What was known of Captain Hagberd in the little seaport of Colebrook was not exactly in
his favour. He did not belong to the place. He had come to settle there under
circumstances not at all mysterious--he used to be very communicative about them at the
time--but extremely morbid and unreasonable. He was possessed of some little money
evidently, because he bought a plot of ground, and had a pair of ugly yellow brick
cottages run up very cheaply. He occupied one of them himself and let the other to Josiah
Carvil--blind Carvil, the retired boat-builder--a man of evil repute as a domestic tyrant.
These cottages had one wall in common, shared in a line of iron railing dividing their
front gardens; a wooden fence separated their back gardens. Miss Bessie Carvil was
allowed, as it were of right, to throw over it the tea-cloths, blue rags, or an apron that
"It rots the wood, Bessie my girl," the captain would remark mildly, from his side of the
fence, each time he saw her exercising that privilege.
She was a tall girl; the fence was low, and she could spread her elbows on the top. Her
hands would be red with the bit of washing she had done, but her forearms were white
and shapely, and she would look at her father's landlord in silence--in an informed silence
which had an air of knowledge, expectation and desire.
"It rots the wood," repeated Captain Hagberd. "It is the only unthrifty, careless habit I
know in you. Why don't you have a clothes line out in your back yard?"
Miss Carvil would say nothing to this--she only shook her head negatively. The tiny back
yard on her side had a few stone-bordered little beds of black earth, in which the simple
flowers she found time to cultivate appeared somehow extravagantly overgrown, as if
belonging to an exotic clime; and Captain Hagberd's upright, hale person, clad in No. 1
sail-cloth from head to foot, would be emerging knee-deep out of rank grass and the tall
weeks on his side of the fence. He appeared, with the colour and uncouth stiffness of the
extraordinary material in which he chose to clothe himself--"for the time being," would
be his mumbled remark to any observation on the subject--like a man roughened out of
granite, standing in a wilderness not big enough for a decent billiard-room. A heavy
figure of a man of stone, with a red handsome face, a blue wandering eye, and a great
white beard flowing to his waist and never trimmed as far as Colebrook knew.
Seven years before, he had seriously answered, "Next month, I think," to the chaffing
attempt to secure his custom made by that distinguished local wit, the Colebrook barber,
who happened to be sitting insolently in the tap-room of the New Inn near the harbour,
where the captain had entered to buy an ounce of tobacco. After paying for his purchase
with three half-pence extracted from the corner of a handkerchief which he carried in the
cuff of his sleeve, Captain Hagberd went out. As soon as the door was shut the barber