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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 25. Carry Brattle
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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 25. Carry Brattle Post by :ddoublej Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :1653

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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 25. Carry Brattle

CHAPTER XXV. CARRY BRATTLE

On the day after the dinner-party at Hampton Privets Mr. Fenwick made his little excursion out in the direction towards Devizes, of which he had spoken to his wife. The dinner had gone off very quietly, and there was considerable improvement in the coffee. There was some gentle sparring between the two clergymen, if that can be called sparring in which all the active pugnacity was on one side. Mr. Fenwick endeavoured to entrap Mr. Chamberlaine into arguments, but the Prebendary escaped with a degree of skill,--without the shame of sullen refusal,--that excited the admiration of Mr. Fenwick's wife. "After all, he is a clever man," she said, as she went home, "or he could never slip about as he does, like an eel, and that with so very little motion."

On the next morning the Vicar started alone in his gig. He had at first said that he would take with him a nondescript boy, who was partly groom, partly gardener, and partly shoeblack, and who consequently did half the work of the house; but at last he decided that he would go alone. "Peter is very silent, and most meritoriously uninterested in everything," he said to his wife. "He wouldn't tell much, but even he might tell something." So he got himself into his gig, and drove off alone. He took the Devizes road, and passed through Lavington without asking a question; but when he was half way between that place and Devizes, he stopped his horse at a lane that led away to the right. He had been on the road before, but he did not know that lane. He waited awhile till an old woman whom he saw coming to him, reached him, and asked her whether the lane would take him across to the Marlborough Road. The old woman knew nothing of the Marlborough Road, and looked as though she had never heard of Marlborough. Then he asked the way to Pycroft Common. Yes; the lane would take him to Pycroft Common. Would it take him to the Bald-faced Stag? The old woman said it would take him to Rump End Corner, "but she didn't know nowt o' t'other place." He took the lane, however, and without much difficulty made his way to the Bald-faced Stag,--which, in the days of the glory of that branch of the Western Road, used to supply beer to at least a dozen coaches a-day, but which now, alas! could slake no drowth but that of the rural aborigines. At the Bald-faced Stag, however, he found that he could get a feed of corn, and here he put up his horse,--and saw the corn eaten.

Pycroft Common was a mile from him, and to Pycroft Common he walked. He took the road towards Marlborough for half a mile, and then broke off across the open ground to the left. There was no difficulty in finding this place, and now it was his object to discover the cottage of Mrs. Burrows without asking the neighbours for her by name. He had obtained a certain amount of information, and thought that he could act on it. He walked on to the middle of the common, and looked for his points of bearing. There was the beer-house, and there was the lane that led away to Pewsey, and there were the two brick cottages standing together. Mrs. Burrows lived in the little white cottage just behind. He walked straight up to the door, between the sunflowers and the rose-bush, and, pausing for a few moments to think whether or no he would enter the cottage unannounced, knocked at the door. A policeman would have entered without doing so,--and so would a poacher knock over a hare on its form; but whatever creature a gentleman or a sportsman be hunting, he will always give it a chance. He rapped, and immediately heard that there were sounds within. He rapped again, and in about a minute was told to enter. Then he opened the door, and found but one person within. It was a young woman, and he stood for a moment looking at her before he spoke.

"Carry Brattle," he said, "I am glad that I have found you."

"Laws, Mr. Fenwick!"

"Carry, I am so glad to see you;"--and then he put out his hand to her.

"Oh, Mr. Fenwick, I ain't fit for the likes of you to touch," she said. But as his hand was still stretched out she put her own into it, and he held it in his grasp for a few seconds. She was a poor, sickly-looking thing now, but there were the remains of great beauty in the face,--or rather, the presence of beauty, but of beauty obscured by flushes of riotous living and periods of want, by ill-health, harsh usage, and, worst of all, by the sharp agonies of an intermittent conscience. It was a pale, gentle face, on which there were still streaks of pink,--a soft, laughing face it had been once, and still there was a gleam of light in the eyes that told of past merriment, and almost promised mirth to come, if only some great evil might be cured. Her long flaxen curls still hung down her face, but they were larger, and, as Fenwick thought, more tawdry than of yore; and her cheeks were thin, and her eyes were hollow; and then there had come across her mouth that look of boldness which the use of bad, sharp words, half-wicked and half-witty, will always give. She was dressed decently, and was sitting in a low chair, with a torn, disreputable-looking old novel in her hand. Fenwick knew that the book had been taken up on the spur of the moment, as there had certainly been someone there when he had knocked at the door.

