Below Bow Bridge a row of narrow-headed stepping-stones are regularly
placed across the river with their noses pointing up stream. The
current sets thin lines of light trickling away, where the stones break
its surface. Above the crossing, trees overhang the water and throw
shadows to break the white sheen of stickles and the flash of foam;
beneath the stepping-stones the channel widens and flows forward to the
estuary. A dead tree had fallen here and upon one bough, overhanging
a still pool, sat a kingfisher, like a spark of blue fire against the
grey and umber colours spread round him. Beyond, where the stream
bent eastward, there rose a fir-clad hill, and at water’s brink stood
cottages with irregular thatched roofs. Their white-washed faces
represented the highest light of the scene and were a centre and focus
for that rural picture.
Beside the stepping-stones Ned Dingle sat and smoked his pipe. The
water at his feet had run fine after a spell of dry weather, and there
was only the motion of the lazy stream, broken now and then by a small
fish. White ducks paddled close by in a shallow, where the afternoon
sunshine turned the water to liquid amber and made the birds golden
Ned thought of an autumn day, when he had landed not far off with
Kellock and Medora at the boathouse; and he retraced all the months
between. He was in melancholy mood and as yet had not determined on his
future actions; but he had seen Matthew Trenchard, given notice and
left the Mill.
The master was sympathetic and friendly. He accepted the situation and
on this Saturday, as Dingle awaited others at the stepping-stones, the
beaterman reflected that his activities at Dene were ended. He was now
about to seek work elsewhere. On Monday, Kellock would return, and Mrs.
Trivett reported that Jordan had already taken rooms for the present at
“The Waterman’s Arms,” a little inn standing up the valley between Dene
and Ashprington, at Bow Bridge.
Dingle still failed to grasp the extent of the disaster that had
overtaken him. His moods alternated between wrath and grief and
bewilderment at his loss. Mrs. Trivett supported him frankly and she
introduced an element of mystery into the scandal, for she continued
to declare it was not in Kellock’s character to do this thing. Even
the fact that he had done it was powerless to alter her reiterated
assertion. She never greatly blamed Kellock, even when others pointed
out that men do not run away with other men’s wives on compulsion; and
one fact she never ceased to dwell upon, which comforted Dingle in a
negative sort of fashion.
She repeated her assurance this evening; for now there came to Dingle,
Lydia and the girl, Daisy Finch, Medora’s friend. They were at leisure,
since the day was Saturday, and they had joined him by appointment to
fulfil a certain task. Mrs. Trivett, unaware of Medora’s sentiments on
the subject, had suggested that her daughter’s things should be moved
from Ned’s house and taken to “The Waterman’s Arms,” there to await
her, and Ned agreed. His purpose was to leave no trace of Medora in his
house; and soon there would be no trace of him either, for he was about
to seek work elsewhere and doubted not to find it.
As they ascended the hill to Ashprington, Lydia repeated her assurance.
She had good private reasons for uttering more ferocious sentiments
than perhaps she felt.
“It can’t be that he’ll ever make her happy,” she said. “It’s out of
that man’s power to do it. And not only I say so, for Philander Knox,
who is very understanding, said so, last week without any promptings
from me. He said so from his knowledge of Kellock, while I say so from
my knowledge of my child. And so I tell you, Ned, as I’ve told you
before, that you’ll be very properly revenged, without lifting your
hand to anybody.”
“I shall do what I shall do,” he answered, “and I don’t know more than
you what I shall do. I may take forty shillings or a month out of the
man yet. Some days I feel like that; other days I do not. For all she’s
done I know this: I understand your blasted daughter better than ever
“Mr. Knox says they’ll both get their punishment and he hopes you’ll
let ’em be. And if you did, that would be the worst punishment. In
Philander’s opinion there’s no call for anybody to interfere, because
let ’em alone and they’ll punish each other to their dying day. That’s
the terrible picture he paints of it.”
