Bessie Costrell by Mrs. Humphry Ward
It was an August evening, still and cloudy after a day unusually
chilly for the time of year. Now, about sunset, the temperature was
warmer than it had been in the morning, and the departing sun was
forcing its way through the clouds, breaking up their level masses into
delicate lattice-work of golds and greys. The last radiant light was on
the wheat-fields under the hill, and on the long chalk hill itself.
Against that glowing background lay the village, already engulfed by
the advancing shadow. All the nearer trees, which the daylight had
mingled in one green monotony, stood out sharp and distinct, each in
its own plane, against the hill. Each natural object seemed to gain a
new accent, a more individual beauty, from the vanishing and yet
An elderly labourer was walking along the road which led to the
village. To his right lay the allotment gardens just beginning to be
alive with figures, and the voices of men and children. Beyond them,
far ahead, rose the square tower of the church; to his left was the
hill, and straight in front of him the village, with its veils of smoke
lightly brushed over the trees, and its lines of cottages climbing the
chalk steeps behind it. His eye as he walked took in a number of such
facts as life had trained it to notice. Once he stopped to bend over a
fence, to pluck a stalk or two of oats. He examined them carefully;
then he threw back his head and sniffed the air, looking all round the
sky meanwhile. Yes, the season had been late and harsh, but the fine
weather was coming at last. Two or three days' warmth now would ripen
even the oats, let alone the wheat.
Well, he was glad. He wanted the harvest over. It would, perhaps, be
his last harvest at Clinton Magna, where he had worked, man and boy,
for fifty-six years come Michaelmas. His last harvest! A curious
pleasure stirred the man's veins as he thought of it, a pleasure in
expected change, which seemed to bring back the pulse of youth, to
loosen a little the yoke at those iron years that had perforce aged and
bent him; though, for sixty-two, he was still hale and strong.
Things had all come together. Here was Muster Hill, the farmer he
had worked for these seventeen years, dying of a sudden, with a
carbuncle on the neck, and the farm to be given up at Michaelmas.
HeJohn Bolderfieldhad been working on for the widow; but, in his
opinion, she was nobbut a caselty sort of body, and the sooner she
and her children were taken off to Barnet, where they were to live with
her mother, the less she'd cost them as had the looking after her. As
for the crops, they wouldn't pay the debts; not they. And there was no
one after the farmnary oneand didn't seem like to be. That would
make another farm on Muster Forrest's hands. Well, and a good job.
Landlords must be took down; and there was plenty of work going on
the railway just now for those that were turned off.
He was too old for the railway, though, and he might have found it
hard to get fresh work if he had been staying at Clinton. But he was
not staying. Poor Eliza wouldn't last more than a few days; a week or
two at most, and he was not going to keep on the cottage after he'd
Aye, poor Eliza! She was his sister-in-law, the widow of his second
brother. He had been his brother's lodger during the greater part of
his working life, and since Tom's death he had stayed on with Eliza.
She and he suited each other, and the worritin' childer had all gone
away years since and left them in peace. He didn't believe Eliza knew
where any of them were, except Mary, married over to Lutonand Jim
and Jim's Louisa. And a good riddance too. There was not one of them
knew how to keep a shilling when they'd got one. Still, it was a bit
lonesome for Eliza now, with no one but Jim's Louisa to look after her.
He grew rather downhearted as he trudged along, thinking. She and he
had stuck together a many year. There would be nobody left for him to
go along with when she was gone. There was his niece Bessie Costrell
and her husband, and there was his silly old cousin Widow Waller. He
dared say they'd both of them want him to live with them. At the
thought a grin crossed his ruddy face. They both knew about it
that was what it was. And he wouldn't live with either of them, not
he. Not yet a bit, anyway. All the same, he had a fondness for Bessie
and her husband. Bessie was always very civil to himhe
chuckled againand if anything had to be done with it, while he was
five miles off at Frampton on a job of work that had been offered him,
he didn't know but he'd as soon trust Isaac Costrell and Bessie as
anybody else. You might call Isaac rather a fool, what with his
religion, and extemp'ry prayin', an' that, but all the same
Bolderfield thought of him with a kind of uneasy awe. If ever there was
a man secure of the next world it was Isaac Costrell. His temper,
perhaps, was nassty, which might pull him down a little when the last
account came to be made up; and it could not be said that his elder
children had come to much, for all his piety. But, on the whole,
Bolderfield only wished he stood as well with the Powers talked about
in chapel every Sunday as Isaac did.
As for Bessie, she had been a wasteful woman all her life, with
never a bit of money put by, and never a good dress to her back. But,
Lor' bless yer, there was a many worse folk nor Bessie. She wasn't
one of your sour peopleshe could make you laugh; she had a merry
heart. Many a pleasant evening had he passed chatting with her and
Isaac; and whenever they cooked anything good there was always a bite
for him. Yes, Bessie had been a good niece to him; and if he trusted
any one he dared say he'd trust them.
Well, how's Eliza, Muster Bolderfield? said a woman who passed him
in the village street.
He replied, and then went on his way, sobered again, dreading to
find himself at the cottage once more, and in the stuffy upper room
with the bed and the dying woman. Yet he was not really sad, not here
at least, out in the air and the sun. There was always a thought in his
mind, a fact in his consciousness, which stood between him and sadness.
It had so stood for a long, long time. He walked through the village
to-night, in spite of Eliza and his sixty years, with a free bearing
and a confident glance to right and left. He knew, and the village
knew, that he was not as other men.
He passed the village green with its pond, and began to climb a lane
leading to the hill. Half-way up stood two cottages sideways. Phloxes
and marigolds grew untidily about their doorways, and straggly roses,
starved a little by the chalk soil, looked in at their latticed
windows. They were, however, comparatively modern and comfortable, with
two bedrooms above and two living-rooms below, far superior to the
older and more picturesque cottages in the main street.
John went in softly, put down his straw dinner-bag, and took off his
heavy boots. Then he opened a door in the wall of the kitchen, and
gently climbed the stairs.
A girl was sitting by the bed. When she saw his whitish head and red
face emerge against the darkness of the stair-hole, she put up her
finger for silence.
John crept in and came to look at the patient. His eyes grew round
and staring, his colour changed.
Is she a-goin'? he said, with evident excitement.
Jim's Louisa shook her head. She was rather a stupid girl, heavy and
round-faced, but she had nursed her grandmother well.
No; she's asleep. Muster Drew's been here, and she dropped off
while he was a-talkin' to her.
Mr. Drew was the Congregational minister.
Did she send for him?
Yes; she said she felt her feet a-gettin' cold, and I must run. But
I don't believe she's no worse.
John stood looking down, ruefully. Suddenly the figure in the bed
John, said a comparatively strong voice which made Bolderfield
startJohn, Muster Drew says you'd oughter put it in the bank. You'll
be a fool if yer don't, 'ee says.
The old woman's pinched face emerged from the sheets, looking up at
him. Bluish patches showed here and there on the drawn white skin;
there was a great change since the morning, but the eyes were still
John was silent a moment, one corner of his mouth twitching, as
though what she had said struck him in a humorous light.
Well, I don't know as I mind much what 'ee says, 'Liza.
She made a movement with her emaciated hand. John sat down on the
chair Louisa gave up to him, and bent down over the bed.
If yer woan't dowhat Muster Drew says, Johnwhatever wull
yer do with it?
She spoke slowly, but clearly. John scratched his head. His
complexion had evidently been very fair. It was still fresh and pink,
and the full cheek hung a little over the jaw. The mouth was shrewd,
but its expression was oddly contradicted by the eyes, which had on the
whole a childish, weak look.
I think yer must leave it to me, 'Liza, he said at last. I'll do
all for the best.
Noyer'll not, John, said the dying voice. You'd a done a many
stupid thingsif I 'adn't stopped yer. An' I'm a-goin'. You'll never
leave it wi' Bessie?
An' who 'ud yer 'ave me leave it with? Ain't Bessie my own sister's
An emaciated hand stole out of the bed-clothes and fastened feebly
on his arm.
If yer do, John, yer'll repent it. Yer never were a good one at
judgin' folk. Yer doan't consider nothin'an' I'm a-goin'. Leave it
with Saunders, John.
There was a pause. Then John said with an obstinate look
Saunders 'as never been a friend o' mine since 'ee did me out o'
that bit o' business with Missus Moulsey. An' I don't mean to go makin'
friends with him again.
Eliza withdrew her hand with a long sigh, and her eyelids closed. A
fit of coughing shook her; she had to be lifted in bed, and it left her
gasping and deathly. John was sorely troubled, and not only for
himself. When she was more at ease again, he stooped to her and put his
mouth to her ear.
'Liza, don't yer think no more about it. Did Mr. Drew read to yer?
Are yer comfortable in yer mind?
She made a sign of assent, which showed, however, no great interest
in the subject. There was silence for a long time. Louisa was getting
supper downstairs. John, oppressed by the heat of the room and tired by
his day's work, had almost fallen asleep in his chair, when the old
woman spoke again.
Johnwhat 'ud you think o' Mary Anne Waller?
The whisper was still human and eager.
John roused himself, and could not help an astonished laugh.
Why, whatever put Mary Anne into your head, 'Liza? Yer never
thought anythink o' Mary Anneno more than me.
Eliza's eyes wandered round the room.
P'r'aps she said, then stopped, and could say no more. She
seemed to become unconscious, and John went to call for Louisa.
In the middle of the night John woke with a start, and sat up to
listen. Not a soundbut they would have called him if the end had
come. He could not rest, however, and presently he huddled on some
clothes and went to listen at Eliza's door. It was ajar, and, hearing
nothing, he pushed it open.
Poor Eliza lay in her agony, unconscious, and breathing heavily.
Beside her sat the widow, Mary Anne Waller, and Louisa, motionless too,
their heads bent. There was an end of candle in a basin behind the bed,
which threw circles of wavering light over the coarse whitewash of the
roof and on the cards and faded photographs above the tiny mantelpiece.
John crept up to the bed. The two women made a slight movement to
let him stand between them.
Can't yer give her no brandy? he asked, whispering.
Mary Anne Waller shook her head.
Dr. Murch said we wer'n't to trouble her. She'll go when the light
She was a little shrivelled woman with a singularly delicate mouth,
that quivered as she spoke. John and Eliza Bolderfield had never
thought much of her, though she was John's cousin. She was a widow, and
greatly put upon both by her children and her neighbours. Her
children were grown up, and settledmore or lessin the world, but
they still lived on her freely whenever it suited them; and in the
village generally she was reckoned but a poor creature.
However, when Elizaoriginally a hard, strong womantook to her
bed with incurable disease, Mary Anne Waller came in to help, and was
accepted. She did everything humbly; she even let Louisa order her
about. But before the end, Eliza had come to be restless when she was
Now, however, Eliza knew no more, and the little widow sat gazing at
her with the tears on her cheeks. John, too, felt his eyes wet.
But after half an hour, when there was still no change, he was
turning away to go back to bed, when the widow touched his arm.
Won't yer give her a kiss, John? she said timidly. She wor a good
sister to you.
John, with a tremor, stooped, and clumsily did as he was toldthe
first time in his life he had ever done so for Mary Anne. Then,
stepping as noiselessly as he could on his bare feet, he hurried away.
A man shares nothing of that yearning attraction which draws women to a
death-bed as such. Instead, John felt a sudden sickness at his heart.
He was thankful to find himself in his own room again, and thought with
dread of having to go backfor the end. In spite of his still vigorous
and stalwart body, he was often plagued with nervous fears and fancies.
And it was years now since he had seen deathhe had, indeed, carefully
avoided seeing it.
Gradually, however, as he sat on the edge of his bed in the summer
dark, the new impression died away, and something habitual took its
placethat shielding, solacing thought, which was in truth all the
world to him, and was going to make up to him for Eliza's death, for
getting old, and the lonesomeness of a man without chick or child. He
would have felt unutterably forlorn and miserable, he would have shrunk
trembling from the shapes of death and pain that seemed to fill the
darkness, but for this fact, this defence, this treasure, that set him
apart from his fellows and gave him this proud sense of superiority, of
a good time coming in spite of all. Instinctively, as he sat on the
bed, he pushed his bare foot backwards till his heel touched a wooden
object that stood underneath. The contact cheered him at once. He
ceased to think about Eliza, his head was once more full of whirling
plans and schemes.
The wooden object was a box that held his money, the savings of a
labourer's lifetime. Seventy-one pounds! It seemed to him an ocean of
gold, never to be exhausted. The long toil of saving it was almost
done. After the Frampton job, he would begin enjoying it, cautiously at
first, taking a bit of work now and again, and then a bit of holiday.
All the savour of life was connected for him with that box. His mind
ran over the constant excitements of the many small loans he had made
from it to his relations and friends. A shilling in the pound
interesthe had never taken less and he had never asked more. He had
only lent to people he knew well, people in the village whom he could
look after, and seldom for a term longer than three months, for to be
parted from his money at all gave him physical pain. He had once
suffered great anxiety over a loan to his eldest brother of thirty
pounds. But in the end James had paid it all back. He could still feel
tingling through him the passionate joy with which he had counted out
the recovered sovereigns, with the extra three half-sovereigns of
Muster Drew indeed! John fell into an angry inward argument against
his suggestion of the savings bank. It was an argument he had often
rehearsed, often declaimed, and at bottom it all came to thiswithout
that box under his bed, his life would have sunk to dulness and
decrepitude; he would have been merely a pitiful and lonely old man. He
had neither wife nor children, all for the hoard's sake; but while the
hoard was there, to be handled any hour, he regretted nothing. Besides,
there was the peasant's rooted distrust of offices, and paper
transactions, of any routine that checks his free will and frightens
his inexperience. He was still eagerly thinking when the light began to
flood into his room, and before he could compose himself to sleep the
women called him.
But he shed no more tears. He saw Eliza die, his companion of forty
years, and hardly felt it. What troubled him all through the last scene
was the thought that now he should never know why she was so set
against Bessie's 'avin' it.
