned his eyes
for a momentary glance into the little garden that
stretched from the palings to the door. Lucy was in
the enclosure ; she was walking and stooping to gather
some flowers, possibly for the purpose of painting them,
for she moved about quickly, as if anxious to save time.
She did not see him ; he might have passed unnoticed ;
but a sensation which was not in strict unison with his
previous sentiments that day led him to pause in his
walk and watch her. She went nimbly round and
round the beds of anemones, tulips, jonquils, polyan-
thuses, and other old-fashioned flowers, looking a very
charming figure in her half-mourning bonnet, and with
an incomplete nosegay in her left hand. Raising her-
self to pull down a lilac blossom she observed him.

' Mr. Barnet ! ' she said, innocently smiling. ' Why,
I have been thinking of you many times since Mrs.
Barnet went by in the pony-carriage, and now here
you are ! '

' Yes, Lucy,' he said.

Then she seemed to recall particulars of their last
meeting, and he believed that she flushed, though it



WESSEX TALES

might have been only the fancy of his own super-
sensitiveness.

' I am going to the harbour,' he added.

4 Are you ? ' Lucy remarked simply. ' A great
many people begin to go there now the summer is
drawing on.'

Her face had come more into his view as she spoke,
and he noticed how much thinner and paler it was than
when he had seen it last. ' Lucy, how weary you look !
tell me, can I help you ? ' he was going to cry out.
' If I do,' he thought, ' it will be the ruin of us both ! '
He merely said that the afternoon was fine, and went
on his way.

As he went a sudden blast of air came over the
hill as if in contradiction to his words, and spoilt the
previous quiet of the scene. The wind had already
shifted violently, and now smelt of the sea.

The harbour-road soon began to justify its name.
A gap appeared in the rampart of hills which shut out
the sea, and on the left of the opening rose a vertical
cliff, coloured a burning orange by the sunlight, the
companion cliff on the right being livid in shade. Be-
tween these cliffs, like the Libyan bay which sheltered
the shipwrecked Trojans, was a little haven, seemingly
a beginning made by Nature herself of a perfect har-
bour, which appealed to the passer-by as only requiring
a little human industry to finish it and make it famous,
the ground on each side as far back as the daisied slopes
that bounded the interior valley being a mere layer of
blown sand. But the Port-Bredy burgesses a mile
inland had, in the course of ten centuries, responded
many times to that mute appeal, with the result that the
tides had invariably choked up their works with sand
and shingle as soon as completed. There were but few
houses here : a rough pier, a few boats, some stores, an
inn, a residence or two, a ketch unloading in the harbour,
were the chief features of the settlement. On the
open ground by the shore stood his wife's pony-carriage,
empty, the boy in attendance holding the horse

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

When Barnet drew nearer, he saw an indigo-
coloured spot moving swiftly along beneath the radiant
base of the eastern cliff, which proved to be a man in
a jersey, running with all his might. He held up his
hand to Barnet, as it seemed, and they approached
each other. The man was local, but a stranger to him.

' What is it, my man ? ' said Barnet.

'A terrible calamity!' the boatman hastily explained.
Two ladies had been capsized in a boat they were
Mrs. Downe and Mrs. Barnet of the old town ; they
had driven down there that afternoon they had
alighted, and it was so fine, that, after walking about a
little while, they had been tempted to go out for a short
sail round the cliff. Just as they were putting in to the
shore, the wind shifted with a sudden gust, the boat
listed over, and it was thought they were both drowned.
How it could have happened was beyond his mind to
fathom, for John Green knew how to sail a boat as
well as any man there.

' Which is the way to the place? ' said Barnet.

It was just round the cliff.

' Run to the carriage and tell the boy to bring it
to the place as soon as you can. Then go to the
Harbour Inn and tell them to ride to town for a doctor.
Have they been got out of the water ? '

'One lady has.'

'Which?'

' Mrs. Barnet. Mrs. Downe, it is feared, has fleeted
out to sea.'