“I’ll never understand,” he answered. “I’ll never know what choked her
off me. There must have been secret enemies at work lying against me
I reckon. But she could never put a case against me worth its weight
in words, and to the last I didn’t dream what she was up to. A base,
treacherous bit of play-acting I call it. And to crown all by that
“If you could believe in such things, I’d say Medora had the evil eye
put upon her and was ill-wished into this,” said Daisy. “Such a girl as
she was—so happy, and so fond of an outing, and so fond of cheerful
company; and used to be so fond of Ned, I’m sure, for when you was
first married, she was always telling me how she cared for you. Then
the change came over her like bad weather. What did Jordan Kellock say,
Ned, if I may ask?”
“There’s no secrets. The letter’s like the man—cut and dried. Nobody
else on God’s earth could have written it I should think. He feels that
Medora made a mistake, but that it needn’t be fatal to all three of us;
and that, as we all respect ourselves, and are responsible members of
society, we can put the mistake right in a reasonable and dignified
sort of way. Never a word of shame. He seems to think he’s only got to
state the facts, as he sees them, for me to fall in with them. He says,
of course, my first thought will be consideration for Medora, so that
her sensitive and delicate nature may be spared as much as possible.
He feels quite sure that he can leave the subject in my hands, and
assures me that he will do everything possible to assist me. That’s the
divorce of course. Medora wasn’t so nice in her letter. She ordered me
to divorce her sharp. But even so, I’d sooner have her insults than
his civility. Civility by God! From him. She’d worked herself up to a
pitch of temper when she wrote that trash, and let out the poison he’s
put into her mind. She’s a damned silly woman and that’s all there is
to her; but faithless, worthless wretch that she is, I can forgive her
easier than him. I don’t feel as if I wanted to shoot her, or cut her
throat, or anything like that. My feeling to her is beyond my power to
put into words at present, though no doubt it will clear itself. But I
see him clear enough for a foul hypocrite—smug and sly and heartless.
He’s played for his own hand for a year and slowly worked her up to the
outrage she’s put on me. In fact I don’t see how I can very well help
breaking his neck, when it comes to the point.”
“It ain’t for me to stand up for him against you,” admitted Lydia. “All
the same, my instinct tells me to pray you not to be rough, Ned. You’ve
got right on your side, and it’s easier in some ways to suffer wrong
than commit it.”
“Depends what you call wrong,” he answered. “If Kellock thought it no
wrong to kindiddle my wife away from me, why should I think it wrong
to get back a bit of my own? Men have killed men for less than this,
and a jury of husbands have said they wasn’t guilty. I may not be the
sort to kill anybody; but I’ll let him that bleats such a lot about
self-respect see I’ve got my self-respect as well as he has, and mean
to act according. It’s all in the air—I don’t know what I shall do.
I’ve got to make him eat his self-respect somehow and show him what he
is; and that’s a long way different from what he thinks he is. I’ll
make ’em look a pair of fools sooner or later—if no worse.”
“So you will then; and take it in a high spirit and do nought to make
yourself look a fool,” urged Lydia; but he declared that it was too
late for that.
“I look a fool all right,” he said. “I’m not such a sand-blind sort of
man that I don’t know very well what I look like. People always laugh
at a chap in my fix. Let ’em. Perhaps I shall laugh too presently.
The difference between me and that man is that I can stand a bit of
laughter; but he couldn’t. Laughter would kill him. He’d stand up to
blame and hard words and curses. He likes ’em—he told me so—because
it shows his ideas go deep and fret people’s accepted opinions. Every
reformer must make enemies, or he’s not doing his job right—so he
said to Knox one day, and I heard him. But laughter and scorn and
They reached Ned’s house and, for his sake, set about their painful
task with resolution.
“It’s like as if we was going through a dead woman’s things,” whispered
Daisy to Mrs. Trivett and the elder agreed.
“She is dead as far as poor Ned’s concerned,” she answered. “And if
anything on earth could shame her to death, surely it will be to see
all her clothes and everything she’s got in the world waiting for her
when she arrives.”
Daisy, however, argued for her friend while they collected her garments
and tied them in brown paper parcels.