It was, indeed, the general opinion in Clinton Magna that John
Bolderfieldor Borrofull, as the village pronounced it, took his
sister-in-law's death too lightly. The women especially pronounced him
a hard heart. Here was poor Eliza gone, Eliza who had kept him decent
and comfortable for forty years, ever since he was a lad, and he could
go about whistling, andto talk to himas gay as a lark! Yet John
contributed handsomely to the burial expensesEliza having already,
through her burial club, provided herself with a more than regulation
interment; and he gave Jim's Louisa her mourning. Nevertheless, these
things did not avail. It was felt instinctively that he was not beaten
down as he ought to have been, and Mrs. Saunders, the smith's wife, was
applauded when she said to her neighbours that you couldn't expeck a
man with John Bolderfield's money to have as many feelin's as other
people. Whence it would seem that the capitalist is no more truly
popular in small societies than in large.
John, however, did not trouble himself about these things. He was
hard at work harvesting for Muster Hill's widow, and puzzling his head
day and night as to what to do with his box.
When the last field had been carried and the harvest supper was
over, he came home late, and wearied out. His working life at Clinton
Magna was done; and the family he had worked for so long was broken up
in distress and poverty. Yet he felt only a secret exultation. Such
toil and effort behindsuch a dreamland in front!
Next day he set to work to wind up his affairs. The furniture of the
cottage was left to Eliza's son Jim, and the daughter had arranged for
the carting of it to the house twelve miles off where her parents
lived. She was to go with it on the morrow, and John would give up the
cottage and walk over to Frampton, where he had already secured a
Only twenty-four hours!and he had not yet decided. Which was it to
beSaunders, after allor the savings bankor Bessie?
He was cording up his various possessionsa medley lotin
different parcels and bundles when Bessie Costrell knocked at the door.
She had already offered to stow away anything he might like to leave
Well, I thought you'd be busy, she said as she walked in, an' I
came up to lend a hand. Is them the things you're goin' to leave me to
take care on?
Field's cart, as takes Louisa's things to-morrer, is a-goin' to
deliver these at your place first. They're more nor I thought they
would be. But you can put 'em anywheres.
Oh, I'll see to them.
She sat down and watched him tie the knots of the last parcel.
There's some people as is real ill-natured, she said presently, in
an angry voice.
Aye? said John, looking up sharply. What are they sayin' now?
It's Muster Saunders. 'Ee's allus sayin' nassty things about other
folks. And there'd be plenty of fault to be found with 'im, if onybody
was to try. An' Sally Saunders eggs him on dreadful.
Saunders was the village smith, a tall, brawny man, of great size
and corresponding wisdom, who had been the village arbiter and general
councillor for a generation. There was not a will made in Clinton Magna
that he did not advise upon; not a bit of contentious business that he
had not a share in; not a family history that he did not know. His
probity was undisputed; his ability was regarded with awe; but as he
had a sharp tongue and was no respecter of persons, there was of course
John took a seat on the wooden box he had just been cording, and
mopped his brow. His full cheeks were crimson, partly with exertion,
partly with sudden annoyance.
What's 'ee been sayin' now? Though it doan't matter a brass
farthin' to me what 'ee says.
He says you 'aven't got no proper feelin's about poor Eliza, an'
you'd ought to have done a great deal more for Louisa. But 'ee says you
allus were a mean one with your moneyan' you knew that 'ee knew
itfor 'ee'd stopped you takin' an unfair advantage more nor once. An'
'ee didn't believe as your money would come to any good; for now Eliza
was gone you wouldn't know how to take care on it.
John's eyes flamed.
Oh! 'ee says that, do 'ee? Well, Saunders wor allus a beastan' a
beast 'ee'll be.
He sat with his chin on his large dirty hands, ruminating furiously.
It was quite true that Saunders had thwarted him more than once.
There was old Mrs. Moulsey at the shop, when she wanted to buy those
cottages in Potter's Rowand there was Sam Field the higglerboth of
them would have borrowed from him if Saunders hadn't cooled them off.
Saunders said it was a Jew's interest he was askingbecause there was
securitybut he wasn't going to accept a farthing less than his
shilling a pound for three monthsnot he! So they might take it or
leave it. And Mrs. Moulsey got hers from the Building Society, and Sam
Field made shift to go without. And John Bolderfield was three pounds
poorer that quarter than he need have beenall along of Saunders. And
now Saunders was talking agen him like thisblast him!
Oh, an' then he went on, pursued Bessie with gusto, about your
bein' too ignorant to put it in the post-office. 'Ee said you'd think
Edwards would go an' spend it (Edwards was the post-master), an' then
he laughed fit to split 'imself. Yer couldn't see more nor the length
of your own nose, he saidit was edication you wanted. As for
'im, 'ee said, 'ee'd have kep' it for you if you'd asked him, but you'd
been like a bear with a sore 'ead, 'ee said, ever since Mrs. Moulsey's
affairso 'ee didn't suppose you would.
Well, 'ee's about right there, said John, grimly; ee's talkin'
sense for onst when 'ee says that. I'd dig a hole in the hill and bury
it sooner nor I'd trust it to 'imI would, by he swore
vigorously. A thieving set of magpies is all them Saunderscadgin'
'ere and cadgin' there.
He spoke with fierce contempt, the tacit hatred of years leaping to
sight. Bessie's bright brown eyes looked at him with sympathy.
It was just his nassty spite, she said. He knew 'ee could never
ha' done itnot what you've doneout o' your wages. Not unless 'ee
got Sally to tie 'im to the dresser with ropes so as 'ee couldn't go
a-near the Spotted Deer no more!
She laughed like a merry child at her own witticism, and John
relished it too, though he was not in a laughing mood.
Why, continued Bessie with enthusiasm, it was Muster Drew as said
to me the other afternoon, as we was walkin' 'ome from the churchyard,
says 'ee, 'Mrs. Costrell, I call it splendid what John's doneI do,' 'ee says. 'A labourer on fifteen shillin's a weekwhy, it's an
example to the county,' 'ee says. ''Ee ought to be showed.'
John's face relaxed. The temper and obstinacy in the eyes began to
yield to the weak complacency which was their more normal expression.
There was silence for a minute or two. Bessie sat with her hands on
her lap and her face turned towards the open door. Beyond the
cherry-red phloxes outside it the ground fell rapidly to the village,
rising again beyond the houses to a great stubble field, newly shorn.
Gleaners were already in the field, their bent figures casting sharp
shadows on the golden upland, and the field itself stretched upwards to
a great wood that lay folded round the top of a spreading hill. To the
left, beyond the hill, a wide plain travelled into the sunset, its
level spaces cut by the scrawled elms and hedgerows of the nearer
landscape. The beauty of it allthe beauty of an English midlandwas
of a modest and measured sort, depending chiefly on bounties of sun and
air, on the delicacies of gentle curves and the pleasant intermingling
of wood and cornfield, of light spaces with dark, of solid earth and
Such as it was, however, neither Bessie nor John spared it a
moment's attention. Bessie was thinking a hundred busy thoughts. John,
on the other hand, had begun to consider her with an excited scrutiny.
She was a handsome woman, as she sat in the doorway with her fine brown
head turned to the light. But John naturally was not thinking of that.
He was in the throes of decision.
Look 'ere, Bessie, he said suddenly; what 'ud you say if I wor to
ask Isaac an' you to take care on it?
Bessie started slightly. Then she looked frankly round at him. She
had very keen, lively eyes, and a bright red-brown colour on thin
cheeks. The village applied to her the epithet which John's thoughts
had applied to Muster Hill's widow. They said she was caselty, which
means flighty, haphazard, excitable; but she was popular, nevertheless,
and had many friends.
It was, of course, her own settled opinion that her uncle ought to
leave that box with her and Isaac; and it had wounded her vanity, and
her affection besides, that John had never yet made any such proposal,
though she knewas, indeed, the village knewthat he was perplexed as
to what to do with his hoard. But she had never dared to suggest that
he should leave it with her, out of fear of Eliza Bolderfield. Bessie
was well aware that Eliza thought ill of her, and would dissuade John
from any such arrangement if she could. And so formidable was Elizaa
woman of the hardest and sourest virtuewhen she chose, that Bessie
was afraid of her, even on her deathbed, though generally ready enough
to quarrel with other people. Nevertheless, Bessie had always felt that
it would be a crying shame and slight if she and Isaac did not have the
guardianship of the money. She thirsted, perhaps, to make an impression
upon public opinion in the village, which, as she instinctively
realised, held her cheaply. And then, of course, there was the secret
thought of John's death, and what might come of it. John had always
loudly proclaimed that he meant to spend his money, and not leave it
behind him. But the instinct of saving, once formed, is strong. John,
too, might die sooner than he thoughtand she and Isaac had children.
She had come up, indeed, that afternoon, haunted by a passionate
desire to get the money into her hands; yet the mere sordidness of
expectations counted for less in the matter than one would suppose.
Vanity, a vague wish to ingratiate herself with her uncle, to avoid a
slightthese were, on the whole, her strongest motives. At any rate,
when he had once asked her the momentous question, she knew well what
to say to him.
Well, if you arst me, she said hastily, of course we think
as it's only nateral you should leave it with Isaac an' me, as is your
own kith and kin. But we wasn't goin' to say nothin'; we didn't want to
be pushin' of ourselves forward.
John rose to his feet. He was in his shirt-sleeves, which were
rolled up. He pulled them down, put on his coat, an air of crisis on
his fat face.
Where 'ud you put it? he said.
Yer know that cupboard by the top of the stairs? It 'ud stand there
easy. And the cupboard's got a good lock to it; but we'd 'ave it seen
to, to make sure.
She looked up at him eagerly. She longed to feel herself trusted and
important. Her self-love was too often mortified in these respects.
John fumbled round his neck for the bit of black cord on which he
kept two keysthe key of his room while he was away and the key of the
Well, let's get done with it, he said. I'm off to-morrer mornin',
six o'clock. You go and get Isaac to come down.
I'll run, said Bessie, catching up her shawl and throwing it over
her head. He wor just finishin' his tea.
And she whirled out of the cottage, running up the steep road behind
it as fast as she could. John was vaguely displeased by her excitement;
but the die was cast. He went to make his arrangements.
Bessie ran till she was out of breath. When she reached her own
house, a cottage in a side lane above the Bolderfields' cottage and
overlooking it from the back, she found her husband sitting with his
pipe at the open door and reading his newspaper. Three out of her own
four children were playing in the lane, otherwise there was no one
Isaac greeted her with a nod and slight lightening of the eyes,
which, however, hardly disturbed the habitual sombreness of the face.
He was a dark, finely featured man, with grizzled hair, carrying
himself with an air of sleepy melancholy. He was much older than his
wife, and was a prominent leader in the little Independent chapel of
the village. His melancholy could give way on occasion to fits of
violent temper. For instance, he had been almost beside himself when
Bessie, who had leanings to the Establishment, as providing a far more
crowded and entertaining place of resort on Sundays than her husband's
chapel, had rashly proposed to have the youngest baby christened in
church. Other Independents did it freelywhy not she? But Isaac had
been nearly mad with wrath, and Bessie had fled upstairs from him, with
her baby, and bolted the bedroom door in bodily terror. Otherwise, he
was a most docile husbandin the neighbours' opinion, docile to
absurdity. He complained of nothing, and took notice of little.
Bessie's untidy ways left him indifferent; his main interest was in a
kind of religious dreaming, and in an Independent paper to which he
occasionally wrote a letter. He was a gardener at a small house on the
hill, and had rather more education than most of his fellows in the
village. For the rest, he was fond of his children, and, in his heart
of hearts, exceedingly proud of his wife, her liveliness and her good
looks. She had been a remarkably pretty girl when he married her, some
eight years after his first wife's death, and there was a great
difference of age between them. His two elder children by his first
marriage had long since left home. The girl was in service. It troubled
him to think of the boy, who had fallen into bad ways early. Bessie's
children were all small, and she herself still young, though over
When Bessie came up to him, she looked round to see that no one
could hear. Then she stooped and told him her errand in a panting
whisper. He must go down and fetch the box at once. She had promised
John Borrofull that they would stand by him. They were his own flesh
and bloodand the cupboard had a capital lockand there wasn't no
fear of it at all.
Isaac listened to her at first with amazement, then sulkily. She had
talked to him often certainly about John's money, but it had made
little impression on his dreamer's sense. And now her demand struck him
He didn't want the worrit of other people's money, he said. Let them
as owned it keep it; filthy lucre was a snare to all as had to do with
it; and it would only bring a mischief to have it in the house.
After a few more of these objections, Bessie lost her temper. She
broke into a torrent of angry arguments and reproaches, mainly turning,
it seemed, upon a recent visit to the house of Isaac's eldest son. The
drunken ne'er-do-weel had given Bessie much to put up with. Oh yes!
she was to be plagued out of her life by Isaac's belongings, and he
wouldn't do a pin's worth for her. Just let him see next time, that was
Isaac smoked vigorously through it all. But she was hammering on a
Oh, it's just like yer! Bessie flung at him at last in
desperation. You're allus the samea mean-spirited feller, stannin'
in your children's way! 'Ow do you know who old John's going to
leave his money to? 'Ow do you know as he wouldn't leave it to
them poor innercentsshe waved her hand tragically towards the
children playing in the roadif we was just a bit nice and friendly
with him now 'ee's gettin' old? But you don't care, not you!one 'ud
think yer were made o' moneyan' that little un there not got the
right use of his legs!
She pointed, half crying, to the second boy, who had already shown
signs of hip disease.
Isaac still smoked, but he was troubled in his mind. A vague
presentiment held him, but the pressure brought to bear upon him was
I tell yer the lock isn't a good 'un! he said, suddenly removing
Bessie stopped instantly in the middle of another tirade. She was
leaning against the door, arms akimbo, eyes alternately wet and
Then, if it isn't, she said, with a triumphant change of tone,
I'll soon get Flack to see to itit's nobbut a step. I'll run up
Flack was the village carpenter.
