This "The Well The Lady of the Barge and Others, Part 4." was written by W. W. (William Wymark) Jacobs in English language.
The Well The Lady of
the Barge and Others,
W. W. (William
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Title: The Well
The Lady of the Barge and Others, Part 4.
Author: W.W. Jacobs
Release Date: April 22, 2004 [EBook #12124]
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THE LADY OF THE BARGE
AND OTHER STORIES
W. W. Jacobs
Two men stood in the billiard-room of an old country house, talking. Play, which had been
of a half-hearted nature, was over, and they sat at the open window, looking out over the
park stretching away beneath them, conversing idly.
"Your time's nearly up, Jem," said one at length, "this time six weeks you'll be yawning out
the honeymoon and cursing the man—woman I mean— who invented them."
Jem Benson stretched his long limbs in the chair and grunted in dissent.
"I've never understood it," continued Wilfred Carr, yawning.
"It's not in my line at all; I never
had enough money for my own wants, let alone for two.
Perhaps if I were as rich as you or
Croesus I might regard it differently."
There was just sufficient meaning in the latter part of the remark for his cousin to forbear to
reply to it.
He continued to gaze out of the window and to smoke slowly.
"Not being as rich as Croesus—or you," resumed Carr, regarding him from beneath lowered
lids, "I paddle my own canoe down the stream of Time, and, tying it to my friends' door-
posts, go in to eat their dinners."
"Quite Venetian," said Jem Benson, still looking out of the window. "It's not a bad thing for
you, Wilfred, that you have the doorposts and dinners—and friends."
Carr grunted in his turn.
"Seriously though, Jem," he said, slowly, "you're a lucky fellow, a
very lucky fellow.
If there is a better girl above ground than Olive, I should like to see her."
"Yes," said the other, quietly.
"She's such an exceptional girl," continued Carr, staring out of the window.
"She's so good
She thinks you are a bundle of all the virtues."
He laughed frankly and joyously, but the other man did not join him. "Strong sense—of right
and wrong, though," continued Carr, musingly. "Do you know, I believe that if she found out
that you were not—-"
"Not what?" demanded Benson, turning upon him fiercely, "Not what?"
"Everything that you are," returned his cousin, with a grin that belied his words, "I believe
she'd drop you."
"Talk about something else," said Benson, slowly; "your pleasantries are not always in the
Wilfred Carr rose and taking a cue from the rack, bent over the board and practiced one or
two favourite shots.
"The only other subject I can talk about just at present is my own
financial affairs," he said slowly, as he walked round the table.
"Talk about something else," said Benson again, bluntly.
"And the two things are connected," said Carr, and dropping his cue he half sat on the table
and eyed his cousin.
There was a long silence.
Benson pitched the end of his cigar out of the window, and
leaning back closed his eyes.
"Do you follow me?"
inquired Carr at length.
Benson opened his eyes and nodded at the window.
"Do you want to follow my cigar?"
"I should prefer to depart by the usual way for your sake," returned the other, unabashed.
"If I left by the window all sorts of questions would be asked, and you know what a talkative
chap I am."
"So long as you don't talk about my affairs," returned the other, restraining himself by an
obvious effort, "you can talk yourself hoarse."
"I'm in a mess," said Carr, slowly, "a devil of a mess.
If I don't raise fifteen hundred by this
day fortnight, I may be getting my board and lodging free."
"Would that be any change?"
"The quality would," retorted the other.
"The address also would not be good.
Jem, will you let me have the fifteen hundred?"
"No," said the other, simply.
Carr went white.
"It's to save me from ruin," he said, thickly.
"I've helped you till I'm tired," said Benson, turning and regarding him, "and it is all to no
If you've got into a mess, get out of it. You should not be so fond of giving autographs
"It's foolish, I admit," said Carr, deliberately.
"I won't do so any more.
By the way, I've got
some to sell.
You needn't sneer.
They're not my own."
"Whose are they?"
inquired the other.
Benson got up from his chair and crossed over to him.
"What is this?" he asked, quietly.
"Call it what you like," said Carr.
