A Changed Man and Other Tales
by Thomas Hardy
I reprint in this volume, for what they may be worth, a dozen minor
novels that have been published in the periodical press at various
dates in the past, in order to render them accessible to readers who
desire to have them in the complete series issued by my publishers.
For aid in reclaiming some of the narratives I express my thanks to
the proprietors and editors of the newspapers and magazines in whose
pages they first appeared.
A CHANGED MAN
The person who, next to the actors themselves, chanced to know most
of their story, lived just below 'Top o' Town' (as the spot was
called) in an old substantially-built house, distinguished among its
neighbours by having an oriel window on the first floor, whence could
be obtained a raking view of the High Street, west and east, the
former including Laura's dwelling, the end of the Town Avenue hard by
(in which were played the odd pranks hereafter to be mentioned), the
Port-Bredy road rising westwards, and the turning that led to the
cavalry barracks where the Captain was quartered. Looking eastward
down the town from the same favoured gazebo, the long perspective of
houses declined and dwindled till they merged in the highway across
the moor. The white riband of road disappeared over Grey's Bridge a
quarter of a mile off, to plunge into innumerable rustic windings,
shy shades, and solitary undulations up hill and down dale for one
hundred and twenty miles till it exhibited itself at Hyde Park Corner
as a smooth bland surface in touch with a busy and fashionable world.
To the barracks aforesaid had recently arrived the --th Hussars, a
regiment new to the locality. Almost before any acquaintance with
its members had been made by the townspeople, a report spread that
they were a 'crack' body of men, and had brought a splendid band.
For some reason or other the town had not been used as the
headquarters of cavalry for many years, the various troops stationed
there having consisted of casual detachments only; so that it was
with a sense of honour that everybody--even the small furniture-
broker from whom the married troopers hired tables and chairs--
received the news of their crack quality.
In those days the Hussar regiments still wore over the left shoulder
that attractive attachment, or frilled half-coat, hanging loosely
behind like the wounded wing of a bird, which was called the pelisse,
though it was known among the troopers themselves as a 'sling-
jacket.' It added amazingly to their picturesqueness in women's
eyes, and, indeed, in the eyes of men also.
The burgher who lived in the house with the oriel window sat during a
great many hours of the day in that projection, for he was an
invalid, and time hung heavily on his hands unless he maintained a
constant interest in proceedings without. Not more than a week after
the arrival of the Hussars his ears were assailed by the shout of one
schoolboy to another in the street below.
'Have 'ee heard this about the Hussars? They are haunted! Yes--a
ghost troubles 'em; he has followed 'em about the world for years.'
A haunted regiment: that was a new idea for either invalid or
stalwart. The listener in the oriel came to the conclusion that
there were some lively characters among the --th Hussars.
He made Captain Maumbry's acquaintance in an informal manner at an
afternoon tea to which he went in a wheeled chair--one of the very
rare outings that the state of his health permitted. Maumbry showed
himself to be a handsome man of twenty-eight or thirty, with an
attractive hint of wickedness in his manner that was sure to make him
adorable with good young women. The large dark eyes that lit his
pale face expressed this wickedness strongly, though such was the
adaptability of their rays that one could think they might have
expressed sadness or seriousness just as readily, if he had had a
mind for such.
An old and deaf lady who was present asked Captain Maumbry bluntly:
'What's this we hear about you? They say your regiment is haunted.'
The Captain's face assumed an aspect of grave, even sad, concern.
'Yes,' he replied, 'it is too true.'
Some younger ladies smiled till they saw how serious he looked, when
they looked serious likewise.
'Really?' said the old lady.
'Yes. We naturally don't wish to say much about it.'
'No, no; of course not. But--how haunted?'
'Well; the--THING, as I'll call it, follows us. In country quarters
or town, abroad or at home, it's just the same.'
'How do you account for it?'
'H'm.' Maumbry lowered his voice. 'Some crime committed by certain
of our regiment in past years, we suppose.'
'Dear me . . . How very horrid, and singular!'
'But, as I said, we don't speak of it much.'
'No . . . no.'
When the Hussar was gone, a young lady, disclosing a long-suppressed
interest, asked if the ghost had been seen by any of the town.
The lawyer's son, who always had the latest borough news, said that,
though it was seldom seen by any one but the Hussars themselves, more
than one townsman and woman had already set eyes on it, to his or her
terror. The phantom mostly appeared very late at night, under the
dense trees of the town-avenue nearest the barracks. It was about
ten feet high; its teeth chattered with a dry naked sound, as if they
were those of a skeleton; and its hip-bones could be heard grating in
During the darkest weeks of winter several timid persons were
seriously frightened by the object answering to this cheerful
description, and the police began to look into the matter. Whereupon
the appearances grew less frequent, and some of the Boys of the
regiment thankfully stated that they had not been so free from
ghostly visitation for years as they had become since their arrival
This playing at ghosts was the most innocent of the amusements
indulged in by the choice young spirits who inhabited the lichened,
red-brick building at the top of the town bearing 'W.D.' and a broad
arrow on its quoins. Far more serious escapades--levities relating
to love, wine, cards, betting--were talked of, with no doubt more or
less of exaggeration. That the Hussars, Captain Maumbry included,
were the cause of bitter tears to several young women of the town and
country is unquestionably true, despite the fact that the gaieties of
the young men wore a more staring colour in this old-fashioned place
than they would have done in a large and modern city.
Regularly once a week they rode out in marching order.
Returning up the town on one of these occasions, the romantic pelisse
flapping behind each horseman's shoulder in the soft south-west wind,
Captain Maumbry glanced up at the oriel. A mutual nod was exchanged
between him and the person who sat there reading. The reader and a
friend in the room with him followed the troop with their eyes all
the way up the street, till, when the soldiers were opposite the
house in which Laura lived, that young lady became discernible in the
'They are engaged to be married, I hear,' said the friend.
'Who--Maumbry and Laura? Never--so soon?'
'He'll never marry. Several girls have been mentioned in connection
with his name. I am sorry for Laura.'
'Oh, but you needn't be. They are excellently matched.'
'She's only one more.'
'She's one more, and more still. She has regularly caught him. She
is a born player of the game of hearts, and she knew how to beat him
in his own practices. If there is one woman in the town who has any
chance of holding her own and marrying him, she is that woman.'
This was true, as it turned out. By natural proclivity Laura had
from the first entered heart and soul into military romance as
exhibited in the plots and characters of those living exponents of it
who came under her notice. From her earliest young womanhood
civilians, however promising, had no chance of winning her interest
if the meanest warrior were within the horizon. It may be that the
position of her uncle's house (which was her home) at the corner of
West Street nearest the barracks, the daily passing of the troops,
the constant blowing of trumpet-calls a furlong from her windows,
coupled with the fact that she knew nothing of the inner realities of
military life, and hence idealized it, had also helped her mind's
original bias for thinking men-at-arms the only ones worthy of a
Captain Maumbry was a typical prize; one whom all surrounding maidens
had coveted, ached for, angled for, wept for, had by her judicious
management become subdued to her purpose; and in addition to the
pleasure of marrying the man she loved, Laura had the joy of feeling
herself hated by the mothers of all the marriageable girls of the
The man in the oriel went to the wedding; not as a guest, for at this
time he was but slightly acquainted with the parties; but mainly
because the church was close to his house; partly, too, for a reason
which moved many others to be spectators of the ceremony; a
subconsciousness that, though the couple might be happy in their
experiences, there was sufficient possibility of their being
otherwise to colour the musings of an onlooker with a pleasing pathos
of conjecture. He could on occasion do a pretty stroke of rhyming in
those days, and he beguiled the time of waiting by pencilling on a
blank page of his prayer-book a few lines which, though kept private
then, may be given here:-
AT A HASTY WEDDING
If hours be years the twain are blest,
For now they solace swift desire
By lifelong ties that tether zest
If hours be years. The twain are blest
Do eastern suns slope never west,
Nor pallid ashes follow fire.
If hours be years the twain are blest
For now they solace swift desire.
As if, however, to falsify all prophecies, the couple seemed to find
in marriage the secret of perpetuating the intoxication of a
courtship which, on Maumbry's side at least, had opened without
serious intent. During the winter following they were the most
popular pair in and about Casterbridge--nay in South Wessex itself.
No smart dinner in the country houses of the younger and gayer
families within driving distance of the borough was complete without
their lively presence; Mrs. Maumbry was the blithest of the whirling
figures at the county ball; and when followed that inevitable
incident of garrison-town life, an amateur dramatic entertainment, it
was just the same. The acting was for the benefit of such and such
an excellent charity--nobody cared what, provided the play were
played--and both Captain Maumbry and his wife were in the piece,
having been in fact, by mutual consent, the originators of the
performance. And so with laughter, and thoughtlessness, and
movement, all went merrily. There was a little backwardness in the
bill-paying of the couple; but in justice to them it must be added
that sooner or later all owings were paid.
At the chapel-of-ease attended by the troops there arose above the
edge of the pulpit one Sunday an unknown face. This was the face of
a new curate. He placed upon the desk, not the familiar sermon book,
but merely a Bible. The person who tells these things was not
present at that service, but he soon learnt that the young curate was
nothing less than a great surprise to his congregation; a mixed one
always, for though the Hussars occupied the body of the building, its
nooks and corners were crammed with civilians, whom, up to the
present, even the least uncharitable would have described as being
attracted thither less by the services than by the soldiery.
Now there arose a second reason for squeezing into an already
overcrowded church. The persuasive and gentle eloquence of Mr.
Sainway operated like a charm upon those accustomed only to the
higher and dryer styles of preaching, and for a time the other
churches of the town were thinned of their sitters.
At this point in the nineteenth century the sermon was the sole
reason for churchgoing amongst a vast body of religious people. The
liturgy was a formal preliminary, which, like the Royal proclamation
in a court of assize, had to be got through before the real interest
began; and on reaching home the question was simply: Who preached,
and how did he handle his subject? Even had an archbishop officiated
in the service proper nobody would have cared much about what was
said or sung. People who had formerly attended in the morning only
began to go in the evening, and even to the special addresses in the
One day when Captain Maumbry entered his wife's drawing-room, filled
with hired furniture, she thought he was somebody else, for he had
not come upstairs humming the most catching air afloat in musical
circles or in his usual careless way.
'What's the matter, Jack?' she said without looking up from a note
she was writing.
'Well--not much, that I know.'
'O, but there is,' she murmured as she wrote.
'Why--this cursed new lath in a sheet--I mean the new parson! He
wants us to stop the band-playing on Sunday afternoons.'
Laura looked up aghast.
'Why, it is the one thing that enables the few rational beings
hereabouts to keep alive from Saturday to Monday!'
'He says all the town flock to the music and don't come to the
service, and that the pieces played are profane, or mundane, or
inane, or something--not what ought to be played on Sunday. Of
course 'tis Lautmann who settles those things.'
Lautmann was the bandmaster.
The barrack-green on Sunday afternoons had, indeed, become the
promenade of a great many townspeople cheerfully inclined, many even
of those who attended in the morning at Mr. Sainway's service; and
little boys who ought to have been listening to the curate's
afternoon lecture were too often seen rolling upon the grass and
making faces behind the more dignified listeners.
Laura heard no more about the matter, however, for two or three
weeks, when suddenly remembering it she asked her husband if any
further objections had been raised.
'O--Mr. Sainway. I forgot to tell you. I've made his acquaintance.
He is not a bad sort of man.'
Laura asked if either Maumbry or some others of the officers did not
give the presumptuous curate a good setting down for his
'O well--we've forgotten that. He's a stunning preacher, they tell
The acquaintance developed apparently, for the Captain said to her a
little later on, 'There's a good deal in Sainway's argument about
having no band on Sunday afternoons. After all, it is close to his
church. But he doesn't press his objections unduly.'
'I am surprised to hear you defend him!'
'It was only a passing thought of mine. We naturally don't wish to
offend the inhabitants of the town if they don't like it.'
'But they do.'
The invalid in the oriel never clearly gathered the details of
progress in this conflict of lay and clerical opinion; but so it was
that, to the disappointment of musicians, the grief of out-walking
lovers, and the regret of the junior population of the town and
country round, the band-playing on Sunday afternoons ceased in
By this time the Maumbrys had frequently listened to the preaching of
the gentle if narrow-minded curate; for these light-natured, hit-or-
miss, rackety people went to church like others for respectability's
sake. None so orthodox as your unmitigated worldling. A more
remarkable event was the sight to the man in the window of Captain
Maumbry and Mr. Sainway walking down the High Street in earnest
conversation. On his mentioning this fact to a caller he was assured
that it was a matter of common talk that they were always together.
The observer would soon have learnt this with his own eyes if he had
not been told. They began to pass together nearly every day.
Hitherto Mrs. Maumbry, in fashionable walking clothes, had usually
been her husband's companion; but this was less frequent now. The
close and singular friendship between the two men went on for nearly
a year, when Mr. Sainway was presented to a living in a densely-
populated town in the midland counties. He bade the parishioners of
his old place a reluctant farewell and departed, the touching sermon
he preached on the occasion being published by the local printer.
Everybody was sorry to lose him; and it was with genuine grief that
his Casterbridge congregation learnt later on that soon after his
induction to his benefice, during some bitter weather, he had fallen
seriously ill of inflammation of the lungs, of which he eventually
We now get below the surface of things. Of all who had known the
dead curate, none grieved for him like the man who on his first
arrival had called him a 'lath in a sheet.' Mrs. Maumbry had never
greatly sympathized with the impressive parson; indeed, she had been
secretly glad that he had gone away to better himself. He had
considerably diminished the pleasures of a woman by whom the joys of
earth and good company had been appreciated to the full. Sorry for
her husband in his loss of a friend who had been none of hers, she
was yet quite unprepared for the sequel.
'There is something that I have wanted to tell you lately, dear,' he
said one morning at breakfast with hesitation. 'Have you guessed
what it is?'
She had guessed nothing.
'That I think of retiring from the army.'
'I have thought more and more of Sainway since his death, and of what
he used to say to me so earnestly. And I feel certain I shall be
right in obeying a call within me to give up this fighting trade and
enter the Church.'
'What--be a parson?'
'But what should _I_ do?'
'Be a parson's wife.'
'Never!' she affirmed.