An' there's mother's old box as takes up the cupboard, continued
Bessie burst out laughing.
Oh! yer old silly, she said. As if they couldn't stand one top o'
the t'other. Now, do just go, Isaacthere's a lovey! 'Ee's waitin' for
yer. Whatever did make yer so contrairy? Of course I didn't mean
nothin' I saidan' I don't mind Timothy, nor nothin'.
Still he did not move.
Then I s'pose yer want everybody in the village to know? he said
Bessie was taken aback.
NoIdon't she said undecidedlyI don't know what yer mean.
You go back and tell John as I'll come when it's dark, an', if he's
not a stupid, he won't want me to come afore.
Bessie understood and acquiesced. She ran back with her message to
At half-past eight, when it had grown almost dark, Isaac descended
the hill. John opened the door to his knock.
Good evenin', Isaac. Yer'll take it, will yer?
If you can't do nothin' better with it, said Isaac, unwillingly.
But in gineral I'm not partial on keeping other folk's money.
John liked him all the better for his reluctance.
It'll give yer no trouble, he said. You lock it up, an' it'll be
all safe. Now, will yer lend a hand?
Isaac stepped to the door, looked up the lane, and saw that all was
quiet. Then he came back, and the two men raised the box.
As they crossed the threshold, however, the door of the next
cottagewhich belonged to Watson, the policemanopened suddenly.
John, in his excitement, was so startled that he almost dropped his end
of the box.
Why, Bolderfield, said Watson's cheery voice, what have you got
there? Do you want a hand?
No, I don'tthank yer kindly, said John in agitation. An', if
you please, Muster Watson, don't yer say nothin' to nobody.
The burly policeman looked from John to Isaac, then at the box.
John's hoard was notorious, and the officer of the law understood.
Lor' bless yer, he said, with a laugh, I'm safe. Well, good
evenin' to yer, if I can't be of any assistance.
And he went off on his beat.
The two men carried the box up the hill. It was in itself a heavy,
old-fashioned affair, strengthened and bottomed with iron. Isaac
wondered whether the weight of it were due more to the box or to the
money. But he said nothing. He had no idea how much John might have
saved, and would not have asked him the direct question for the world.
John's own way of talking about his wealth was curiously contradictory.
His money was rarely out of his thoughts or speech, but no one had
ever been privileged for many years now to see the inside of his box,
except Eliza once; and no one but himself knew the exact amount of the
hoard. It delighted him that the village gossips should double or
treble it. Their estimates only gave him the more ground for vague
boasting, and he would not have said a word to put them right.
When they reached the Costrells' cottage, John's first care was to
examine the cupboard. He saw that the large wooden chest filled with
odds and ends of rubbish which already stood there was placed on the
top of his own box. Then he tried the lock, and pronounced it adequate;
he didn't want to have Flack meddling round. Now, at the moment of
parting with his treasure, he was seized with a sudden fever of
secrecy. Bessie meanwhile hovered about the two men, full of excitement
and loquacity. And the children, shut into the kitchen, wondered what
could be the matter.
When all was done, Isaac locked the cupboard, and solemnly presented
the key to John, who added it to the other round his neck. Then Bessie
unlocked the kitchen, and sent the children flying, to help her with
the supper. She was in her most bustling and vivacious mood, and she
had never cooked the bloaters better or provided a more ample jug of
beer. But John was silent and depressed.
He took leave at last with many sighs and lingerings. But he had not
been gone half an hour, and Bessie and Isaac were just going to bed,
when there was a knock at the door, and he reappeared.
Let me lie down there, he said, pointing to a broken-down old sofa
that ran under the window. I'm lonesome somehow, an' I've told
Louisa. His white hair and whiskers stood out wildly round his red
face. He looked old and ill, and the sympathetic Bessie was sorry for
She made him a bed on the sofa, and he lay there all night,
restless, and sighing heavily. He missed Eliza more than he had done
yet, and was oppressed with a vague sense of unhappiness. Once, in the
middle of the night when all was still, he stole upstairs in his
stockinged feet and gently tried the cupboard door. It was quite safe,
and he went down contented.
An hour or two later he was off, trudging to Frampton through the
August dawn, with his bundle on his back.
Some five months passed away.
One January night the Independent minister of Clinton Magna was
passing down the village street. Clinton lay robed in light snow, and
sparkling to the moon. The frozen pond beside the green, though it
was nearly eight o'clock, was still alive with children, sliding and
shouting. All around the gabled roofs stood laden and spotless. The
woods behind the village, and those running along the top of the snowy
hill, were meshed in a silvery mist which died into the moonlit blue,
while in the fields the sharpness of the shadows thrown by the
scattered trees made a marvel of black and white.
The minister, in spite of a fighting creed, possessed a measure of
gentler susceptibilities, and the beauty of this basin in the chalk
hills, this winter triumphant, these lights of home and fellowship in
the cottage windows disputing the forlornness of the snow, crept into
his soul. His mind travelled from the physical purity and hardness
before him to the purity and hardness of the inner lifethe purity
that Christ blessed, the hardness that the Christian endures. And
such thoughts brought him pleasure as he walkedthe mystic's pleasure.
Suddenly he saw a woman cross the snowy green in front of him. She
had come from the road leading to the hill, and her pace was hurried.
Her shawl was muffled round her head, but he recognised her, and his
mood fell. She was the wife of Isaac Costrell, and she was hurrying to
the Spotted Deer, a public-house which lay just beyond the village, on
the road to the mill. Already several times that week had he seen her
going in or coming out. Talk had begun to reach him, and he said to
himself to-night as he saw herthat Isaac Costrell's wife was going to
The thought oppressed him, pricked his pastoral conscience. Isaac
was his right-hand man: dull to all the rest of the world, but not dull
to the minister. With Mr. Drew sometimes he would break into talk of
religion, and the man's dark eyes would lose their film. His big
troubled self spoke with that accent of truth which lifts common talk
and halting texts to poetry. The minister, himself more of a pessimist
than his sermons showed, felt a deep regard for him. Could nothing be
done to save Isaac's wife and Isaac? Not so long ago Bessie Costrell
had been a decent woman, though a flighty and excitable one. Now some
cause, unknown to the minister, had upset a wavering balance, and was
undoing a life.
As he passed the public-house a man came out, and through the open
door Mr. Drew caught a momentary glimpse of the bar and the drinkers.
Bessie's handsome, reckless head stood out an instant in the bright
Then Drew saw that the man who had emerged was Watson the policeman.
They greeted each other cordially and walked on together. Watson also
was a member of the minister's flock. Mr. Drew felt suddenly moved to
That was Costrell's wife, Watson, wasn't it, poor thing?
Aye, it wor Mrs. Costrell, said Watson in the tone of concern
natural to the respectable husband and father.
The minister sighed. It's terrible the way she's gone downhill the
last three months. I never pass almost but I see her going in there or
No, said Watson, slowly, no, it's bad. What I'd like to know, he
added reflectively, is where she gets the money from.
Oh, she had a legacy, hadn't she, in August? It seems to have been
a curse. She has been a changed woman ever since.
Yes, she had a legacy, said Watson dubiously; but I don't believe
it was much. She talked big, of course, and made a lot o' fussshe's
that kind o' womanjust as she did about old John's money.
Old John's money?Ah! did any one ever know what became of that?
Well, there's many people thinks as Isaac has got it hid in the
house somewhere, and there's others thinks he's put it in Bedford bank.
Edwards told me private he didn't know nothing about it at the
post-office, an' Bessie told my wife as John had given Isaac the
keepin' of it till he come back again; but he'd knock her about, she
said, if she let on what he'd done with it. That's the story she's
allus had, and boastin', of course, dreadful, about John's trustin'
them, and Isaac doin' all his business for him.
The minister reflected.And you say the legacy wasn't much?
Well, sir, I know some people over at Bedford where her aunt lived
as left it her, and they were sure it wasn't a great deal; but you
And Isaac never said?
Bless yer, no, sir! He was never a great one for talking, wasn't
Isaac; but you'd think now as he'd never learnt how. He'll set there in
the Club of a night and never open his mouth to nobody.
Perhaps he's fretting about his wife, Watson?
Well, I don't believe as he knows much about her goin's-onnot
all, leastways. I've seen her wait till he was at his work or gone to
the Club, and then run down the hill,tearin'with her hair
flyin'you'd think she'd gone silly. Oh, it's a bad business, said
Watson, strongly, an' uncommon bad businessall them young children
I never saw her drunk, Watson.
Noyer wouldn't. Nor I neither. But she'll treat half the parish
if she gets the chance. I know many young fellers as go to the Spotted
Deer just because they know she'll treat 'em, She's a-doin' of it
nowthere's lots of 'em. And allus changin' such a queer lot of money
tooodd half-crownsyears and years oldKing George the Third, sir.
Noit's strangevery strange.
The two walked on into the darkness, still talking.
Meanwhile, inside the Spotted Deer Bessie Costrell was treating her
hangers-on. She had drunk one glass of gin and waterit had made a
beauty of her in the judgment of the tap-room, such a kindling had it
given to her brown eyes and such a redness to her cheek. Bessie, in
truth, had reached her moment of physical prime. The marvel was that
there were no lovers in addition to the drinking and the extravagance.
But the worst of the village scandal-mongers knew of none. Since this
new phase of character in her had developed, she would drink and make
merry with any young fellow in the place, but it went no farther. She
was bonne camarade with all the worldno more. Perhaps at
bottom some coolness of temperament protected her; nobody, at any rate,
suspected that it had anything to do with Isaac, or that she cared a
ha'porth for so lugubrious and hypocritical a husband.
She had showered drinks on all her friends, and had, moreover,
chattered and screamed herself hoarse, when the church-clock outside
slowly struck eight. She started, changed countenance, and got up to
pay at once.
Why, there's another o' them half-crowns o' yourn, Bessie, said a
consumptive-looking girl in a bedraggled hat and feathers, as Mrs.
Costrell handed her coin to the landlord. Wheriver do yer get 'em?
If yer don't ask no questions, I won't tell yer no lies, said
Bessie, with quick impudence. Where did you get them hat and
There was a coarse laugh from the company. The girl in the hat
reddened furiously, and she and Bessieboth of them in a quarrelsome
statebegan to bandy words.
Meanwhile the landlord was showing the coin to his assistant at the
Rum, ain't it? I niver seed one o' them pieces in the village afore
this winter, an' I've been 'ere twenty-two year come April.
A decent-looking labourer, who did not often visit the Spotted Deer,
was leaning over the bar and caught the words.
Well, then, I 'ave, he said promptly. I mind well as when I were
a lad, sixteen year ago, my fayther borrered a bit o' money off John
Bolderfield, to buy a cow withan' there was 'arf of it in them
Those standing near overheard. Bessie and the girl stopped
quarrelling. The landlord, startled, cast a sly eye in Bessie's
direction. She came up to the bar.
What's that yer sayin'? she demanded. The man repeated his remark.
Well, I dessay there was, said BessieI dessay there was. I
s'pose there's plenty of 'em. Where do I get 'em?why, I get 'em at
Bedford, of course, when I goes for my money.
She looked round defiantly. No one said anything; but everybody
instinctively suspected a lie. The sudden silence was striking.
Well, give me my change, will yer? she said impatiently to the
landlord. I can't stan' here all night.
He gave it to her, and she went out showering reckless good-nights,
to which there was little response. The door had no sooner closed upon
her than every one in the tap-room pressed round the bar in a close
gathering of heads and tongues.
Bessie ran across the green and began to climb the hill at a rapid
pace. Her thin woollen shawl blown back by the wind left her arms and
bosom exposed. But the effects of the spirit in her veins prevented any
sense of cold, though it was a bitter night.
Once or twice, as she toiled up the hill, she gave a loud sudden
Oh, my God! she said to herself. My God!
When she was half-way up she met a neighbour.
Have yer seen Isaac? Bessie asked her, panting.
'Ee's at the Club, arn't 'ee? said the woman. Well, they won't be
up yet. Jim tolt me as Muster PerrisMuster Perris was the vicar of
Clinton Magna'ad got a strange gen'leman stayin' with 'im, and was
goin' to take him into the Club to-night to speak to 'em. 'Ee's a
bishop, they sessomeun from furrin parts.
Bessie threw her good-night and climbed on.
When she reached the cottage the lamp was flaming on the table and
the fire was bright. Her lame boy had done all she had told him, and
her miserable heart softened. She hurriedly put out some food for
Isaac. Then she lit a candle and went up to look at the children. They
were all asleep in the room to the right of the stairsthe two little
boys in one bed, the two little girls in the other, each pair huddled
together against the cold, like dormice in a nest. Then she looked,
conscience-stricken, at the untidiness of the room. She had bought the
children a wonderful number of new clothes lately, and, the family
being quite unused to such abundance, there was no place to keep them
in. A new frock was flung down in a corner just as it had been taken
off; the kitten was sleeping on Arthur's last new jacket; a smart hat
with a bunch of poppies in it was lying about the floor; and under the
iron beds could be seen a confusion of dusty boots, new and old. The
children were naturally reckless, like their mother, and they had been
getting used to new things. What excited them now, more than the
acquisitions themselves, was that their mother had strictly forbidden
them ever to show any of their new clothes to their father. If they
did, she would beat them well, she said. That they understood; and life
was thereby enriched, not only by new clothes but by a number of new
emotions and terrors.
If Bessie noted the state of the room, she made no attempt to mend
it. She smoothed back the hair from the boys' foreheads with a violent,
shaky hand, and kissed them all, especially Arthur. Then she went out
and closed the door behind her.
Outside she stood a moment on the tiny landinglistening. Not a
sound; but the cottage walls were thin. If any one came along the lane
with heavy boots she must hear them. Very like he would be half an hour
She ran down the stairs and shut the door at the bottom of them,
opening into the kitchen. It had no key, or she would have locked it;
and in her agitation, her state of clouded brain, she forgot the outer
door altogether. Hurrying up again, she sat down on the topmost step,
putting her candle on the boards beside her. The cupboard at the
stair-head where John had left his money was close to her left hand.
