Sunday, October 7, 2007


AMY FOSTER by Joseph Conrad

by Joseph Conrad
Kennedy is a country doctor, and lives in Colebrook,
on the shores of Eastbay. The high
ground rising abruptly behind the red roofs of the
little town crowds the quaint High Street against
the wall which defends it from the sea. Beyond
the sea-wall there curves for miles in a vast and
regular sweep the barren beach of shingle, with the
village of Brenzett standing out darkly across the
water, a spire in a clump of trees; and still further
out the perpendicular column of a lighthouse, looking
in the distance no bigger than a lead pencil,
marks the vanishing-point of the land. The country
at the back of Brenzett is low and flat, but the
bay is fairly well sheltered from the seas, and occasionally
a big ship, windbound or through stress
of weather, makes use of the anchoring ground a
mile and a half due north from you as you stand
at the back door of the "Ship Inn" in Brenzett.
A dilapidated windmill near by lifting its shattered
arms from a mound no loftier than a rubbish heap,
and a Martello tower squatting at the water's edge
half a mile to the south of the Coastguard cottages,
are familiar to the skippers of small craft. These
are the official seamarks for the patch of trustworthy
bottom represented on the Admiralty charts
by an irregular oval of dots enclosing several figures
six, with a tiny anchor engraved among them,
and the legend "mud and shells" over all.
The brow of the upland overtops the square
tower of the Colebrook Church. The slope is
green and looped by a white road. Ascending
along this road, you open a valley broad and shallow,
a wide green trough of pastures and hedges
merging inland into a vista of purple tints and
flowing lines closing the view.
In this valley down to Brenzett and Colebrook
and up to Darnford, the market town fourteen
miles away, lies the practice of my friend Kennedy.
He had begun life as surgeon in the Navy, and
afterwards had been the companion of a famous
traveller, in the days when there were continents
with unexplored interiors. His papers on the
fauna and flora made him known to scientific societies.
And now he had come to a country practice
--from choice. The penetrating power of his
mind, acting like a corrosive fluid, had destroyed
his ambition, I fancy. His intelligence is of a
scientific order, of an investigating habit, and of
that unappeasable curiosity which believes that
there is a particle of a general truth in every mystery.
A good many years ago now, on my return from
abroad, he invited me to stay with him. I came
readily enough, and as he could not neglect his
patients to keep me company, he took me on his
rounds--thirty miles or so of an afternoon, sometimes.
I waited for him on the roads; the horse
reached after the leafy twigs, and, sitting in
the dogcart, I could hear Kennedy's laugh through
the half-open door left open of some cottage. He
had a big, hearty laugh that would have fitted a
man twice his size, a brisk manner, a bronzed face,
and a pair of grey, profoundly attentive eyes. He
had the talent of making people talk to him freely,
and an inexhaustible patience in listening to their
One day, as we trotted out of a large village into
a shady bit of road, I saw on our left hand a low,
black cottage, with diamond panes in the windows,
a creeper on the end wall, a roof of shingle, and
some roses climbing on the rickety trellis-work of
the tiny porch. Kennedy pulled up to a walk. A
woman, in full sunlight, was throwing a dripping
blanket over a line stretched between two old apple-
trees. And as the bobtailed, long-necked chestnut,
trying to get his head, jerked the left hand,
covered by a thick dogskin glove, the doctor raised
his voice over the hedge: "How's your child,
I had the time to see her dull face, red, not with
a mantling blush, but as if her flat cheeks had been
vigorously slapped, and to take in the squat figure,
the scanty, dusty brown hair drawn into a tight
knot at the back of the head. She looked quite
young. With a distinct catch in her breath, her
voice sounded low and timid.
"He's well, thank you."
We trotted again. "A young patient of
yours," I said; and the doctor, flicking the chestnut
absently, muttered, "Her husband used to be."
"She seems a dull creature," I remarked listlessly.
"Precisely," said Kennedy. "She is very passive.
It's enough to look at the red hands hanging
at the end of those short arms, at those slow, prominent
brown eyes, to know the inertness of her mind
--an inertness that one would think made it everlastingly
safe from all the surprises of imagination.
And yet which of us is safe? At any rate,
such as you see her, she had enough imagination
to fall in love. She's the daughter of one Isaac
Foster, who from a small farmer has sunk into a
shepherd; the beginning of his misfortunes dating
from his runaway marriage with the cook of his
widowed father--a well-to-do, apoplectic grazier,
who passionately struck his name off his will, and
had been heard to utter threats against his life.
But this old affair, scandalous enough to serve as
a motive for a Greek tragedy, arose from the similarity
of their characters. There are other tragedies,
less scandalous and of a subtler poignancy,
arising from irreconcilable differences and from
that fear of the Incomprehensible that hangs over
all our heads--over all our heads. . . ."
The tired chestnut dropped into a walk; and the
rim of the sun, all red in a speckless sky, touched
familiarly the smooth top of a ploughed rise near
the road as I had seen it times innumerable touch
the distant horizon of the sea. The uniform
brownness of the harrowed field glowed with a rosy
tinge, as though the powdered clods had sweated
out in minute pearls of blood the toil of uncounted
ploughmen. From the edge of a copse a waggon
with two horses was rolling gently along the ridge.
Raised above our heads upon the sky-line, it loomed
up against the red sun, triumphantly big, enormous,
like a chariot of giants drawn by two slowstepping
steeds of legendary proportions. And
the clumsy figure of the man plodding at the head
of the leading horse projected itself on the background
of the Infinite with a heroic uncouthness.
The end of his carter's whip quivered high up in
the blue. Kennedy discoursed.
"She's the eldest of a large family. At the age
of fifteen they put her out to service at the New
Barns Farm. I attended Mrs. Smith, the tenant's
wife, and saw that girl there for the first time.
Mrs. Smith, a genteel person with a sharp nose,
made her put on a black dress every afternoon. I
don't know what induced me to notice her at all.
There are faces that call your attention by a curious
want of definiteness in their whole aspect, as,
walking in a mist, you peer attentively at a vague
shape which, after all, may be nothing more curious
or strange than a signpost. The only peculiarity
I perceived in her was a slight hesitation in
her utterance, a sort of preliminary stammer which
passes away with the first word. When sharply
spoken to, she was apt to lose her head at once; but
her heart was of the kindest. She had never been
heard to express a dislike for a single human being,
and she was tender to every living creature. She
was devoted to Mrs. Smith, to Mr. Smith, to their
dogs, cats, canaries; and as to Mrs. Smith's grey
parrot, its peculiarities exercised upon her a positive
fascination. Nevertheless, when that outlandish
bird, attacked by the cat, shrieked for help in
human accents, she ran out into the yard stopping
her ears, and did not prevent the crime. For Mrs.
Smith this was another evidence of her stupidity;
on the other hand, her want of charm, in view of
Smith's well-known frivolousness, was a great reccommendation.
Her short-sighted eyes would swim
with pity for a poor mouse in a trap, and she had
been seen once by some boys on her knees in the wet
grass helping a toad in difficulties. If it's true, as
some German fellow has said, that without phosphorus
there is no thought, it is still more true that
there is no kindness of heart without a certain
amount of imagination. She had some. She had
even more than is necessary to understand suffering
and to be moved by pity. She fell in love under
circumstances that leave no room for doubt in
the matter; for you need imagination to form a
notion of beauty at all, and still more to discover
your ideal in an unfamiliar shape.