'But how can you help it?'
'I'll run away rather!' she said vehemently;
'No, you mustn't,' Maumbry replied, in the tone he used when his mind
was made up. 'You'll get accustomed to the idea, for I am
constrained to carry it out, though it is against my worldly
interests. I am forced on by a Hand outside me to tread in the steps
'Jack,' she asked, with calm pallor and round eyes; 'do you mean to
say seriously that you are arranging to be a curate instead of a
'I might say a curate IS a soldier--of the church militant; but I
don't want to offend you with doctrine. I distinctly say, yes.'
Late one evening, a little time onward, he caught her sitting by the
dim firelight in her room. She did not know he had entered; and he
found her weeping. 'What are you crying about, poor dearest?' he
She started. 'Because of what you have told me!' The Captain grew
very unhappy; but he was undeterred.
In due time the town learnt, to its intense surprise, that Captain
Maumbry had retired from the --th Hussars and gone to Fountall
Theological College to prepare for the ministry.
'O, the pity of it! Such a dashing soldier--so popular--such an
acquisition to the town--the soul of social life here! And now! . .
. One should not speak ill of the dead, but that dreadful Mr.
Sainway--it was too cruel of him!'
This is a summary of what was said when Captain, now the Reverend,
John Maumbry was enabled by circumstances to indulge his heart's
desire of returning to the scene of his former exploits in the
capacity of a minister of the Gospel. A low-lying district of the
town, which at that date was crowded with impoverished cottagers, was
crying for a curate, and Mr. Maumbry generously offered himself as
one willing to undertake labours that were certain to produce little
result, and no thanks, credit, or emolument.
Let the truth be told about him as a clergyman; he proved to be
anything but a brilliant success. Painstaking, single-minded, deeply
in earnest as all could see, his delivery was laboured, his sermons
were dull to listen to, and alas, too, too long. Even the
dispassionate judges who sat by the hour in the bar-parlour of the
White Hart--an inn standing at the dividing line between the poor
quarter aforesaid and the fashionable quarter of Maumbry's former
triumphs, and hence affording a position of strict impartiality--
agreed in substance with the young ladies to the westward, though
their views were somewhat more tersely expressed: 'Surely, God
A'mighty spwiled a good sojer to make a bad pa'son when He shifted
Cap'n Ma'mbry into a sarpless!'
The latter knew that such things were said, but he pursued his daily'
labours in and out of the hovels with serene unconcern.
It was about this time that the invalid in the oriel became more than
a mere bowing acquaintance of Mrs. Maumbry's. She had returned to
the town with her husband, and was living with him in a little house
in the centre of his circle of ministration, when by some means she
became one of the invalid's visitors. After a general conversation
while sitting in his room with a friend of both, an incident led up
to the matter that still rankled deeply in her soul. Her face was
now paler and thinner than it had been; even more attractive, her
disappointments having inscribed themselves as meek thoughtfulness on
a look that was once a little frivolous. The two ladies had called
to be allowed to use the window for observing the departure of the
Hussars, who were leaving for barracks much nearer to London.
The troopers turned the corner of Barrack Road into the top of High
Street, headed by their band playing 'The girl I left behind me'
(which was formerly always the tune for such times, though it is now
nearly disused). They came and passed the oriel, where an officer or
two, looking up and discovering Mrs. Maumbry, saluted her, whose eyes
filled with tears as the notes of the band waned away. Before the
little group had recovered from that sense of the romantic which such
spectacles impart, Mr. Maumbry came along the pavement. He probably
had bidden his former brethren-in-arms a farewell at the top of the
street, for he walked from that direction in his rather shabby
clerical clothes, and with a basket on his arm which seemed to hold
some purchases he had been making for his poorer parishioners.
Unlike the soldiers he went along quite unconscious of his appearance
or of the scene around.
The contrast was too much for Laura. With lips that now quivered,
she asked the invalid what he thought of the change that had come to
It was difficult to answer, and with a wilfulness that was too strong
in her she repeated the question.
'Do you think,' she added, 'that a woman's husband has a right to do
such a thing, even if he does feel a certain call to it?'
Her listener sympathized too largely with both of them to be anything
but unsatisfactory in his reply. Laura gazed longingly out of the
window towards the thin dusty line of Hussars, now smalling towards
the Mellstock Ridge. 'I,' she said, 'who should have been in their
van on the way to London, am doomed to fester in a hole in Durnover
Many events had passed and many rumours had been current concerning
her before the invalid saw her again after her leave-taking that day.
Casterbridge had known many military and civil episodes; many happy
times, and times less happy; and now came the time of her visitation.
The scourge of cholera had been laid on the suffering country, and
the low-lying purlieus of this ancient borough had more than their
share of the infliction. Mixen Lane, in the Durnover quarter, and in
Maumbry's parish, was where the blow fell most heavily. Yet there
was a certain mercy in its choice of a date, for Maumbry was the man
for such an hour.
The spread of the epidemic was so rapid that many left the town and
took lodgings in the villages and farms. Mr. Maumbry's house was
close to the most infected street, and he himself was occupied morn,
noon, and night in endeavours to stamp out the plague and in
alleviating the sufferings of the victims. So, as a matter of
ordinary precaution, he decided to isolate his wife somewhere away
from him for a while.
She suggested a village by the sea, near Budmouth Regis, and lodgings
were obtained for her at Creston, a spot divided from the
Casterbridge valley by a high ridge that gave it quite another
atmosphere, though it lay no more than six miles off.
Thither she went. While she was rusticating in this place of safety,
and her husband was slaving in the slums, she struck up an
acquaintance with a lieutenant in the -st Foot, a Mr. Vannicock, who
was stationed with his regiment at the Budmouth infantry barracks.
As Laura frequently sat on the shelving beach, watching each thin
wave slide up to her, and hearing, without heeding, its gnaw at the
pebbles in its retreat, he often took a walk that way.
The acquaintance grew and ripened. Her situation, her history, her
beauty, her age--a year or two above his own--all tended to make an
impression on the young man's heart, and a reckless flirtation was
soon in blithe progress upon that lonely shore.
It was said by her detractors afterwards that she had chosen her
lodging to be near this gentleman, but there is reason to believe
that she had never seen him till her arrival there. Just now
Casterbridge was so deeply occupied with its own sad affairs--a daily
burying of the dead and destruction of contaminated clothes and
bedding--that it had little inclination to promulgate such gossip as
may have reached its ears on the pair. Nobody long considered Laura
in the tragic cloud which overhung all.
Meanwhile, on the Budmouth side of the hill the very mood of men was
in contrast. The visitation there had been slight and much earlier,
and normal occupations and pastimes had been resumed. Mr. Maumbry
had arranged to see Laura twice a week in the open air, that she
might run no risk from him; and, having heard nothing of the faint
rumour, he met her as usual one dry and windy afternoon on the summit
of the dividing hill, near where the high road from town to town
crosses the old Ridge-way at right angles.
He waved his hand, and smiled as she approached, shouting to her:
'We will keep this wall between us, dear.' (Walls formed the field-
fences here.) 'You mustn't be endangered. It won't be for long,
with God's help!'
'I will do as you tell me, Jack. But you are running too much risk
yourself, aren't you? I get little news of you; but I fancy you
'Not more than others.'
Thus somewhat formally they talked, an insulating wind beating the
wall between them like a mill-weir.
'But you wanted to ask me something?' he added.
'Yes. You know we are trying in Budmouth to raise some money for
your sufferers; and the way we have thought of is by a dramatic
performance. They want me to take a part.'
His face saddened. 'I have known so much of that sort of thing, and
all that accompanies it! I wish you had thought of some other way.'
She said lightly that she was afraid it was all settled. 'You object
to my taking a part, then? Of course--'
He told her that he did not like to say he positively objected. He
wished they had chosen an oratorio, or lecture, or anything more in
keeping with the necessity it was to relieve.
'But,' said she impatiently, 'people won't come to oratorios or
lectures! They will crowd to comedies and farces.'
'Well, I cannot dictate to Budmouth how it shall earn the money it is
going to give us. Who is getting up this performance?'
'The boys of the -st.'
'Ah, yes; our old game!' replied Mr. Maumbry. 'The grief of
Casterbridge is the excuse for their frivolity. Candidly, dear
Laura, I wish you wouldn't play in it. But I don't forbid you to. I
leave the whole to your judgment.'
The interview ended, and they went their ways northward and
southward. Time disclosed to all concerned that Mrs. Maumbry played
in the comedy as the heroine, the lover's part being taken by Mr.
Thus was helped on an event which the conduct of the mutually-
attracted ones had been generating for some time.
It is unnecessary to give details. The --st Foot left for Bristol,
and this precipitated their action. After a week of hesitation she
agreed to leave her home at Creston and meet Vannicock on the ridge
hard by, and to accompany him to Bath, where he had secured lodgings
for her, so that she would be only about a dozen miles from his
Accordingly, on the evening chosen, she laid on her dressing-table a
note for her husband, running thus:-
DEAR JACK--I am unable to endure this life any longer, and I have
resolved to put an end to it. I told you I should run away if you
persisted in being a clergyman, and now I am doing it. One cannot
help one's nature. I have resolved to throw in my lot with Mr.
Vannicock, and I hope rather than expect you will forgive me.--L.
Then, with hardly a scrap of luggage, she went, ascending to the
ridge in the dusk of early evening. Almost on the very spot where
her husband had stood at their last tryst she beheld the outline of
Vannicock, who had come all the way from Bristol to fetch her.
'I don't like meeting here--it is so unlucky!' she cried to him.
'For God's sake let us have a place of our own. Go back to the
milestone, and I'll come on.'
He went back to the milestone that stands on the north slope of the
ridge, where the old and new roads diverge, and she joined him there.
She was taciturn and sorrowful when he asked her why she would not
meet him on the top. At last she inquired how they were going to
He explained that he proposed to walk to Mellstock Hill, on the other
side of Casterbridge, where a fly was waiting to take them by a
cross-cut into the Ivell Road, and onward to that town. The Bristol
railway was open to Ivell.
This plan they followed, and walked briskly through the dull gloom
till they neared Casterbridge, which place they avoided by turning to
the right at the Roman Amphitheatre and bearing round to Durnover
Cross. Thence the way was solitary and open across the moor to the
hill whereon the Ivell fly awaited them.
'I have noticed for some time,' she said, 'a lurid glare over the
Durnover end of the town. It seems to come from somewhere about
'The lamps,' he suggested.
'There's not a lamp as big as a rushlight in the whole lane. It is
where the cholera is worst.'
By Standfast Corner, a little beyond the Cross, they suddenly
obtained an end view of the lane. Large bonfires were burning in the
middle of the way, with a view to purifying the air; and from the
wretched tenements with which the lane was lined in those days
persons were bringing out bedding and clothing. Some was thrown into
the fires, the rest placed in wheel-barrows and wheeled into the moor
directly in the track of the fugitives.
They followed on, and came up to where a vast copper was set in the
open air. Here the linen was boiled and disinfected. By the light
of the lanterns Laura discovered that her husband was standing by the
copper, and that it was he who unloaded the barrow and immersed its
contents. The night was so calm and muggy that the conversation by
the copper reached her ears.
'Are there many more loads to-night?'
'There's the clothes o' they that died this afternoon, sir. But that
might bide till to-morrow, for you must be tired out.'
'We'll do it at once, for I can't ask anybody else to undertake it.
Overturn that load on the grass and fetch the rest.'
The man did so and went off with the barrow. Maumbry paused for a
moment to wipe his face, and resumed his homely drudgery amid this
squalid and reeking scene, pressing down and stirring the contents of
the copper with what looked like an old rolling-pin. The steam
therefrom, laden with death, travelled in a low trail across the
Laura spoke suddenly: 'I won't go to-night after all. He is so
tired, and I must help him. I didn't know things were so bad as
Vannicock's arm dropped from her waist, where it had been resting as
they walked. 'Will you leave?' she asked.
'I will if you say I must. But I'd rather help too.' There was no
expostulation in his tone.
Laura had gone forward. 'Jack,' she said, 'I am come to help!'
The weary curate turned and held up the lantern. 'O--what, is it
you, Laura?' he asked in surprise. 'Why did you come into this? You
had better go back--the risk is great.'
'But I want to help you, Jack. Please let me help! I didn't come by
myself--Mr. Vannicock kept me company. He will make himself useful
too, if he's not gone on. Mr. Vannicock!'
The young lieutenant came forward reluctantly. Mr. Maumbry spoke
formally to him, adding as he resumed his labour, 'I thought the --st
Foot had gone to Bristol.'
'We have. But I have run down again for a few things.'
The two newcomers began to assist, Vannicock placing on the ground
the small bag containing Laura's toilet articles that he had been
carrying. The barrowman soon returned with another load, and all
continued work for nearly a half-hour, when a coachman came out from
the shadows to the north.
'Beg pardon, sir,' he whispered to Vannicock, 'but I've waited so
long on Mellstock hill that at last I drove down to the turnpike; and
seeing the light here, I ran on to find out what had happened.'
Lieutenant Vannicock told him to wait a few minutes, and the last
barrow-load was got through. Mr. Maumbry stretched himself and
breathed heavily, saying, 'There; we can do no more.'
As if from the relaxation of effort he seemed to be seized with
violent pain. He pressed his hands to his sides and bent forward.
'Ah! I think it has got hold of me at last,' he said with
difficulty. 'I must try to get home. Let Mr. Vannicock take you
He walked a few steps, they helping him, but was obliged to sink down
on the grass.
'I am--afraid--you'll have to send for a hurdle, or shutter, or
something,' he went on feebly, 'or try to get me into the barrow.'
But Vannicock had called to the driver of the fly, and they waited
until it was brought on from the turnpike hard by. Mr. Maumbry was
placed therein. Laura entered with him, and they drove to his humble
residence near the Cross, where he was got upstairs.
Vannicock stood outside by the empty fly awhile, but Laura did not
reappear. He thereupon entered the fly and told the driver to take
him back to Ivell.
Mr. Maumbry had over-exerted himself in the relief of the suffering
poor, and fell a victim--one of the last--to the pestilence which had
carried off so many. Two days later he lay in his coffin.