As she sank into the attitude of rest, her first instinct was to cry
and bemoan herself. Deep in her woman's being great floods of tears
were rising, and would fain have spent themselves. But she fought them
down, rapidly passing instead into a state of cold terrorterror of
Isaac's stepterror of discoveryof the man in the public-house.
There was a mousehole in the skirting of the stairs close to the
cupboard. She slipped in a finger, felt along an empty space behind,
and drew out a key.
It turned easily in the cupboard lock, and the two boxes stood
revealed, standing apparently just as they stood when John left them.
In hot haste Bessie dragged the treasure-box from under the other,
starting at every sound in the process, at the thud the old wooden
trunk made on the floor of the cupboard as its supporter was withdrawn,
at the rustle of her own dress. All the boldness she had shown at the
Spotted Deer had vanished. She was now the mere trembling and guilty
The lock on Bolderfield's box had been forced long before; it opened
to her hand. A heap of sovereigns and half-sovereigns lay on one side,
divided by a wooden partition from the few silver coins, crowns and
half-crowns, still lying on the other. She counted both the gold and
silver, losing her reckoning again and again, because of the sudden
anguish of listening that would overtake her.
Thirty-six pounds on the one side, not much more than thirty
shillings on the other. When John left it there had been fifty-one
pounds in gold, and rather more than twenty pounds in silver, most of
it in half-crowns. Ah! she knew the figures well.
Did that man who had spoken to the landlord in the public-house
suspect? How strange they had all looked! What a silly fool she had
been to change so much of the silver, instead of sticking to the gold!
Yet she had thought the gold would be noticed more.
When was old John coming back? He had written once from Frampton to
say that he was laid up bad with the rheumatics, and was probably
going into the Frampton Infirmary. That was in November. Since then
nothing had been heard of him. John was no scholar. What if he died
without coming back? There would be no trouble then, exceptexcept
Her mind suddenly filled with wild visionsof herself marched
through the village by Watson, as she had once seen him march a poacher
who had mauled one of Mr. Forrest's keepersof the towering walls of
Frampton jailof a visible physical shame which would kill herdrive
her mad. If, indeed, Isaac did not kill her before any one but he knew!
He had been that cross and glum all these last weeksnever a bit of
talk hardlyalways snapping at her and the children. Yet he had never
said a word to her about the drinknor about the things she had
bought. As to the things and the bills, she believed that he knew
nothinghad noticed nothing. At home he was always smoking, sitting
silent, with dim eyes, like a man in a dreamor reading his father's
old books, good books, which filled Bessie with a sense of dreariness
unspeakableor pondering his weekly paper.
But she believed he had begun to notice the drink. Drinking was
universal in Clinton, though there was not much drunkenness.
Teetotalers were unknown, and Isaac himself drank his beer freely, and
a glass of spirits, like anybody else, on occasion. She had been used
for years to fetch his beer from the public, and she had been careful.
But there were signs
Oh! if she could only think of some way of putting it backthis
thirty odd pounds. She held her head between her hands, thinking and
thinking. Couldn't that little lawyer man to whom she went every month
at Bedford, to fetch her legacy moneycouldn't he lend it her, and
keep her money till it was paid? She could make up a story, and give
him something for himself to induce him to hold his tongue. She had
thought of this often before, but never so urgently as now. She would
take the carrier's cart to Bedford next day, while Isaac was at work,
Yet all the time despair was at her heart. So hard to undo! Yet how
easy it had been to take and to spend. She thought of that day in
September, when she had got the news of her legacysix shillings a
week from an old aunther father's aunt, whose very existence she had
forgotten. The wild delight of it! Isaac got sixteen shillings a week
in wageshere was nearly half as much again. She was warned that it
would come to an end in two years. But none the less it seemed to her a
fortuneand all her life, before it came, mere hard pinching and
endurance. She had always been one to spend where she could. Old John
had often rated her for it. So had Isaac. But that was his money. This
was hers, and he who, for religious reasons, had never made friends
with or thought well of any of her family, instinctively disliked the
money which had come from them, and made few inquiries into the
spending of it.
Oh! the joy of those first visits to Frampton, when all the shops
had seemed to be there for her, and she their natural mistress! How
ready people had been to trust her in the village! How tempting it had
been to brag and make a mystery! That old skinflint, Mrs. Moulsey, at
the shop, she had been all sugar and sweets then.
And a few weeks latersix, seven weeks laterabout the beginning
of October, these halcyon days had all come to an end. She owed what
she could not paypeople had ceased to smile upon hershe was
harassed, excited, worried out of her life.
Old familiar wonder of such a temperament! How can it be so easy to
spend, so delightful to promise, and so unreasonably, so unjustly
difficult, to pay?
She began to be mortally afraid of Isaacof the effect of
disclosures. One night she was alone in the cottage, almost beside
herself under the pressure of one or two claims she could not meetone
claim especially, that of a little jeweller, from whom she had bought a
gold ring and a brooch at Framptonwhen the thought of John's hoard
swept upon herclutched her like something living and tyrannical, not
to be shaken off.
It struck her all in an instant that there was another cupboard in
the little parlour, exactly like that on the stairs. The lower cupboard
had a keywhat if it fitted?
The Devil must have been eager and active that night, for the key
turned in the lock with a smoothness that made honesty
impossiblealmost foolish. And the old, weak lock on the box
itselfwhy, a chisel had soon made an end of that! Only five
minutesit had been so quickthere had been no trouble. God had made
no sign at all.
Since! All the village smilesthe village flatteries recoveredan
orgie of power and pleasurenew passions and excitementsabove all,
the rising passion of drink, sweeping in storms through a weak nature
that alternately opened to them and shuddered at them. And through
everything the steadily dribbling away of the hoardthe astonishing
ease and rapidity with which the coinsgold or silverhad flowed
through her hands! How could one spend so much in meat and dress, in
beer and gin, in giving other people beer and gin? How was it possible?
She sat lost in miserable thoughts, a mist around her. . . .
Wal, I niver! said a low, astonished voice at the foot of the
Bessie rose to her feet with a shriek, the heart stopping in her
breast. The door below was ajar, and through the opening peered a
facethe vicious, drunken face of her husband's eldest son, Timothy
The man below cast one more look of amazement at the woman standing
on the top stair, at the candle behind her, at the open box. Then an
idea struck him: he sprang up the stairs at a bound.
By gosh! he said, looking down at the gold and silver. By
Bessie tried to thrust him back. What are you here for? she asked
fiercely, her trembling lips the colour of the whitewashed wall behind.
You get off at onst, or I'll call yer father.
He pushed her contemptuously aside. The swish of her dress caught
the candle, and by good fortune put it out, or she would have been in a
blaze. Now there was only the light from the paraffin lamp in the
kitchen below striking upwards through the open door.
She fell against the doorway of her bedroom, panting and breathless,
He seated himself in her place, and stooped to look at the box. On
the inside of the lid was pasted a discoloured piece of paper, and on
the paper was written, in a round, laborious hand, the name, John
My blazes! he said slowly, his bloodshot eyes opening wider than
ever. It's old John's money! So yo've been after it, eh?
He turned to her with a grin, one hand on the box. He had been
tramping for more than three months, during which time they had heard
nothing of him. His filthy clothes scarcely hung together. His cheeks
were hollow and wolfish. From the whole man there rose a sort of
exhalation of sodden vice. Bessie had seen him drunken and out at
elbows before, but never so much of the beast as this.
However, by this time she had somewhat recovered herself, and,
approaching him, she stooped and tried to shut the box.
You take yourself off, she said, desperately, pushing him with her
fist. That money's no business o' yourn, It's John's, an' he's comin'
back directly. He gave it us to look after, an' I wor countin' it.
March!there's your father comin'!
And with all her force she endeavoured to wrench his hand away. He
tore it from her, and hit out at her backwardsa blow that sent her
reeling against the wall.
Yo take yer meddlin' fist out o' that! he said. Father ain't
coming, and if he wor, I 'spect I could manage the two on yer
Keowntin' it he mimicked her. Oh! yer a precious innercent, ain't
yer? But I know all about yer. Bless yer, I've been in at the Spotted
Deer to-night, and there worn't nothin' else talked of but yo' and yor
goin's on. There won't be a tongue in the place to-morrow that won't be
a-waggin' about yeryur a public charickter, yo' arethey'll be
sendin' the reporters down on yer for a hinterview. 'Where the devil do
she get the money?' they says.
He threw his curly head back and laughed till his sides shook.
Lor', I didn't think I wor going to know quite so soon! An' sich
queer 'arf-crowns, they ses, as she keeps a-changin'. Jarge
somethin'an old cove in a wig. An' 'ere they is, I'll be blowedsome
on 'em. Well, yer a nice 'un, yer are!
He stared her up and down with a kind of admiration.
Bessie began to cry feeblythe crying of a lost soul.
Tim, if yer'll go away an' hold yer tongue, I'll give yer five o'
them suverins, and not tell yer father nothin'.
Five on 'em? he said, grinning. Five on 'em, eh?
And, dipping his hands into the box, he began deliberately
shovelling the whole hoard into his trousers and waist-coat pockets.
Bessie flung herself upon him. He gave her one business-like blow,
which knocked her down against the bedroom door. The door yielded to
her fall, and she lay there half stunned, the blood dripping from her
Noa, I'll not take 'em all, he said, not even troubling to look
where she had fallen. That 'ud be playing it rayther too low down on
old John. I'll leave 'im twojest twofor luck.
He buttoned up his coat tightly, then turned to throw a last glance
at Bessie. He had always disliked his father's second wife, and his
sense of triumph was boundless.
Oh! yer not hurt, he said; yer shammin'. I advise yer to look
sharp with shuttin' up. Father'll be up the hill in two or three
minutes now. Sorry I can't 'elp yer, now yer've set me up so
He ran down the stairs. She, as her senses revived, heard him open
the back-door, cross the little garden, and jump the hedge at the end
Then she lay absolutely motionless, till suddenly there struck on
her ear the distant sound of heavy steps. They roused her like a goad.
She dragged herself to her feet, shut the box, had just time to throw
it into the cupboard and lock the door, when she heard her husband walk
into the kitchen. She crept into her own room, threw herself on the
bed, and wrapped her head and eyes in an old shawl, shivering so that
the mattresses shook.
Bessie, where are yer?
She did not answer. He made a sound of astonishment, and, finding no
candle, took the lamp and mounted the stairs. They were covered with
traces of muddy snow, and at the top he stooped to examine a spot upon
the boards. It was blood; and his heart thumped in his breast.
Bessie, whatever is the matter?
For by this time he had perceived her on the bed. He put down the
lamp and came to the bedside to look at her.
I've 'ad a fall, she said, faintly. I tripped up over my skirt as
I wor comin' up to look at Arthur. My head's all bleedin'. Get me some
water from over there.
His countenance fell sadly. But he got the water, exclaiming when he
saw the wound.
He bathed it clumsily, then tied a bit of rag round it, and made her
head easy with the pillow. She did not speak, and he sat on beside her,
looking at her pale face, and torn, as the silent minutes passed,
between conflicting impulses. He had just passed an hour listening to a
good man's plain narrative of a life spent for Christ, amid
fever-swamps, and human beings more deadly still. The vicar's friend
was a missionary bishop, and a High Churchman; Isaac, as a staunch
Dissenter by conviction and inheritance, thought ill both of bishops
and Ritualists. Nevertheless, he had been touched; he had been fired.
Deep, though often perplexed, instincts in his own heart had responded
to the spiritual passion of the speaker. The religious atmosphere had
stolen about him, melting and subduing.
And the first effect of it had been to quicken suddenly his domestic
conscience; to make him think painfully of Bessie and the children as
he climbed the hill. Was his wife going the way of his son? And he,
sitting day after day like a dumb dog, instead of striving with her!
He made up his mind hurriedly. Bessie, he said, stooping to her
and speaking in a strange voice, Bessie, had yer been to Dawson's?
Dawson was the landlord of the Spotted Deer.
Bessie was long in answering. At last she said, almost inaudibly
She fully understood what he had meant by the question, and she
wondered whether he would fall into one of his rages and beat her.
Instead, his hand sought clumsily for hers.
Bessie, yer shouldn't; yer mustn't do it no more; it'll make a bad
woman of yer. I know as I'm not good to live with; I don't make things
pleasant to yer; but I've been thinkin'; I'll try if yo'll try.
Bessie burst into tears. It seemed as though her life were breaking
within her. Never since their early married days had he spoken to her
like this. And she was in such piteous need of comfort; of some strong
hand to help her out of the black pit in which she lay. The wild
impulse crossed her to sit up and tell himto throw it all on Timothy,
to show him the cupboard and the box. Should she tell him; brave it all
now that he was like this? Between them they might find a waymake it
Then the thought of the man in the public-house, of the half-crowns,
a host of confused and guilty memories, swept upon her. How could she
ever get herself out of it? Her heart beat so that it seemed a live
creature strangling and silencing her. She was still fighting with her
tears and her terror when she heard Isaac say
I know yer'll try, and I'll help yer. I'll be a better husband to
yer, I swear I will. Give us a kiss, old woman.
She turned her face, sobbing, and he kissed her cheek.
Then she heard him say in another tone
An' I got a bit o' news down at the Club as will liven yer up.
Parkinson was there; just come over from Frampton to see his mother;
an' he says John will be here to-morrer or next day. 'Ee seed him
yesterdaypulled down dreadfulquite the old man, 'ee says. An' John
told him as he was comin' 'ome directly to live comfortable.
Bessie drew her shawl over her head.
To-morrer, did yer say? she asked in a whisper.
Mos' like. Now, you go to sleep; I'll put out the lamp.
But all night long Bessie lay wide awake in torment, her soul
hardening within her, little by little.
Just before dark on the following day a man descended from a down
train at the Clinton Magna station. The porters knew him and greeted
him; so did one or two labourers outside, as he set off to walk to the
village, which was about a mile distant.