"How this aptitude came to her, what it did
feed upon, is an inscrutable mystery. She was
born in the village, and had never been further
away from it than Colebrook or perhaps Darnford.
She lived for four years with the Smiths. New
Barns is an isolated farmhouse a mile away from
the road, and she was content to look day after
day at the same fields, hollows, rises; at the trees
and the hedgerows; at the faces of the four men
about the farm, always the same--day after day,
month after month, year after year. She never
showed a desire for conversation, and, as it seemed
to me, she did not know how to smile. Sometimes
of a fine Sunday afternoon she would put on her
best dress, a pair of stout boots, a large grey hat
trimmed with a black feather (I've seen her in that
finery), seize an absurdly slender parasol, climb
over two stiles, tramp over three fields and along
two hundred yards of road--never further. There
stood Foster's cottage. She would help her mother
to give their tea to the younger children, wash up
the crockery, kiss the little ones, and go back to
the farm. That was all. All the rest, all the
change, all the relaxation. She never seemed to
wish for anything more. And then she fell in love.
She fell in love silently, obstinately--perhaps helplessly.
It came slowly, but when it came it worked
like a powerful spell; it was love as the Ancients
understood it: an irresistible and fateful impulse--
a possession! Yes, it was in her to become haunted
and possessed by a face, by a presence, fatally, as
though she had been a pagan worshipper of form
under a joyous sky--and to be awakened at last
from that mysterious forgetfulness of self, from
that enchantment, from that transport, by a
fear resembling the unaccountable terror of a
brute. . . ."
With the sun hanging low on its western limit,
the expanse of the grass-lands framed in the counter-
scarps of the rising ground took on a gorgeous
and sombre aspect. A sense of penetrating sadness,
like that inspired by a grave strain of music,
disengaged itself from the silence of the fields.
The men we met walked past slow, unsmiling, with
downcast eyes, as if the melancholy of an over-burdened
earth had weighted their feet, bowed their
shoulders, borne down their glances.
"Yes," said the doctor to my remark, "one
would think the earth is under a curse, since of all
her children these that cling to her the closest are
uncouth in body and as leaden of gait as if their
very hearts were loaded with chains. But here on
this same road you might have seen amongst these
heavy men a being lithe, supple, and long-limbed,
straight like a pine with something striving upwards
in his appearance as though the heart within
him had been buoyant. Perhaps it was only the
force of the contrast, but when he was passing one
of these villagers here, the soles of his feet did not
seem to me to touch the dust of the road. He
vaulted over the stiles, paced these slopes with a
long elastic stride that made him noticeable at a
great distance, and had lustrous black eyes. He
was so different from the mankind around that,
with his freedom of movement, his soft--a little
startled, glance, his olive complexion and graceful
bearing, his humanity suggested to me the nature
of a woodland creature. He came from there."
The doctor pointed with his whip, and from the
summit of the descent seen over the rolling tops of
the trees in a park by the side of the road, appeared
the level sea far below us, like the floor of an immense
edifice inlaid with bands of dark ripple, with
still trails of glitter, ending in a belt of glassy
water at the foot of the sky. The light blur of
smoke, from an invisible steamer, faded on the
great clearness of the horizon like the mist of a
breath on a mirror; and, inshore, the white sails of
a coaster, with the appearance of disentangling
themselves slowly from under the branches, floated
clear of the foliage of the trees.
"Shipwrecked in the bay?" I said.
"Yes; he was a castaway. A poor emigrant
from Central Europe bound to America and washed
ashore here in a storm. And for him, who knew
nothing of the earth, England was an undiscovered
country. It was some time before he learned its
name; and for all I know he might have expected
to find wild beasts or wild men here, when, crawling
in the dark over the sea-wall, he rolled down the
other side into a dyke, where it was another miracle
he didn't get drowned. But he struggled instinctively
like an animal under a net, and this blind
struggle threw him out into a field. He must have
been, indeed, of a tougher fibre than he looked to
withstand without expiring such buffetings, the
violence of his exertions, and so much fear. Later
on, in his broken English that resembled curiously
the speech of a young child, he told me himself that
he put his trust in God, believing he was no longer
in this world. And truly--he would add--how was
he to know? He fought his way against the rain
and the gale on all fours, and crawled at last
among some sheep huddled close under the lee of a
hedge. They ran off in all directions, bleating in
the darkness, and he welcomed the first familiar
sound he heard on these shores. It must have been
two in the morning then. And this is all we know
of the manner of his landing, though he did not
arrive unattended by any means. Only his grisly
company did not begin to come ashore till much
later in the day. . . ."
The doctor gathered the reins, clicked his
tongue; we trotted down the hill. Then turning,
almost directly, a sharp corner into the High
Street, we rattled over the stones and were home.
Late in the evening Kennedy, breaking a spell
of moodiness that had come over him, returned to
the story. Smoking his pipe, he paced the long
room from end to end. A reading-lamp concentrated
all its light upon the papers on his desk;
and, sitting by the open window, I saw, after the
windless, scorching day, the frigid splendour of a
hazy sea lying motionless under the moon. Not a
whisper, not a splash, not a stir of the shingle, not
a footstep, not a sigh came up from the earth below--
never a sign of life but the scent of climbing
jasmine; and Kennedy's voice, speaking behind me,
passed through the wide casement, to vanish outside
in a chill and sumptuous stillness.
". . . The relations of shipwrecks in the
olden time tell us of much suffering. Often the
castaways were only saved from drowning to die
miserably from starvation on a barren coast; others
suffered violent death or else slavery, passing
through years of precarious existence with people
to whom their strangeness was an object of suspicion,
dislike or fear. We read about these things,
and they are very pitiful. It is indeed hard upon
a man to find himself a lost stranger, helpless,
incomprehensible, and of a mysterious origin, in
some obscure corner of the earth. Yet amongst all
the adventurers shipwrecked in all the wild parts of
the world there is not one, it seems to me, that ever
had to suffer a fate so simply tragic as the man I
am speaking of, the most innocent of adventurers
cast out by the sea in the bight of this bay, almost
within sight from this very window.
"He did not know the name of his ship. Indeed,
in the course of time we discovered he did not even
know that ships had names--'like Christian people';
and when, one day, from the top of the Talfourd
Hill, he beheld the sea lying open to his view,
his eyes roamed afar, lost in an air of wild surprise,
as though he had never seen such a sight before.
And probably he had not. As far as I could make
out, he had been hustled together with many others
on board an emigrant-ship lying at the mouth of
the Elbe, too bewildered to take note of his surroundings,
too weary to see anything, too anxious
to care. They were driven below into the 'tweendeck
and battened down from the very start. It
was a low timber dwelling--he would say--with
wooden beams overhead, like the houses in his country,
but you went into it down a ladder. It was
very large, very cold, damp and sombre, with places
in the manner of wooden boxes where people had to
sleep, one above another, and it kept on rocking all
ways at once all the time. He crept into one of
these boxes and laid down there in the clothes in
which he had left his home many days before, keeping
his bundle and his stick by his side. People
groaned, children cried, water dripped, the lights
went out, the walls of the place creaked, and everything
was being shaken so that in one's little box
one dared not lift one's head. He had lost touch
with his only companion (a young man from the
same valley, he said), and all the time a great noise
of wind went on outside and heavy blows fell--
boom! boom! An awful sickness overcame him,
even to the point of making him neglect his prayers.
