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A Third Story of Two Brothers

Stories of two brothers are common enough the world over--probably more
so than stories of young men who have fallen in love with their
grandmothers, and the main feature in most of them, as in the story I
have just told, is in the close resemblance of the two brothers, for on
that everything hinges. It is precisely the same in the one I am about
to relate, one I came upon a few years ago--just how many I wish not to
say, nor just where it happened except that it was in the west country;
and for the real names of people and places I have substituted
fictitious ones. For this too, like the last, is a true story. The
reader on finishing it will perhaps blush to think it true, but apart
from the moral aspect of the case it is, psychologically, a singularly
interesting one.

One summer day I travelled by a public conveyance to Pollhampton, a
small rustic market town several miles distant from the nearest
railroad. My destination was not the town itself, but a lonely heath-
grown hill five miles further on, where I wished to find something that
grew and blossomed on it, and my first object on arrival was to secure
a riding horse or horse and trap to carry me there. I was told at once
that it was useless to look for such a thing, as it was market day and
everybody was fully occupied. That it was market day I already knew
very well, as the two or three main streets and wide market-place in
the middle of the town were full of sheep and cows and pigs and people
running about and much noise of shoutings and barking dogs. However,
the strange object of the strange-looking stranger in coming to the
town, interested some of the wild native boys, and they rushed about to
tell it, and in less than five minutes a nice neat-looking middle-aged
man stood at my elbow and said he had a good horse and trap and for
seven-and-sixpence would drive me to the hill, help me there to find
what I wanted, and bring me back in time to catch the conveyance.
Accordingly in a few minutes we were speeding out of the town drawn by
a fast-trotting horse. Fast trotters appeared to be common in these
parts, and as we went along the road from time to time a small cloud of
dust would become visible far ahead of us, and in two or three minutes
a farmer's trap would appear and rush past on its way to market, to
vanish behind us in two or three minutes more and be succeeded by
another and then others. By-and-by one came past driven by two young
women, one holding the reins, the other playing with the whip. They
were tall, dark, with black hair, and colourless faces, aged about
thirty, I imagined. As they flew by I remarked, "I would lay a
sovereign to a shilling that they are twins." "You'd lose your money--
there's two or three years between them," said my driver. "Do you know
them--you didn't nod to them nor they to you?" I said. "I know them,"
he returned, "as well as I know my own face when I look at myself in a
glass." On which I remarked that it was very wonderful. "'Tis only a
part of the wonder, and not the biggest part," he said. "You've seen
what they are like and how like they are, but if you passed a day with
them in the house you'd be able to tell one from the other; but if you
lived a year in the same house with their two brothers you'd never be
able to tell one from the other and be sure you were right. The
strangest thing is that the brothers who, like their sisters, have two
or three years between them, are not a bit like their sisters; they are
blue-eyed and seem a different race."

That, I said, made it more wonderful still. A curiously symmetrical
family. Rather awkward for their neighbours, and people who had
business relations with them.

"Yes--perhaps," he said, "but it served them very well on one occasion
to be so much alike."

I began to smell a dramatic rat and begged him to tell me all about it.

He said he didn't mind telling me. Their name was Prage--Antony and
Martin Prage, of Red Pit Farm, which they inherited from their father
and worked together. They were very united. One day one of them, when
riding six miles from home, met a girl coming along the road, and
stopped his horse to talk to her. She was a poor girl that worked at a
dairy farm near by, and lived with her mother, a poor old widow-woman,
in a cottage in the village. She was pretty, and the young man took a
liking to her and he persuaded her to come again to meet him on another
day at that spot; and there were many more meetings, and they were fond
of each other; but after she told him that something had happened to
her he never came again. When she made enquiries she found he had given
her a false name and address, and so she lost sight of him. Then her
child was born, and she lived with her mother. And you must know what
her life was--she and her old mother and her baby and nothing to keep
them. And though she was a shy ignorant girl she made up her mind to
look for him until she found him to make him pay for the child. She
said he had come on his horse so often to see her that he could not be
too far away, and every morning she would go off in search of him, and
she spent weeks and months tramping about the country, visiting all the
villages for many miles round looking for him. And one day in a small
village six miles from her home she caught sight of him galloping by on
his horse, and seeing a woman standing outside a cottage she ran to her
and asked who that young man was who had just ridden by. The woman told
her she thought it was Mr. Antony Prage of Red Pit Farm, about two
miles from the village. Then the girl came home and was advised what to
do. She had to do it all herself as there was no money to buy a lawyer,
so she had him brought to court and told her own story, and the judge
was very gentle with her and drew out all the particulars. But Mr.
Prage had got a lawyer, and when the girl had finished her story he got
up and put just one question to her. First he called on Antony Prage to
stand up in court, then he said to her, "Do you swear that the man
standing before you is the father of your child?"

And just when he put that question Antony's brother Martin, who had
been sitting at the back of the court, got up, and coming forward stood
at his brother's side. The girl stared at the two, standing together,
too astonished to speak for some time. She looked from one to the other
and at last said, "I swear it is one of them." That, the lawyer said,
wasn't good enough. If she could not swear that Antony Prage, the man
she had brought into court, was the guilty person, then the case fell
to the ground.

My informant finished his story and I asked "Was that then the end--was
nothing more done about it?" "No, nothing." "Did not the judge say it
was a mean dirty trick arranged between the brothers and the lawyer?"
"No, he didn't--he non-suited her and that was all." "And did not
Antony Prage, or both of them, go into the witness box and swear that
they were innocent of the charge?" "No, they never opened their mouths
in court. When the judge told the young woman that she had failed to
establish her case, they walked out smiling, and their friends came
round them and they went off together." "And these brothers, I suppose,
still live among you at their farm and are regarded as good respectable
young men, and go to chapel on Sundays, and by-and-by will probably
marry nice respectable Methodist girls, and the girls' friends will
congratulate them on making such good matches."

"Oh, no doubt; one has been married some time and his wife has got a
baby; the other one will be married before long."

"And what do you think about it all?"

"I've told you what happened because the facts came out in court and
are known to everyone. What I think about it is what I think, and I've
no call to tell that."

"Oh, very well!" I said, vexed at his noncommittal attitude. Then I
looked at him, but his face revealed nothing; he was just the man with
a quiet manner and low voice who had put himself at my service and
engaged to drive me five miles out to a hill, help me to find what I
wanted and bring me back in time to catch the conveyance to my town,
all for the surprisingly moderate sum of seven-and-sixpence. But he had
told me the story of the two brothers; and besides, in spite of our
faces being masks, if one make them so, mind converses with mind in
some way the psychologists have not yet found out, and I knew that in
his heart of hearts he regarded those two respectable members of the
Pollhampton community much as I did.

W. H. Hudson