And yet, though vice had laid its heavy hand upon her, the glory and the brightness, and the sweet outward flavour of innocence, had not altogether departed from her. Though her mouth was bold, her eyes were soft and womanly, and she looked up into the face of the clergyman with a gentle, tamed, beseeching gaze, which softened and won his heart at once. Not that his heart had ever been hard against her. Perhaps it was a fault with him that he never hardened his heart against a sinner, unless the sin implied pretence and falsehood. At this moment, remembering the little Carry Brattle of old, who had sometimes been so sweetly obedient, and sometimes so wilful, under his hands, whom he had petted, and caressed, and scolded, and loved,--whom he had loved undoubtedly in part because she had been so pretty,--whom he had hoped that he might live to marry to some good farmer, in whose kitchen he would ever be welcome, and whose children he would christen;--remembering all this, he would now, at this moment, have taken her in his arms and embraced her, if he dared, showing her that he did not account her to be vile, begging her to become more good, and planning some course for her future life.

"I have come across from Bullhampton, Carry, to find you," he said.

"It's a poor place you're come to, Mr. Fenwick. I suppose the police told you of my being here?"

"I had heard of it. Tell me, Carry, what do you know of Sam?"

"Of Sam?"

"Yes--of Sam. Don't tell me an untruth. You need tell me nothing, you know, unless you like. I don't come to ask as having any authority, only as a friend of his, and of yours."

She paused a moment before she replied. "Sam hasn't done any harm to nobody," she said.

"I don't say he has. I only want to know where he is. You can understand, Carry, that it would be best that he should be at home."

She paused again, and then she blurted out her answer. "He went out o' that back door, Mr. Fenwick, when you came in at t'other." The Vicar immediately went to the back door, but Sam, of course, was not to be seen.

"Why should he be hiding if he has done no harm?" said the Vicar.

"He thought it was one of them police. They do be coming here a'most every day, till one's heart faints at seeing 'em. I'd go away if I'd e'er a place to go to."

"Have you no place at home, Carry?"

"No, sir; no place."

This was so true that he couldn't tell himself why he had asked the question. She certainly had no place at home till her father's heart should be changed towards her.

"Carry," said he, speaking very slowly, "they tell me that you are married. Is that true?"

She made him no answer.

"I wish you would tell me, if you can. The state of a married woman is honest at any rate, let her husband be who he may."

"My state is not honest."

"You are not married, then?"

"No, sir."

He hardly knew how to go on with this interrogation, or to ask questions about her past and present life, without expressing a degree of censure which, at any rate for the present, he wished to repress.

"You are living here, I believe, with old Mrs. Burrows?" he said.

"Yes, sir."

"I was told that you were married to her son."

"They told you untrue, sir. I know nothing of her son, except just to have see'd him."

"Is that true, Carry?"

"It is true. It wasn't he at all."

"Who was it, Carry?"

"Not her son;--but what does it signify? He's gone away, and I shall see un no more. He wasn't no good, Mr. Fenwick, and if you please we won't talk about un."

"He was not your husband?"

"No, Mr. Fenwick; I never had a husband, nor never shall, I suppose. What man would take the likes of me? I have just got one thing to do, and that's all."

"What thing is that, Carry?"

"To die and have done with it," she said, bursting out into loud sobs. "What's the use o' living? Nobody 'll see me, or speak to me. Ain't I just so bad that they'd hang me if they knew how to catch me?"

"What do you mean, girl?" said Fenwick, thinking for the moment that from her words she, too, might have had some part in the murder.

"Ain't the police coming here after me a'most every day? And when they hauls about the place, and me too, what can I say to 'em? I have got that low that a'most everybody can say what they please to me. And where can I go out o' this? I don't want to be living here always with that old woman."

"Who is the old woman, Carry?"

"I suppose you knows, Mr. Fenwick?"

"Mrs. Burrows, is it?" She nodded her head. "She is the mother of the man they call the Grinder?" Again she nodded her head. "It is he whom they accuse of the murder?" Yet again she nodded her head. "There was another man?" She nodded it again. "And they say that there was a third," he said,--"your brother Sam."

"Then they lie," she shouted, jumping up from her seat. "They lie like devils. They are devils; and they'll go, oh, down into the fiery furnace for ever and ever." In spite of the tragedy of the moment, Mr. Fenwick could not help joining this terribly earnest threat and the Marquis of Trowbridge together in his imagination. "Sam hadn't no more to do with it than you had, Mr. Fenwick."

"I don't believe he had," said Mr. Fenwick.

"Yes; because you're good, and kind, and don't think ill of poor folk when they're a bit down. But as for them, they're devils."

"I did not come here, however, to talk about the murder, Carry. If I thought you knew who did it, I shouldn't ask you. That is business for the police, not for me. I came here partly to look after Sam. He ought to be at home. Why has he left his home and his work while his name is thus in people's mouths?"