"I've got some letters for sale, price fifteen hundred.
know a man who would buy them at that price for the mere chance of getting Olive from
I'll give you first offer."
"If you have got any letters bearing my signature, you will be good enough to give them to
me," said Benson, very slowly.
"They're mine," said Carr, lightly; "given to me by the lady you wrote them to.
I must say
that they are not all in the best possible taste."
His cousin reached forward suddenly, and catching him by the collar of his coat pinned him
down on the table.
"Give me those letters," he breathed, sticking his face close to Carr's.
"They're not here," said Carr, struggling.
"I'm not a fool.
Let me go, or I'll raise the price."
The other man raised him from the table in his powerful hands, apparently with the intention
of dashing his head against it.
Then suddenly his hold relaxed as an astonished-looking
maid-servant entered the room with letters.
Carr sat up hastily.
"That's how it was done," said Benson, for the girl's benefit as he took the letters.
"I don't wonder at the other man making him pay for it, then," said Carr, blandly.
"You will give me those letters?"
said Benson, suggestively, as the girl left the room.
"At the price I mentioned, yes," said Carr; "but so sure as I am a living man, if you lay your
clumsy hands on me again, I'll double it.
Now, I'll leave you for a time while you think it
He took a cigar from the box and lighting it carefully quitted the room. His cousin waited
until the door had closed behind him, and then turning to the window sat there in a fit of fury
as silent as it was terrible.
The air was fresh and sweet from the park, heavy with the scent of new-mown grass.
fragrance of a cigar was now added to it, and glancing out he saw his cousin pacing slowly
He rose and went to the door, and then, apparently altering his mind, he returned to the
window and watched the figure of his cousin as it moved slowly away into the moonlight.
Then he rose again, and, for a long time, the room was empty.
It was empty when Mrs. Benson came in some time later to say good-night to her son on
her way to bed.
She walked slowly round the table, and pausing at the window gazed from
it in idle thought, until she saw the figure of her son advancing with rapid strides toward the
He looked up at the window.
"Good-night," said she.
"Good-night," said Benson, in a deep voice.
"Where is Wilfred?"
"Oh, he has gone," said Benson.
"We had a few words; he was wanting money again, and I gave him a piece of my mind.
don't think we shall see him again."
sighed Mrs. Benson.
"He is always in trouble of some sort.
I hope that you
were not too hard upon him."
"No more than he deserved," said her son, sternly.
The well, which had long ago fallen into disuse, was almost hidden by the thick tangle of
undergrowth which ran riot at that corner of the old park.
It was partly covered by the
shrunken half of a lid, above which a rusty windlass creaked in company with the music of
the pines when the wind blew strongly.
The full light of the sun never reached it, and the
ground surrounding it was moist and green when other parts of the park were gaping with
Two people walking slowly round the park in the fragrant stillness of a summer evening
strayed in the direction of the well.
"No use going through this wilderness, Olive," said Benson, pausing on the outskirts of the
pines and eyeing with some disfavour the gloom beyond.
"Best part of the park," said the girl briskly; "you know it's my favourite spot."
"I know you're very fond of sitting on the coping," said the man slowly, "and I wish you
One day you will lean back too far and fall in."
"And make the acquaintance of Truth," said Olive lightly.
She ran from him and was lost in the shadow of the pines, the bracken crackling beneath
her feet as she ran.
Her companion followed slowly, and emerging from the gloom saw her
poised daintily on the edge of the well with her feet hidden in the rank grass and nettles
which surrounded it.
She motioned her companion to take a seat by her side, and smiled
softly as she felt a strong arm passed about her waist.
"I like this place," said she, breaking a long silence, "it is so dismal —so uncanny.
know I wouldn't dare to sit here alone, Jem.
I should imagine that all sorts of dreadful things
were hidden behind the bushes and trees, waiting to spring out on me.
"You'd better let me take you in," said her companion tenderly; "the well isn't always
wholesome, especially in the hot weather.
"Let's make a move."
The girl gave an obstinate little shake, and settled herself more securely on her seat.
"Smoke your cigar in peace," she said quietly.