Well, John, so yer coom back, said one of them, an old man,
grasping the newcomer by the hand. An' I can't say as yer looks is any
credit to Framptonno, that aa can't.
John, indeed, wore a sallow and pinched air, and walked lamely, with
Noa, he said peevishly; it's a beastly place is Frampton; a damp,
nassty hole as iver I sawgives yer the rheumaticks to look at it.
I've 'ad a doose of a time, I 'ave, I can tell yeriver sense I went.
But I'll pull up now.
Aye, this air 'll do yer, said the other. Where are yer stoppin'?
They don't know nothin' about my comin', but I dessay they'll find
me somethin' to sleep on. I'll 'ave my own place soon, and some one to
look arter it.
He drew himself up involuntarily, with the dignity that waits on
property. A laugh, rather jeering than cordial, ran through the group
Aye, yer'll be livin' at your ease, said the man who had spoken
first. When will yo' give us a drink, yer lardship?
The others grinned.
Where's your money, John? said a younger man, suddenly staring
hard at the returned wanderer.
Don't you talk your nonsense! he said fretfully; an' I must be
getting on, afore dark.
He went his way, but, as he turned a corner of the road, he saw them
still standing where he had left them. They seemed to be watching his
progress, which astonished him.
A light of windy sunset lay spread over the white valley, and the
freshening gusts drove the powdery snow before them, and sent little
stabs of pain through John's shrinking body. Yet how glad he was to
find himself again between those familiar hedges, to see the
church-tower in front of him, the long hill to his right! His heart
swelled at once with longing and satisfaction. During his Frampton job,
and in the infirmary, he had suffered much, physically and mentally. He
had missed Eliza and the tendance of years more than he had ever
imagined he could; and he had found himself too old for new faces and a
new society. When he fell ill he had been sorely tempted to send for
some of his money, and get himself nursed and cared for at the
respectable lodging where he had put up. But no; in the end he set his
teeth and went into the infirmary. He had planned not to touch his
hoard till he had done with the Frampton job and returned to Clinton
for good. His peasant obstinacy could not endure to be beaten; nor,
indeed, could he bring himself to part with his keys, to trust the
opening of the hoard even to Isaac.
Since then he had passed through many weary weeks, sometimes of
acute pain, sometimes of sinking weakness, during which he had been
haunted by many secret torments, springing mainly from the fear of
death. He had almost been driven to make his will. But in the end
superstitious reluctance prevailed. He had not made his will; and to
dwell on the fact gave him the sensation of having escaped a bond, if
not a danger. He did not want to leave his money behind him; he wanted
to spend it, as he had told Eliza and Mary Anne and Bessie scores of
times. To have assigned it to any one else, even after his death, would
have made it less his own.
Ah, well! those bad weeks were done, and here he was, at home again.
Suddenly, as he tramped on, he caught sight against the hill of
Bessie's cottage, the blue smoke from it blown across the rime-laden
trees behind it. He drew in his breath with a deep, tremulous delight.
That buoyant self-congratulation indeed which had stood between him and
the pain of Eliza's death was gone. Rather, there was in him a profound
yearning for rest, for long dreaming by the fire or in the sun, with
his pipe to smoke, and Jim's Louisa to look after him, and nothing to
do but to draw a half-crown from his box when he wanted it. No more
hard work in rain and cold; and no cringing, either, to the young and
prosperous for the mere fault of age. The snowy valley, with its
circling woods, opened to him like a mother's breast; the sight of it
filled him with a hundred simple hopes and consolations; he hurried to
bury himself in it and be at peace.
He was within a hundred yards of the first house in the village,
when he saw a tall figure in uniform approaching, and recognised
At sight of him the policeman stopped short, and John was conscious
of a moment's vague impression of something strange in Watson's looks.
However, Watson shook hands with great friendliness.
Well, I'm glad to see yer, John, I'm sure. An' now, I s'pose,
you're back for good?
Aye. I'm not going away no more. I've done my shareI wants a bit
Of course yer do. You've been ill, 'aven't yer? You look like it.
An' yer puttin' up at Costrells'?
Yes, till I can turn round a bit. 'Ave yer seen any thin' ov 'em?
Watson faced back towards the village.
I'll walk with yer a bitI'm in no 'urry. Oh, she's all right. You
'eard of her bit o' money?
John opened his eyes.
Noa, I don' know as I did.
It wor an aunt o' hers, soa I understan'quite a good bit o'
Did yer iver hear the name? said John, eagerly.
Some one livin' at Bedford, I did 'ear say.
John laughed, not without good-humoured relief. It would have
touched his vanity had his niece been discovered to be richer than
Oh, that's old Sophy Clarke! he said. Her 'usband bought the
lease o' two little 'ouses in Church Street, and they braat 'er in six
shillin's a week for years, an' she allus said she'd leave it to Bessie
if she wor took afore the lease wor up. But the lease ull be up end o'
next year, I know, for I saw the old lady myself last Michaelmas
twelve-month, an' she told me all about it, though I worn't to tell
nobody meself. An' I didn't know Sophy wor gone. Ah, well! it's not
much, but it's 'andyit's 'andy.
Six shillin's a week! said Watson, raising his eyebrows. It's a
nice bit o' money while it lassts, but I'd ha' thought Mrs. Costrell
'ad come into a deal more nor that.
Oh, but she's sich a one to spend, is Bessie! said John,
anxiously. It's surprisin' 'ow the money runs. It's sixpence 'ere, an'
sixpence there, allus dribblin', an' dribblin', out ov 'er. I've allus
tole 'er as she'll end 'er days on the parish.
Sixpences! said Watson, with a laugh. It's not sixpences as Mrs.
Costrell's 'ad the spendin' of this last month or twoit's suverins
an' plenty ov 'em. You may be sure you've got the wrong tale about the
money, John; it wor a deal more nor you say.
John stood stock still at the word sovereigns, his jaw dropping.
Suverins, he said trembling; suverins? Bessie ain't got no
suverins. Isaac arns sixteen shillin' a week.
The colour was ebbing fast from his cheek and lips. Watson threw him
a quick, professional glance, then rapidly consulted with himself. No;
he decided to hold his tongue.
Yo' are reg'lar used up, he said, taking hold of the old
fellow kindly by the arm. Shall I walk yer up the hill?
John withdrew himself.
Suverins! he repeated, in a low, hoarse voice. She ain't
got 'em, I tell yershe ain't got 'em!
The last words rose to a sort of cry, and, without another word to
Watson, the old man started at a feeble run, his head hanging.
Watson followed him, afraid lest he should drop in the road.
Instead, John seemed to gather strength. He made straight for the hill,
taking no heed whatever of two or three startled acquaintances who
stopped and shouted to him. When the ground began to rise he stumbled
again and again, but, by a marvel, did not fall, and his pace hardly
slackened. Watson had difficulty in keeping up with him.
But when the policeman reached his own cottage on the side of the
road, he stopped, panting, and contented himself with looking after the
mounting figure. As soon as it turned the corner of the Costrells'
lane, he went into his own house, said a word to his wife, and sat
himself down at his own back door to await eventsto ponder, also, a
few conversations he had held that morning, with Mrs. Moulsey at the
shop, with Dawson, with Hall the butcher. Poor old Johnpoor old
When Bolderfield reached the paling in front of the Costrells'
cottage, he paused a moment, holding for support to the half-open gate
and struggling for breath. I must keep my 'edd, I must, he was saying
to himself piteously; don' yer be a fool, John Borroful, don' yer be a
As he stood there, a child's face pushed the window-blind of the
cottage aside, and the lame boy's large eyes looked Bolderfield up and
down. Immediately after, the door opened, and all four children stood
huddling behind each other on the threshold. They all looked shyly at
the newcomer. They knew him, but in six months they had grown strange
Arthur, where's your mother? said John, at last able to walk
firmly up to the door.
When did yer see her lasst?
She wor 'ere gettin' us our tea, said another child; but she
didn't eat nothin'.
John impatiently pushed the children before him back into the
You 'old your tongues, he said, an' stay 'ere.
And he made for the door in the kitchen wall. But Arthur caught hold
of his coat tails and clung to them.
Yer oughtn't to go up theremother don't let any one go there.
John wrenched himself violently away.
Oh, don't she! yo' take your 'ands away, yer little varmint, or
I'll brain yer.
He raised his stick, threatening. The child, terrified, fell back,
and John, opening the door, rushed up the stairs.
He was so terribly excited that his fumbling fingers could hardly
find the ribbon round his neck. At last he drew it over his head, and
made stupendous efforts to steady his hand sufficiently to put the key
in the lock.
The children below heard a sharp cry directly the cupboard door was
opened; then the frantic dragging of a box on to the stairs, the creak
of hingesa groan long and lingeringand then silence.
They clung together in terror, and the little girls began to cry. At
last Arthur took courage and opened the door.
The old man was sitting on the top stair, supported sideways by the
wall, his head hanging forward, and his hands dropping over his knees,
in a dead faint.
At the sight all four children ran helter-skelter into the lane,
shouting Mammy! mammy! in an anguish of fright. Their clamour was
caught by the fierce north wind, which had begun to sweep the hill, and
was borne along till it reached the ears of a woman who was sitting
sewing in a cottage some fifty yards further up the lane. She stepped
to her door, opened it and listened.
It's at Bessie's, she said; whativer's wrong wi' the childer?
By this time Arthur had begun to run towards her. Darkness was
falling rapidly, but she could distinguish his small figure against the
snow, and his halting gait.
What is it, Arthur?what is it, lammie?
O Cousin Mary Anne! Cousin Mary Anne! It's Uncle John, an' 'ee's
She ran like the wind at the words, catching at the child's hand in
the dark, and dragging him along with her.
Where is he, Arthur?don't take on, honey!
The child hurried on with her, sobbing, and she was soon on the
stairs beside the unconscious John.
Mary Anne looked with amazement at the cupboard and the open box.
Then she laid the old man on the floor, her gentle face working with
the effort to remember what the doctor had once told her of the best
way of dealing with persons in a faint. She got water, and she sent
Arthur to a neighbour for brandy.
Where's your mother, child? she asked, as she despatched him.
Don' know, repeated the boy, stupidly.
Oh, for goodness' sake, she's never at Dawson's again! groaned
Mary Anne to herself; she wor there last night, an' the night afore
that. And her mother's brother lyin' like this in 'er house!
He was so long in coming round that her ignorance began to fear the
worst. But, just as she was telling the eldest girl to put on her hat
and jacket and run for the doctor, poor John revived.
He struggled to a sitting posture, looked wildly at her and at the
box. As his eye caught the two sovereigns still lying at the bottom, he
gave a cry of rage, and got upon his feet with a mighty effort.
Where's Bessie, I tell yer? Where's the huzzy gone? I'll have the
law on 'er! I'll make 'er give it upby the Lord I will!
John, what is it? John, my dear! cried Mary Anne, supporting him,
and terrified lest he should pitch headlong down the stairs.
Yo' 'elp me down, he said violently. We'll find 'erwe'll wring
it out ov 'erthe mean, thievin' vagabond! Changin' suverins, 'as she?
We'll soon know about thatyo' 'elp me down, I tell yer.
And, with her assistance, he hobbled down the stairs, hardly able to
stand. Mary Anne's eyes were starting out of her head with fear and
agitation, and the children were staring at the old man as he came
tottering into the kitchen, when a sound at the outer door made them
The door opened, and Bessie appeared on the threshold.
At sight of her John seemed to lose his senses. He rushed at her,
threatening, imploring, revilingwhile Mary Anne could only cling to
his arms and coat, lest he should attempt some bodily mischief.
Bessie closed the door, leant against it, and folded her arms. She
was white and haggard, but perfectly cool. In this moment of excitement
it struck neither John nor Mary Annenor, indeed, herselfthat her
manner, with its brutality, and its poorly feigned surprise, was the
most revealing element in the situation.
What's all this about yer money? she said, staring John in the
face. What do I know about yer money? 'Ow dare yer say such things? I
'aven't anythin' to do with it, an' never 'ad.
He raved at her, in reply, about the position in which he had found
the boxon the top of its fellow instead of underneath, where he had
placed itabout the broken lock, the sovereigns she had been changing,
and the things Watson had said of herwinding up with a peremptory
demand for his money.
Yo' gi' me my money back, he said, holding out a shaking hand.
Yer can't 'ave spent it all'tain't possiblean' yer ain't chucked
it out o' winder. Yer've got it somewhere 'idden, an' I'll get it out
o' you if I die for 't!
Bessie surveyed him steadily. She had not even flinched at the
mention of the sovereigns.
What yer 'aven't got, yer can't give, she said. I don' know
nothin' about it, an' I've tole yer. There's plenty o' bad people in
the worldbeside me. Somebody came in o' nights, I suppose, an' picked
the lockthere's many as 'ud think nothin' of it. And it 'ud be easy
donewe all sleeps 'ard.
Bessie! cried Mary Anne, outraged by something in her tone,
aren't yer sorry for 'im?
She pointed to the haggard and trembling man.
Bessie turned to her reluctantly. Aye, I'm sorry, she said
sullenly. But he shouldn't fly out at yer without 'earin' a word. 'Ow
should I know anythin' about his money? 'Ee locked it up hisself, an'
tuk the keys.
An' them suverins, roared John, rattling his stick on the floor;
where did yer get them suverins?
I got 'em from old Sophy Clarkeleastways, from Sophy Clarke's
lawyer. And it ain't no business o' yourn.
At this John fell into a frenzy, shouting at her in inarticulate
passion, calling her liar and thief.
She fronted it with perfect composure. Her fine eyes blazed, but
otherwise her face might have been a waxen mask. With her, in this
scene, was all the tragic dignity; with him, the weakness and
At last the little widow caught her by the arm, and drew her from
Let me take 'im to my place, she pleaded: it's no good talkin'
while 'ee's like 'ee isnot a bit o' good. JohnJohn, dear! you come
along wi' me. Shall I get Saunders to come an' speak to yer?