Besides, one could not tell whether it was
morning or evening. It seemed always to be night
in that place.
"Before that he had been travelling a long, long
time on the iron track. He looked out of the window,
which had a wonderfully clear glass in it, and
the trees, the houses, the fields, and the long roads
seemed to fly round and round about him till his
head swam. He gave me to understand that he had
on his passage beheld uncounted multitudes of people--
whole nations--all dressed in such clothes as
the rich wear. Once he was made to get out of the
carriage, and slept through a night on a bench in
a house of bricks with his bundle under his head;
and once for many hours he had to sit on a floor of
flat stones dozing, with his knees up and with his
bundle between his feet. There was a roof over him,
which seemed made of glass, and was so high that
the tallest mountain-pine he had ever seen would
have had room to grow under it. Steam-machines
rolled in at one end and out at the other. People
swarmed more than you can see on a feast-day
round the miraculous Holy Image in the yard of
the Carmelite Convent down in the plains where,
before he left his home, he drove his mother in a
wooden cart--a pious old woman who wanted to
offer prayers and make a vow for his safety. He
could not give me an idea of how large and lofty
and full of noise and smoke and gloom, and clang
of iron, the place was, but some one had told him
it was called Berlin. Then they rang a bell, and
another steam-machine came in, and again he was
taken on and on through a land that wearied his
eyes by its flatness without a single bit of a hill to
be seen anywhere. One more night he spent shut
up in a building like a good stable with a litter of
straw on the floor, guarding his bundle amongst a
lot of men, of whom not one could understand a
single word he said. In the morning they were all
led down to the stony shores of an extremely broad
muddy river, flowing not between hills but between
houses that seemed immense. There was a steammachine
that went on the water, and they all stood
upon it packed tight, only now there were with
them many women and children who made much
noise. A cold rain fell, the wind blew in his face;
he was wet through, and his teeth chattered. He
and the young man from the same valley took each
other by the hand.
"They thought they were being taken to America
straight away, but suddenly the steam-machine
bumped against the side of a thing like a house on
the water. The walls were smooth and black, and
there uprose, growing from the roof as it were,
bare trees in the shape of crosses, extremely high.
That's how it appeared to him then, for he had
never seen a ship before. This was the ship that
was going to swim all the way to America. Voices
shouted, everything swayed; there was a ladder
dipping up and down. He went up on his hands
and knees in mortal fear of falling into the water
below, which made a great splashing. He got separated
from his companion, and when he descended
into the bottom of that ship his heart seemed to melt
suddenly within him.
"It was then also, as he told me, that he lost contact
for good and all with one of those three men
who the summer before had been going about
through all the little towns in the foothills of his
country. They would arrive on market days driving
in a peasant's cart, and would set up an office
in an inn or some other Jew's house. There were
three of them, of whom one with a long beard
looked venerable; and they had red cloth collars
round their necks and gold lace on their sleeves
like Government officials. They sat proudly behind
a long table; and in the next room, so that the common
people shouldn't hear, they kept a cunning
telegraph machine, through which they could talk
to the Emperor of America. The fathers hung
about the door, but the young men of the mountains
would crowd up to the table asking many questions,
for there was work to be got all the year round at
three dollars a day in America, and no military
service to do.
"But the American Kaiser would not take everybody.
Oh, no! He himself had a great difficulty
in getting accepted, and the venerable man in uniform
had to go out of the room several times to
work the telegraph on his behalf. The American
Kaiser engaged him at last at three dollars, he
being young and strong. However, many able
young men backed out, afraid of the great distance;
besides, those only who had some money
could be taken. There were some who sold their
huts and their land because it cost a lot of money
to get to America; but then, once there, you had
three dollars a day, and if you were clever you
could find places where true gold could be picked
up on the ground. His father's house was getting
over full. Two of his brothers were married and
had children. He promised to send money home
from America by post twice a year. His father
sold an old cow, a pair of piebald mountain ponies
of his own raising, and a cleared plot of fair pasture
land on the sunny slope of a pine-clad pass to
a Jew inn-keeper in order to pay the people of the
ship that took men to America to get rich in a
short time.
"He must have been a real adventurer at heart,
for how many of the greatest enterprises in the
conquest of the earth had for their beginning just
such a bargaining away of the paternal cow for the
mirage or true gold far away! I have been telling
you more or less in my own words what I learned
fragmentarily in the course of two or three years,
during which I seldom missed an opportunity of a
friendly chat with him. He told me this story of
his adventure with many flashes of white teeth and
lively glances of black eyes, at first in a sort of anxious
baby-talk, then, as he acquired the language,
with great fluency, but always with that singing,
soft, and at the same time vibrating intonation that
instilled a strangely penetrating power into the
sound of the most familiar English words, as if
they had been the words of an unearthly language.
And he always would come to an end, with many
emphatic shakes of his head, upon that awful sensation
of his heart melting within him directly he
set foot on board that ship. Afterwards there
seemed to come for him a period of blank ignorance,
at any rate as to facts. No doubt he must have
been abominably sea-sick and abominably unhappy
--this soft and passionate adventurer, taken thus
out of his knowledge, and feeling bitterly as he lay
in his emigrant bunk his utter loneliness; for his
was a highly sensitive nature. The next thing we
know of him for certain is that he had been hiding
in Hammond's pig-pound by the side of the road
to Norton six miles, as the crow flies, from the sea.
Of these experiences he was unwilling to speak:
they seemed to have seared into his soul a sombre
sort of wonder and indignation. Through the rumours
of the country-side, which lasted for a good
many days after his arrival, we know that the fishermen
of West Colebrook had been disturbed and
startled by heavy knocks against the walls of
weatherboard cottages, and by a voice crying
piercingly strange words in the night. Several of
them turned out even, but, no doubt, he had fled in
sudden alarm at their rough angry tones hailing
each other in the darkness. A sort of frenzy must
have helped him up the steep Norton hill. It was
he, no doubt, who early the following morning had
been seen lying (in a swoon, I should say) on the
roadside grass by the Brenzett carrier, who actually
got down to have a nearer look, but drew back, intimidated
by the perfect immobility, and by something
queer in the aspect of that tramp, sleeping
so still under the showers. As the day advanced,
some children came dashing into school at Norton
in such a fright that the schoolmistress went out
and spoke indignantly to a 'horrid-looking man'
on the road. He edged away, hanging his head,
for a few steps, and then suddenly ran off with extraordinary
fleetness. The driver of Mr. Bradley's
milk-cart made no secret of it that he had
lashed with his whip at a hairy sort of gipsy fellow
who, jumping up at a turn of the road by the
Vents, made a snatch at the pony's bridle. And
he caught him a good one too, right over the face,
he said, that made him drop down in the mud a
jolly sight quicker than he had jumped up; but it
was a good half-a-mile before he could stop the
pony. Maybe that in his desperate endeavours to
get help, and in his need to get in touch with some
one, the poor devil had tried to stop the cart. Also
three boys confessed afterwards to throwing stones
at a funny tramp, knocking about all wet and
muddy, and, it seemed, very drunk, in the narrow
deep lane by the limekilns. All this was the talk of
three villages for days; but we have Mrs. Finn's
(the wife of Smith's waggoner) unimpeachable
testimony that she saw him get over the low wall of
Hammond's pig-pound and lurch straight at her,
babbling aloud in a voice that was enough to make
one die of fright. Having the baby with her in a
perambulator, Mrs. Finn called out to him to go
away, and as he persisted in coming nearer, she hit
him courageously with her umbrella over the head
and, without once looking back, ran like the wind
with the perambulator as far as the first house in
the village. She stopped then, out of breath, and
spoke to old Lewis, hammering there at a heap of
stones; and the old chap, taking off his immense
black wire goggles, got up on his shaky legs to
look where she pointed. Together they followed
with their eyes the figure of the man running over
a field; they saw him fall down, pick himself up,
and run on again, staggering and waving his long
arms above his head, in the direction of the New
Barns Farm. From that moment he is plainly in
the toils of his obscure and touching destiny.