Barnet ran on to that part of the shore which the
cliff had hitherto obscured from his view, and there
discerned, a long way ahead, a group of fishermen
standing. As soon as he came up one or two recog-
nized him, and, not liking to meet his eye, turned aside
with misgiving. He went amidst them and saw a small
sailing-boat lying draggled at the water's edge ; and,
on the sloping shingle beside it, a soaked and sandy
woman's form in the velvet dress and yellow gloves of
his wife.

133



ALL had been done that could be done. Mrs. Barnet
was in her own house under medical hands, but the
result was still uncertain. Barnet had acted as if
devotion to his wife were the dominant passion of his
existence. There had been much to decide whether
to attempt restoration of the apparently lifeless body
as it lay on the shore whether to carry her to the
Harbour Inn whether to drive with her at once to
his own house. The first course, with no skilled help
or appliances near at hand, had seemed hopeless. The
second course would have occupied nearly as much
time as a drive to the town, owing to the intervening
ridges of shingle, and the necessity of crossing the
harbour by boat to get to the house, added to which
much time must have elapsed before a doctor could
have arrived down there. By bringing her home in
the carriage some precious moments had slipped by ;
but she had been laid in her own bed in seven minutes,
a doctor called to her side, and every possible restora-
tive brought to bear upon her.

At what a tearing pace he had driven up that
road, through the yellow evening sunlight, the shadows
flapping irksomely into his eyes as each wayside object
rushed past between him and the west ! Tired work-
men with their baskets at their backs had turned on
their homeward journey to wonder at his speed. Half-
way between the shore and Port-Bredy town he had
met Charlson, who had been the first surgeon to hear
of the accident. He was accompanied by his assistant

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

in a gig. Barnet had sent on the latter to the coast
in case that Downe's poor wife should by that time
have been reclaimed from the waves, and had brought
Charlson back with him to the house.

Barnet's presence was not needed here, and he felt
it to be his next duty to set off at once and find Downe,
that no other than himself might break the news to
him.

He was quite sure that no chance had been lost for
Mrs. Downe by his leaving the shore. By the time
that Mrs. Barnet had been laid in the carriage a much
larger group had assembled to lend assistance in find-
ing her friend, rendering his own help superfluous.
But the duty of breaking the news was made doubly
painful by the circumstance that the catastrophe which
had befallen Mrs. Downe was solely the result of her
own and her husband's loving-kindness towards himself.

He found Downe in his office. When the solicitor
comprehended the intelligence he turned pale, stood
up, and remained for a moment perfectly still, as if
bereft of his faculties ; then his shoulders heaved, he
pulled out his handkerchief and began to cry like a
child. His sobs might have been heard in the next
room. He seemed to have no idea of going to the
shore, or of doing anything ; but when Barnet took
him gently by the hand and proposed to start at once,
he quietly acquiesced, neither uttering any further word
nor making any effort to repress his tears.

Barnet accompanied him to the shore, where, find-
ing that no trace had as yet been seen of Mrs. Downe,
and that his stay would be of no avail, he left Downe
with his friends and the young doctor, and once more
hastened back to his own house.

At the door he met Charlson. 'Well ! ' Barnet said.

' I have just come down,' said the doctor; 'we have
done everything, but without result. I sympathize
with you in your bereavement.'

Barnet did not much appreciate Charlson's sym-
pathy, which sounded to his ears as something of a

135



WESSEX TALES

mockery from the lips of a man who knew what
Charlson knew about his domestic relations. Indeed
there seemed an odd spark in Charlson's full black eye
as he said the words; but that might have been
imaginary.

'And, Mr. Barnet,' Charlson resumed, 'that little
matter between us I hope to settle it finally in three
weeks at least.'

1 Nevermind that now,' said Barnet abruptly. He
directed the surgeon to go to the harbour in case his
services might even now be necessary there : and
himself entered the house.

The servants were coming from his wife's chamber,
looking helplessly at each other and at him. He
passed them by and entered the room, where he stood
regarding the shape on the bed for a few minutes, after
which he walked into his own dressing-room adjoining,
and there paced up and down. In a minute or two
he noticed what a strange and total silence had come
over the upper part of the house ; his own movements,
muffled as they were by the carpet, seemed noisy, and
his thoughts to disturb the air like articulate utterances.
His eye glanced through the window. Far down the
road to the harbour a roof detained his gaze : out of
it rose a red chimney, and out of the red chimney a
curl of smoke, as from a fire newly kindled. He had
often seen such a sight before. In that house lived
Lucy Savile ; and the smoke was from the fire which
was regularly lighted at this time to make her tea.