A gleam of sudden hope shot into the old man's face. He had not
thought of Saunders; but Saunders had a head; he might unravel this
Aye! he said, lurching forward, let's find Saunderscoom
alonglet's find Saunders.
Mary Anne guided him through the door, Bessie standing aside. As the
widow passed, she touched Bessie piteously.
Oh, Bessie, yer didn't do itsay yer didn't!
Bessie looked at her dry-eyed and contemptuous. Something in the
speaker's emotion seemed to madden her.
Don't yer be a fool, Mary Annethat's all! she said scornfully,
and Mary Anne fled from her.
When the door had closed upon them Bessie came up to the fire, her
teeth chattering. She sank down in front of it, spreading out her
hands. The children silently crowded up to her; first she pushed them
away, then she caught at the child nearest to her, pressed its fair
head against her, then again roughly put it aside. She was accustomed
to chatter with them, scold them and slap them; but to-night they were
uneasily dumb. They looked at her with round eyes; and at last their
looks annoyed her. She told them to go to bed, and they slunk away,
gaping at the open box on the stairs, and huddling together overhead,
all on one bed, in the bitter cold, to whisper to each other. Isaac was
a stern parent; Bessie a capricious one; and the children, though they
could be riotous enough by themselves, were nervous and easily cowed at
Bessie, left alone, sat silently over the fire, her thin lips
tight-set. She would deny everythingeverything. Let them find
out what they could. Who could prove what was in John's box when he
left it? Who could prove she hadn't got those half-crowns in change
The reflection of the day had only filled her with a passionate and
fierce regret. Why had she not followed her first impulse and
thrown it all on Timothy?told the story to Isaac while she was still
bleeding from his son's violence? It had been her only chance, and out
of pure stupidness she had lost it. To have grasped it might at least
have made him take her part, if it had forced him to give up Timothy.
And who would have listened to Timothy's tales?
She sickened at the thought of her own folly, beating her knee with
her clenched fist. For, to tell the tale now would only be to make her
doubly vile in Isaac's eyes. He would not believe herno one would
believe her. What motive could she plead for her twenty-four hours of
silence, she knowing that John was coming back immediately? Isaac would
only hate her for throwing it on Timothy.
Then again, the memory of the half-crowns, and the village talkand
Watsonwould close upon her, putting her in a cold sweat.
When would Isaac come? Who would tell him? As she looked forward to
the effect upon him, all her muscles stiffened. If he drove her to it,
aye, she would tell himshe didn't care a ha'porth, she vowed.
If he must have it, let him. But as the name of Isaac, the thought of
Isaac, hovered in her brain, she must needs brush away wild tears. That
morning, for the first time for months, he had been so kind to her and
the children, so chatty and cheerful.
Distant steps along the lane! She sprang to her feet, ran into the
back kitchen, tied on her apron, hastily filled an earthenware bowl
with water from the pump, and, carrying it back to the front kitchen,
began to wash up the tea-things, making a busy household clatter as she
slid them into the bowl.
A confused sound of feet approached the house, and there was a
Come in, said Bessie.
Three figures appeared, the huge form of Saunders the smith in
front, John and Mary Anne Waller behind.
Saunders took off his cap politely. The sight of his bald head, his
double chin, his mouth with its queer twitch, which made him seem as
though perpetually about to laugh, if he had not perpetually thought
better of it, filled Bessie with angry excitement. She barely nodded to
him, in reply to his greeting.
May we come in, Mrs. Costrell? Saunders inquired, in his most
If yer want to, said Bessie, shortly, taking out a cup and drying
Saunders drew in the other two and shut the door.
Sit down, John. Sit down, Mrs. Waller.
John did as he was told. Dishevelled and hopeless misery spoke in
his stained face, his straggling hair, his shirt burst open at the neck
and showing his wrinkled throat. But he fixed his eyes passionately on
Saunders, thirsting for every word.
Well, Mrs. Costrell, said Saunders, settling himself comfortably,
you'll be free to confess, won't yer, this is an oogly businessa
very oogly business? Now, will yer let us ask yer a question or two?
I dessay, said Bessie, polishing her cup.
Well, thento begin reg'lar, Mrs. Costrellyo' agree, don't yer,
as Muster Bolderfield put his money in your upstairs cupboard?
I agree as he put his box theresaid Bessie, sharply.
John broke into inarticulate and abusive clamour. Bessie turned upon
'Ow did any of us know what yer'd got in your box? Did yer ever
show it to me, or Mary Anne there, or any livin' soul in Clinton? Did
She waited, hawk-like, for the answer.
Did yer, John? repeated Saunders, judicially.
John groaned, rocking himself to and fro.
Noa. I niver didI niver did, he said. Nobbut to Elizaan'
she's goneshe's gone!
Keep your 'ead, John, said Saunders, putting out a calming hand.
Let's get to the bottom o' this, quiet an' reg'lar. An' yer
didn't tell any one 'ow much yer 'ad?
Nobbut Elizanobbut Eliza! said the old man again.
Yer didn't tell me, I know, said Saunders, blandly.
John seemed to shrink together under the smith's glance. If only he
had not been a jealous fool, and had left it with Saunders.
Saunders, however, refrained for the present from drawing his
self-evident moral. He sat twirling his cap between his knees, and his
shrewd eye travelled round the kitchen, coming back finally to Bessie,
who was washing and drying diligently. As he watched her cool movements
Saunders felt the presence of an enemy worthy of his steel, and his
I understan', Mrs. Costrell, he said, speaking with great
civility, as the cupboard where John put his money is a cupboard
hon the stairs? Not in hany room, but hon the stairs? Yer'll
kindly correck me if I say anythin' wrong.
Ayetop o' the stairsright-'and side, groaned John.
An' John locked it hisself, an' tuk the key? Saunders proceeded.
John plucked at his neck again, and, dumbly, held out the key.
An' there worn't nothin' wrong wi' the lock when yo' opened it,
Nothin', Muster SaundersI'll take my davy.
Theer's a cupboard there, he said suddenly, raising his hand and
pointing to the cupboard beside the fireplace. Is't anythin' like the
cupboard on th' stairs, John?
Aye, 'tis! said John, startled and staring. Aye, 'tis, Muster
Per'aps, he said slowly, Mrs. Costrell will do us the favour ov
lettin' us hexamine that 'ere cupboard?
He walked across to it. Bessie's hand dropped; she turned sharply,
supporting herself against the table, and watched him, her chest
There's no key 'ere, said Saunders, stooping to look at the lock.
Try yours, John.
John rushed forward, but Bessie put herself in the way.
What are yer meddlin' with my 'ouse for? she said fiercely. Just
mek yourselves scarce, all the lot o' yer! I don't know nothin' about
his money, an' I'll not have yer insultin' me in me own place!
Get out o' my kitchen, if yo' please!
Saunders buttoned his coat.
Sartinly, Mrs. Costrell, sartinly, he said, with emphasis. Come
along, John. Yer must get Watson and put it in 'is hands. 'Ee's the
law, is Watson. Maybe as Mrs. Costrell 'ull listen to 'im.
Mary Anne ran to Bessie in despair.
Oh, Bessie, Bessie, my deardon't let 'em get Watson; let 'em look
into 't theirselvesit'll be better for yer, my dear, it will.
Bessie looked from one to the other, panting. Then she turned back
to the table.
I don' care what they do, she said, with sullen passion.
I'm not stannin' in any one's way, I tell yer. The more they finds out
the better I'm pleased.
The look of incipient laughter on Saunders's countenance became more
pronouncedthat is to say, the left-hand corner of his mouth twitched
a little higher. But it was rare for him to complete the act, and he
was not in the least minded to do so now. He beckoned to John, and
John, trembling, took off his keys and gave them to him, pointing to
that which belonged to the treasure cupboard.
Saunders slipped it into the lock before him. It moved with ease,
backwards and forwards.
H'm! that's strange, he said, taking out the key and turning it
over thoughtfully in his hand. Yer didn't think as there were
another key in this 'ouse that would open your cupboard, did yer,
The old man sank weeping on a chair. He was too broken, too
exhausted, to revile Bessie any more.
Yo' tell her, Muster Saunders, he said, to gie it me back! I'll
not ast for all on it, but some on it, Muster Saunderssome on it. She
can't 'a spent it. She must 'a got it somewhere. Yo' speak to her,
Muster Saunders. It's a crule thing to rob an old man like mean' her
own mother's brother. Yo' speak to 'eran' yo', too, Mary Anne.
He looked piteously from one to the other. But his misery only
seemed to goad Bessie to fresh fury. She turned upon him, arms akimbo.
Oh! an' of course it must be me as robs yer! It couldn't be
nobody else, could it? There isn't tramps, an' thieves, an'
rogues'undreds of 'emgoing about o' nights? Nary one, I believe
yer! There isn't another thief in Clinton Magna, nobbut Bessie
Costrell, is ther? But yer'll not blackguard me for nothin', I can tell
yer. Now will yer jest oblige me by takin' yourselves off? I shall 'ave
to clean up after yershe pointed scornfully to the marks of their
muddy boots on the flooran' it's gettin' late.
One moment, Mrs. Costrell, said Saunders, gently rubbing his
hands. With your leave, John and I 'ull just inspeck the cupboard
hup_stairs before leavin'an' then we'll clear out double quick. But
we'll 'ave one try if we can't 'it on somethin' as 'ull show 'ow the
thief got inwith your leave, of coorse.
Bessie hesitated; then she threw some spoons she held into the water
beside her with a violent gesture.
Go where yer wants, she said, and returned to her washing.
Saunders began to climb the narrow stairs, with John behind him. But
the smith's small eyes had a puzzled look.
There's somethin' rum, he said to himself. 'Ow did
she spend it all? 'As she been carryin' on with some one be'ind Isaac's
back, or is Isaac in it too? It's one or t'other.
Meanwhile, Bessie, left behind, was consumed by a passionate effort
of memory. What had she done with the key the night before,
after she had locked the cupboard? Her brain was blurred. The blowthe
fallseemed to have confused even the remembrance of the scene with
Timothy. How was it, for instance, that she had put the box back in the
wrong place? She put her hand to her head, trying in an anguish to
recollect the exact details.
The little widow sat, meanwhile, a few yards away, her thin hands
clasped on her lap in her usual attitude of humble entreaty; her soft,
grey eyes, brimmed with tears, were fixed on Bessie. Bessie did not
know that she was therethat she existed.
The door had closed after the two men. Bessie could hear vague
movements, but nothing more. Presently she could bear it no longer. She
went to the door and opened it.
She was just in time. By the light of the bit of candle that John
held, she saw Saunders sitting on the stair, the shadow of his huge
frame thrown black on the white wall; she saw him stoop suddenly, as a
bird pounces; she heard an exclamationthen a sound of metal.
Her involuntary cry startled the men above.
All right, Mrs. Costrell, said Saunders, brisklyall right.
We'll be down directly.
She came back into the kitchen, a mist before her eyes, and fell
heavily on a chair by the fire. Mary Anne approached her, only to be
pushed back. The widow stood listening, in an agony.
It took Saunders a minute or two to complete his case. Then he
slowly descended the stairs, carrying the box, his great weight making
the house shake. He entered the kitchen first, John behind him. But at
the same moment that they appeared the outer door opened, and Isaac
Costrell, preceded by a gust of snow, stood on the threshold.
Why, John! he cried, in amazementan' Saunders!
He looked at them, then at Mary Anne, then at his wife.
There was an instant's dead silence. Then the tottering John came
An' I'm glad yer come, Isaac, that I amthankful! Now yer can tell
me what yer wife's done with my money. D'yer mind that box? It wor you
an' I carried it across that night as Watson come out on us. An' yo'll
bear me witness as we locked it up, an' yo' saw me tie the two keys
roun' my neckyo' did, Isaac. An' now, Isaac,the hoarse
voice began to tremblenow there's twosuverinsleft, and one
'arf-crownout o' seventy-one pound fower an' sixpenceseventy-one
pound, Isaac! Yo'll get it out on 'er, Isaac, yer will, won't yer?
He looked up, imploring.
Isaac, after the first violent start, stood absolutely motionless,
Saunders observing him. As one of the main props of Church
Establishment in the village, Saunders had no great opinion of Isaac
Costrell, who stood for the dissidence of dissent. The two men had
never been friends, and Saunders, in this affair, had, perhaps,
exercised the quasi-judicial functions the village had long, by common
consent, allowed him, with more readiness than usual.
As soon as John ceased speaking Isaac walked up to Saunders.
Let me see that box, he said peremptorily. Put it down.
Saunders, who had rested the box on the back of a chair, placed it
gently on the table, assisted by Isaac. A few feet away stood Bessie,
saying nothing, her hand holding the duster on her hip, her eyes
following her husband.
He looked carefully at the two sovereigns lying on the bit of old
cloth which covered the bottom of the box, and the one half-crown that
Timothy had forgotten; he took up the bit of cloth and shook it, he
felt along the edge of the box, he examined the wrenched lock.
Then he stood for an instant, his hand on the box, his eyes staring
straight before him in a kind of dream.
Saunders grew impatient. He pushed John aside, and came to the
table, leaning his hands upon it so as to command Isaac's face.
Now look 'ere, Isaac, he said, in a different voice from any that
he had yet employed, let's come to business. These 'ere are the facks
o' this case, and 'ow we're agoin' to get over 'em I don't see. John
leaves his money in your cupboard. Yo' an' he lock it up, an' John goes
away with 'is keys 'ung roun' 'is neck. Yo' agree to that? Well an'
good. But there's another key in your 'ouse, Isaac, as opens
John's cupboard. Ah
He waved his hand in deprecation of Isaac's movement.
I dessay yo' didn't know nowt about itthat's noather 'ere nor
there. Yo' try John's key in that there doorhe pointed to the
cupboard by the firean' yo'll find it fits exact. Then,
thinks I, where's the key as belongs to that 'ere cupboard? An' John
an' I goes upstairs to look about us, an' in noa time at aw, I sees a
'ole in the skirtin'. I whips in my fingerlor' bless yer! I knew it
wor there the moment I sets eyes on the hole.