There is no doubt after this of what happened to
him. All is certain now: Mrs. Smith's intense terror;
Amy Foster's stolid conviction held against
the other's nervous attack, that the man 'meant no
harm'; Smith's exasperation (on his return from
Darnford Market) at finding the dog barking
himself into a fit, the back-door locked, his wife in
hysterics; and all for an unfortunate dirty tramp,
supposed to be even then lurking in his stackyard.
Was he? He would teach him to frighten women.
"Smith is notoriously hot-tempered, but the
sight of some nondescript and miry creature sitting
crosslegged amongst a lot of loose straw, and
swinging itself to and fro like a bear in a cage,
made him pause. Then this tramp stood up silently
before him, one mass of mud and filth from
head to foot. Smith, alone amongst his stacks with
this apparition, in the stormy twilight ringing with
the infuriated barking of the dog, felt the dread
of an inexplicable strangeness. But when that being,
parting with his black hands the long matted
locks that hung before his face, as you part the two
halves of a curtain, looked out at him with glistening,
wild, black-and-white eyes, the weirdness of
this silent encounter fairly staggered him. He had
admitted since (for the story has been a legitimate
subject of conversation about here for years) that
he made more than one step backwards. Then a
sudden burst of rapid, senseless speech persuaded
him at once that he had to do with an escaped lunatic.
In fact, that impression never wore off completely.
Smith has not in his heart given up his
secret conviction of the man's essential insanity to
this very day.
"As the creature approached him, jabbering in
a most discomposing manner, Smith (unaware that
he was being addressed as 'gracious lord,' and adjured
in God's name to afford food and shelter)
kept on speaking firmly but gently to it, and retreating
all the time into the other yard. At last,
watching his chance, by a sudden charge he bundled
him headlong into the wood-lodge, and instantly
shot the bolt. Thereupon he wiped his
brow, though the day was cold. He had done his
duty to the community by shutting up a wandering
and probably dangerous maniac. Smith isn't
a hard man at all, but he had room in his brain only
for that one idea of lunacy. He was not imaginative
enough to ask himself whether the man might
not be perishing with cold and hunger. Meantime,
at first, the maniac made a great deal of noise in
the lodge. Mrs. Smith was screaming upstairs,
where she had locked herself in her bedroom; but
Amy Foster sobbed piteously at the kitchen door,
wringing her hands and muttering, 'Don't!
don't!' I daresay Smith had a rough time of it
that evening with one noise and another, and this
insane, disturbing voice crying obstinately through
the door only added to his irritation. He couldn't
possibly have connected this troublesome lunatic
with the sinking of a ship in Eastbay, of which
there had been a rumour in the Darnford marketplace.
And I daresay the man inside had been very
near to insanity on that night. Before his excitement
collapsed and he became unconscious he was
throwing himself violently about in the dark, rolling
on some dirty sacks, and biting his fists with
rage, cold, hunger, amazement, and despair.
"He was a mountaineer of the eastern range of
the Carpathians, and the vessel sunk the night before
in Eastbay was the Hamburg emigrant-ship
Herzogin Sophia-Dorothea, of appalling memory.
"A few months later we could read in the papers
the accounts of the bogus 'Emigration Agencies'
among the Sclavonian peasantry in the more remote
provinces of Austria. The object of these
scoundrels was to get hold of the poor ignorant
people's homesteads, and they were in league with
the local usurers. They exported their victims
through Hamburg mostly. As to the ship, I had
watched her out of this very window, reaching
close-hauled under short canvas into the bay on a
dark, threatening afternoon. She came to an anchor,
correctly by the chart, off the Brenzett Coastguard
station. I remember before the night fell
looking out again at the outlines of her spars and
rigging that stood out dark and pointed on a background
of ragged, slaty clouds like another and a
slighter spire to the left of the Brenzett churchtower.
In the evening the wind rose. At midnight
I could hear in my bed the terrific gusts and the
sounds of a driving deluge.
"About that time the Coastguardmen thought
they saw the lights of a steamer over the anchoringground.
In a moment they vanished; but it is clear
that another vessel of some sort had tried for shelter
in the bay on that awful, blind night, had
rammed the German ship amidships (a breach--
as one of the divers told me afterwards--'that you
could sail a Thames barge through'), and then
had gone out either scathless or damaged, who shall
say; but had gone out, unknown, unseen, and fatal,
to perish mysteriously at sea. Of her nothing ever
came to light, and yet the hue and cry that was
raised all over the world would have found her out
if she had been in existence anywhere on the face
of the waters.
"A completeness without a clue, and a stealthy
silence as of a neatly executed crime, characterise
this murderous disaster, which, as you may remember,
had its gruesome celebrity. The wind would
have prevented the loudest outcries from reaching
the shore; there had been evidently no time for signals
of distress. It was death without any sort of
fuss. The Hamburg ship, filling all at once, capsized
as she sank, and at daylight there was not
even the end of a spar to be seen above water. She
was missed, of course, and at first the Coastguardmen
surmised that she had either dragged her anchor
or parted her cable some time during the
night, and had been blown out to sea. Then, after
the tide turned, the wreck must have shifted a little
and released some of the bodies, because a child
--a little fair-haired child in a red frock--
came ashore abreast of the Martello tower. By
the afternoon you could see along three miles of
beach dark figures with bare legs dashing in
and out of the tumbling foam, and rough-looking
men, women with hard faces, children, mostly
fair-haired, were being carried, stiff and dripping,
on stretchers, on wattles, on ladders, in a long
procession past the door of the 'Ship Inn,' to be
laid out in a row under the north wall of the
Brenzett Church.
