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"If the map of the coast of Cornwall be examined, on the south-east, between the estuaries of the two rivers that divide the Hundred of West from the Hundred of East and the Hundred of Powder, will be noticed an indentation of the littoral line, in which cleft lies the little town of Polpier. Tall hills, abrupt and rugged, shut in a deep and tortuous valley, formed by the meeting of smaller coombs; houses, which seem dropped rather than built, crowd the valley and its rocky ledges; a rapid rivulet dances in and out among the dwellings, till its voice is lost in the waters of a tidal haven, thronged with fishing boats and guarded by its Peak of serried rock."
The Doctor after this first modest mention of "a rivulet" invariably writes of it as "the River," and by no other name does Polpier speak of it to this day. On the lower or seaward side of the bridge-end, where the channel measures some three yards across, the flank of his house leaned over the rushing water, to the sound of which he slept at night. Across the stream the house of Mr Barrabell, clerk, leaned forward at a more pronounced angle, so that the two neighbours, had they been so minded, might have shaken hands between their bedroom windows before retiring to rest. Tradition reports this Mr Barrabell (though an accountant for most of the privateering companies in Polpier) to have been a timorous man: and that once the Doctor, returning home in the small hours from a midwifery case, found his neighbour and his neighbour's wife hiding together under his bed-clothes. Upon an alarm that Bonaparte was in the town, they had bridged the stream with a ladder to the Doctor's open window and clambered across in their night-clothes. It is reported also that, on the transit, Mrs Barrabell was heard to say, "Go forward, Theophilus! Th' Old Doctor knows all aboutme, if he don't about you. You can trust en to the ends of the world." "That's right enough, ma'am," said the Doctor in his great way; "but you appear to have gone a bit further." A variant of the story has it that Mrs Barrabell was found beneath the bed, and her spouse alone between the bed-clothes, into which he had plunged with an exhortation, "Look after yourself, darling!" "And what do you think Theophilus found under that magnificent man's bed?" she asked her neighbours next day. "Why, naught but a plumed hat in a japanned case; no trace of alarm, and yet ready there against any emergency."