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Wessex tales : strange, lively, and commonplace (Volume 1) online

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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



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 167

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,
polyanthuses, and other old - fashioned flowers,
looking a very charming figure in her half-mourn-
ing bonnet, and with an incomplete nosegay in her
left hand. Raising herself to pull down a lilac
blossom she observed him.

''My. Barnet!' she *said, innocently smiling.
' Why, I have been thinking of you many times
since your pony-carriage went by, 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 might have been only the fancy of his
own super-sensitiveness.

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

' Are you ? ' Lucy remarked simply, ' A great



168 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN iii

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
abeady 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. Between these cliffs,



Ill



FELLOW-TOWN SMEX 1G9



like the Libyan bay which sheltered the ship-
wrecked Trojans, was a little haven, seemingly a
beginning made by Nature herself of a perfect
harbour, 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
vaUey 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 unload-
ing 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.

When Bamet drew nearer, he saw an indigo-
coloured spot mo\'ing swiftly along beneath the



170 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN



III



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 wliile, 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 V said Barnet.

It was just round the cliff.



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 171

' Pam 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?'



']\Jrar Barnet. Mrs. Downe, it is feared, has



^flaatod 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 recognised 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.



V

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



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 173

which much time must have elapsed before a
doctor could have arrived down there. By bring-
ing 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 restorative 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 workmen 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 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.



174 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN iii

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 j\Irs. Downe by his leaving the shore. By the
time that Mrs. Barnet had been laid in the car-
riage, a much larger group had assembled to lend
assistance in finding her friend, rendering his own
help superfluous. But the duty of breaking the
news was made doubly painful by the circum-
stance 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 per-
fectly 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



Ill



FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 175



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,
finding that no trace had as yet been seen of ^Irs.
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 Charlsoii. ' AVell V Barnet
said.

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

Barnet did not much appreciate Charlson's
sympathy, which sounded to his ears as something
of a mockery from the lips of a man who knew
what Charlson knew about their domestic rela-
tions. Indeed there seemed an odd spark in



176 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN



III



Charlson's full black eye as lie saiil 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.'

' Never mind 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 mutely regarding 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.



Ill



FELLOW-TOWN SMEX 177



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 lire
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 refrardinsr his wife's silent

o o

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 passion-
ate 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. AVhile he
reflected, he suddenly said to himself, I wonder if
all has been done ?

The thought was led up to by his having

VOL. I N



178 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN in

faucied that his wife's features lacked iu its com-
plete form the expression wliich 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 unin-
formed, he might have supposed her sleeping.
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 probable that something miglit
be due to this circumstance. Still the fact im-
pressed him as strange. Charlson had been gone



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 179

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 — ceasini^^ for a time, then stru^cjlinf'
to go on, then breaking down in weakness and
ceasing a<4ain.

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 tlian
half an hour should be continued for at least four



ISO FELLOW-TOWNSMEN iii

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



Ill FELLO^V-TO^VNSMEX 181

wiudow-sill, saw liim, and flew away. Next a
man and a docj walked over one of the OTeen liills
wliich 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
of gazing upon Lucy Savile's house, the sparrow,
the man and the dog, and Lucy Sa\dle's house
asjain. There are honest men wlio 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 mucli as suj)pose. 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 deliverance for himself as he had never
hoped for, and open up an opportunity of which



182 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN in

till now he had never 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 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 tri-
angular 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 linc^ered 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



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 183

jMrs. 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 de-
scending, 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 himself 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 apartment, 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 free-



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 185

stone steps. The servant stood in the doorway
watchin<:r her as slie went witli a measured tread
down the street. When she had been out of sight
for some minutes Barnet appeared at the door
from witliin.

* Did your mistress leave word where she was
"oins: ? ' he asked.

* No, sir.'

' Is the carriage ordered to meet her any-
where?'
' 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, 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



186 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN in

Mrs. Baniet liimself ; and when tliey 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 ex-
perience 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
discovered 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 forth-
with. The note was brought to him by a waiter
at the Black -Bull Hotel, and had been written



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 187

by Mrs. Baniet 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 lari^e 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, Avhere 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 of
bright moonshine now stretched over the water
which had engulfed them, and not a living soul
was near.



188 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN in

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 feelinf]j from influencinfr in the faintest decree
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 know-
ing 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



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 189

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 pru-
dence 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.

' ^Ir. Barnet ? ' the rambler said, in timid sur-
prise. The voice was the voice of Lucy Savile.

' Yes,' said Barnet. ' How can I repay you for
this pleasure ? '

* I 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 w^ill 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.'



190 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN in

She hesitated. ' Wliy should you tell ine that?*
she said.

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

* I 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 perspective, of course I mean on a com-
paratively liumble scale, because I have not been
specially educated for that profession. But I am
sure I shall like it much.'

' You have an opening V

' I have not exactly got it, but I have adver-
tised for one.'

'Lucy, you must let me help you !'

' Xot 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 something of a different kind for you.
Say what you would like, and it shall be done.'



Ill FELLOW-TOWNSMEN 191

'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, every-
where 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
severity not free from anger. ' It simply makes
it impossible for me to see you, much less receive
any guidance from you. Xo, thank you, Mr.
Barnet ; you can do notliing for me at present ;
and as I suppose my uncertainty 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.'

The tone of her latter words w^as 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



192 FELLOW-TOWNSMEN iii

her form get smaller aud 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 lookino^ out for Downe at the bes^inninfif
of the year, when Downe had slipped into the gutter


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