"Officially, the body of the little girl in the red
frock is the first thing that came ashore from that
ship. But I have patients amongst the seafaring
population of West Colebrook, and, unofficially, I
am informed that very early that morning two
brothers, who went down to look after their cobble
hauled up on the beach, found, a good way from
Brenzett, an ordinary ship's hencoop lying high
and dry on the shore, with eleven drowned ducks
inside. Their families ate the birds, and the hencoop
was split into firewood with a hatchet. It is
possible that a man (supposing he happened to be
on deck at the time of the accident) might have
floated ashore on that hencoop. He might. I admit
it is improbable, but there was the man--and
for days, nay, for weeks--it didn't enter our heads
that we had amongst us the only living soul that
had escaped from that disaster. The man himself,
even when he learned to speak intelligibly, could
tell us very little. He remembered he had felt better
(after the ship had anchored, I suppose), and
that the darkness, the wind, and the rain took his
breath away. This looks as if he had been on deck
some time during that night. But we mustn't forget
he had been taken out of his knowledge, that he
had been sea-sick and battened down below for four
days, that he had no general notion of a ship or of
the sea, and therefore could have no definite idea
of what was happening to him. The rain, the
wind, the darkness he knew; he understood the
bleating of the sheep, and he remembered the pain
of his wretchedness and misery, his heartbroken astonishment
that it was neither seen nor understood,
his dismay at finding all the men angry and all the
women fierce. He had approached them as a beggar,
it is true, he said; but in his country, even if
they gave nothing, they spoke gently to beggars.
The children in his country were not taught to
throw stones at those who asked for compassion.
Smith's strategy overcame him completely. The
wood-lodge presented the horrible aspect of a dungeon.
What would be done to him next? . . .
No wonder that Amy Foster appeared to his eyes
with the aureole of an angel of light. The girl
had not been able to sleep for thinking of the poor
man, and in the morning, before the Smiths were
up, she slipped out across the back yard. Holding
the door of the wood-lodge ajar, she looked in and
extended to him half a loaf of white bread--'such
bread as the rich eat in my country,' he used to
"At this he got up slowly from amongst all sorts
of rubbish, stiff, hungry, trembling, miserable, and
doubtful. 'Can you eat this?' she asked in her
soft and timid voice. He must have taken her for
a 'gracious lady.' He devoured ferociously, and
tears were falling on the crust. Suddenly he
dropped the bread, seized her wrist, and imprinted
a kiss on her hand. She was not frightened.
Through his forlorn condition she had
observed that he was good-looking. She shut
the door and walked back slowly to the kitchen.
Much later on, she told Mrs. Smith, who shuddered
at the bare idea of being touched by that
"Through this act of impulsive pity he was
brought back again within the pale of human relations
with his new surroundings. He never forgot
"That very same morning old Mr. Swaffer
(Smith's nearest neighbour) came over to give his
advice, and ended by carrying him off. He stood,
unsteady on his legs, meek, and caked over in halfdried
mud, while the two men talked around him in
an incomprehensible tongue. Mrs. Smith had refused
to come downstairs till the madman was off
the premises; Amy Foster, far from within the dark
kitchen, watched through the open back door; and
he obeyed the signs that were made to him to the
best of his ability. But Smith was full of mistrust.
'Mind, sir! It may be all his cunning,' he cried
repeatedly in a tone of warning. When Mr.
Swaffer started the mare, the deplorable being sitting
humbly by his side, through weakness, nearly
fell out over the back of the high two-wheeled cart.
Swaffer took him straight home. And it is then
that I come upon the scene.
"I was called in by the simple process of the old
man beckoning to me with his forefinger over the
gate of his house as I happened to be driving past.
I got down, of course.
"'I've got something here,' he mumbled, leading
the way to an outhouse at a little distance from
his other farm-buildings.
"It was there that I saw him first, in a long low
room taken upon the space of that sort of coachhouse.
It was bare and whitewashed, with a small
square aperture glazed with one cracked, dusty
pane at its further end. He was lying on his back
upon a straw pallet; they had given him a couple
of horse-blankets, and he seemed to have spent the
remainder of his strength in the exertion of cleaning
himself. He was almost speechless; his quick
breathing under the blankets pulled up to his chin,
his glittering, restless black eyes reminded me of a
wild bird caught in a snare. While I was examining
him, old Swaffer stood silently by the door, passing
the tips of his fingers along his shaven upper lip.
I gave some directions, promised to send a bottle of
medicine, and naturally made some inquiries.
"'Smith caught him in the stackyard at New
Barns,' said the old chap in his deliberate, unmoved
manner, and as if the other had been indeed a sort
of wild animal. 'That's how I came by him.
Quite a curiosity, isn't he? Now tell me, doctor--
you've been all over the world--don't you think
that's a bit of a Hindoo we've got hold of here.'
"I was greatly surprised. His long black hair
scattered over the straw bolster contrasted with the
olive pallor of his face. It occurred to me he might
be a Basque. It didn't necessarily follow that he
should understand Spanish; but I tried him with
the few words I know, and also with some French.
The whispered sounds I caught by bending my ear
to his lips puzzled me utterly. That afternoon the
young ladies from the Rectory (one of them read
Goethe with a dictionary, and the other had struggled
with Dante for years), coming to see Miss
Swaffer, tried their German and Italian on him
from the doorway. They retreated, just the least
bit scared by the flood of passionate speech which,
turning on his pallet, he let out at them. They admitted
that the sound was pleasant, soft, musical--
but, in conjunction with his looks perhaps, it was
startling--so excitable, so utterly unlike anything
one had ever heard. The village boys climbed up
the bank to have a peep through the little square
aperture. Everybody was wondering what Mr.
Swaffer would do with him.
"He simply kept him.
"Swaffer would be called eccentric were he not
so much respected. They will tell you that Mr.
Swaffer sits up as late as ten o'clock at night to
read books, and they will tell you also that he can
write a cheque for two hundred pounds without
thinking twice about it. He himself would tell
you that the Swaffers had owned land between
this and Darnford for these three hundred years.
He must be eighty-five to-day, but he does not look
a bit older than when I first came here. He is a
great breeder of sheep, and deals extensively in cattle.
He attends market days for miles around in
every sort of weather, and drives sitting bowed low
over the reins, his lank grey hair curling over the
collar of his warm coat, and with a green plaid rug
round his legs. The calmness of advanced age
gives a solemnity to his manner. He is cleanshaved;
his lips are thin and sensitive; something
rigid and monarchal in the set of his features lends
a certain elevation to the character of his face. He
has been known to drive miles in the rain to see a
new kind of rose in somebody's garden, or a monstrous
cabbage grown by a cottager. He loves to
hear tell of or to be shown something that he calls
'outlandish.' Perhaps it was just that outlandishness
of the man which influenced old Swaffer. Perhaps
it was only an inexplicable caprice. All I
know is that at the end of three weeks I caught
sight of Smith's lunatic digging in Swaffer's kitchen
garden. They had found out he could use a
spade. He dug barefooted.
"His black hair flowed over his shoulders. I
suppose it was Swaffer who had given him the
striped old cotton shirt; but he wore still the national
brown cloth trousers (in which he had been
washed ashore) fitting to the leg almost like
tights; was belted with a broad leathern belt studded
with little brass discs; and had never yet ventured
into the village. The land he looked upon
seemed to him kept neatly, like the grounds round
a landowner's house; the size of the cart-horses
struck him with astonishment; the roads resembled
garden walks, and the aspect of the people, especially
on Sundays, spoke of opulence. He wondered
what made them so hardhearted and their
children so bold. He got his food at the back door,
carried it in both hands carefully to his outhouse,
and, sitting alone on his pallet, would make the sign
of the cross before he began. Beside the same pallet,
kneeling in the early darkness of the short days,
he recited aloud the Lord's Prayer before he slept.
