A Lost Shepherd by Frank Barrett
Winklehaven was once a very bad place. Roads, trade,
drainage—everything was as bad as it could be. The fishermen
were bad, and beat their wives, and their wives were bad and
deserved all the beating they got, and more. The fish caught
there was bad before it went to market. The very parson was
bad, and preached the excisemen to sleep whilst Red Robert and
Black Bill ran their cargo of smuggled bad brandy.
Families who should have been respectable were not. Parents
whipped their children into rebellion and then cut them off with
shillings—bad ones, of course. Wards defied their guardians,
and invariably fell in love contrary to the arrangements of their
seniors. All the young men ran away with all the eligible
The natural result was that after a dozen years from the
time when Winklehaven stood at its worst, the population of
the town consisted of infirm old people suffering from remorse,
gout, and other afflictions proceeding from the excesses of youth,
and such spinsters as were rejected by the young rakes of the
preceding era. The moral aspect of the place changed in those
years; it was no longer unholy, but, indeed, the most virtuous
of human settlements.
The fishermen were too old and weak to beat their wives, and
their failing memories could supply them with no oaths suitable
to express their feelings. The wicked parson and the smugglers
were no more; there wasn't a young man in the place, and the
ladies who called themselves young were irreproachable.
It might strike the unthinking as an extraordinary peculiarity
that a place so very, very good should require a curate in
addition to a deaf rector. Nevertheless such was the case—a
curate was wanted, and wanted very much by the congregation
of St. Tickleimpit's—the unblemished spinsters, who called
themselves young. They would have a curate, and Mr.
Lillywhite Lambe, B.A., they had.
Now as the snow falls like a veil of purity over the face of
the earth, only to melt and besmirch it before the lasting season
of blossoming sweetness, so Mr. Lillywhite Lambe, B.A., came
to Winklehaven and passed away before it attained to its
present buttercup-and-daisy condition of virtue; and the
manner of his going this pen shall tell.
Mr. Lillywhite Lambe, B.A., was a curate of the deepest dye.
He had not so much principle as a bankrupt, and he came to
Winklehaven with the settled purpose of marrying the richest
and least objectionable of his congregation. The difficulties in
his way were few. In personal appearance and demeanour he
was so simple and sweet that even the rector was mistaken and
thought him a fool, and what more could a girl of five-and-forty
It was not a question which he could marry from amongst the
eighteen or twenty tempting creatures around him, but rather
which he should reject. They surrounded him like a glory
wherever he went, waiting for him at his coming out and never
leaving him until his going in. Seldom less than half-a-dozen
spinsters accompanied him; they liked him too much and each
other too little to trust him with one alone. And they wrote
letters to him marked "private," containing the burning
thoughts they dared not express in the presence of their sisters.
Each was tantamount to an offer of marriage; but he was yet
undecided in his selection, and replied to all with touching yet
ambiguous texts. At this time he suffered somewhat from
bile, for his most active exercise was wool-winding, and the
ladies buttered his toast on both sides and the edges.
But anon there came a man with a black beard and a devil-may-care aspect
to Winklehaven, and took for six months the cottage on the deserted West
Cliff, which had belonged to Black Bill in the bad old times.
The stranger snubbed the inquisitive tradesman of whom he bought his
groceries; he ordered his bacon by the side, his beer by the barrel, and
his whisky by the largest of stone bottles. He laughed aloud when he
passed in the High Street Mr. Lambe with the three Misses Cockle on one
side of him, and the three Misses Crabbe on the other. The ladies had
not any doubt that he was a bold bad man, and declared one and all that
nothing would tempt them to venture upon that dreadful West Cliff.
But, sinners being so few, they could not but feel interested in this
man with the black beard and dark eyes, and when he came not to church
on Sunday they implored the rector to visit him.