"I am settled here for a quiet talk.
anything been heard of Wilfred yet?"
"Quite a dramatic disappearance, isn't it?"
"Another scrape, I suppose, and
another letter for you in the same old strain; 'Dear Jem, help me out.'"
Jem Benson blew a cloud of fragrant smoke into the air, and holding his cigar between his
teeth brushed away the ash from his coat sleeves.
"I wonder what he would have done without you," said the girl, pressing his arm
"Gone under long ago, I suppose.
When we are married, Jem, I shall
presume upon the relationship to lecture him.
He is very wild, but he has his good points,
"I never saw them," said Benson, with startling bitterness.
"God knows I never saw them."
"He is nobody's enemy but his own," said the girl, startled by this outburst.
"You don't know much about him," said the other, sharply.
"He was not above blackmail;
not above ruining the life of a friend to do himself a benefit.
A loafer, a cur, and a liar!"
The girl looked up at him soberly but timidly and took his arm without a word, and they both
sat silent while evening deepened into night and the beams of the moon, filtering through
the branches, surrounded them with a silver network.
Her head sank upon his shoulder, till
suddenly with a sharp cry she sprang to her feet.
"What was that?"
she cried breathlessly.
"What was what?"
demanded Benson, springing up and clutching her fast by the arm.
She caught her breath and tried to laugh.
"You're hurting me, Jem."
His hold relaxed.
"What is the matter?"
he asked gently.
"What was it startled you?"
"I was startled," she said, slowly, putting her hands on his shoulder. "I suppose the words I
used just now are ringing in my ears, but I fancied that somebody behind us whispered
'Jem, help me out.'"
"Fancy," repeated Benson, and his voice shook; "but these fancies are not good for you.
You—are frightened—at the dark and the gloom of these trees.
Let me take you back to the
"No, I'm not frightened," said the girl, reseating herself.
"I should never be really frightened
of anything when you were with me, Jem.
I'm surprised at myself for being so silly."
The man made no reply but stood, a strong, dark figure, a yard or two from the well, as
though waiting for her to join him.
"Come and sit down, sir," cried Olive, patting the brickwork with her small, white hand, "one
would think that you did not like your company."
He obeyed slowly and took a seat by her side, drawing so hard at his cigar that the light of it
shone upon his fare at every breath.
He passed his arm, firm and rigid as steel, behind her,
with his hand resting on the brickwork beyond.
"Are you warm enough?"
he asked tenderly, as she made a little movement. "Pretty fair,"
she shivered; "one oughtn't to be cold at this time of the year, but there's a cold, damp air
comes up from the well."
As she spoke a faint splash sounded from the depths below, and for the second time that
evening, she sprang from the well with a little cry of dismay.
"What is it now?"
he asked in a fearful voice.
He stood by her side and gazed at the well, as
though half expecting to see the cause of her alarm emerge from it.
"Oh, my bracelet," she cried in distress, "my poor mother's bracelet. I've dropped it down
repeated Benson, dully.
The diamond one?"
"The one that was my mother's," said Olive.
"Oh, we can get it back surely.
We must have
the water drained off."
repeated Benson, stupidly.
"Jem," said the girl in terrified tones, "dear Jem, what is the matter?"
For the man she loved was standing regarding her with horror.
The moon which touched it
was not responsible for all the whiteness of the distorted face, and she shrank back in fear
to the edge of the well.
He saw her fear and by a mighty effort regained his composure and
took her hand.
"Poor little girl," he murmured, "you frightened me.
I was not looking when you cried, and I
thought that you were slipping from my arms, down—down—"
His voice broke, and the girl throwing herself into his arms clung to him convulsively.
"There, there," said Benson, fondly, "don't cry, don't cry."
"To-morrow," said Olive, half-laughing, half-crying, "we will all come round the well with
hook and line and fish for it.
It will be quite a new sport."
"No, we must try some other way," said Benson.
"You shall have it back."
asked the girl.
"You shall see," said Benson.
"To-morrow morning at latest you shall have it back.
promise me that you will not mention your loss to anyone.