Laura was in the room below. A servant brought in some letters, and
she glanced them over. One was the note from herself to Maumbry,
informing him that she was unable to endure life with him any longer
and was about to elope with Vannicock. Having read the letter she
took it upstairs to where the dead man was, and slipped it into his
coffin. The next day she buried him.
She was now free.
She shut up his house at Durnover Cross and returned to her lodgings
at Creston. Soon she had a letter from Vannicock, and six weeks
after her husband's death her lover came to see her.
'I forgot to give you back this--that night,' he said presently,
handing her the little bag she had taken as her whole luggage when
Laura received it and absently shook it out. There fell upon the
carpet her brush, comb, slippers, nightdress, and other simple
necessaries for a journey. They had an intolerably ghastly look now,
and she tried to cover them.
'I can now,' he said, 'ask you to belong to me legally--when a proper
interval has gone--instead of as we meant.'
There was languor in his utterance, hinting at a possibility that it
was perfunctorily made. Laura picked up her articles, answering that
he certainly could so ask her--she was free. Yet not her expression
either could be called an ardent response. Then she blinked more and
more quickly and put her handkerchief to her face. She was weeping
He did not move or try to comfort her in any way. What had come
between them? No living person. They had been lovers. There was
now no material obstacle whatever to their union. But there was the
insistent shadow of that unconscious one; the thin figure of him,
moving to and fro in front of the ghastly furnace in the gloom of
Yet Vannicock called upon Laura when he was in the neighbourhood,
which was not often; but in two years, as if on purpose to further
the marriage which everybody was expecting, the -st Foot returned to
Thereupon the two could not help encountering each other at times.
But whether because the obstacle had been the source of the love, or
from a sense of error, and because Mrs. Maumbry bore a less
attractive look as a widow than before, their feelings seemed to
decline from their former incandescence to a mere tepid civility.
What domestic issues supervened in Vannicock's further story the man
in the oriel never knew; but Mrs. Maumbry lived and died a widow.
THE WAITING SUPPER
Whoever had perceived the yeoman standing on Squire Everard's lawn in
the dusk of that October evening fifty years ago, might have said at
first sight that he was loitering there from idle curiosity. For a
large five-light window of the manor-house in front of him was
unshuttered and uncurtained, so that the illuminated room within
could be scanned almost to its four corners. Obviously nobody was
ever expected to be in this part of the grounds after nightfall.
The apartment thus swept by an eye from without was occupied by two
persons; they were sitting over dessert, the tablecloth having been
removed in the old-fashioned way. The fruits were local, consisting
of apples, pears, nuts, and such other products of the summer as
might be presumed to grow on the estate. There was strong ale and
rum on the table, and but little wine. Moreover, the appointments of
the dining-room were simple and homely even for the date, betokening
a countrified household of the smaller gentry, without much wealth or
ambition--formerly a numerous class, but now in great part ousted by
the territorial landlords.
One of the two sitters was a young lady in white muslin, who listened
somewhat impatiently to the remarks of her companion, an elderly,
rubicund personage, whom the merest stranger could have pronounced to
be her father. The watcher evinced no signs of moving, and it became
evident that affairs were not so simple as they first had seemed.
The tall farmer was in fact no accidental spectator, and he stood by
premeditation close to the trunk of a tree, so that had any traveller
passed along the road without the park gate, or even round the lawn
to the door, that person would scarce have noticed the other,
notwithstanding that the gate was quite near at hand, and the park
little larger than a paddock. There was still light enough in the
western heaven to brighten faintly one side of the man's face, and to
show against the trunk of the tree behind the admirable cut of his
profile; also to reveal that the front of the manor-house, small
though it seemed, was solidly built of stone in that never-to-be-
surpassed style for the English country residence--the mullioned and
The lawn, although neglected, was still as level as a bowling-green--
which indeed it might once have served for; and the blades of grass
before the window were raked by the candle-shine, which stretched
over them so far as to touch the yeoman's face in front.
Within the dining-room there were also, with one of the twain, the
same signs of a hidden purpose that marked the farmer. The young
lady's mind was straying as clearly into the shadows as that of the
loiterer was fixed upon the room--nay, it could be said that she was
quite conscious of his presence outside. Impatience caused her foot
to beat silently on the carpet, and she more than once rose to leave
the table. This proceeding was checked by her father, who would put
his hand upon her shoulder and unceremoniously press her down into
her chair, till he should have concluded his observations. Her
replies were brief enough, and there was factitiousness in her smiles
of assent to his views. A small iron casement between two of the
mullions was open, and some occasional words of the dialogue were
'As for drains--how can I put in drains? The pipes don't cost much,
that's true; but the labour in sinking the trenches is ruination.
And then the gates--they should be hung to stone posts, otherwise
there's no keeping them up through harvest.' The Squire's voice was
strongly toned with the local accent, so that he said 'drains' and
'geats' like the rustics on his estate.
The landscape without grew darker, and the young man's figure seemed
to be absorbed into the trunk of the tree. The small stars filled in
between the larger, the nebulae between the small stars, the trees
quite lost their voice; and if there was still a sound, it was from
the cascade of a stream which stretched along under the trees that
bounded the lawn on its northern side.
At last the young girl did get to her feet and secure her retreat.
'I have something to do, papa,' she said. 'I shall not be in the
drawing-room just yet.'
'Very well,' replied he. 'Then I won't hurry.' And closing the door
behind her, he drew his decanters together and settled down in his
Three minutes after that a woman's shape emerged from the drawing-
room window, and passing through a wall-door to the entrance front,
came across the grass. She kept well clear of the dining-room
window, but enough of its light fell on her to show, escaping from
the dark-hooded cloak that she wore, stray verges of the same light
dress which had figured but recently at the dinner-table. The hood
was contracted tight about her face with a drawing-string, making her
countenance small and baby-like, and lovelier even than before.
Without hesitation she brushed across the grass to the tree under
which the young man stood concealed. The moment she had reached him
he enclosed her form with his arm. The meeting and embrace, though
by no means formal, were yet not passionate; the whole proceeding was
that of persons who had repeated the act so often as to be
unconscious of its performance. She turned within his arm, and faced
in the same direction with himself, which was towards the window; and
thus they stood without speaking, the back of her head leaning
against his shoulder. For a while each seemed to be thinking his and
her diverse thoughts.
'You have kept me waiting a long time, dear Christine,' he said at
last. 'I wanted to speak to you particularly, or I should not have
stayed. How came you to be dining at this time o' night?'
'Father has been out all day, and dinner was put back till six. I
know I have kept you; but Nicholas, how can I help it sometimes, if I
am not to run any risk? My poor father insists upon my listening to
all he has to say; since my brother left he has had nobody else to
listen to him; and to-night he was particularly tedious on his usual
topics--draining, and tenant-farmers, and the village people. I must
take daddy to London; he gets so narrow always staying here.'
'And what did you say to it all?'
'Well, I took the part of the tenant-farmers, of course, as the
beloved of one should in duty do.' There followed a little break or
gasp, implying a strangled sigh.
'You are sorry you have encouraged that beloving one?'
'O no, Nicholas . . . What is it you want to see me for
'I know you are sorry, as time goes on, and everything is at a dead-
lock, with no prospect of change, and your rural swain loses his
freshness! Only think, this secret understanding between us has
lasted near three year, ever since you was a little over sixteen.'
'Yes; it has been a long time.'
'And I an untamed, uncultivated man, who has never seen London, and
knows nothing about society at all.'
'Not uncultivated, dear Nicholas. Untravelled, socially unpractised,
if you will,' she said, smiling. 'Well, I did sigh; but not because
I regret being your promised one. What I do sometimes regret is that
the scheme, which my meetings with you are but a part of, has not
been carried out completely. You said, Nicholas, that if I consented
to swear to keep faith with you, you would go away and travel, and
see nations, and peoples, and cities, and take a professor with you,
and study books and art, simultaneously with your study of men and
manners; and then come back at the end of two years, when I should
find that my father would by no means be indisposed to accept you as
a son-in-law. You said your reason for wishing to get my promise
before starting was that your mind would then be more at rest when
you were far away, and so could give itself more completely to
knowledge than if you went as my unaccepted lover only, fuming with
anxiety as to how I should be when you came back. I saw how
reasonable that was; and solemnly swore myself to you in consequence.
But instead of going to see the world you stay on and on here to see
'And you don't want me to see you?'
'Yes--no--it is not that. It is that I have latterly felt frightened
at what I am doing when not in your actual presence. It seems so
wicked not to tell my father that I have a lover close at hand,
within touch and view of both of us; whereas if you were absent my
conduct would not seem quite so treacherous. The realities would not
stare at one so. You would be a pleasant dream to me, which I should
be free to indulge in without reproach of my conscience; I should
live in hopeful expectation of your returning fully qualified to
boldly claim me of my father. There, I have been terribly frank, I
He in his turn had lapsed into gloomy breathings now. 'I did plan it
as you state,' he answered. 'I did mean to go away the moment I had
your promise. But, dear Christine, I did not foresee two or three
things. I did not know what a lot of pain it would cost to tear
myself from you. And I did not know that my stingy uncle--heaven
forgive me calling him so!--would so flatly refuse to advance me
money for my purpose--the scheme of travelling with a first-rate
tutor costing a formidable sum o' money. You have no idea what it
'But I have said that I'll find the money.'
'Ah, there,' he returned, 'you have hit a sore place. To speak
truly, dear, I would rather stay unpolished a hundred years than take
'But why? Men continually use the money of the women they marry.'
'Yes; but not till afterwards. No man would like to touch your money
at present, and I should feel very mean if I were to do so in present
circumstances. That brings me to what I was going to propose. But
no--upon the whole I will not propose it now.'
'Ah! I would guarantee expenses, and you won't let me! The money is
my personal possession: it comes to me from my late grandfather, and
not from my father at all.'
He laughed forcedly and pressed her hand. 'There are more reasons
why I cannot tear myself away,' he added. 'What would become of my
uncle's farming? Six hundred acres in this parish, and five hundred
in the next--a constant traipsing from one farm to the other; he
can't be in two places at once. Still, that might be got over if it
were not for the other matters. Besides, dear, I still should be a
little uneasy, even though I have your promise, lest somebody should
snap you up away from me.'
'Ah, you should have thought of that before. Otherwise I have
committed myself for nothing.'
'I should have thought of it,' he answered gravely. 'But I did not.
There lies my fault, I admit it freely. Ah, if you would only commit
yourself a little more, I might at least get over that difficulty!
But I won't ask you. You have no idea how much you are to me still;
you could not argue so coolly if you had. What property belongs to
you I hate the very sound of; it is you I care for. I wish you
hadn't a farthing in the world but what I could earn for you!'
'I don't altogether wish that,' she murmured.
'I wish it, because it would have made what I was going to propose
much easier to do than it is now. Indeed I will not propose it,
although I came on purpose, after what you have said in your
'Nonsense, Nic. Come, tell me. How can you be so touchy?'
'Look at this then, Christine dear.' He drew from his breast-pocket
a sheet of paper and unfolded it, when it was observable that a seal
dangled from the bottom.
'What is it?' She held the paper sideways, so that what there was of
window-light fell on its surface. 'I can only read the Old English
letters--why--our names! Surely it is not a marriage-licence?'
She trembled. 'O Nic! how could you do this--and without telling
'Why should I have thought I must tell you? You had not spoken
"frankly" then as you have now. We have been all to each other more
than these two years, and I thought I would propose that we marry
privately, and that I then leave you on the instant. I would have
taken my travelling-bag to church, and you would have gone home
alone. I should not have started on my adventures in the brilliant
manner of our original plan, but should have roughed it a little at
first; my great gain would have been that the absolute possession of
you would have enabled me to work with spirit and purpose, such as
nothing else could do. But I dare not ask you now--so frank as you
She did not answer. The document he had produced gave such
unexpected substantiality to the venture with which she had so long
toyed as a vague dream merely, that she was, in truth, frightened a
little. 'I--don't know about it!' she said.
'Perhaps not. Ah, my little lady, you are wearying of me!'
'No, Nic,' responded she, creeping closer. 'I am not. Upon my word,
and truth, and honour, I am not, Nic.'
'A mere tiller of the soil, as I should be called,' he continued,
without heeding her. 'And you--well, a daughter of one of the--I
won't say oldest families, because that's absurd, all families are
the same age--one of the longest chronicled families about here,
whose name is actually the name of the place.'
'That's not much, I am sorry to say! My poor brother--but I won't
speak of that . . . Well,' she murmured mischievously, after a pause,
'you certainly would not need to be uneasy if I were to do this that
you want me to do. You would have me safe enough in your trap then;
I couldn't get away!'
'That's just it!' he said vehemently. 'It IS a trap--you feel it so,
and that though you wouldn't be able to get away from me you might
particularly wish to! Ah, if I had asked you two years ago you would
have agreed instantly. But I thought I was bound to wait for the
proposal to come from you as the superior!'
'Now you are angry, and take seriously what I meant purely in fun.
You don't know me even yet! To show you that you have not been
mistaken in me, I do propose to carry out this licence. I'll marry
you, dear Nicholas, to-morrow morning.'
'Ah, Christine! I am afraid I have stung you on to this, so that I
'No, no, no!' she hastily rejoined; and there was something in her
tone which suggested that she had been put upon her mettle and would
not flinch. 'Take me whilst I am in the humour. What church is the
'That I've not looked to see--why our parish church here, of course.
Ah, then we cannot use it! We dare not be married here.'
'We do dare,' said she. 'And we will too, if you'll be there.'
'IF I'll be there!'
They speedily came to an agreement that he should be in the church-
porch at ten minutes to eight on the following morning, awaiting her;
and that, immediately after the conclusion of the service which would
make them one, Nicholas should set out on his long-deferred
educational tour, towards the cost of which she was resolving to
bring a substantial subscription with her to church. Then, slipping
from him, she went indoors by the way she had come, and Nicholas bent
his steps homewards.
Instead of leaving the spot by the gate, he flung himself over the
fence, and pursued a direction towards the river under the trees.