The rector said he would not go (and privately swore it, in episcopal
terms, for he hated walking and sinners equally), but he offered the
services of his curate; and the congregation, though it fain would have
spared its pet curate so dangerous a mission, could not refuse to
Mr. Lillywhite Lambe, B.A., found it difficult to conceal his delight at
the prospect before him, for an excess of ladies and butter was killing
him. He had not enjoyed half an hour's freedom in the open air since his
arrival at Winklehaven; it seemed to him years since he smoked a morning
pipe. His bowels yearned towards beer from the barrel and whiskey from
That last evening he was ever to spend in his lodgings at Winklehaven he
occupied in preparations for the morrow. He looked up the pipe he had
brought with him but never smoked, and tobacco—dry and dusty, yet
fragrant as hay new mown, and pipe-lights, and a French novel; these he
stuffed into the pockets of his alpaca coat, ingeniously overlaying them
with his pamphlet confuting the doctrines of the Primitive Bedlamites.
In the morning he rose gaily; and when he had parted with his anxious
flock at the foot of the west hill, he ascended the steep path, like a
cherub climbing a cloud, without sense of exertion, and as one who is
resolved to make a day of it.
A walk of two miles was before him, but he did not hurry himself after
he had lost sight of the spinsters and the church weathercock. He
stopped, took off his collar and band, bared his shirt front to the
breeze, and took a deep inspiration. Then he threw himself on the thymy
grass and tasted liberty. He smoked three pipes; he read two chapters
and a half of the novel, skipping the moral parts; he dropped the book,
turned over on his chest, and with his clerical hat tilted sideways over
his eyes, he watched the distant ships for half an hour; after that he
lay on his back, drew a handkerchief over his eyes and went to sleep. He
slumbered for two blessed hours, and then waking athirst, thought kindly
of the sinner who kept his beer in barrels and whisky in cool stoneware.
So he pulled himself into Evangelical shape again and stepped out
briskly for the smuggler's cottage, smacking his lips. But, alas, the
cottage door was barred, and there was no trace of the black-bearded
sinner, save a flitch of bacon and the beer barrel which stood in the
most inaccessible of pantries.
He must wait. Once more he sat upon the short grass, and to beguile the
time, drew out the budget of letters sent by his admiring congregation.
He read them through, one after another, with the view of forming a
comparative estimate of the writer's value, but the difficulty of
selecting one seemed greater than ever.
The temporal and spiritual worth of each was represented by
x. With the chance of facilitating his choice he had recourse
to his pencil, with which he was tolerably skilful, and on the
back of each letter he drew a portrait of its sender. These
spinsters were beyond flattery, so he caricatured them to find
which must certainly be rejected as the worst looking.
In this amusing occupation the time would have passed unheeded but for
Mr. Lambe's increasing dryness. There was no water to be had, no, nor
wine, and the interior of the young curate's mouth felt like brown paper
to his tongue. It suddenly came to his mind that a dip in the cool sea
would refresh his body, now suffering from external in addition to
internal dryness. For the hour was two, the month July, and the sun
unclouded, and he determined at once to bathe, wondering why he had not
availed himself of this blessing of freedom. Except in a footbath he had
not bathed during the term of his curacy at Winklehaven. How could he,
where there was neither seclusion nor bathing machine?
The tide was at ebb, and a long stretch of sand lay between the cliff
and the sea; but near the water's edge stood a rock, and thither Mr.
Lambe betook himself. On the cliff side was a little shelf dried by the
sun, and on this he laid his clothes neatly; then with a smile
irradiating his countenance, he slapped his thin legs and ran down into
the bursting waves. Quickly he lost all thought of thirst—of
everything, save the enjoyment of the moment. He swam in every
conceivable position, bent in girlish fashion to meet the coming waves,
and floundered about like a porpoise.
It was whilst turning over head and heels that he caught sight of that
which, in a moment, sobered him—a petticoat upon the cliff—another,
another! yet others, each with a wearer! They were not a thousand yards
from the cottage on the cliff—those ladies whose outlines he
recognised, even at their remote distance from him. Full well he knew
they had come to look for him. What was he to do? How could he face
them, how avoid? He had thought to dry himself like a raisin in the sun;
that now was impossible. Equally impracticable was it to clothe himself
wet; before he had a sock on he would be observed, for there was no
ledge upon the sea-ward side of the rock, and the flowing waves already
touched its base.