“I don’t want to say a word against Mr. Dingle, but all the same no
such dreadful thing could have happened if he’d been the right one.
There’s always two sides to every trouble and there must be excuses
that we don’t know about.”
Mrs. Trivett admitted this.
“There’s always excuses for everybody that we don’t know about, Daisy.
We all do things we can’t explain—good as well as bad; and if we can’t
explain ourselves to ourselves, then it’s right and reasonable as we
shouldn’t be too sure we can explain other people.”
They made parcels of everything that belonged to Medora, then Ned
brought to them a work-box, two pictures in frames and a sewing-machine.
“These have all got to go also,” he said. “And this lot you’d better
give her when you see her. It’s her trinkrums and brooches and such
He gave Mrs. Trivett a little box which she put in her pocket without
Another woman joined them. She was Ned’s old aunt, who had come to
him to keep his house as long as he should remain in it. She talked
venomously of Medora.
Presently they carried the parcels down the lane to the foot of the
hill and left them at “The Waterman’s Arms,” in a little parlour on
one side of the entrance. Then Ned went home and Daisy Finch and Mrs.
Trivett returned to Dene. There the girl left Lydia, and the latter,
after a cup of tea with a neighbour, prepared to climb the Corkscrew
Hill and return to Cornworthy.
Then it was that she found a man waiting for her and Philander Knox
“I knew your movements,” he said, “and I knew that you’d be setting out
for the farm just about now, so I thought as I’d keep you company up
the hill. For I always find, going up the Corkscrew, that it’s easier
travelled in company.”
She was gratified.
“You’re a kind soul and I’m very glad, if you’ve got nothing better to
do. My thoughts ain’t pleasant companions to-night, Mr. Knox.”
“They should be,” he answered, “for your thoughts can’t bully you, nor
yet accuse you of things left undone, or done ill, like most of us have
got to suffer from them. You can face your thoughts same as you can
face your deeds, with a good conscience all the time.”
“Who can? I can’t. I’m cruel vexed now. That slip of a child, Daisy
Finch, have been showing me that I may have been too hard on my
own daughter. And yet—how can one feel too hard? ’Tisn’t as if I
didn’t know Ned Dingle. But I do. He’s took this in a very Christian
spirit—so far. I’d never have thought for a moment he’d have held in
so well, or been such a gentleman over it. Some people might almost
think he didn’t care and didn’t feel it; but he does—with all his
heart he does. He couldn’t speak when I left him just now.”
“That’s true—he certainly does feel it properly. But it’s a very
peculiar case, along of Kellock being the man he is. I haven’t got to
the bottom of the thing yet. As a rule I’m not great on other people’s
business, as you know, but in this case, along of my hopes where you’re
concerned, Lydia, I take this to be a part of my business; and I’m
going to get to the bottom of it by strategy and find out what made him
take her away from Ned.”
“It don’t much matter now. The past is past and it won’t help us to
know more than we know.”
“You can’t say that. You can read the future in the past if you’ve got
understanding eyes. And I haven’t hid from you I’m far from hopeful
about the future, because I can’t see them two suiting each other
through a lifetime. They won’t.”
“So you said.”
They stood to rest at a bend in the tremendous hill. Mr. Knox dabbed
his brow with a red cotton handkerchief.
“This blessed mountain brings the beads to the forehead every time I
come up to it,” he declared. “You’re a wonder; you hop up like a bird.”
“I’m Devonshire—born to hills.”
“You can’t have valleys without ’em.”
“That’s true. We’ve all got to take the rough with the smooth, and the
steep with the level.”
“To take the rough smoothly is the whole art of living,” declared
Philander, “and I thought I was pretty clever at it till I met you. But
you can give us all a start and a beating. Well, this may or may not be
a likely moment to come back to the all important question; but impulse
guides right as often as wrong, and if I’m wrong there’s no harm done I
hope. Have you had time to turn it over, or have you been too busy?”
“I owed it to you to turn it over,” she answered after a short pause.
“You’ve got as much right to go on with your life as I have to go on
with mine. Time don’t stand still because men and women are in two
“If you’re in two minds—”
“I don’t say that; yet I don’t deny it. I have thought about you.