He held up the key triumphantly. By this time, no Old Bailey lawyer
making a hanging speech could have had more command of his task.
'Ere then we 'avehe checked the items off on his fingersbox
locked upkey in the 'ouse as fits it, unbeknown to Johnmoney tuk
outkey 'idden away. But that's not allnot by long chalksthere's
another side to the affair hal_together.
Saunders drew himself up, thrust his hands deep into his pockets,
and cleared his throat.
Perhaps yer don' knowI'm sartin sure yer don' knowleastways I'm
hinclined that way,as Mrs. Costrellhe made a polite inclination
towards Bessie'ave been makin' free with moneyfowerfivenight a
week at the Spotted Deerfowerfivenight a week. She'd used to
treat every young feller, an' plenty old 'uns too, as turned up; an'
there was a many as only went to Dawson's becos they knew as she'd
treat 'em. Now, she didn't go on tick at Dawson's; she'd pay,an' she allus payed in 'arf-crowns. An' those 'arf-crowns were
curious 'arf-crowns; an' it came into Dawson's 'ead as he'd colleck
them 'arf-crowns. 'Ee wanted to see summat, 'ee saidan' I dessay 'ee
did. An' people began to taak. Last night theer wor a bit of a roompus,
it seems, while Mrs. Costrell was a-payin' another o' them things, an'
summat as was said come to my earsan' come to Watson's. An' me an'
Watson 'ave been makin' inquiriesan' Mr. Dawson wor obligin' enough
to make me a small loan, 'ee wor. Now, I've got just one question to
ask o' John Borroful.
He put his hand into his waistcoat pocket, and drew out a silver
Is that yourn, John?
John fell upon it with a cry.
Aye, Saunders, it's mine. Look ye 'ere, Isaac, it's a king's 'ead.
It's Willumnot Victory. I saved that 'un up when I wor a lad at
Mason'san' look yer, there's my mark in the cornerevery 'arf-crown
I ever 'ad I marked like that.
He held it under Isaac's staring eyes, pointing to the little
scratched cross in the corner.
'Ere's another, Johntwo on 'em, said Saunders, pulling out a
second and a third.
John, in a passion of hope, identified them both.
Then, said Saunders, slapping the table solemnly, theer's nobbut
one more thing to sayan' sorry I am to say it. Them coins, Isaache
pointed a slow finger at Bessie, whose white, fierce face moved
involuntarilythem 'arf-crowns wor paid across the bar lasst night,
or the night afore, at Dawson's, by yor wife, as is now stannin'
there, an' she'll deny it if she can!
For an instant the whole group preserved their positionsthe breath
suspended on their lips.
Then Isaac strode up to his wife, and gripped her by the arms.
Did yer do it? he asked her.
He held her, looking into her eyes. Slowly she sank away from him;
she would have fallen, but for a chair that stood beside her.
Oh, yer brute! she said, turning her head to Saunders an instant,
and speaking under her breath, with a kind of sob. Yer brute!
Isaac walked to the door, and threw it open.
Per'aps yer'll go, he said grimly.
And the three went, without a word.
So the husband and wife were left together in the cottage room. The
door had no sooner closed on Saunders and his companions than Isaac was
seized with that strange sense of walking amid things unreal upon a
wavering earth which is apt to beset the man who has any portion of the
dreamer's temperament under any sudden rush of circumstance. He drew
his hand across his brow, bewildered. The fire leapt and chattered in
the grate; the newly-washed tea-things on the table shone under the
lamp; the cat lay curled, as usual, on the chair where he sat after
supper to read his Christian World; yet all things were not the
same. What had changed?
Then, across poor John's rifled box, he saw his wife sitting rigid
on the chair where he had left her.
He came and sat down at the corner of the table, close to her, his
chin on his hand.
'Ow did yer spend it? he said, startled, as the words came out, by
his own voice, so grinding and ugly was the note of it.
Her miserable eyes travelled over his face, seeking, as it were, for
some promise, however faint, of future help and succour, however
Apparently she saw none, for her own look flamed to fresh defiance.
I didn't spend it. Saunders wor lyin'.
'Ow did yer get them half-crowns?
I got 'em at Bedford. Mr. Grimstone give 'em me.
Isaac looked at her hard, his shame burning into his heart. This was
how she had got her money for the gin. Of course, she had lied to him
the night before, in her account of her fall, and of that mark on her
forehead, which still showed, a red disfigurement, under the hair she
had drawn across it. The sight of it, of her, began to excite in him a
quick loathing. He was at bottom a man of violent passions, and, in the
presence of evil-doing so flagrant, so cruelof a household ruin so
completehis religion failed him.
When was it as yer opened that box fust? he asked her again,
scorning her denials.
She burst into a rage of tears, lifting her apron to her eyes, and
flinging names at him that he scarcely heard.
There was a little cold tea in a cup close to him that Bessie had
forgotten. He stretched out his hand, and took a mouthful, moistening
his dry lips and throat.
Yer'll go to prison for this, he said, jerking it out as he put
the cup down.
He saw her shiver. Her nerve was failing her. The convulsive sobs
continued, but she ceased to abuse him. He wondered when he should be
able to get it out of her. He himself could no more have wept than iron
and fire weep.
Are yer goin' to tell me when yer took that money, and 'ow yer
spent it? 'Cos if yer don't, I shall go to Watson.
Even in her abasement it struck her as shameful, unnatural, that he,
her husband, should say this. Her remorse returned upon her heart, like
a tide driven back. She answered him not a word.
He put his silver watch on the table.
I'll give yer two minutes, he said.
There was silence in the cottage except for the choking, hysterical
sounds she could not master. Then he took up his hat again, and went
out into the snow, which was by now falling fast.
She remained helpless and sobbing, unconscious of the passage of
time, one hand playing incessantly with a child's comforter that lay
beside her on the table, the other wiping away the crowding tears. But
her mind worked feverishly all the time, and gradually she fought
herself free of this weeping, which clutched her against her will.
Isaac was away for an hour. When he came back, he closed the door
carefully, and, walking to the table, threw down his hat upon it. His
face under its ruddy brown had suffered some radical, disintegrating
They've traced yer, he said hoarsely; they've got it up to
twenty-six pound, an' more. Most on it 'ere in Clintonsome on it,
Muster Miles, o' Frampton, 'ull swear to. Watson 'ull go over to
Frampton, for the warrantto-morrer.
The news shook her from head to foot. She stared at him
But that's not 'arf, he went onnot near 'arf. Do yer 'ear? What
did yer do with the rest? I'll not answer for keepin' my 'ands off yer
if yer won't tell.
In his trance of rage and agony, he was incapable of pity. He had
small need to threaten her with blowsevery word stabbed.
But her turn had come to strike back. She raised her head; she
measured her news against his; and she did it with a kind of
Then I will tell yeran' I 'ope it 'ull do yer good. I
took thirty-one pound o' Bolderfield's money thenbut it warn't me
took the rest. Some one else tuk it, an' I stood by an' saw 'im. When I
tried to stop 'imlook 'ere.
She raised her hand, nodding, and pointing to the wound on her brow.
Isaac leant heavily on the table. A horrible suspicion swept through
him. Had she wronged him in a yet blacker way? He bent over her,
breathing fastready to strike.
Who was it?
She laughed. Well, it wor Timothy, thenyur
He fell back.
Yo're lyin', he cried; yer want to throw it off on some one. How
cud Timothy 'ave 'ad anythin' to do with John's money? Timothy's not
been near the place this three months.
Not till lasst night, she said, mocking him. I'll grant yernot
till lasst night. But it do 'appen, as lasst night Timothy took
forty-one pound o' John Borroful's money out o' that box, an got
offclean. I'm sorry if yer don't like itbut I can't 'elp that; yo'
And, lifting a quivering finger, she told her tale at last, all the
beginning of it confused and almost unintelligible, but the scene with
Timothy vivid, swift, convincinga direct impression from the ugly,
He listened, his face lying on his arms. It was true, all true. She
might have taken more and Timothy less; no doubt she was making it out
as bad as she could for Timothy. But it lay between themhis wife and
his sonit lay between them.
An' I 'eard yer coming, she ended; an' I thought I'd tell
yeran' I wor frightened about the 'arf-crownspeople 'ad been
talkin' so at Dawson'san' I didn't see no way outan'an'
She ceased, her hand plucking again at the comforter, her throat
He, too, thought of the loving words he had said to her, and the
memory of them only made his misery the more fierce.
An' there ain't no way out, he said violently, raising his head.
Yer'll be took before the magistrates next week, an' the assizes 'ull
be in February, an' yer'll get six monthsif yer don't get more.
She got up from her chair as though physically goaded by the words.
I'll not go to jail, she said under her breath. I'll not
A sound of scorn broke from Isaac.
Yo' should ha' thought o' that, he said. Yo' should ha' thought
o' that. An' what you've been sayin' about Timothy don't make it a
'aporth the betternot for yo'! Yo' led 'im into it
tooif it 'adn't been for yo', 'ee'd never ha' seen the cursed
stuff. Yo've dragged 'im down worse nor 'ee werean' yerselfan' the
childeran' me. An' the drink, an' the lyin'!it turns a man's
stomach to think on it. An' I've been livin' with yerthese twelve
years. I wish to the Lord I'd never seen yeras the children 'ad never
been born! They'll be known all their life nowas 'avin' 'ad sich a
woman for their mother!
A demon of passion possessed him more and more. He looked at her
with murderous eyes, his hand on the table working.
For his world, too, lay in ruins about him. Through many
hard-working and virtuous years he had counted among the righteous men
of the villagethe men whom the Almighty must needs reckon to the good
whenever the score of Clinton Magna had to be made up. And this
pre-eminence had come to be part of the habitual furniture of life and
thought. To be suddenly stripped of itto be not only disgraced by his
wife, to be thrust down himself among the low and sinful herdthis
thought made another man of him; made him wicked, as it were, perforce.
For who that heard the story would ever believe that he was not the
partner of her crime? Had he not eaten and drunk of it; were not he and
his children now clothed by it?
Bessie did not answer him or look at him. At any other moment she
would have been afraid of him; now she feared nothing but the image in
her own mindherself led along the village street, enclosed in that
hateful building, cut off from all pleasure, all free moving and
willingalone and despisedher children taken from her.
Suddenly she walked into the back kitchen and opened the door
leading to the garden.
Outside everything lay swathed in white, and a snowstorm was
drifting over the deep cup of land which held the village. A dull,
melancholy moonlight seemed to be somewhere behind the snow curtain,
for the muffled shapes of the houses below and the long sweep of the
hill were visible through the dark, and the objects in the little
garden itself were almost distinct. There, in the centre, rose the
round, stone edging of the well, the copious well, sunk deep into the
chalk, for which Bessie's neighbours envied her, whence her good nature
let them draw freely at any time of drought. On either side of it the
gnarled stems of old fruit-trees and the bare sticks of winter kail
made black scratches and blots upon the white.
Bessie looked out, leaning against the doorway, and heedless of the
wind that drove upon her. Down below there was a light in Watson's
cottage, and a few lights from the main street beyond pierced the
darkness. The Spotted Deer must be at that moment full of people, all
talking of her and Isaac. Her eye came hastily back to the
snow-shrouded well and dwelt upon it.
Shut that door! Isaac commanded from inside. She obeyed, and came
back into the kitchen. There she moved restlessly about a minute or
two, followed by his frowning lookthe look, not of a husband, but of
an enemy. Then a sudden animal yearning for rest and warmth seized her.
She opened the door by the hearth abruptly and went up, longing simply
to lie down and cover herself from the cold.
But, after all, she turned aside to the children, and sat there for
some time at the foot of the little boys' bed. The children, especially
Arthur, had been restless for long, kept awake and trembling by the
strange sounds outside their door and the loud voices downstairs; but,
with the deep silence that had suddenly fallen on the house after Isaac
had gone away to seek his interview with Watson, sleep had come to
them, and even Arthur, on whose thin cheeks the smears left by crying
were still visible, was quite unconscious of his mother. She looked at
them from time to time, by the light of a bit of a candle she had
placed on a box beside her; but she did not kiss them, and her eyes had
no tears. From time to time she looked quickly round her, as though
startled by a sound, a breathing.
Presently, shivering with cold, she went into her own room. There,
mechanically, she took off her outer dress, as though to go to bed; but
when she had done so her hands fell by her side; she stood motionless
till, suddenly, wrapping an old shawl round her, she took up her candle
and went downstairs again.
As she pushed open the door at the foot of the stairs she saw Isaac,
where she had left him, sitting on his chair bent forward, his hands
dropping between his knees, his gaze fixed on a bit of dying fire in
He looked up with the unwillingness of one who hates the sound he
hears, and saw her standing on the lowest step. Her black hair had
fallen upon her shoulders, her quick breath shook the shawl she held
about her, and the light in her hand showed the anguished brightness of
Isaac, are yer comin' up?
The question maddened him. He turned to look at her more fixedly.
Comin' up? Noa, I'm not comin' upso now know. Take yerself off,
an' be quick.
Are yer goin' to sleep down 'ere, Isaac?
Aye, or wherever I likes: it's no concern o' yourn. I'm no 'usband
o' yourn from this day forth. Take yerself off, I say!I'll 'ave no
thief for my wife!
But, instead of going, she stepped down into the kitchen. His words
had broken her down; she was crying again.
Isaac, I'd ha' put it back, she said, imploring. I wor goin' in
to Bedford to see Mr. Grimstone'ee'd ha' managed it for me. I'd a'
worked extraI could ha' done itif it 'adn't been for Timothy. If
you'll 'elpan' you'd oughter, for yer are my 'usband, whativer
yer may saywe could pay John backsome day. Yo' can go to 'im, an'
to Watson, an' say as we'll pay it backyo' could, Isaac. I can
take ter the plattin' again, an' I can go an' work for Mrs. Drewshe
asked me again lasst week. Mary Anne 'ull see to the childer. Yo' go to
John, Isaac, to-morreran'an'to Watson. All they wants is the
money back. Yer couldn'tyer couldn'tsee me took to prison, Isaac.