And it was now, in his lonely progress, that he showed for the first
time outwardly that he was not altogether unworthy of her. He wore
long water-boots reaching above his knees, and, instead of making a
circuit to find a bridge by which he might cross the Froom--the river
aforesaid--he made straight for the point whence proceeded the low
roar that was at this hour the only evidence of the stream's
existence. He speedily stood on the verge of the waterfall which
caused the noise, and stepping into the water at the top of the fall,
waded through with the sure tread of one who knew every inch of his
footing, even though the canopy of trees rendered the darkness almost
absolute, and a false step would have precipitated him into the pool
beneath. Soon reaching the boundary of the grounds, he continued in
the same direct line to traverse the alluvial valley, full of brooks
and tributaries to the main stream--in former times quite impassable,
and impassable in winter now. Sometimes he would cross a deep gully
on a plank not wider than the hand; at another time he ploughed his
way through beds of spear-grass, where at a few feet to the right or
left he might have been sucked down into a morass. At last he
reached firm land on the other side of this watery tract, and came to
his house on the rise behind--Elsenford--an ordinary farmstead, from
the back of which rose indistinct breathings, belchings, and
snortings, the rattle of halters, and other familiar features of an
While Nicholas Long was packing his bag in an upper room of this
dwelling, Miss Christine Everard sat at a desk in her own chamber at
Froom-Everard manor-house, looking with pale fixed countenance at the
'I ought--I must now!' she whispered to herself. 'I should not have
begun it if I had not meant to carry it through! It runs in the
blood of us, I suppose.' She alluded to a fact unknown to her lover,
the clandestine marriage of an aunt under circumstances somewhat
similar to the present. In a few minutes she had penned the
October 13, 183--.
DEAR MR. BEALAND--Can you make it convenient to yourself to meet me
at the Church to-morrow morning at eight? I name the early hour
because it would suit me better than later on in the day. You will
find me in the chancel, if you can come. An answer yes or no by the
bearer of this will be sufficient.
She sent the note to the rector immediately, waiting at a small side-
door of the house till she heard the servant's footsteps returning
along the lane, when she went round and met him in the passage. The
rector had taken the trouble to write a line, and answered that he
would meet her with pleasure.
A dripping fog which ushered in the next morning was highly
favourable to the scheme of the pair. At that time of the century
Froom-Everard House had not been altered and enlarged; the public
lane passed close under its walls; and there was a door opening
directly from one of the old parlours--the south parlour, as it was
called--into the lane which led to the village. Christine came out
this way, and after following the lane for a short distance entered
upon a path within a belt of plantation, by which the church could be
reached privately. She even avoided the churchyard gate, walking
along to a place where the turf without the low wall rose into a
mound, enabling her to mount upon the coping and spring down inside.
She crossed the wet graves, and so glided round to the door. He was
there, with his bag in his hand. He kissed her with a sort of
surprise, as if he had expected that at the last moment her heart
would fail her.
Though it had not failed her, there was, nevertheless, no great
ardour in Christine's bearing--merely the momentum of an antecedent
impulse. They went up the aisle together, the bottle-green glass of
the old lead quarries admitting but little light at that hour, and
under such an atmosphere. They stood by the altar-rail in silence,
Christine's skirt visibly quivering at each beat of her heart.
Presently a quick step ground upon the gravel, and Mr. Bealand came
round by the front. He was a quiet bachelor, courteous towards
Christine, and not at first recognizing in Nicholas a neighbouring
yeoman (for he lived aloofly in the next parish), advanced to her
without revealing any surprise at her unusual request. But in truth
he was surprised, the keen interest taken by many country young women
at the present day in church decoration and festivals being then
'Good morning,' he said; and repeated the same words to Nicholas more
'Good morning,' she replied gravely. 'Mr. Bealand, I have a serious
reason for asking you to meet me--us, I may say. We wish you to
The rector's gaze hardened to fixity, rather between than upon either
of them, and he neither moved nor replied for some time.
'Ah!' he said at last.
'And we are quite ready.'
'I had no idea--'
'It has been kept rather private,' she said calmly.
'Where are your witnesses?'
'They are outside in the meadow, sir. I can call them in a moment,'
'Oh--I see it is--Mr. Nicholas Long,' said Mr. Bealand, and turning
again to Christine, 'Does your father know of this?'
'Is it necessary that I should answer that question, Mr. Bealand?'
'I am afraid it is--highly necessary.'
Christine began to look concerned.
'Where is the licence?' the rector asked; 'since there have been no
Nicholas produced it, Mr. Bealand read it, an operation which
occupied him several minutes--or at least he made it appear so; till
Christine said impatiently, 'We are quite ready, Mr. Bealand. Will
you proceed? Mr. Long has to take a journey of a great many miles
'No. I remain.'
Mr. Bealand assumed firmness. 'There is something wrong in this,' he
said. 'I cannot marry you without your father's presence.'
'But have you a right to refuse us?' interposed Nicholas. 'I believe
we are in a position to demand your fulfilment of our request.'
'No, you are not! Is Miss Everard of age? I think not. I think she
is months from being so. Eh, Miss Everard?'
'Am I bound to tell that?'
'Certainly. At any rate you are bound to write it. Meanwhile I
refuse to solemnize the service. And let me entreat you two young
people to do nothing so rash as this, even if by going to some
strange church, you may do so without discovery. The tragedy of
'Certainly. It is full of crises and catastrophes, and ends with the
death of one of the actors. The tragedy of marriage, as I was
saying, is one I shall not be a party to your beginning with such
light hearts, and I shall feel bound to put your father on his guard,
Miss Everard. Think better of it, I entreat you! Remember the
proverb, "Marry in haste and repent at leisure."'
Christine, spurred by opposition, almost stormed at him. Nicholas
implored; but nothing would turn that obstinate rector. She sat down
and reflected. By-and-by she confronted Mr. Bealand.
'Our marriage is not to be this morning, I see,' she said. 'Now
grant me one favour, and in return I'll promise you to do nothing
rashly. Do not tell my father a word of what has happened here.'
'I agree--if you undertake not to elope.'
She looked at Nicholas, and he looked at her. 'Do you wish me to
elope, Nic?' she asked.
'No,' he said.
So the compact was made, and they left the church singly, Nicholas
remaining till the last, and closing the door. On his way home,
carrying the well-packed bag which was just now to go no further, the
two men who were mending water-carriers in the meadows approached the
hedge, as if they had been on the alert all the time.
'You said you mid want us for zummat, sir?'
'All right--never mind,' he answered through the hedge. 'I did not
require you after all.'
At a manor not far away there lived a queer and primitive couple who
had lately been blessed with a son and heir. The christening took
place during the week under notice, and this had been followed by a
feast to the parishioners. Christine's father, one of the same
generation and kind, had been asked to drive over and assist in the
entertainment, and Christine, as a matter of course, accompanied him.
When they reached Athelhall, as the house was called, they found the
usually quiet nook a lively spectacle. Tables had been spread in the
apartment which lent its name to the whole building--the hall proper-
-covered with a fine open-timbered roof, whose braces, purlins, and
rafters made a brown thicket of oak overhead. Here tenantry of all
ages sat with their wives and families, and the servants were
assisted in their ministrations by the sons and daughters of the
owner's friends and neighbours. Christine lent a hand among the
She was holding a plate in each hand towards a huge brown platter of
baked rice-pudding, from which a footman was scooping a large
spoonful, when a voice reached her ear over her shoulder: 'Allow me
to hold them for you.'
Christine turned, and recognized in the speaker the nephew of the
entertainer, a young man from London, whom she had already met on two
or three occasions.
She accepted the proffered help, and from that moment, whenever he
passed her in their marchings to and fro during the remainder of the
serving, he smiled acquaintance. When their work was done, he
improved the few words into a conversation. He plainly had been
attracted by her fairness.
Bellston was a self-assured young man, not particularly good-looking,
with more colour in his skin than even Nicholas had. He had flushed
a little in attracting her notice, though the flush had nothing of
nervousness in it--the air with which it was accompanied making it
curiously suggestive of a flush of anger; and even when he laughed it
was difficult to banish that fancy.
The late autumn sunlight streamed in through the window panes upon
the heads and shoulders of the venerable patriarchs of the hamlet,
and upon the middle-aged, and upon the young; upon men and women who
had played out, or were to play, tragedies or tragi-comedies in that
nook of civilization not less great, essentially, than those which,
enacted on more central arenas, fix the attention of the world. One
of the party was a cousin of Nicholas Long's, who sat with her
husband and children.
To make himself as locally harmonious as possible, Mr. Bellston
remarked to his companion on the scene--'It does one's heart good,'
he said, 'to see these simple peasants enjoying themselves.'
'O Mr. Bellston!' exclaimed Christine; 'don't be too sure about that
word "simple"! You little think what they see and meditate! Their
reasonings and emotions are as complicated as ours.'
She spoke with a vehemence which would have been hardly present in
her words but for her own relation to Nicholas. The sense of that
produced in her a nameless depression thenceforward. The young man,
however, still followed her up.
'I am glad to hear you say it,' he returned warmly. 'I was merely
attuning myself to your mood, as I thought. The real truth is that I
know more of the Parthians, and Medes, and dwellers in Mesopotamia--
almost of any people, indeed--than of the English rustics. Travel
and exploration are my profession, not the study of the British
Travel. There was sufficient coincidence between his declaration and
the course she had urged upon her lover, to lend Bellston's account
of himself a certain interest in Christine's ears. He might perhaps
be able to tell her something that would be useful to Nicholas, if
their dream were carried out. A door opened from the hall into the
garden, and she somehow found herself outside, chatting with Mr.
Bellston on this topic, till she thought that upon the whole she
liked the young man. The garden being his uncle's, he took her round
it with an air of proprietorship; and they went on amongst the
Michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemums, and through a door to the
fruit-garden. A green-house was open, and he went in and cut her a
bunch of grapes.
'How daring of you! They are your uncle's.'
'O, he don't mind--I do anything here. A rough old buffer, isn't
She was thinking of her Nic, and felt that, by comparison with her
present acquaintance, the farmer more than held his own as a fine and
intelligent fellow; but the harmony with her own existence in little
things, which she found here, imparted an alien tinge to Nicholas
just now. The latter, idealized by moonlight, or a thousand miles of
distance, was altogether a more romantic object for a woman's dream
than this smart new-lacquered man; but in the sun of afternoon, and
amid a surrounding company, Mr. Bellston was a very tolerable
When they re-entered the hall, Bellston entreated her to come with
him up a spiral stair in the thickness of the wall, leading to a
passage and gallery whence they could look down upon the scene below.
The people had finished their feast, the newly-christened baby had
been exhibited, and a few words having been spoken to them they
began, amid a racketing of forms, to make for the greensward without,
Nicholas's cousin and cousin's wife and cousin's children among the
rest. While they were filing out, a voice was heard calling--
'Hullo!--here, Jim; where are you?' said Bellston's uncle. The young
man descended, Christine following at leisure.
'Now will ye be a good fellow,' the Squire continued, 'and set them
going outside in some dance or other that they know? I'm dog-tired,
and I want to have a yew words with Mr. Everard before we join 'em--
hey, Everard? They are shy till somebody starts 'em; afterwards
they'll keep gwine brisk enough.'
'Ay, that they wool,' said Squire Everard.
They followed to the lawn; and here it proved that James Bellston was
as shy, or rather as averse, as any of the tenantry themselves, to
acting the part of fugleman. Only the parish people had been at the
feast, but outlying neighbours had now strolled in for a dance.
'They want "Speed the Plough,"' said Bellston, coming up breathless.
'It must be a country dance, I suppose? Now, Miss Everard, do have
pity upon me. I am supposed to lead off; but really I know no more
about speeding the plough than a child just born! Would you take one
of the villagers?--just to start them, my uncle says. Suppose you
take that handsome young farmer over there--I don't know his name,
but I dare say you do--and I'll come on with one of the dairyman's
daughters as a second couple.'
Christine turned in the direction signified, and changed colour--
though in the shade nobody noticed it, 'Oh, yes--I know him,' she
said coolly. 'He is from near our own place--Mr. Nicholas Long.'
'That's capital--then you can easily make him stand as first couple
with you. Now I must pick up mine.'
'I--I think I'll dance with you, Mr. Bellston,' she said with some
trepidation. 'Because, you see,' she explained eagerly, 'I know the
figure and you don't--so that I can help you; while Nicholas Long, I
know, is familiar with the figure, and that will make two couples who
know it--which is necessary, at least.'
Bellston showed his gratification by one of his angry-pleasant
flushes--he had hardly dared to ask for what she proffered freely;
and having requested Nicholas to take the dairyman's daughter, led
Christine to her place, Long promptly stepping up second with his
charge. There were grim silent depths in Nic's character; a small
deedy spark in his eye, as it caught Christine's, was all that showed
his consciousness of her. Then the fiddlers began--the celebrated
Mellstock fiddlers who, given free stripping, could play from sunset
to dawn without turning a hair. The couples wheeled and swung,
Nicholas taking Christine's hand in the course of business with the
figure, when she waited for him to give it a little squeeze; but he
Christine had the greatest difficulty in steering her partner through
the maze, on account of his self-will, and when at last they reached
the bottom of the long line, she was breathless with her hard
labour.. Resting here, she watched Nic and his lady; and, though she
had decidedly cooled off in these later months, began to admire him
anew. Nobody knew these dances like him, after all, or could do
anything of this sort so well. His performance with the dairyman's
daughter so won upon her, that when 'Speed the Plough' was over she
contrived to speak to him.
'Nic, you are to dance with me next time.'
He said he would, and presently asked her in a formal public manner,
lifting his hat gallantly. She showed a little backwardness, which
he quite understood, and allowed him to lead her to the top, a row of
enormous length appearing below them as if by magic as soon as they
had taken their places. Truly the Squire was right when he said that
they only wanted starting.
'What is it to be?' whispered Nicholas.
She turned to the band. 'The Honeymoon,' she said.
And then they trod the delightful last-century measure of that name,
which if it had been ever danced better, was never danced with more
zest. The perfect responsiveness which their tender acquaintance
threw into the motions of Nicholas and his partner lent to their
gyrations the fine adjustment of two interacting parts of a single
machine. The excitement of the movement carried Christine back to
the time--the unreflecting passionate time, about two years before--
when she and Nic had been incipient lovers only; and it made her
forget the carking anxieties, the vision of social breakers ahead,
that had begun to take the gilding off her position now. Nicholas,
on his part, had never ceased to be a lover; no personal worries had
as yet made him conscious of any staleness, flatness, or
unprofitableness in his admiration of Christine.