You’re a good chap and very restful to the nerves; and your sense,
coming on the foolishness of some people, shows up in a bright light.”
“You’ve hardly seen a twinkle of it yet, Lydia. I don’t want to blow my
own trumpet, or nothing like that; but with all my faults, you’d find
the sense was here, and the patience.”
“You’re a marrying sort of man, no doubt, and you’ve got all the
makings of a good, restful husband—I see that too. But I reckon you
haven’t looked round far enough yet. There’s a lot against me. I ain’t
a free woman by any manner of means, and you don’t want to be saddled
with my troubles. That’s the worse of marriage in my opinion. A man
says, ‘I take the woman and not her family,’ and the woman says the
same; but things don’t fall out like that in life. There’s always the
families, and nobody can escape from ’em.”
“True, but we can be very good friends with our relations without
doing nursemaid’s work for ’em as well as our own work. ’Tis time you
stopped working altogether in my opinion, and had a bit of rest and
comfort to your life—such a dignified creature as you are by nature.
The farm gets stuffier and stuffier and you can’t deny it. It will tell
on your health and break you down. So why not do as I beg of you and
come to me?”
“Have you ever thought of that nice woman, Alice Barefoot?” asked Lydia
suddenly, and Mr. Knox stopped dead, stared at her through the gloaming
and mopped his head and neck again.
“Good God! What d’you mean?”
“A woman without a care or encumbrance and—”
“Stop,” he said. “That’s not a worthy remark, and I’ll start to forget
and forgive it, if you please, this moment. If you just think all
that goes to such a speech as that, you’ll be sorry you made it. A
man tells you he loves you, and you say ‘Try next door.’ That’s bad
enough in itself; but there’s more to it and worse even than that. For
it means either you don’t know Alice, or you don’t know me. You ought
to understand perfectly well that a woman like her is no more use to
me than a Red Indian. And you do know it; and if you’d thought half a
minute, you’d never have let yourself say such a wild and unkind and
silly thing as that. It shows a very great lack of interest in me—far
less interest than I thought you felt in fact. I’m shook, Lydia; I
thought we understood each other better.”
“She’s a fine and a good woman,” said Mrs. Trivett feebly.
“Good she may be, in a bleak sort of way; fine she is not and you know
it. Besides, surely at my time of life a man wants a mind, if he’s
got one himself. No doubt you think the world of Alice Barefoot; but
even you ain’t going to argue she’s got more mind than would go on a
three-penny piece and leave a margin.”
“I’m sorry—I was quite wrong,” confessed Lydia.
“You were, and since you’re sorry, enough said. I’ll resume another
time. Here’s the top and I won’t go no farther to-night. You ain’t
yourself, I’m afraid.”
“Do please come and have a glass of cider. Tom thinks the world of you,
“That’s better. If you say ‘come,’ then of course I’ll come. But don’t
let there be any false pretences about it. We’ve all got to pretend
a lot in this world; but I ain’t going to pretend nothing about Tom
Dolbear. I don’t visit at Priory Farm for his company, but for yours;
and, if God wills, I’ll get you out of it sooner or later, Lydia.”
“He don’t suspect nothing like that,” she said.
“He does not—that’s certain, else he wouldn’t offer me his cider or
anything else. But a time is at hand when he’ll have to face it—and
his wife also. Most women would have seen through it by now; but she’s
always asleep, or half asleep, while you do her work.”
“Poor Mary,” said Mrs. Trivett.
“Her doom is coming near I hope and trust,” he answered. “You’re not
doing right at all in standing between that woman and her duty. You
come to me, and then she’ll find that she’s only got time to sleep
eight hours in the twenty-four; and she’ll also find the meaning of a
They proceeded together and Knox presently smoked a pipe with Tom; but
he seemed not as amiable as usual and contradicted the farmer’s opinion
flatly on more than one occasion.
Mr. Dolbear, however, thought very highly of the vatman and doubted not
that Mr. Knox was right.
“I learn from you,” he said.