"It ain't for me to answer for him, Mr. Fenwick. Let 'em say what they will, they can't make the white of his eye black. But as for me, I ain't no business to speak of nobody. How should I know why he comes and why he goes? If I said as how he'd come to see his sister, it wouldn't sound true, would it, sir, she being what she is?"

He got up and went to the front door, and opened it, and looked about him. But he was looking for nothing. His eyes were full of tears, and he didn't care to wipe the drops away in her presence.

"Carry," he said, coming back to her, "it wasn't all for him that I came."

"For who else, then?"

"Do you remember how we loved you when you were young, Carry? Do you remember my wife, and how you used to come and play with the children on the lawn? Do you remember, Carry, where you sat in church, and the singing, and what trouble we had together with the chaunts? There are one or two at Bullhampton who never will forget it?"

"Nobody loves me now," she said, talking at him over her shoulder, which was turned to him.

He thought for a moment that he would tell her that the Lord loved her; but there was something human at his heart, something perhaps too human, which made him feel that were he down low upon the ground, some love that was nearer to him, some love that was more easily intelligible, which had been more palpably felt, would in his frailty and his wickedness be of more immediate avail to him than the love even of the Lord God.

"Why should you think that, Carry?"

"Because I am bad."

"If we were to love only the good, we should love very few. I love you, Carry, truly. My wife loves you dearly."

"Does she?" said the girl, breaking into low sobs. "No, she don't. I know she don't. The likes of her couldn't love the likes of me. She wouldn't speak to me. She wouldn't touch me."

"Come and try, Carry."

"Father would kill me," she said.

"Your father is full of wrath, no doubt. You have done that which must make a father angry."

"Oh, Mr. Fenwick, I wouldn't dare to stand before his eye for a minute. The sound of his voice would kill me straight. How could I go back?"

"It isn't easy to make crooked things straight, Carry, but we may try; and they do become straighter if one tries in earnest. Will you answer me one question more?"

"Anything about myself, Mr. Fenwick?"

"Are you living in sin now, Carry?" She sat silent, not that she would not answer him, but that she did not comprehend the extent of the meaning of his question. "If it be so, and if you will not abandon it, no honest person can love you. You must change yourself, and then you will be loved."

"I have got the money which he gave me, if you mean that," she said.

Then he asked no further questions about herself, but reverted to the subject of her brother. Could she bring him in to say a few words to his old friend? But she declared that he was gone, and that she did not know whither; that he might probably return this very day to the mill, having told her that it was his purpose to do so soon. When he expressed a hope that Sam held no consort with those bad men who had murdered and robbed Mr. Trumbull, she answered him with such naive assurance that any such consorting was out of the question, that he became at once convinced that the murderers were far away, and that she knew that such was the case. As far as he could learn from her, Sam had really been over to Pycroft with the view of seeing his sister, taking probably a holiday of a day or two on the way. Then he again reverted to herself, having as he thought obtained a favourable answer to that vital question which he had asked her.

"Have you nothing to ask of your mother?" he said.

"Sam has told me of her and of Fan."

"And would you not care to see her?"

"Care, Mr. Fenwick! Wouldn't I give my eyes to see her? But how can I see her? And what could she say to me? Father 'd kill her if she spoke to me. Sometimes I think I'll walk there all the day, and so get there at night, and just look about the old place, only I know I'd drown myself in the mill-stream. I wish I had. I wish it was done. I've seed an old poem in which they thought much of a poor girl after she was drowned, though nobody wouldn't think nothing at all about her before."

"Don't drown yourself, Carry, and I'll care for you. Keep your hands clean. You know what I mean, and I will not rest till I find some spot for your weary feet. Will you promise me?" She made him no answer. "I will not ask you for a spoken promise, but make it yourself, Carry, and ask God to help you to keep it. Do you say your prayers, Carry?"

"Never a prayer, sir."

"But you don't forget them. You can begin again. And now I must ask for a promise. If I send for you will you come?"

"What--to Bull'ompton?"

"Wheresoever I may send for you? Do you think that I would have you harmed?"

"Perhaps it'd be--for a prison; or to live along with a lot of others. Oh, Mr. Fenwick, I could not stand that."

He did not dare to proceed any further lest he should be tempted to make promises which he himself could not perform; but she did give him an assurance before he went that if she left her present abode within a month, she would let him know whither she was going.

He went to the Bald-faced Stag and got his gig; and on his way home, just as he was leaving the village of Lavington, he overtook Sam Brattle. He stopped and spoke to the lad, asking him whether he was returning home, and offering him a seat in the gig. Sam declined the seat, but said that he was going straight to the mill.

"It is very hard to make crooked things straight," said Mr. Fenwick to himself as he drove up to his own hall-door.

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