She gasped for breath, wiping the mist from her eyes with the edge
of her shawl.
But all that she said only maddened the man's harsh and pessimist
nature the more. The futility of her proposals, of her daring to think,
after his fiat and the law's had gone forth, that there was any way out
of what she had done, for her or for him, drove him to frenzy. And his
wretched son was far away; so he must vent the frenzy on her. The
melancholia, which religion had more or less restrained and comforted
during a troubled lifetime, became, on this tragic night, a wild-beast
impulse that must have its prey.
He rose suddenly and came towards her, his eyes glaring, and a burst
of invective on his white lips. Then he made a rush for a heavy stick
that leant against the wall.
She fled from him, reached her bedroom in safety, and bolted the
door. She heard him give a groan on the stairs, throw away the stick
and descend again.
Then, for nearly two hours, there was absolute stillness once more
in this miserable house. Bessie had sunk, half fainting, on a chair by
the bed, and lay there, her head lying against the pillow.
But in a very short time the blessed numbness was gone, and
consciousness became once more a torture, the medium of terrors not to
be borne. Isaac hated hershe would be taken from her childrenshe
felt Watson's grip upon her armshe saw the jeering faces at the
At times a wave of sheer bewilderment swept across her. How had it
come about that she was sitting there like this? Only two days before
she had been everybody's friend. Life had been perpetually gay and
exciting. She had had qualms indeed, moments of a quick anguish, before
the scene in the Spotted Deer. But there had been always some thought
to protect her from herself. John was not coming back for a long, long
time. She would replace the moneyof course she would! And she would
not take any moreor only a very little. Meanwhile, the hours floated
by, dressed in a colour and variety they had never yet possessed for
hercharged with all the delights of wealth, as such a human being
under such conditions is able to conceive them.
Her nature, indeed, had never gauged its own capacities for pleasure
till within the last few months. Excitement, amusement, societyshe
had grown to them; they had evoked in her a richer and fuller life,
expanded and quickened all the currents of her blood. As she sat
shivering in the darkness and solitude, she thought, with a sick
longing, of the hours in the public-housethe lights, the talk, the
warmth within and without. The drink-thirst was upon her at this
moment. It had driven her down to the village that afternoon at the
moment of John's arrival. But she had no money. She had not dared to
unlock the cupboard again, and she could only wander up and down the
bit of dark road beyond the Spotted Deer, suffering and craving. Well,
it was all doneall done!
She had come up without her candle, and the only light in the room
was a cold glimmer from the snow outside. But she must find a light,
for she must write a letter. By much groping, she found some matches,
and then lit one after another while she searched in her untidy drawers
for an ink-bottle and a pen she knew must be there.
She found them, and with infinite difficultyholding match after
match in her left handshe scrawled a few blotted lines on a torn
piece of paper. She was a poor scholar, and the toil was great. When it
was done, she propped the paper up against the looking-glass.
Then she felt for her dress, and deliberately put it on again, in
the dark, though her hands were so numb with cold that she could
scarcely hook the fastenings. Her teeth chattered as she threw her old
shawl round her.
Stooping down, she took off her boots, and, pushing the bolt of her
own door back as noiselessly as possible, she crept down the stairs. As
she neared the lower door, the sound of two or three loud breathings
caught her ear.
Her heart contracted with an awful sense of loneliness. Her husband
slepther children sleptwhile she
Then the wave of a strange, a just passion mounted within her. She
stepped into the kitchen, and, walking up to her husband's chair, she
stood still a moment looking at him. The lamp was dying away, but she
could still see him plainly. She held herself steadily erect; a frown
was on her brow, a flame in her eyes.
Well, good-bye, Isaac, she said, in a low but firm voice.
Then she walked to the back door and opened it, taking no heed of
noise; the latch fell heavily, the hinges creaked.
Isaac! she cried, her tones loud and ringing, Isaac!
There was a sudden sound in the kitchen. She slipped through the
door, and ran along the snow-covered garden.
Isaac, roused by her call from the deep trance of exhaustion which
only a few minutes before had fallen upon his misery, stood up, felt
the blast rushing in through the open door at the back, and ran
The door had swung to again. He clutched it open; in the dim, weird
light he saw a dark figure stoop over the well; he heard something
flung aside, which fell upon the snow with a thud; then the figure
sprang upon the coping of the well.
He ran with all his speed, his face beaten by the wind and sleet.
But he was too late. A sharp cry pierced the night. As he reached the
well, and hung over it, he heard, or thought he heard, a groan, a
beating of the waterthen no more.
Isaac's shouts for help attracted the notice of a neighbour who was
sitting up with her daughter and a new-born child. She roused her
son-in-law and his boy, and, through them, a score of others, deep
night though it was.
Watson was among the first of those who gathered round the well. He
and others lowered Isaac with ropes into its icy depths, and drew him
up again, while the snow beat upon them allthe straining menthe two
dripping shapes emerging from the earth. A murmur of horror greeted the
first sight of that marred face on Isaac's arm, as the lanterns fell
upon it. For there was a gash above the eye, caused by a projection in
the hard chalk side of the well, which of itself spoke death.
Isaac carried her in, and laid her down before the still glowing
hearth. A shudder ran through him as he knelt, bending over her. The
new wound had effaced all the traces of Timothy's blow. How long was it
since she had stood there before him pointing to it? The features were
already rigid. No one felt the smallest hope. Yet, with that futile
tenderness all can show to the dead, everything was tried. Mary Anne
Waller camewhite and speechlessand her deft, gentle hands did
whatever the village doctor told her. And there were many other women,
too, who did their best. Some of them, had Bessie dared to live, would
have helped with all their might to fill her cup of punishment to the
brim. Now that she had thrown herself on death as her only friend, they
were dissolved in pity.
Everything failed. Bessie had meant to die, and she had not missed
her aim. There came a moment when the doctor, laying his ear for the
last time to her cold breast, raised himself to bid the useless effort
Send them all away, he said to the little widow, and you stay.
Watson helped to clear the room, then he and Isaac carried the dead
woman upstairs. An old man followed them, a bent and broken being, who
dragged himself up the steps with his stick; Watson out of compassion
came back to help him.
Johnyer'd better go home, an' to yer bedyer can't do no good.
I'll wait for Mary Anne, said John, in a shaking whisperI'll
wait for Mary Anne.
And he stood at the doorway, leaning on his stick; his weak and
reddened eyes fixed on his cousin, his mouth open feebly.
But Mary Anne, weeping, beckoned to another woman who had come up
with the little procession, and they began their last offices.
Let us go, said the doctor kindly, his hand on Isaac's shoulder,
till they have done.
At that moment Watson, throwing a last professional glance round the
room, perceived the piece of torn paper propped against the glass. Ah!
there was the letter. There was always a letter.
He walked forward, glanced at it, and handed it to Isaac. Isaac drew
his hand across his brow in bewilderment, then seemed to recognise the
handwriting, and thrust it into his pocket without a word. Watson
touched his arm. Don't you destroy it, he said in warning; it'll be
asked for at the inquest.
The men descended. Watson and the doctor departed. John and Isaac
were left alone in the kitchen. Isaac hung over the fire, which had
been piled up in the hope of restoring warmth to the drowned woman.
Suddenly he took out the letter and, bending his head to the blaze,
began to read it.
Isaac, yer a cruel husband to me, an' there's no way fer me but the
way I'm goin'. I didn't mean no 'arm, not at first, but there, wot's
the good of talkin'? I can't bear the way as you speaks to me an' looks
at me, an' I'll never go to prisonno, never. It's orfulfer the
children ull 'ave no mother, an' I don't know however Arthur 'ull
manage. But yer woodent shew me no mercy, an' I can't think of anythin'
different. I did love yer an' the childer, but the drink got holt of
me. Yer mus' see as Arthur is rapped up, an' Edie's eyes 'ull 'ave to
be seen to now an' agen. I'm sorry, but there's nothin' else. I wud
like yer to kiss me onst, when they bring me in, and jes say, Bessie, I
forgive yer. It won't do yer no 'arm, an' p'raps I may 'ear it without
your knowin'. So good-bye, Isaac, from yur lovin' wife, Bessie. . . .
As he read it, the man's fixed pallor and iron calm gave way. He
leant against the mantelpiece, shaken at last with the sobs of a human
and a helpless remorse.
John, from his seat on the settle a few yards away, looked at Isaac
miserably. His lips opened now and then as though to speak, then closed
again. His brain could form no distinct image. He was encompassed by a
general sense of desolation, springing from the loss of his money,
which was pierced every now and then by a strange sense of guilt. It
seemed to have something to do with Bessie, this last, though what he
could not have told.
So they sat, till Mary Anne's voice called Isaac from the top of
Isaac stood up, drew one deep breath, controlled himself, and went,
Mary Anne held the bedroom door open for them, and the two men
entered, treading softly.
The women stood on either hand crying. They had clothed the dead in
white and crossed her hands upon her breast. A linen covering had been
passed, nun-like, round the head and chin. The wound was hidden and the
face lay framed in an oval of pure white, which gave it a strange
Isaac bent over her. Was this BessieBessie, the human,
faulty, chattering creaturewhom he, her natural master, had been free
to scold or caress at will? At bottom he had always been conscious in
regard to her of a silent but immeasurable superiority, whether as a
mere man to mere woman, or as the Christian to the sinner.
Nowhe dared scarcely touch her. As she lay in this new-found
dignity, the proud peace of her look intimidated, accused himwould
always accuse him till he too rested as she rested now, clad for the
end. Yet she had bade him kiss herand he obeyed hergroaning within
himself, incapable altogether, out of sheer abasement, of saying those
words she had asked of him.
Then he sat down beside her, motionless. John tried once or twice to
speak to him, but Isaac shook his head impatiently. At last the mere
presence of Bolderfield in the room seemed to anger him. He threw the
old man such dark and restless looks that Mary Anne perceived them,
and, with instinctive understanding, persuaded John to go.
She, however, must needs go with him, and she went. The other woman
stayed. Every now and then she looked furtively at Isaac.
If some one don't look arter 'im, she said to herself, 'ee'll go
as his father and his brothers went afore him. 'Ee's got the look on it
awready. Wheniver it's light I'll go fetch Muster Drew.
With the first rays of the morning Bolderfield got up from the bed
in Mary Anne's cottage, where she had placed him a couple of hours
before, imploring him to lie still and rest himself. He slipped on his
coat, the only garment he had taken off, and, taking his stick, he
crept down to the cottage door. Mary Anne, who had gone out to fetch
some bread, had left it ajar. He opened it and stood on the threshold,
The storm of the night was over, and already a milder breeze was
beginning to melt the newly-fallen snow. The sun was striking
cheerfully from the hill behind him upon the glistening surfaces of the
distant fields; the old labourer felt a hint of spring in the air. It
brought with it a hundred vague associations, and filled him with a
boundless despair. What would become of him nowpenniless and old and
feeble? The horror of Bessie's death no longer stood between him and
his own pain, and would soon even cease to protect her from his hatred.
Mary Anne came back along the lane, carrying a jug and a loaf. Her
little face was all blanched and drawn with weariness, yet, when she
saw him, her look kindled. She ran up to him.
What did yer come down for, John? I'd ha' taken yer yer breakfast
in yer bed.
He looked at her, then at the food. His eyes filled with tears.
I can't pay yer for it, he said, pointing with his stick. I can't
pay yer for it.
Mary Anne led him in, scolding and coaxing him with her gentle,
trembling voice. She made him sit down while she blew up the fire; she
fed and tended him. When she had forced him to eat something, she came
behind him and laid her hand on his shoulder.
John, she said, clearing her throat. John, yer shan't want while
I'm livin'. I promised Eliza I wouldn't forget yer, and I won't. I can
work yetthere's plenty o' people want me to work for 'eman' maybe,
when yer get over this, you'll work a bit too now and again. We'll hold
together, Johnanyways. While I live and keep my 'elth yer shan't
want. An' yer'll forgive Bessieshe broke into sudden sobbing. Oh!
I'll never 'ear a crule word about Bessie in my 'ouse, never!
John put his arms on the table and hid his face upon them. He could
not speak of forgiveness, nor could he thank her for her promise. His
chief feeling was an intense wish to sleep; but, as Mary Anne dried her
tears and began to go about her household work, the sound of her step,
the sense of her loving presence near him, began, for the first time,
to relax the aching grip upon his heart. He had always been weak and
dependent, in spite of his thrift and his money. He would be far more
weak and dependent now and henceforward. But again, he had found a
woman's tenderness to lean upon, and, as she ministered to himthis
humble, shrinking creature he had once so cordially despisedthe first
drop of balm fell upon his sore.
Meanwhile, in another cottage a few yards away, Mr. Drew was
wrestling with Isaac. In his own opinion, he met with small success.
The man who had refused his wife mercy shrank, with a kind of horror,
from talking of the Divine mercy. Isaac Costrell's was a strange and
groping soul. But those misjudged him who called him a hypocrite.
Yet in truth, during the years that followed, whenever he was not
under the influence of recurrent attacks of melancholia, Isaac did
again derive much comfort from the aspirations and self-abasements of
religion. No human life would be possible if there were not forces in
and round man perpetually tending to repair the wounds and breaches
that he himself makes. Misery provokes pity; despair throws itself on a
Divine tenderness. And for those who have the grace of faith, in the
broken and imperfect action of these healing powers upon this various
worldin the love of the merciful for the unhappy, in the tremulous,
yet undying, hope that pierces even sin and remorse with the vision of
some ultimate salvation from the self that breeds themin these powers
there speaks the only voice which can make us patient under the
tragedies of human fate, whether these tragedies be the falls of
princes or such meaner, narrower pains as brought poor Bessie Costrell
to her end.