Whenever he saw old Swaffer he would bow with
veneration from the waist, and stand erect while
the old man, with his fingers over his upper lip, surveyed
him silently. He bowed also to Miss Swaffer,
who kept house frugally for her father--a broadshouldered,
big-boned woman of forty-five, with
the pocket of her dress full of keys, and a grey,
steady eye. She was Church--as people said
(while her father was one of the trustees of the
Baptist Chapel)--and wore a little steel cross at
her waist. She dressed severely in black, in memory
of one of the innumerable Bradleys of the
neighbourhood, to whom she had been engaged
some twenty-five years ago--a young farmer who
broke his neck out hunting on the eve of the wedding
day. She had the unmoved countenance of
the deaf, spoke very seldom, and her lips, thin like
her father's, astonished one sometimes by a mysteriously
ironic curl.
"These were the people to whom he owed allegiance,
and an overwhelming loneliness seemed to
fall from the leaden sky of that winter without sunshine.
All the faces were sad. He could talk to
no one, and had no hope of ever understanding
anybody. It was as if these had been the faces of
people from the other world--dead people--he
used to tell me years afterwards. Upon my word,
I wonder he did not go mad. He didn't know
where he was. Somewhere very far from his mountains--
somewhere over the water. Was this America,
he wondered?
"If it hadn't been for the steel cross at Miss
Swaffer's belt he would not, he confessed, have
known whether he was in a Christian country at
all. He used to cast stealthy glances at it, and feel
comforted. There was nothing here the same as in
his country! The earth and the water were different;
there were no images of the Redeemer by the
roadside. The very grass was different, and the
trees. All the trees but the three old Norway pines
on the bit of lawn before Swaffer's house, and
these reminded him of his country. He had been
detected once, after dusk, with his forehead against
the trunk of one of them, sobbing, and talking to
himself. They had been like brothers to him at that
time, he affirmed. Everything else was strange.
Conceive you the kind of an existence overshadowed,
oppressed, by the everyday material appearances,
as if by the visions of a nightmare. At
night, when he could not sleep, he kept on thinking
of the girl who gave him the first piece of bread he
had eaten in this foreign land. She had been
neither fierce nor angry, nor frightened. Her face
he remembered as the only comprehensible face
amongst all these faces that were as closed, as mysterious,
and as mute as the faces of the dead who
are possessed of a knowledge beyond the comprehension
of the living. I wonder whether the memory
of her compassion prevented him from cutting
his throat. But there! I suppose I am an old sentimentalist,
and forget the instinctive love of life
which it takes all the strength of an uncommon despair
to overcome.
"He did the work which was given him with an
intelligence which surprised old Swaffer. By-andby
it was discovered that he could help at the
ploughing, could milk the cows, feed the bullocks
in the cattle-yard, and was of some use with the
sheep. He began to pick up words, too, very fast;
and suddenly, one fine morning in spring, he rescued
from an untimely death a grand-child of old
"Swaffer's younger daughter is married to
Willcox, a solicitor and the Town Clerk of Colebrook.
Regularly twice a year they come to stay
with the old man for a few days. Their only child,
a little girl not three years old at the time, ran out
of the house alone in her little white pinafore, and,
toddling across the grass of a terraced garden,
pitched herself over a low wall head first into the
horsepond in the yard below.
"Our man was out with the waggoner and the
plough in the field nearest to the house, and as he
was leading the team round to begin a fresh furrow,
he saw, through the gap of the gate, what for
anybody else would have been a mere flutter of
something white. But he had straight-glancing,
quick, far-reaching eyes, that only seemed to flinch
and lose their amazing power before the immensity
of the sea. He was barefooted, and looking as outlandish
as the heart of Swaffer could desire. Leaving
the horses on the turn, to the inexpressible disust
of the waggoner he bounded off, going over
the ploughed ground in long leaps, and suddenly
appeared before the mother, thrust the child into
her arms, and strode away.
"The pond was not very deep; but still, if he
had not had such good eyes, the child would have
perished--miserably suffocated in the foot or so of
sticky mud at the bottom. Old Swaffer walked out
slowly into the field, waited till the plough came
over to his side, had a good look at him, and without
saying a word went back to the house. But
from that time they laid out his meals on the kitchen
table; and at first, Miss Swaffer, all in black and
with an inscrutable face, would come and stand in
the doorway of the living-room to see him make a
big sign of the cross before he fell to. I believe that
from that day, too, Swaffer began to pay him regular
"I can't follow step by step his development.
He cut his hair short, was seen in the village and
along the road going to and fro to his work like
any other man. Children ceased to shout after him.
He became aware of social differences, but remained
for a long time surprised at the bare poverty
of the churches among so much wealth. He
couldn't understand either why they were kept shut
up on week days. There was nothing to steal in
them. Was it to keep people from praying too
often? The rectory took much notice of him about
that time, and I believe the young ladies attempted
to prepare the ground for his conversion. They
could not, however, break him of his habit of crossing
himself, but he went so far as to take off the
string with a couple of brass medals the size of a
sixpence, a tiny metal cross, and a square sort of
scapulary which he wore round his neck. He hung
them on the wall by the side of his bed, and he was
still to be heard every evening reciting the Lord's
Prayer, in incomprehensible words and in a slow,
fervent tone, as he had heard his old father do at
the head of all the kneeling family, big and little,
on every evening of his life. And though he wore
corduroys at work, and a slop-made pepper-andsalt
suit on Sundays, strangers would turn round
to look after him on the road. His foreignness had
a peculiar and indelible stamp. At last people became
used to see him. But they never became used
to him. His rapid, skimming walk; his swarthy
complexion; his hat cocked on the left ear; his habit,
on warm evenings, of wearing his coat over one
shoulder, like a hussar's dolman; his manner of
leaping over the stiles, not as a feat of agility, but
in the ordinary course of progression--all these
peculiarities were, as one may say, so many causes
of scorn and offence to the inhabitants of the village.
They wouldn't in their dinner hour lie flat
on their backs on the grass to stare at the sky.
Neither did they go about the fields screaming dismal
tunes. Many times have I heard his highpitched
voice from behind the ridge of some sloping
sheep-walk, a voice light and soaring, like a
lark's, but with a melancholy human note, over our
fields that hear only the song of birds. And I
should be startled myself. Ah! He was different:
innocent of heart, and full of good will, which nobody
wanted, this castaway, that, like a man transplanted
into another planet, was separated by an
immense space from his past and by an immense
ignorance from his future. His quick, fervent utterance
positively shocked everybody. 'An excitable
devil,' they called him. One evening, in the
tap-room of the Coach and Horses (having drunk
some whisky), he upset them all by singing a love
song of his country. They hooted him down, and
he was pained; but Preble, the lame wheelwright,
and Vincent, the fat blacksmith, and the other notables
too, wanted to drink their evening beer in
peace. On another occasion he tried to show them
how to dance. The dust rose in clouds from the
sanded floor; he leaped straight up amongst the
deal tables, struck his heels together, squatted on
one heel in front of old Preble, shooting out the
other leg, uttered wild and exulting cries, jumped up
to whirl on one foot, snapping his fingers above his
head--and a strange carter who was having a drink
in there began to swear, and cleared out with his
half-pint in his hand into the bar. But when suddenly
he sprang upon a table and continued to
dance among the glasses, the landlord interfered.
