There is no heed to describe what followed. Even the virtuous women who stood and applauded would like to forget it, perhaps. At the third souse, the rusty pivot of the ducking-pole broke, and the cage, with the woman in it, plunged under water.
They dragged her ashore at the end of the pole in something less than a minute. They unstrapped and laid her gently down, and began to feel over her heart, to learn if it were still beating. And then the crowd parted, and These-an’-That came through it. His face wore no more expression than usual, but his lips were working in a queer way.
He went up to his wife, took off his hat, and producing an old red handkerchief from the crown, wiped away some froth and green weed that hung about her mouth. Then he lifted her limp hand, and patting the back of it gently, turned on the crowd. His lips were still working. It was evident he was trying to say something.
“Naybours,” the words came at last, in the old dull tone; “I’d as lief you hadn’ thought o’ this.”
He paused for a moment, gulped down something in his throat, and went on—
“I wudn’ say you didn’ mean it for the best, an’ thankin’ you kindly. But you didn’ know her. Roughness, if I may say, was never no good wi’ her. It must ha’ been very hard for her to die like this, axin your parden, for she wasn’ one to bear pain.”
Another long pause.
“No, she cudn’ bear pain. P’raps he might ha’ stood it better— though o’ course you acted for the best, an’ thankin’ you kindly. I’d as lief take her home now, naybours, if ’tis all the same.”
He lifted the body in his arms, and carried it pretty steadily down the quay steps to his market-boat, that was moored below. Two minutes later he had pushed off and was rowing it quietly homewards.
There is no more to say, except that the woman recovered. She had fainted, I suppose, as they pulled her out. Anyhow, These-an’-That restored her to life—and she ran away the very next week with the gamekeeper.
Here is a story from Troy, containing two ghosts and a moral. I found it, only last week, in front of a hump-backed cottage that the masons are pulling down to make room for the new Bank. Simon Hancock, the outgoing tenant, had fetched an empty cider-cask, and set it down on the opposite side of the road; and from this Spartan seat watched the work of demolition for three days, without exhaustion and without emotion. In the interval between two avalanches of dusty masonry, he spoke to this effect:—
Once upon a time the cottage was inhabited by a man and his wife. The man was noticeable for the extreme length of his upper lip and gloom of his religious opinions. He had been a mate in the coasting trade, but settled down, soon after his marriage, and earned his living as one of the four pilots in the port. The woman was unlovely, with a hard eye and a temper as stubborn as one of St. Nicholas’s horns. How she had picked up with a man was a mystery, until you looked at him.