The only place of concealment was behind the rock, and there he must
stay until the ladies retired.
He lay in the water, and through a chink in the rock watched his
pursuers; their voices, in high-pitched consultation, reached his ear.
They examined the cottage on the cliff, and then descended to the rocks
at its base. It was only natural that the ladies should think their
beloved curate murdered. They had not seen him for six hours; and his
destruction at the hands of the black-bearded man was the worst
explanation of his protracted absence that entered their imagination.
This fear had led them to follow in his footsteps; and now, as they
poked their sun-shades in the fissures of the rocks, it was with the
expectation of finding his corpse.
Mr. Lambe was fervently thankful that the rising tide kept them from his
place of concealment, and watched their movements fixedly, until the
cramp seized his leg; and then, in the limited space of his seclusion,
he exercised his ingenuity to keep the vital heat within him.
Occasionally he glanced at the shore. When the ladies were fatigued,
they systematically divided their number—one going to search, whilst
the other rested. Hour after hour passed, and every minute brought fresh
cramps and racking pains to the limbs of the sodden curate. He had to
put his lips between his teeth, lest their violent chattering should
proclaim his whereabouts; and he cried like a child when he found his
body assuming the blue tints of an unboiled lobster.
But still those doting spinsters poked amongst the sea-weed with
The sun was wearing the horizon, when he heard a scream, and beheld the
second Miss Cockle pointing in the direction of his rock.
Mr. Lambe was perplexed: it was impossible that his eye, peeping through
the small chink, had been discovered; but a moment later his perplexity
gave place to horror, as he perceived his hat bobbing gaily on the waves
between him and the shore. It was followed by his stockings, and behind
them in procession his waistcoat, coat—everything! all washed away from
the nice little ledge by the rising tide. He had never given his clothes
a thought from the moment he neatly packed them. But had that
consideration entered his mind, it could only have added to his anxiety:
for it would have been impossible to get them from the place where they
lay on the coast-side of the rock without displaying himself. Heedless
of their boots, the ladies hooked at the oncoming vestments with their
sunshades; and, now, one has his collar, another his dear hat, and a
third his blessed braces, whilst their cries of woe echo along the
When his coat was fished out, what could be expected, but that the
ladies all should dash at his pockets with a view to gratifying their
curiosity, and rescuing the letters which betrayed their most private
With groans, Mr. Lambe beheld his pipe and tobacco brought forth, amidst
cries of astonishment, then the French novel; and, finally, the bundle
of letters. He could not bear to see the result, when each, seizing the
letter in her own handwriting, should find her caricature thereon; and
dropping his head, he beat it with his fist—partly in frenzy, partly to
promote the circulation of his stagnating blood.
The black-bearded man returned to the cottage as the ladies, carrying
the only remains they could find of their curate, were leaving his
vicinity. He was not displeased that he was later than usual in
returning; for although he loved the beautiful, he did not like the
ladies of Winklehaven.
He lived by painting pictures, this pariah of the West Cliff;
nevertheless, he had some good qualities, and when half an hour later a
nude study, shivering and wet, presented itself in his doorway craving
to be taken in out of the night wind, he asked no question until he had
wrapped him in warm blankets, and filled him with strong liquors.
Mr. Lillywhite Lambe never returned to his curacy, never married a rich
spinster. His disappearance was not inquired into deeply. Some people
preferred to think of him as dead and sainted. He was supposed to be
drowned, and his ghost was said to be visible at times upon the West
Cliff—generally with a pipe in his mouth. And as his costume was that
of the black man, who was habitually at his side, it was further
supposed that he had, in that first visit to the cottage on the cliff,
sold himself to the D——.