'Not quite so wildly, Nic,' she whispered. 'I don't object
personally; but they'll notice us. How came you here?'
'I heard that you had driven over; and I set out--on purpose for
'What--you have walked?'
'Yes. If I had waited for one of uncle's horses I should have been
'Five miles here and five back--ten miles on foot--merely to dance!'
'With you. What made you think of this old "Honeymoon" thing?'
'O! it came into my head when I saw you, as what would have been a
reality with us if you had not been stupid about that licence, and
had got it for a distant church.'
'Shall we try again?'
'No--I don't know. I'll think it over.'
The villagers admired their grace and skill, as the dancers
themselves perceived; but they did not know what accompanied that
admiration in one spot, at least.
'People who wonder they can foot it so featly together should know
what some others think,' a waterman was saying to his neighbour.
'Then their wonder would be less.'
His comrade asked for information.
'Well--really I hardly believe it--but 'tis said they be man and
wife. Yes, sure--went to church and did the job a'most afore 'twas
light one morning. But mind, not a word of this; for 'twould be the
loss of a winter's work to me if I had spread such a report and it
were not true.'
When the dance had ended she rejoined her own section of the company.
Her father and Mr. Bellston the elder had now come out from the
house, and were smoking in the background. Presently she found that
her father was at her elbow.
'Christine, don't dance too often with young Long--as a mere matter
of prudence, I mean, as volk might think it odd, he being one of our
own neighbouring farmers. I should not mention this to 'ee if he
were an ordinary young fellow; but being superior to the rest it
behoves you to be careful.'
'Exactly, papa,' said Christine.
But the revived sense that she was deceiving him threw a damp over
her spirits. 'But, after all,' she said to herself, 'he is a young
man of Elsenford, handsome, able, and the soul of honour; and I am a
young woman of the adjoining parish, who have been constantly thrown
into communication with him. Is it not, by nature's rule, the most
proper thing in the world that I should marry him, and is it not an
absurd conventional regulation which says that such a union would be
It may be concluded that the strength of Christine's large-minded
argument was rather an evidence of weakness than of strength in the
passion it concerned, which had required neither argument nor
reasoning of any kind for its maintenance when full and flush in its
When driving home in the dark with her father she sank into pensive
silence. She was thinking of Nicholas having to trudge on foot all
those miles back after his exertions on the sward. Mr. Everard,
arousing himself from a nap, said suddenly, 'I have something to
mention to 'ee, by George--so I have, Chris! You probably know what
She expressed ignorance, wondering if her father had discovered
anything of her secret.
'Well, according to HIM you know it. But I will tell 'ee. Perhaps
you noticed young Jim Bellston walking me off down the lawn with
him?--whether or no, we walked together a good while; and he informed
me that he wanted to pay his addresses to 'ee. I naturally said that
it depended upon yourself; and he replied that you were willing
enough; you had given him particular encouragement--showing your
preference for him by specially choosing him for your partner--hey?
"In that case," says I, "go on and conquer--settle it with her--I
have no objection." The poor fellow was very grateful, and in short,
there we left the matter. He'll propose to-morrow.'
She saw now to her dismay what James Bellston had read as
encouragement. 'He has mistaken me altogether,' she said. 'I had no
idea of such a thing.'
'What, you won't have him?'
'Indeed, I cannot!'
'Chrissy,' said Mr. Everard with emphasis, 'there's NOObody whom I
should so like you to marry as that young man. He's a thoroughly
clever fellow, and fairly well provided for. He's travelled all over
the temperate zone; but he says that directly he marries he's going
to give up all that, and be a regular stay-at-home. You would be
nowhere safer than in his hands.'
'It is true,' she answered. 'He IS a highly desirable match, and I
SHOULD be well provided for, and probably very safe in his hands.'
'Then don't be skittish, and stand-to.'
She had spoken from her conscience and understanding, and not to
please her father. As a reflecting woman she believed that such a
marriage would be a wise one. In great things Nicholas was closest
to her nature; in little things Bellston seemed immeasurably nearer
than Nic; and life was made up of little things.
Altogether the firmament looked black for Nicholas Long,
notwithstanding her half-hour's ardour for him when she saw him
dancing with the dairyman's daughter. Most great passions,
movements, and beliefs--individual and national--burst during their
decline into a temporary irradiation, which rivals their original
splendour; and then they speedily become extinct. Perhaps the dance
had given the last flare-up to Christine's love. It seemed to have
improvidently consumed for its immediate purpose all her ardour
forwards, so that for the future there was nothing left but
Nicholas had certainly been very foolish about that licence!
This laxity of emotional tone was further increased by an incident,
when, two days later, she kept an appointment with Nicholas in the
Sallows. The Sallows was an extension of shrubberies and plantations
along the banks of the Froom, accessible from the lawn of Froom-
Everard House only, except by wading through the river at the
waterfall or elsewhere. Near the brink was a thicket of box in which
a trunk lay prostrate; this had been once or twice their trysting-
place, though it was by no means a safe one; and it was here she sat
awaiting him now.
The noise of the stream muffled any sound of footsteps, and it was
before she was aware of his approach that she looked up and saw him
wading across at the top of the waterfall.
Noontide lights and dwarfed shadows always banished the romantic
aspect of her love for Nicholas. Moreover, something new had
occurred to disturb her; and if ever she had regretted giving way to
a tenderness for him--which perhaps she had not done with any
distinctness--she regretted it now. Yet in the bottom of their
hearts those two were excellently paired, the very twin halves of a
perfect whole; and their love was pure. But at this hour surfaces
showed garishly, and obscured the depths. Probably her regret
appeared in her face.
He walked up to her without speaking, the water running from his
boots; and, taking one of her hands in each of his own, looked
narrowly into her eyes.
'Have you thought it over?'
'Whether we shall try again; you remember saying you would at the
'Oh, I had forgotten that!'
'You are sorry we tried at all!' he said accusingly.
'I am not so sorry for the fact as for the rumours,' she said.
'They say we are already married.'
'I cannot tell exactly. I heard some whispering to that effect.
Somebody in the village told one of the servants, I believe. This
man said that he was crossing the churchyard early on that
unfortunate foggy morning, and heard voices in the chancel, and
peeped through the window as well as the dim panes would let him; and
there he saw you and me and Mr. Bealand, and so on; but thinking his
surmises would be dangerous knowledge, he hastened on. And so the
story got afloat. Then your aunt, too--'
'Good Lord!--what has she done?'
The story was, told her, and she said proudly, "O yes, it is true
enough. I have seen the licence. But it is not to be known yet."'
'Seen the licence? How the--'
'Accidentally, I believe, when your coat was hanging somewhere.'
The information, coupled with the infelicitous word 'proudly,' caused
Nicholas to flush with mortification. He knew that it was in his
aunt's nature to make a brag of that sort; but worse than the brag
was the fact that this was the first occasion on which Christine had
deigned to show her consciousness that such a marriage would be a
source of pride to his relatives--the only two he had in the world.
'You are sorry, then, even to be thought my wife, much less to be
it.' He dropped her hand, which fell lifelessly.
'It is not sorry exactly, dear Nic. But I feel uncomfortable and
vexed, that after screwing up my courage, my fidelity, to the point
of going to church, you should have so muddled--managed the matter
that it has ended in neither one thing nor the other. How can I meet
acquaintances, when I don't know what they are thinking of me?'
'Then, dear Christine, let us mend the muddle. I'll go away for a
few days and get another licence, and you can come to me.'
She shrank from this perceptibly. 'I cannot screw myself up to it a
second time,' she said. 'I am sure I cannot! Besides, I promised
Mr. Bealand. And yet how can I continue to see you after such a
rumour? We shall be watched now, for certain.'
'Then don't see me.'
'I fear I must not for the present. Altogether--'
'I am very depressed.'
These views were not very inspiriting to Nicholas, as he construed
them. It may indeed have been possible that he construed them
wrongly, and should have insisted upon her making the rumour true.
Unfortunately, too, he had come to her in a hurry through brambles
and briars, water and weed, and the shaggy wildness which hung about
his appearance at this fine and correct time of day lent an
impracticability to the look of him.
'You blame me--you repent your courses--you repent that you ever,
ever owned anything to me!'
'No, Nicholas, I do not repent that,' she returned gently, though
with firmness. 'But I think that you ought not to have got that
licence without asking me first; and I also think that you ought to
have known how it would be if you lived on here in your present
position, and made no effort to better it. I can bear whatever
comes, for social ruin is not personal ruin or even personal
disgrace. But as a sensible, new-risen poet says, whom I have been
reading this morning:-
The world and its ways have a certain worth:
And to press a point while these oppose
Were simple policy. Better wait.
As soon as you had got my promise, Nic, you should have gone away--
yes--and made a name, and come back to claim me. That was my silly
girlish dream about my hero.'
'Perhaps I can do as much yet! And would you have indeed liked
better to live away from me for family reasons, than to run a risk in
seeing me for affection's sake? O what a cold heart it has grown!
If I had been a prince, and you a dairymaid, I'd have stood by you in
the face of the world!'
She shook her head. 'Ah--you don't know what society is--you don't
'Perhaps not. Who was that strange gentleman of about seven-and-
twenty I saw at Mr. Bellston's christening feast?'
'Oh--that was his nephew James. Now he is a man who has seen an
unusual extent of the world for his age. He is a great traveller,
'In fact an explorer. He is very entertaining.'
Nicholas received no shock of jealousy from her announcement. He
knew her so well that he could see she was not in the least in love
with Bellston. But he asked if Bellston were going to continue his
'Not if he settles in life. Otherwise he will, I suppose.'
'Perhaps I could be a great explorer, too, if I tried.'
'You could, I am sure.'
They sat apart, and not together; each looking afar off at vague
objects, and not in each other's eyes. Thus the sad autumn afternoon
waned, while the waterfall hissed sarcastically of the inevitableness
of the unpleasant. Very different this from the time when they had
first met there.
The nook was most picturesque; but it looked horridly common and
stupid now. Their sentiment had set a colour hardly less visible
than a material one on surrounding objects, as sentiment must where
life is but thought. Nicholas was as devoted as ever to the fair
Christine; but unhappily he too had moods and humours, and the
division between them was not closed.
She had no sooner got indoors and sat down to her work-table than her
father entered the drawing-room.
She handed him his newspaper; he took it without a word, went and
stood on the hearthrug, and flung the paper on the floor.
'Christine, what's the meaning of this terrible story? I was just on
my way to look at the register.'
She looked at him without speech.
'You have married--Nicholas Long?'
'No? Can you say no in the face of such facts as I have been put in
'But--the note you wrote to the rector--and the going to church?'
She briefly explained that their attempt had failed.
'Ah! Then this is what that dancing meant, was it? By -, it makes
me -. How long has this been going on, may I ask?'
'What, indeed! Why, making him your beau. Now listen to me. All's
well that ends well; from this day, madam, this moment, he is to be
nothing more to you. You are not to see him. Cut him adrift
instantly! I only wish his volk were on my farm--out they should go,
or I would know the reason why. However, you are to write him a
letter to this effect at once.'
'How can I cut him adrift?'
'Why not? You must, my good maid!'
'Well, though I have not actually married him, I have solemnly sworn
to be his wife when he comes home from abroad to claim me. It would
be gross perjury not to fulfil my promise. Besides, no woman can go
to church with a man to deliberately solemnize matrimony, and refuse
him afterwards, if he does nothing wrong meanwhile.'
The uttered sound of her strong conviction seemed to kindle in
Christine a livelier perception of all its bearings than she had
known while it had lain unformulated in her mind. For when she had
done speaking she fell down on her knees before her father, covered
her face, and said, 'Please, please forgive me, papa! How could I do
it without letting you know! I don't know, I don't know!'
When she looked up she found that, in the turmoil of his mind, her
father was moving about the room. 'You are within an ace of ruining
yourself, ruining me, ruining us all!' he said. 'You are nearly as
bad as your brother, begad!'
'Perhaps I am--yes--perhaps I am!'
'That I should father such a harum-scarum brood!'
'It is very bad; but Nicholas--'
'He's a scoundrel!'
'He is NOT a scoundrel!' cried she, turning quickly. 'He's as good
and worthy as you or I, or anybody bearing our name, or any nobleman
in the kingdom, if you come to that! Only--only'--she could not
continue the argument on those lines. 'Now, father, listen!' she
sobbed; 'if you taunt me I'll go off and join him at his farm this
very day, and marry him to-morrow, that's what I'll do!'
'I don't taant ye!'
'I wish to avoid unseemliness as much as you.'
She went away. When she came back a quarter of an hour later,
thinking to find the room empty, he was standing there as before,
never having apparently moved. His manner had quite changed. He
seemed to take a resigned and entirely different view of
'Christine, here's a paragraph in the paper hinting at a secret
wedding, and I'm blazed if it don't point to you. Well, since this
was to happen, I'll bear it, and not complain. All volk have
crosses, and this is one of mine. Now, this is what I've got to say-
-I feel that you must carry out this attempt at marrying Nicholas
Long. Faith, you must! The rumour will become a scandal if you
don't--that's my view. I have tried to look at the brightest side of
the case. Nicholas Long is a young man superior to most of his
class, and fairly presentable. And he's not poor--at least his uncle
is not. I believe the old muddler could buy me up any day. However,
a farmer's wife you must be, as far as I can see. As you've made
your bed, so ye must lie. Parents propose, and ungrateful children
dispose. You shall marry him, and immediately.'
Christine hardly knew what to make of this. 'He is quite willing to
wait, and so am I. We can wait for two or three years, and then he
will be as worthy as--'
'You must marry him. And the sooner the better, if 'tis to be done
at all . . . And yet I did wish you could have been Jim Bellston's
wife. I did wish it! But no.'
'I, too, wished it and do still, in one sense,' she returned gently.
His moderation had won her out of her defiant mood, and she was
willing to reason with him.
'You do?' he said surprised.
'I see that in a worldly sense my conduct with Mr. Long may be
considered a mistake.'
'H'm--I am glad to hear that--after my death you may see it more
clearly still; and you won't have long to wait, to my reckoning.'
She fell into bitter repentance, and kissed him in her anguish.