He didn't want any 'acrobat tricks in the taproom.'
They laid their hands on him. Having
had a glass or two, Mr. Swaffer's foreigner tried
to expostulate: was ejected forcibly: got a black
"I believe he felt the hostility of his human surroundings.
But he was tough--tough in spirit,
too, as well as in body. Only the memory of the
sea frightened him, with that vague terror that is
left by a bad dream. His home was far away; and
he did not want now to go to America. I had often
explained to him that there is no place on earth
where true gold can be found lying ready and to be
got for the trouble of the picking up. How then,
he asked, could he ever return home with empty
hands when there had been sold a cow, two ponies,
and a bit of land to pay for his going? His eyes
would fill with tears, and, averting them from the
immense shimmer of the sea, he would throw himself
face down on the grass. But sometimes, cocking
his hat with a little conquering air, he would
defy my wisdom. He had found his bit of true
gold. That was Amy Foster's heart; which was 'a
golden heart, and soft to people's misery,' he
would say in the accents of overwhelming conviction.
"He was called Yanko. He had explained that
this meant little John; but as he would also repeat
very often that he was a mountaineer (some word
sounding in the dialect of his country like Goorall)
he got it for his surname. And this is the only
trace of him that the succeeding ages may find in
the marriage register of the parish. There it
stands--Yanko Goorall--in the rector's handwriting.
The crooked cross made by the castaway, a
cross whose tracing no doubt seemed to him the
most solemn part of the whole ceremony, is all that
remains now to perpetuate the memory of his name.
"His courtship had lasted some time--ever since
he got his precarious footing in the community. It
began by his buying for Amy Foster a green satin
ribbon in Darnford. This was what you did in his
country. You bought a ribbon at a Jew's stall on
a fair-day. I don't suppose the girl knew what to
do with it, but he seemed to think that his honourable
intentions could not be mistaken.
"It was only when he declared his purpose to
get married that I fully understood how, for a hundred
futile and inappreciable reasons, how--shall
I say odious?--he was to all the countryside.
Every old woman in the village was up in arms.
Smith, coming upon him near the farm, promised
to break his head for him if he found him about
again. But he twisted his little black moustache
with such a bellicose air and rolled such big, black
fierce eyes at Smith that this promise came to nothing.
Smith, however, told the girl that she must
be mad to take up with a man who was surely wrong
in his head. All the same, when she heard him in
the gloaming whistle from beyond the orchard a
couple of bars of a weird and mournful tune, she
would drop whatever she had in her hand--she
would leave Mrs. Smith in the middle of a sentence
--and she would run out to his call. Mrs. Smith
called her a shameless hussy. She answered nothing.
She said nothing at all to anybody, and went
on her way as if she had been deaf. She and I alone
all in the land, I fancy, could see his very real
beauty. He was very good-looking, and most
graceful in his bearing, with that something wild
as of a woodland creature in his aspect. Her mother
moaned over her dismally whenever the girl came
to see her on her day out. The father was surly,
but pretended not to know; and Mrs. Finn once
told her plainly that 'this man, my dear, will do
you some harm some day yet.' And so it went on.
They could be seen on the roads, she tramping stolidly
in her finery--grey dress, black feather, stout
boots, prominent white cotton gloves that caught
your eye a hundred yards away; and he, his coat
slung picturesquely over one shoulder, pacing by
her side, gallant of bearing and casting tender
glances upon the girl with the golden heart. I
wonder whether he saw how plain she was. Perhaps
among types so different from what he had ever
seen, he had not the power to judge; or perhaps
he was seduced by the divine quality of her
"Yanko was in great trouble meantime. In his
country you get an old man for an ambassador in
marriage affairs. He did not know how to proceed.
However, one day in the midst of sheep in a
field (he was now Swaffer's under-shepherd with
Foster) he took off his hat to the father and declared
himself humbly. 'I daresay she's fool
enough to marry you,' was all Foster said. 'And
then,' he used to relate, 'he puts his hat on his head,
looks black at me as if he wanted to cut my throat,
whistles the dog, and off he goes, leaving me to do
the work.' The Fosters, of course, didn't like to
lose the wages the girl earned: Amy used to give all
her money to her mother. But there was in Foster
a very genuine aversion to that match. He contended
that the fellow was very good with sheep,
but was not fit for any girl to marry. For one
thing, he used to go along the hedges muttering to
himself like a dam' fool; and then, these foreigners
behave very queerly to women sometimes. And
perhaps he would want to carry her off somewhere
--or run off himself. It was not safe. He
preached it to his daughter that the fellow might
ill-use her in some way. She made no answer. It
was, they said in the village, as if the man had done
something to her. People discussed the matter. It
was quite an excitement, and the two went on
'walking out' together in the face of opposition.
Then something unexpected happened.
"I don't know whether old Swaffer ever understood
how much he was regarded in the light of a
father by his foreign retainer. Anyway the relation
was curiously feudal. So when Yanko asked
formally for an interview--'and the Miss too' (he
called the severe, deaf Miss Swaffer simply Miss)
--it was to obtain their permission to marry.
Swaffer heard him unmoved, dismissed him by a
nod, and then shouted the intelligence into Miss
Swaffer's best ear. She showed no surprise, and
only remarked grimly, in a veiled blank voice, 'He
certainly won't get any other girl to marry him.'
"It is Miss Swaffer who has all the credit of the
munificence: but in a very few days it came out
that Mr. Swaffer had presented Yanko with a cottage
(the cottage you've seen this morning) and
something like an acre of ground--had made it
over to him in absolute property. Willcox expedited
the deed, and I remember him telling me he
had a great pleasure in making it ready. It recited:
'In consideration of saving the life of my
beloved grandchild, Bertha Willcox.'
"Of course, after that no power on earth could
prevent them from getting married.
"Her infatuation endured. People saw her going
out to meet him in the evening. She stared
with unblinking, fascinated eyes up the road where
he was expected to appear, walking freely, with a
swing from the hip, and humming one of the lovetunes
of his country. When the boy was born, he
got elevated at the 'Coach and Horses,' essayed
again a song and a dance, and was again ejected.
People expressed their commiseration for a woman
married to that Jack-in-the-box. He didn't care.
There was a man now (he told me boastfully) to
whom he could sing and talk in the language of his
country, and show how to dance by-and-by.
"But I don't know. To me he appeared to have
grown less springy of step, heavier in body, less
keen of eye. Imagination, no doubt; but it seems
to me now as if the net of fate had been drawn
closer round him already.
"One day I met him on the footpath over the
Talfourd Hill. He told me that 'women were funny.'
I had heard already of domestic differences.
People were saying that Amy Foster was beginning
to find out what sort of man she had married.
He looked upon the sea with indifferent, unseeing
eyes. His wife had snatched the child out of his
arms one day as he sat on the doorstep crooning to
it a song such as the mothers sing to babies in his
mountains. She seemed to think he was doing it
some harm. Women are funny. And she had objected
to him praying aloud in the evening. Why?