After that he went back to the bedroom, and stood
there some time regarding his wife's silent form. She
was a woman some years older than himself, but had
not by any means overpassed the maturity of good
looks and vigour. Her passionate features, well-
defined, firm, and statuesque in life, were doubly so
now : her mouth and brow, beneath her purplish black
hair, showed only too clearly that the turbulency of
character which had made a bear-garden of his house
had been no temporary phase of her existence. While

136



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

he reflected, he suddenly said to himself, I wonder if
all has been done ?

The thought was led up to by his having fancied
that his wife's features lacked in its completeness the
expression which he had been accustomed to associate
with the faces of those whose spirits have fled for ever.
The effacement of life was not so marked but that,
entering uninformed, he might have supposed her sleep-
ing. Her complexion was that seen in the numerous
faded portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds ; it was pallid
in comparison with life, but there was visible on a close
inspection the remnant of what had once been a flush ;
the keeping between the cheeks and the hollows of the
face being thus preserved, although positive colour was
gone. Long orange rays of evening sun stole in through
chinks in the blind, striking on the large mirror, and
being thence reflected upon the crimson hangings and
woodwork of the heavy bedstead, so that the general
tone of light was remarkably warm ; and it was prob-
able that something might be due to this circumstance.
Still the fact impressed him as strange. Charlson had
been gone more than a quarter of an hour : could it be
possible that he had left too soon, and that his attempts
to restore her had operated so sluggishly as only now
to have made themselves felt? Barnet laid his hand
upon her chest, and fancied that ever and anon a faint
flutter of palpitation, gentle as that of a butterfly's
wing, disturbed the stillness there ceasing for a time,
then struggling to go on, then breaking down in
weakness and ceasing again.

Barnet's mother had been an active practitioner of
the healing art among her poorer neighbours, and her
inspirations had all been derived from an octavo volume
of Domestic Medicine, which at this moment was lying,
as it had lain for many years, on a shelf in Barnet's
dressing-room. He hastily fetched it, and there read
under the head ' Drowning : '

' Exertions for the recovery of any person who has not
been immersed for a longer period than half-an-hour should

137



WESSEX TALES

be continued for at least four hours, as there have been many
cases in which returning life has made itself visible even after
a longer interval.

' Should, however, a weak action of any of the organs
show itself when the case seems almost hopeless, our efforts
must be redoubled ; the feeble spark in this case requires to
be solicited ; it will certainly disappear under a relaxation
of labour.'

Barnet looked at his watch ; it was now barely two
hours and a half from the time when he had first heard
of the accident. He threw aside the book and turned
quickly to reach a stimulant which had previously been
used. Pulling up the blind for more light, his eye
glanced out of the window. There he saw that red
chimney still smoking cheerily, and that roof, and
through the roof that somebody. His mechanical
movements stopped, his hand remained on the blind-
cord, and he seemed to become breathless, as if he had
suddenly found himself treading a high rope.

While he stood a sparrow lighted on the window-
sill, saw him, and flew away. Next a man and a dog
walked over one of the green hills which bulged above
the roofs of the town. But Barnet took no notice.

We may wonder what were the exact images that
passed through his mind during those minutes olf gazing
upon Lucy Savile's house, the sparrow, the man and
the dog, and Lucy Savile's house again. There are
honest men who will not admit to their thoughts, even
as idle hypotheses, views of the future that assume as
done a deed which they would recoil from doing ; and
there are other honest men for whom morality ends at
the surface of their own heads, who will deliberate
what the first will not so much as suppose. Barnet
had a wife whose presence distracted his home ; she
now lay as in death ; by merely doing nothing by
letting the intelligence which had gone forth to the
world lie undisturbed he would effect such a deliver-
ance for himself as he had never hoped for, and open
up an opportunity of which till now he had never

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FELLOW-TOWNSMEN

dreamed. Whether the conjuncture had arisen through
any unscrupulous, ill-considered impulse of Charlson to
help out of a strait the friend who was so kind as never


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