'Don't say that!' she cried. 'Tell me what to do?'
'If you'll leave me for an hour or two I'll think. Drive to the
market and back--the carriage is at the door--and I'll try to collect
my senses. Dinner can be put back till you return.'
In a few minutes she was dressed, and the carriage bore her up the
hill which divided the village and manor from the market-town.
A quarter of an hour brought her into the High Street, and for want
of a more important errand she called at the harness-maker's for a
dog-collar that she required.
It happened to be market-day, and Nicholas, having postponed the
engagements which called him thither to keep the appointment with her
in the Sallows, rushed off at the end of the afternoon to attend to
them as well as he could. Arriving thus in a great hurry on account
of the lateness of the hour, he still retained the wild, amphibious
appearance which had marked him when he came up from the meadows to
her side--an exceptional condition of things which had scarcely ever
before occurred. When she crossed the pavement from the shop door,
the shopman bowing and escorting her to the carriage, Nicholas
chanced to be standing at the road-waggon office, talking to the
master of the waggons. There were a good many people about, and
those near paused and looked at her transit, in the full stroke of
the level October sun, which went under the brims of their hats, and
pierced through their button-holes. From the group she heard
murmured the words: 'Mrs. Nicholas Long.'
The unexpected remark, not without distinct satire in its tone, took
her so greatly by surprise that she was confounded. Nicholas was by
this time nearer, though coming against the sun he had not yet
perceived her. Influenced by her father's lecture, she felt angry
with him for being there and causing this awkwardness. Her notice of
him was therefore slight, supercilious perhaps, slurred over; and her
vexation at his presence showed distinctly in her face as she sat
down in her seat. Instead of catching his waiting eye, she
positively turned her head away.
A moment after she was sorry she had treated him so; but he was gone.
Reaching home she found on her dressing-table a note from her father.
The statement was brief:
I have considered and am of the same opinion. You must marry him.
He can leave home at once and travel as proposed. I have written to
him to this effect. I don't want any victuals, so don't wait dinner
Nicholas was the wrong kind of man to be blind to his Christine's
mortification, though he did not know its entire cause. He had
lately foreseen something of this sort as possible.
'It serves me right,' he thought, as he trotted homeward. 'It was
absurd--wicked of me to lead her on so. The sacrifice would have
been too great--too cruel!' And yet, though he thus took her part,
he flushed with indignation every time he said to himself, 'She is
ashamed of me!'
On the ridge which overlooked Froom-Everard he met a neighbour of
his--a stock-dealer--in his gig, and they drew rein and exchanged a
few words. A part of the dealer's conversation had much meaning for
'I've had occasion to call on Squire Everard,' the former said; 'but
he couldn't see me on account of being quite knocked up at some bad
news he has heard.'
Nicholas rode on past Froom-Everard to Elsenford Farm, pondering. He
had new and startling matter for thought as soon as he got there.
The Squire's note had arrived. At first he could not credit its
import; then he saw further, took in the tone of the letter, saw the
writer's contempt behind the words, and understood that the letter
was written as by a man hemmed into a corner. Christine was
defiantly--insultingly--hurled at his head. He was accepted because
he was so despised.
And yet with what respect he had treated her and hers! Now he was
reminded of what an agricultural friend had said years ago, seeing
the eyes of Nicholas fixed on Christine as on an angel when she
passed: 'Better a little fire to warm 'ee than a great one to burn
'ee. No good can come of throwing your heart there.' He went into
the mead, sat down, and asked himself four questions:
1. How could she live near her acquaintance as his wife, even in his
absence, without suffering martyrdom from the stings of their
2. Would not this entail total estrangement between Christine and
her family also, and her own consequent misery?
3. Must not such isolation extinguish her affection for him?
4. Supposing that her father rigged them out as colonists and sent
them off to America, was not the effect of such exile upon one of her
gentle nurture likely to be as the last?
In short, whatever they should embark in together would be cruelty to
her, and his death would be a relief. It would, indeed, in one
aspect be a relief to her now, if she were so ashamed of him as she
had appeared to be that day. Were he dead, this little episode with
him would fade away like a dream.
Mr. Everard was a good-hearted man at bottom, but to take his enraged
offer seriously was impossible. Obviously it was hotly made in his
first bitterness at what he had heard. The least thing that he could
do would be to go away and never trouble her more. To travel and
learn and come back in two years, as mapped out in their first
sanguine scheme, required a staunch heart on her side, if the
necessary expenditure of time and money were to be afterwards
justified; and it were folly to calculate on that when he had seen
to-day that her heart was failing her already. To travel and
disappear and not be heard of for many years would be a far more
independent stroke, and it would leave her entirely unfettered.
Perhaps he might rival in this kind the accomplished Mr. Bellston, of
whose journeyings he had heard so much.
He sat and sat, and the fog rose out of the river, enveloping him
like a fleece; first his feet and knees, then his arms and body, and
finally submerging his head. When he had come to a decision he went
up again into the homestead. He would be independent, if he died for
it, and he would free Christine. Exile was the only course. The
first step was to inform his uncle of his determination.
Two days later Nicholas was on the same spot in the mead, at almost
the same hour of eve. But there was no fog now; a blusterous autumn
wind had ousted the still, golden days and misty nights; and he was
going, full of purpose, in the opposite direction. When he had last
entered the mead he was an inhabitant of the Froom valley; in forty-
eight hours he had severed himself from that spot as completely as if
he had never belonged to it. All that appertained to him in the
Froom valley now was circumscribed by the portmanteau in his hand.
In making his preparations for departure he had unconsciously held a
faint, foolish hope that she would communicate with him and make up
their estrangement in some soft womanly way. But she had given no
signal, and it was too evident to him that her latest mood had grown
to be her fixed one, proving how well founded had been his impulse to
set her free.
He entered the Sallows, found his way in the dark to the garden-door
of the house, slipped under it a note to tell her of his departure,
and explaining its true reason to be a consciousness of her growing
feeling that he was an encumbrance and a humiliation. Of the
direction of his journey and of the date of his return he said
His course now took him into the high road, which he pursued for some
miles in a north-easterly direction, still spinning the thread of sad
inferences, and asking himself why he should ever return. At
daybreak he stood on the hill above Shottsford-Forum, and awaited a
coach which passed about this time along that highway towards
Melchester and London.
Some fifteen years after the date of the foregoing incidents, a man
who had dwelt in far countries, and viewed many cities, arrived at
Roy-Town, a roadside hamlet on the old western turnpike road, not
five miles from Froom-Everard, and put up at the Buck's Head, an
isolated inn at that spot. He was still barely of middle age, but it
could be seen that a haze of grey was settling upon the locks of his
hair, and that his face had lost colour and curve, as if by exposure
to bleaching climates and strange atmospheres, or from ailments
incidental thereto. He seemed to observe little around him, by
reason of the intrusion of his musings upon the scene. In truth
Nicholas Long was just now the creature of old hopes and fears
consequent upon his arrival--this man who once had not cared if his
name were blotted out from that district. The evening light showed
wistful lines which he could not smooth away by the worldling's gloss
of nonchalance that he had learnt to fling over his face.
The Buck's Head was a somewhat unusual place for a man of this sort
to choose as a house of sojourn in preference to some Casterbridge
inn four miles further on. Before he left home it had been a lively
old tavern at which High-flyers, and Heralds, and Tally-hoes had
changed horses on their stages up and down the country; but now the
house was rather cavernous and chilly, the stable-roofs were hollow-
backed, the landlord was asthmatic, and the traffic gone.
He arrived in the afternoon, and when he had sent back the fly and
was having a nondescript meal, he put a question to the waiting-maid
with a mien of indifference.
'Squire Everard, of Froom-Everard Manor, has been dead some years, I
She replied in the affirmative.
'And are any of the family left there still?'
'O no, bless you, sir! They sold the place years ago--Squire
Everard's son did--and went away. I've never heard where they went
to. They came quite to nothing.'
'Never heard anything of the young lady--the Squire's daughter?'
'No. You see 'twas before I came to these parts.'
When the waitress left the room, Nicholas pushed aside his plate and
gazed out of the window. He was not going over into the Froom Valley
altogether on Christine's account, but she had greatly animated his
motive in coming that way. Anyhow he would push on there now that he
was so near, and not ask questions here where he was liable to be
wrongly informed. The fundamental inquiry he had not ventured to
make--whether Christine had married before the family went away. He
had abstained because of an absurd dread of extinguishing hopeful
surmise. That the Everards had left their old home was bad enough
intelligence for one day.
Rising from the table he put on his hat and went out, ascending
towards the upland which divided this district from his native vale.
The first familiar feature that met his eye was a little spot on the
distant sky--a clump of trees standing on a barrow which surmounted a
yet more remote upland--a point where, in his childhood, he had
believed people could stand and see America. He reached the further
verge of the plateau on which he had entered. Ah, there was the
valley--a greenish-grey stretch of colour--still looking placid and
serene, as though it had not much missed him. If Christine was no
longer there, why should he pause over it this evening? His uncle
and aunt were dead, and to-morrow would be soon enough to inquire for
remoter relatives. Thus, disinclined to go further, he turned to
retrace his way to the inn.
In the backward path he now perceived the figure of a woman, who had
been walking at a distance behind him; and as she drew nearer he
began to be startled. Surely, despite the variations introduced into
that figure by changing years, its ground-lines were those of
Nicholas had been sentimental enough to write to Christine
immediately on landing at Southampton a day or two before this,
addressing his letter at a venture to the old house, and merely
telling her that he planned to reach the Roy-Town inn on the present
afternoon. The news of the scattering of the Everards had dissipated
his hope of hearing of her; but here she was.
So they met--there, alone, on the open down by a pond, just as if the
meeting had been carefully arranged.
She threw up her veil. She was still beautiful, though the years had
touched her; a little more matronly--much more homely. Or was it
only that he was much less homely now--a man of the world--the sense
of homeliness being relative? Her face had grown to be pre-eminently
of the sort that would be called interesting. Her habiliments were
of a demure and sober cast, though she was one who had used to dress
so airily and so gaily. Years had laid on a few shadows too in this.
'I received your letter,' she said, when the momentary embarrassment
of their first approach had passed. 'And I thought I would walk
across the hills to-day, as it was fine. I have just called at the
inn, and they told me you were out. I was now on my way homeward.'
He hardly listened to this, though he intently gazed at her.
'Christine,' he said, 'one word. Are you free?'
'I--I am in a certain sense,' she replied, colouring.
The announcement had a magical effect. The intervening time between
past and present closed up for him, and moved by an impulse which he
had combated for fifteen years, he seized her two hands and drew her
She started back, and became almost a mere acquaintance. 'I have to
tell you,' she gasped, 'that I have--been married.'
Nicholas's rose-coloured dream was immediately toned down to a
'I did not marry till many years after you had left,' she continued
in the humble tones of one confessing to a crime. 'Oh Nic,' she
cried reproachfully, 'how could you stay away so long?'
'Whom did you marry?'
'I--ought to have expected it.' He was going to add, 'And is he
dead?' but he checked himself. Her dress unmistakably suggested
widowhood; and she had said she was free.
'I must now hasten home,' said she. 'I felt that, considering my
shortcomings at our parting so many years ago, I owed you the
'There is some of your old generosity in that. I'll walk with you,
if I may. Where are you living, Christine?'
'In the same house, but not on the old conditions. I have part of it
on lease; the farmer now tenanting the premises found the whole more
than he wanted, and the owner allowed me to keep what rooms I chose.
I am poor now, you know, Nicholas, and almost friendless. My brother
sold the Froom-Everard estate when it came to him, and the person who
bought it turned our home into a farmhouse. Till my father's death
my husband and I lived in the manor-house with him, so that I have
never lived away from the spot.'
She was poor. That, and the change of name, sufficiently accounted
for the inn-servant's ignorance of her continued existence within the
walls of her old home.
It was growing dusk, and he still walked with her. A woman's head
arose from the declivity before them, and as she drew nearer,
Christine asked him to go back.
'This is the wife of the farmer who shares the house,' she said.
'She is accustomed to come out and meet me whenever I walk far and am
benighted. I am obliged to walk everywhere now.'
The farmer's wife, seeing that Christine was not alone, paused in her
advance, and Nicholas said, 'Dear Christine, if you are obliged to do
these things, I am not, and what wealth I can command you may command
likewise. They say rolling stones gather no moss; but they gather
dross sometimes. I was one of the pioneers to the gold-fields, you
know, and made a sufficient fortune there for my wants. What is
more, I kept it. When I had done this I was coming home, but hearing
of my uncle's death I changed my plan, travelled, speculated, and
increased my fortune. Now, before we part: you remember you stood
with me at the altar once, and therefore I speak with less
preparation than I should otherwise use. Before we part then I ask,
shall another again intrude between us? Or shall we complete the
union we began?'
She trembled--just as she had done at that very minute of standing
with him in the church, to which he had recalled her mind. 'I will
not enter into that now, dear Nicholas,' she replied. 'There will be
more to talk of and consider first--more to explain, which it would
have spoiled this meeting to have entered into now.'
'Yes, yes; but--'
'Further than the brief answer I first gave, Nic, don't press me to-
night. I still have the old affection for you, or I should not have
sought you. Let that suffice for the moment.'
'Very well, dear one. And when shall I call to see you?'
'I will write and fix an hour. I will tell you everything of my
And thus they parted, Nicholas feeling that he had not come here
fruitlessly. When she and her companion were out of sight he
retraced his steps to Roy-Town, where he made himself as comfortable
as he could in the deserted old inn of his boyhood's days. He missed
her companionship this evening more than he had done at any time
during the whole fifteen years; and it was as though instead of
separation there had been constant communion with her throughout that
period. The tones of her voice had stirred his heart in a nook which
had lain stagnant ever since he last heard them. They recalled the
woman to whom he had once lifted his eyes as to a goddess. Her
announcement that she had been another's came as a little shock to
him, and he did not now lift his eyes to her in precisely the same
way as he had lifted them at first. But he forgave her for marrying
Bellston; what could he expect after fifteen years?
He slept at Roy-Town that night, and in the morning there was a short
note from her, repeating more emphatically her statement of the
previous evening--that she wished to inform him clearly of her
circumstances, and to calmly consider with him the position in which
she was placed. Would he call upon her on Sunday afternoon, when she
was sure to be alone?