He expected the boy to repeat the prayer aloud
after him by-and-by, as he used to do after his old
father when he was a child--in his own country.
And I discovered he longed for their boy to grow
up so that he could have a man to talk with in that
language that to our ears sounded so disturbing,
so passionate, and so bizarre. Why his wife
should dislike the idea he couldn't tell. But that
would pass, he said. And tilting his head knowingly,
he tapped his breastbone to indicate that she
had a good heart: not hard, not fierce, open to compassion,
charitable to the poor!
"I walked away thoughtfully; I wondered
whether his difference, his strangeness, were not
penetrating with repulsion that dull nature they
had begun by irresistibly attracting. I wondered.
. . ."
The Doctor came to the window and looked out
at the frigid splendour of the sea, immense in
the haze, as if enclosing all the earth with all
the hearts lost among the passions of love and
"Physiologically, now," he said, turning away
abruptly, "it was possible. It was possible."
He remained silent. Then went on--
"At all events, the next time I saw him he was
ill--lung trouble. He was tough, but I daresay he
was not acclimatised as well as I had supposed. It
was a bad winter; and, of course, these mountaineers
do get fits of home sickness; and a state of depression
would make him vulnerable. He was lying
half dressed on a couch downstairs.
"A table covered with a dark oilcloth took up all
the middle of the little room. There was a wicker
cradle on the floor, a kettle spouting steam on the
hob, and some child's linen lay drying on the
fender. The room was warm, but the door opens
right into the garden, as you noticed perhaps.
"He was very feverish, and kept on muttering
to himself. She sat on a chair and looked at him
fixedly across the table with her brown, blurred
eyes. 'Why don't you have him upstairs?' I
asked. With a start and a confused stammer she
said, 'Oh! ah! I couldn't sit with him upstairs,
"I gave her certain directions; and going outside,
I said again that he ought to be in bed upstairs.
She wrung her hands. 'I couldn't. I
couldn't. He keeps on saying something--I don't
know what.' With the memory of all the talk
against the man that had been dinned into her ears,
I looked at her narrowly. I looked into her shortsighted
eyes, at her dumb eyes that once in her life
had seen an enticing shape, but seemed, staring at
me, to see nothing at all now. But I saw she was
"'What's the matter with him?' she asked in a
sort of vacant trepidation. 'He doesn't look very
ill. I never did see anybody look like this before.
. . .'
"'Do you think,' I asked indignantly, 'he is
"'I can't help it, sir,' she said stolidly. And
suddenly she clapped her hands and looked right
and left. 'And there's the baby. I am so frightened.
He wanted me just now to give him the
baby. I can't understand what he says to it.'
"'Can't you ask a neighbour to come in tonight?'
I asked.
"'Please, sir, nobody seems to care to come,' she
muttered, dully resigned all at once.
"I impressed upon her the necessity of the
greatest care, and then had to go. There was a
good deal of sickness that winter. 'Oh, I hope he
won't talk!' she exclaimed softly just as I was going
"I don't know how it is I did not see--but I
didn't. And yet, turning in my trap, I saw her
lingering before the door, very still, and as if meditating
a flight up the miry road.
"Towards the night his fever increased.
"He tossed, moaned, and now and then muttered
a complaint. And she sat with the table between
her and the couch, watching every movement and
every sound, with the terror, the unreasonable terror,
of that man she could not understand creeping
over her. She had drawn the wicker cradle close
to her feet. There was nothing in her now but the
maternal instinct and that unaccountable fear.
"Suddenly coming to himself, parched, he demanded
a drink of water. She did not move. She
had not understood, though he may have thought
he was speaking in English. He waited, looking at
her, burning with fever, amazed at her silence and
immobility, and then he shouted impatiently,
'Water! Give me water!'
"She jumped to her feet, snatched up the child,
and stood still. He spoke to her, and his passionate
remonstrances only increased her fear of that
strange man. I believe he spoke to her for a long
time, entreating, wondering, pleading, ordering, I
suppose. She says she bore it as long as she could.
And then a gust of rage came over him.
"He sat up and called out terribly one word--
some word. Then he got up as though he hadn't
been ill at all, she says. And as in fevered dismay,
indignation, and wonder he tried to get to her
round the table, she simply opened the door and ran
out with the child in her arms. She heard him call
twice after her down the road in a terrible voice--
and fled. . . . Ah! but you should have seen stirring
behind the dull, blurred glance of these eyes
the spectre of the fear which had hunted her on
that night three miles and a half to the door of Foster's
cottage! I did the next day.
"And it was I who found him lying face down
and his body in a puddle, just outside the little
"I had been called out that night to an urgent
case in the village, and on my way home at daybreak
passed by the cottage. The door stood open.
My man helped me to carry him in. We laid him
on the couch. The lamp smoked, the fire was out,
the chill of the stormy night oozed from the cheerless
yellow paper on the wall. 'Amy!' I called
aloud, and my voice seemed to lose itself in the
emptiness of this tiny house as if I had cried in a
desert. He opened his eyes. 'Gone!' he said distinctly.
'I had only asked for water--only for a
little water. . . .'
"He was muddy. I covered him up and stood
waiting in silence, catching a painfully gasped
word now and then. They were no longer in his
own language. The fever had left him, taking
with it the heat of life. And with his panting
breast and lustrous eyes he reminded me again of a
wild creature under the net; of a bird caught in a
snare. She had left him. She had left him--sick
--helpless--thirsty. The spear of the hunter had
entered his very soul. 'Why?' he cried in the penetrating
and indignant voice of a man calling to a
responsible Maker. A gust of wind and a swish of
rain answered.
"And as I turned away to shut the door he pronounced
the word 'Merciful!' and expired.
"Eventually I certified heart-failure as the immediate
cause of death. His heart must have indeed
failed him, or else he might have stood this
night of storm and exposure, too. I closed his eyes
and drove away. Not very far from the cottage I
met Foster walking sturdily between the dripping
hedges with his collie at his heels.
"'Do you know where your daughter is?' I
"'Don't I!' he cried. 'I am going to talk to
him a bit. Frightening a poor woman like this.'
"'He won't frighten her any more,' I said.
'He is dead.'
"He struck with his stick at the mud.
"'And there's the child.'
"Then, after thinking deeply for a while--
"'I don't know that it isn't for the best.'
"That's what he said. And she says nothing at
all now. Not a word of him. Never. Is his image
as utterly gone from her mind as his lithe and
striding figure, his carolling voice are gone from
our fields? He is no longer before her eyes to excite
her imagination into a passion of love or fear;
and his memory seems to have vanished from her
dull brain as a shadow passes away upon a white
screen. She lives in the cottage and works for Miss
Swaffer. She is Amy Foster for everybody, and
the child is 'Amy Foster's boy.' She calls him
Johnny--which means Little John.
"It is impossible to say whether this name recalls
anything to her. Does she ever think of the
past? I have seen her hanging over the boy's cot
in a very passion of maternal tenderness. The little
fellow was lying on his back, a little frightened
at me, but very still, with his big black eyes, with
his fluttered air of a bird in a snare. And looking
at him I seemed to see again the other one--the
father, cast out mysteriously by the sea to perish
in the supreme disaster of loneliness and despair."

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