'Nic,' she wrote on, 'what a cosmopolite you are! I expected to find
my old yeoman still; but I was quite awed in the presence of such a
citizen of the world. Did I seem rusty and unpractised? Ah--you
seemed so once to me!'
Tender playful words; the old Christine was in them. She said Sunday
afternoon, and it was now only Saturday morning. He wished she had
said to-day; that short revival of her image had vitalized to sudden
heat feelings that had almost been stilled. Whatever she might have
to explain as to her position--and it was awkwardly narrowed, no
doubt--he could not give her up. Miss Everard or Mrs. Bellston, what
mattered it?--she was the same Christine.
He did not go outside the inn all Saturday. He had no wish to see or
do anything but to await the coming interview. So he smoked, and
read the local newspaper of the previous week, and stowed himself in
the chimney-corner. In the evening he felt that he could remain
indoors no longer, and the moon being near the full, he started from
the inn on foot in the same direction as that of yesterday, with the
view of contemplating the old village and its precincts, and hovering
round her house under the cloak of night.
With a stout stick in his hand he climbed over the five miles of
upland in a comparatively short space of time. Nicholas had seen
many strange lands and trodden many strange ways since he last walked
that path, but as he trudged he seemed wonderfully like his old self,
and had not the slightest difficulty in finding the way. In
descending to the meads the streams perplexed him a little, some of
the old foot-bridges having been removed; but he ultimately got
across the larger water-courses, and pushed on to the village,
avoiding her residence for the moment, lest she should encounter him,
and think he had not respected the time of her appointment.
He found his way to the churchyard, and first ascertained where lay
the two relations he had left alive at his departure; then he
observed the gravestones of other inhabitants with whom he had been
well acquainted, till by degrees he seemed to be in the society of
all the elder Froom-Everard population, as he had known the place.
Side by side as they had lived in his day here were they now. They
had moved house in mass.
But no tomb of Mr. Bellston was visible, though, as he had lived at
the manor-house, it would have been natural to find it here. In
truth Nicholas was more anxious to discover that than anything, being
curious to know how long he had been dead. Seeing from the glimmer
of a light in the church that somebody was there cleaning for Sunday
he entered, and looked round upon the walls as well as he could. But
there was no monument to her husband, though one had been erected to
Nicholas addressed the young man who was sweeping. 'I don't see any
monument or tomb to the late Mr. Bellston?'
'O no, sir; you won't see that,' said the young man drily.
'Because he's not buried here. He's not Christian-buried anywhere,
as far as we know. In short, perhaps he's not buried at all; and
between ourselves, perhaps he's alive.'
Nicholas sank an inch shorter. 'Ah,' he answered.
'Then you don't know the peculiar circumstances, sir?'
'I am a stranger here--as to late years.'
'Mr. Bellston was a traveller--an explorer--it was his calling; you
may have heard his name as such?'
'I remember.' Nicholas recalled the fact that this very bent of Mr.
Bellston's was the incentive to his own roaming.
'Well, when he married he came and lived here with his wife and his
wife's father, and said he would travel no more. But after a time he
got weary of biding quiet here, and weary of her--he was not a good
husband to the young lady by any means--and he betook himself again
to his old trick of roving--with her money. Away he went, quite out
of the realm of human foot, into the bowels of Asia, and never was
heard of more. He was murdered, it is said, but nobody knows; though
as that was nine years ago he's dead enough in principle, if not in
corporation. His widow lives quite humble, for between her husband
and her brother she's left in very lean pasturage.'
Nicholas went back to the Buck's Head without hovering round her
dwelling. This then was the explanation which she had wanted to
make. Not dead, but missing. How could he have expected that the
first fair promise of happiness held out to him would remain
untarnished? She had said that she was free; and legally she was
free, no doubt. Moreover, from her tone and manner he felt himself
justified in concluding that she would be willing to run the risk of
a union with him, in the improbability of her husband's existence.
Even if that husband lived, his return was not a likely event, to
judge from his character. A man who could spend her money on his own
personal adventures would not be anxious to disturb her poverty after
such a lapse of time.
Well, the prospect was not so unclouded as it had seemed. But could
he, even now, give up Christine?
Two months more brought the year nearly to a close, and found
Nicholas Long tenant of a spacious house in the market-town nearest
to Froom-Everard. A man of means, genial character, and a bachelor,
he was an object of great interest to his neighbours, and to his
neighbours' wives and daughters. But he took little note of this,
and had made it his business to go twice a week, no matter what the
weather, to the now farmhouse at Froom-Everard, a wing of which had
been retained as the refuge of Christine. He always walked, to give
no trouble in putting up a horse to a housekeeper whose staff was
The two had put their heads together on the situation, had gone to a
solicitor, had balanced possibilities, and had resolved to make the
plunge of matrimony. 'Nothing venture, nothing have,' Christine had
said, with some of her old audacity.
With almost gratuitous honesty they had let their intentions be
widely known. Christine, it is true, had rather shrunk from
publicity at first; but Nicholas argued that their boldness in this
respect would have good results. With his friends he held that there
was not the slightest probability of her being other than a widow,
and a challenge to the missing man now, followed by no response,
would stultify any unpleasant remarks which might be thrown at her
after their union. To this end a paragraph was inserted in the
Wessex papers, announcing that their marriage was proposed to be
celebrated on such and such a day in December.
His periodic walks along the south side of the valley to visit her
were among the happiest experiences of his life. The yellow leaves
falling around him in the foreground, the well-watered meads on the
left hand, and the woman he loved awaiting him at the back of the
scene, promised a future of much serenity, as far as human judgment
could foresee. On arriving, he would sit with her in the 'parlour'
of the wing she retained, her general sitting-room, where the only
relics of her early surroundings were an old clock from the other end
of the house, and her own piano. Before it was quite dark they would
stand, hand in hand, looking out of the window across the flat turf
to the dark clump of trees which hid further view from their eyes.
'Do you wish you were still mistress here, dear?' he once said.
'Not at all,' said she cheerfully. 'I have a good enough room, and a
good enough fire, and a good enough friend. Besides, my latter days
as mistress of the house were not happy ones, and they spoilt the
place for me. It was a punishment for my faithlessness. Nic, you do
forgive me? Really you do?'
The twenty-third of December, the eve of the wedding-day, had arrived
at last in the train of such uneventful ones as these. Nicholas had
arranged to visit her that day a little later than usual, and see
that everything was ready with her for the morrow's event and her
removal to his house; for he had begun to look after her domestic
affairs, and to lighten as much as possible the duties of her
He was to come to an early supper, which she had arranged to take the
place of a wedding-breakfast next day--the latter not being feasible
in her present situation. An hour or so after dark the wife of the
farmer who lived in the other part of the house entered Christine's
parlour to lay the cloth.
'What with getting the ham skinned, and the black-puddings hotted
up,' she said, 'it will take me all my time before he's here, if I
begin this minute.'
'I'll lay the table myself,' said Christine, jumping up. 'Do you
attend to the cooking.'
'Thank you, ma'am. And perhaps 'tis no matter, seeing that it is the
last night you'll have to do such work. I knew this sort of life
wouldn't last long for 'ee, being born to better things.'
'It has lasted rather long, Mrs. Wake. And if he had not found me
out it would have lasted all my days.'
'But he did find you out.'
'He did. And I'll lay the cloth immediately.'
Mrs. Wake went back to the kitchen, and Christine began to bustle
about. She greatly enjoyed preparing this table for Nicholas and
herself with her own hands. She took artistic pleasure in adjusting
each article to its position, as if half an inch error were a point
of high importance. Finally she placed the two candles where they
were to stand, and sat down by the fire.
Mrs. Wake re-entered and regarded the effect. 'Why not have another
candle or two, ma'am?' she said. ''Twould make it livelier. Say
'Very well,' said Christine, and four candles were lighted.
'Really,' she added, surveying them, 'I have been now so long
accustomed to little economies that they look quite extravagant.'
'Ah, you'll soon think nothing of forty in his grand new house!
Shall I bring in supper directly he comes, ma'am?'
'No, not for half an hour; and, Mrs. Wake, you and Betsy are busy in
the kitchen, I know; so when he knocks don't disturb yourselves; I
can let him in.'
She was again left alone, and, as it still wanted some time to
Nicholas's appointment, she stood by the fire, looking at herself in
the glass over the mantel. Reflectively raising a lock of her hair
just above her temple she uncovered a small scar. That scar had a
history. The terrible temper of her late husband--those sudden moods
of irascibility which had made even his friendly excitements look
like anger--had once caused him to set that mark upon her with the
bezel of a ring he wore. He declared that the whole thing was an
accident. She was a woman, and kept her own opinion.
Christine then turned her back to the glass and scanned the table and
the candles, shining one at each corner like types of the four
Evangelists, and thought they looked too assuming--too confident.
She glanced up at the clock, which stood also in this room, there not
being space enough for it in the passage. It was nearly seven, and
she expected Nicholas at half-past. She liked the company of this
venerable article in her lonely life: its tickings and whizzings
were a sort of conversation. It now began to strike the hour. At
the end something grated slightly. Then, without any warning, the
clock slowly inclined forward and fell at full length upon the floor.
The crash brought the farmer's wife rushing into the room. Christine
had well-nigh sprung out of her shoes. Mrs. Wake's enquiry what had
happened was answered by the evidence of her own eyes.
'How did it occur?' she said.
'I cannot say; it was not firmly fixed, I suppose. Dear me, how
sorry I am! My dear father's hall-clock! And now I suppose it is
Assisted by Mrs. Wake, she lifted the clock. Every inch of glass
was, of course, shattered, but very little harm besides appeared to
be done. They propped it up temporarily, though it would not go
Christine had soon recovered her composure, but she saw that Mrs.
Wake was gloomy. 'What does it mean, Mrs. Wake?' she said. 'Is it
'It is a sign of a violent death in the family.'
'Don't talk of it. I don't believe such things; and don't mention it
to Mr. Long when he comes. HE'S not in the family yet, you know.'
'O no, it cannot refer to him,' said Mrs. Wake musingly.
'Some remote cousin, perhaps,' observed Christine, no less willing to
humour her than to get rid of a shapeless dread which the incident
had caused in her own mind. 'And--supper is almost ready, Mrs.
'In three-quarters of an hour.'
Mrs. Wake left the room, and Christine sat on. Though it still
wanted fifteen minutes to the hour at which Nicholas had promised to
be there, she began to grow impatient. After the accustomed ticking
the dead silence was oppressive. But she had not to wait so long as
she had expected; steps were heard approaching the door, and there
was a knock.
Christine was already there to open it. The entrance had no lamp,
but it was not particularly dark out of doors. She could see the
outline of a man, and cried cheerfully, 'You are early; it is very
good of you.'
'I beg pardon. It is not Mr. Bellston himself--only a messenger with
his bag and great-coat. But he will be here soon.'
The voice was not the voice of Nicholas, and the intelligence was
strange. 'I--I don't understand. Mr. Bellston?' she faintly
'Yes, ma'am. A gentleman--a stranger to me--gave me these things at
Casterbridge station to bring on here, and told me to say that Mr.
Bellston had arrived there, and is detained for half-an-hour, but
will be here in the course of the evening.'
She sank into a chair. The porter put a small battered portmanteau
on the floor, the coat on a chair, and looking into the room at the
spread table said, 'If you are disappointed, ma'am, that your husband
(as I s'pose he is) is not come, I can assure you he'll soon be here.
He's stopped to get a shave, to my thinking, seeing he wanted it.
What he said was that I could tell you he had heard the news in
Ireland, and would have come sooner, his hand being forced; but was
hindered crossing by the weather, having took passage in a sailing
vessel. What news he meant he didn't say.'
'Ah, yes,' she faltered. It was plain that the man knew nothing of
her intended re-marriage.
Mechanically rising and giving him a shilling, she answered to his
'good-night,' and he withdrew, the beat of his footsteps lessening in
the distance. She was alone; but in what a solitude.
Christine stood in the middle of the hall, just as the man had left
her, in the gloomy silence of the stopped clock within the adjoining
room, till she aroused herself, and turning to the portmanteau and
great-coat brought them to the light of the candles, and examined
them. The portmanteau bore painted upon it the initials 'J. B.' in
white letters--the well-known initials of her husband.
She examined the great-coat. In the breast-pocket was an empty
spirit flask, which she firmly fancied she recognized as the one she
had filled many times for him when he was living at home with her.
She turned desultorily hither and thither, until she heard another
tread without, and there came a second knocking at the door. She did
not respond to it; and Nicholas--for it was he--thinking that he was
not heard by reason of a concentration on to-morrow's proceedings,
opened the door softly, and came on to the door of her room, which
stood unclosed, just as it had been left by the Casterbridge porter.
Nicholas uttered a blithe greeting, cast his eye round the parlour,
which with its tall candles, blazing fire, snow-white cloth, and
prettily-spread table, formed a cheerful spectacle enough for a man
who had been walking in the dark for an hour.
'My bride--almost, at last!' he cried, encircling her with his arms.
Instead of responding, her figure became limp, frigid, heavy; her
head fell back, and he found that she had fainted.
It was natural, he thought. She had had many little worrying matters
to attend to, and but slight assistance. He ought to have seen more
effectually to her affairs; the closeness of the event had over-
excited her. Nicholas kissed her unconscious face--more than once,
little thinking what news it was that had changed its aspect. Loth
to call Mrs. Wake, he carried Christine to a couch and laid her down.
This had the effect of reviving her. Nicholas bent and whispered in
her ear, 'Lie quiet, dearest, no hurry; and dream, dream, dream of
happy days. It is only I. You will soon be better.' He held her by
'No, no, no!' she said, with a stare. 'O, how can this be?'
Nicholas was alarmed and perplexed, but the disclosure was not long
delayed. When she had sat up, and by degrees made the stunning event
known to him, he stood as if transfixed.
'Ah--is it so?' said he. Then, becoming quite meek, 'And why was he
so cruel as to--delay his return till now?'
She dutifully recited the explanation her husband had given her
through the messenger; but her mechanical manner of telling it showed
how much she doubted its truth. It was too unlikely that his arrival
at such a dramatic moment should not be a contrived surprise, quite
of a piece with his previous dealings towards her.
'But perhaps it may be true--and he may have become kind now--not as
he used to be,' she faltered. 'Yes, perhaps, Nicholas, he is an
altered man--we'll hope he is. I suppose I ought not to have
listened to my legal advisers, and assumed his death so surely!
Anyhow, I am roughly received back into--the right way!'
Nicholas burst out bitterly: 'O what too, too honest fools we were!-
-to so court daylight upon our intention by putting that announcement
in the papers! Why could we not have married privately, and gone
away, so that he would never have known what had become of you, even
if he had returned? Christine, he has done it to . . . But I'll say
no more. Of course we--might fly now.'
'No, no; we might not,' said she hastily.
'Very well. But this is hard to bear! "When I looked for good then
evil came unto me, and when I waited for light there came darkness."
So once said a sorely tried man in the land of Uz, and so say I now!
. . . I wonder if he is almost here at this moment?'
She told him she supposed Bellston was approaching by the path across
the fields, having sent on his great-coat, which he would not want
'And is this meal laid for him, or for me?'
'It was laid for you.'
'And it will be eaten by him?'
'Christine, are you SURE that he is come, or have you been sleeping
over the fire and dreaming it?'
She pointed anew to the portmanteau with the initials 'J. B.,' and to
the coat beside it.
'Well, good-bye--good-bye! Curse that parson for not marrying us
fifteen years ago!'
It is unnecessary to dwell further upon that parting. There are
scenes wherein the words spoken do not even approximate to the level
of the mental communion between the actors. Suffice it to say that
part they did, and quickly; and Nicholas, more dead than alive, went
out of the house homewards.
Why had he ever come back? During his absence he had not cared for
Christine as he cared now. If he had been younger he might have felt
tempted to descend into the meads instead of keeping along their
edge. The Froom was down there, and he knew of quiet pools in that
stream to which death would come easily. But he was too old to put
an end to himself for such a reason as love; and another thought,
too, kept him from seriously contemplating any desperate act. His
affection for her was strongly protective, and in the event of her
requiring a friend's support in future troubles there was none but
himself left in the world to afford it. So he walked on.
Meanwhile Christine had resigned herself to circumstances. A resolve
to continue worthy of her history and of her family lent her heroism
and dignity. She called Mrs. Wake, and explained to that worthy
woman as much of what had occurred as she deemed necessary. Mrs.
Wake was too amazed to reply; she retreated slowly, her lips parted;
till at the door she said with a dry mouth, 'And the beautiful
'Serve it when he comes.'
'When Mr. Bellston--yes, ma'am, I will.' She still stood gazing, as
if she could hardly take in the order.
'That will do, Mrs. Wake. I am much obliged to you for all your
kindness.' And Christine was left alone again, and then she wept.
She sat down and waited. That awful silence of the stopped clock
began anew, but she did not mind it now. She was listening for a
footfall in a state of mental tensity which almost took away from her
the power of motion. It seemed to her that the natural interval for
her husband's journey thither must have expired; but she was not
sure, and waited on.
Mrs. Wake again came in. 'You have not rung for supper--'
'He is not yet come, Mrs. Wake. If you want to go to bed, bring in
the supper and set it on the table. It will be nearly as good cold.
Leave the door unbarred.'
Mrs. Wake did as was suggested, made up the fire, and went away.
Shortly afterwards Christine heard her retire to her chamber. But
Christine still sat on, and still her husband postponed his entry.
She aroused herself once or twice to freshen the fire, but was
ignorant how the night was going. Her watch was upstairs and she did
not make the effort to go up to consult it. In her seat she
continued; and still the supper waited, and still he did not come.
At length she was so nearly persuaded that the arrival of his things
must have been a dream after all, that she again went over to them,
felt them, and examined them. His they unquestionably were; and
their forwarding by the porter had been quite natural. She sighed
and sat down again.
Presently she fell into a doze, and when she again became conscious
she found that the four candles had burnt into their sockets and gone
out. The fire still emitted a feeble shine. Christine did not take
the trouble to get more candles, but stirred the fire and sat on.
After a long period she heard a creaking of the chamber floor and
stairs at the other end of the house, and knew that the farmer's
family were getting up. By-and-by Mrs. Wake entered the room, candle
in hand, bouncing open the door in her morning manner, obviously
without any expectation of finding a person there.
'Lord-a-mercy! What, sitting here again, ma'am?'
'Yes, I am sitting here still.'
'You've been there ever since last night?'
'He's not come.'
'Well, he won't come at this time o' morning,' said the farmer's
wife. 'Do 'ee get on to bed, ma'am. You must be shrammed to death!'
It occurred to Christine now that possibly her husband had thought
better of obtruding himself upon her company within an hour of
revealing his existence to her, and had decided to pay a more formal
visit next day. She therefore adopted Mrs. Wake's suggestion and
Nicholas had gone straight home, neither speaking to nor seeing a
soul. From that hour a change seemed to come over him. He had ever
possessed a full share of self-consciousness; he had been readily
piqued, had shown an unusual dread of being personally obtrusive.
But now his sense of self, as an individual provoking opinion,
appeared to leave him. When, therefore, after a day or two of
seclusion, he came forth again, and the few acquaintances he had
formed in the town condoled with him on what had happened, and pitied
his haggard looks, he did not shrink from their regard as he would
have done formerly, but took their sympathy as it would have been
accepted by a child.
It reached his ears that Bellston had not appeared on the evening of
his arrival at any hotel in the town or neighbourhood, or entered his
wife's house at all. 'That's a part of his cruelty,' thought
Nicholas. And when two or three days had passed, and still no
account came to him of Bellston having joined her, he ventured to set
out for Froom-Everard.
Christine was so shaken that she was obliged to receive him as she
lay on a sofa, beside the square table which was to have borne their
evening feast. She fixed her eyes wistfully upon him, and smiled a
'He has not come?' said Nicholas under his breath.
'He has not.'
Then Nicholas sat beside her, and they talked on general topics
merely like saddened old friends. But they could not keep away the
subject of Bellston, their voices dropping as it forced its way in.
Christine, no less than Nicholas, knowing her husband's character,
inferred that, having stopped her game, as he would have phrased it,
he was taking things leisurely, and, finding nothing very attractive
in her limited mode of living, was meaning to return to her only when
he had nothing better to do.
The bolt which laid low their hopes had struck so recently that they
could hardly look each other in the face when speaking that day. But
when a week or two had passed, and all the horizon still remained as
vacant of Bellston as before, Nicholas and she could talk of the
event with calm wonderment. Why had he come, to go again like this?
And then there set in a period of resigned surmise, during which
So like, so very like, was day to day,
that to tell of one of them is to tell of all. Nicholas would arrive
between three and four in the afternoon, a faint trepidation
influencing his walk as he neared her door. He would knock; she
would always reply in person, having watched for him from the window.
Then he would whisper--'He has not come?'
'He has not,' she would say.
Nicholas would enter then, and she being ready bonneted, they would
walk into the Sallows together as far as to the spot which they had
frequently made their place of appointment in their youthful days. A
plank bridge, which Bellston had caused to be thrown over the stream
during his residence with her in the manor-house, was now again
removed, and all was just the same as in Nicholas's time, when he had
been accustomed to wade across on the edge of the cascade and come up
to her like a merman from the deep. Here on the felled trunk, which
still lay rotting in its old place, they would now sit, gazing at the
descending sheet of water, with its never-ending sarcastic hiss at
their baffled attempts to make themselves one flesh. Returning to
the house they would sit down together to tea, after which, and the
confidential chat that accompanied it, he walked home by the
declining light. This proceeding became as periodic as an
astronomical recurrence. Twice a week he came--all through that
winter, all through the spring following, through the summer, through
the autumn, the next winter, the next year, and the next, till an
appreciable span of human life had passed by. Bellston still
Years and years Nic walked that way, at this interval of three days,
from his house in the neighbouring town; and in every instance the
aforesaid order of things was customary; and still on his arrival the
form of words went on--'He has not come?'
'He has not.'
So they grew older. The dim shape of that third one stood
continually between them; they could not displace it; neither, on the
other hand, could it effectually part them. They were in close
communion, yet not indissolubly united; lovers, yet never growing
cured of love. By the time that the fifth year of Nic's visiting had
arrived, on about the five-hundredth occasion of his presence at her
tea-table, he noticed that the bleaching process which had begun upon
his own locks was also spreading to hers. He told her so, and they
laughed. Yet she was in good health: a condition of suspense, which
would have half-killed a man, had been endured by her without
complaint, and even with composure.
One day, when these years of abeyance had numbered seven, they had
strolled as usual as far as the waterfall, whose faint roar formed a
sort of calling voice sufficient in the circumstances to direct their
listlessness. Pausing there, he looked up at her face and said, 'Why
should we not try again, Christine? We are legally at liberty to do
so now. Nothing venture nothing have.'
But she would not. Perhaps a little primness of idea was by this
time ousting the native daring of Christine. 'What he has done once
he can do twice,' she said. 'He is not dead, and if we were to marry
he would say we had "forced his hand," as he said before, and duly
Some years after, when Christine was about fifty, and Nicholas fifty-
three, a new trouble of a minor kind arrived. He found an
inconvenience in traversing the distance between their two houses,
particularly in damp weather, the years he had spent in trying
climates abroad having sown the seeds of rheumatism, which made a
journey undesirable on inclement days, even in a carriage. He told
her of this new difficulty, as he did of everything.
'If you could live nearer,' suggested she.
Unluckily there was no house near. But Nicholas, though not a
millionaire, was a man of means; he obtained a small piece of ground
on lease at the nearest spot to her home that it could be so
obtained, which was on the opposite brink of the Froom, this river
forming the boundary of the Froom-Everard manor; and here he built a
cottage large enough for his wants. This took time, and when he got
into it he found its situation a great comfort to him. He was not
more than five hundred yards from her now, and gained a new pleasure
in feeling that all sounds which greeted his ears, in the day or in
the night, also fell upon hers--the caw of a particular rook, the
voice of a neighbouring nightingale, the whistle of a local breeze,
or the purl of the fall in the meadows, whose rush was a material
rendering of Time's ceaseless scour over themselves, wearing them
away without uniting them.
Christine's missing husband was taking shape as a myth among the
surrounding residents; but he was still believed in as corporeally
imminent by Christine herself, and also, in a milder degree, by
Nicholas. For a curious unconsciousness of the long lapse of time
since his revelation of himself seemed to affect the pair. There had
been no passing events to serve as chronological milestones, and the
evening on which she had kept supper waiting for him still loomed out
with startling nearness in their retrospects.
In the seventeenth pensive year of this their parallel march towards
the common bourne, a labourer came in a hurry one day to Nicholas's
house and brought strange tidings. The present owner of Froom-
Everard--a non-resident--had been improving his property in sundry
ways, and one of these was by dredging the stream which, in the
course of years, had become choked with mud and weeds in its passage
through the Sallows. The process necessitated a reconstruction of
the waterfall. When the river had been pumped dry for this purpose,
the skeleton of a man had been found jammed among the piles
supporting the edge of the fall. Every particle of his flesh and
clothing had been eaten by fishes or abraded to nothing by the water,
but the relics of a gold watch remained, and on the inside of the
case was engraved the name of the maker of her husband's watch, which
she well remembered.
Nicholas, deeply agitated, hastened down to the place and examined
the remains attentively, afterwards going across to Christine, and
breaking the discovery to her. She would not come to view the
skeleton, which lay extended on the grass, not a finger or toe-bone
missing, so neatly had the aquatic operators done their work.
Conjecture was directed to the question how Bellston had got there;
and conjecture alone could give an explanation.
It was supposed that, on his way to call upon her, he had taken a
short cut through the grounds, with which he was naturally very
familiar, and coming to the fall under the trees had expected to find
there the plank which, during his occupancy of the premises with
Christine and her father, he had placed there for crossing into the
meads on the other side instead of wading across as Nicholas had
done. Before discovering its removal he had probably overbalanced
himself, and was thus precipitated into the cascade, the piles
beneath the descending current wedging him between them like the
prongs of a pitchfork, and effectually preventing the rising of his
body, over which the weeds grew. Such was the reasonable supposition
concerning the discovery; but proof was never forthcoming.
'To think,' said Nicholas, when the remains had been decently
interred, and he was again sitting with Christine--though not beside
the waterfall--'to think how we visited him! How we sat over him,
hours and hours, gazing at him, bewailing our fate, when all the time
he was ironically hissing at us from the spot, in an unknown tongue,
that we could marry if we chose!'
She echoed the sentiment with a sigh.
'I have strange fancies,' she said. 'I suppose it MUST have been my
husband who came back, and not some other man.'
Nicholas felt that there was little doubt. 'Besides--the skeleton,'
'Yes . . . If it could not have been another person's--but no, of
course it was he.'
'You might have married me on the day we had fixed, and there would
have been no impediment. You would now have been seventeen years my
wife, and we might have had tall sons and daughters.'
'It might have been so,' she murmured.
'Well--is it still better late than never?'
The question was one which had become complicated by the increasing
years of each. Their wills were somewhat enfeebled now, their hearts
sickened of tender enterprise by hope too long deferred. Having
postponed the consideration of their course till a year after the
interment of Bellston, each seemed less disposed than formerly to
take it up again.
'Is it worth while, after so many years?' she said to him. 'We are
fairly happy as we are--perhaps happier than we should be in any
other relation, seeing what old people we have grown. The weight is
gone from our lives; the shadow no longer divides us: then let us be
joyful together as we are, dearest Nic, in the days of our vanity;
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.'
He fell in with these views of hers to some extent. But occasionally
he ventured to urge her to reconsider the case, though he spoke not
with the fervour of his earlier years.
CHAPTER I.--SHE MISSES HER SISTER
July 7.--I wander about the house in a mood of unutterable sadness,
for my dear sister Caroline has left home to-day with my mother, and
I shall not see them again for several weeks. They have accepted a
long-standing invitation to visit some old friends of ours, the
Marlets, who live at Versailles for cheapness--my mother thinking
that it will be for the good of Caroline to see a little of France
and Paris. But I don't quite like her going. I fear she may lose
some of that childlike simplicity and gentleness which so
characterize her, and have been nourished by the seclusion of our
life here. Her solicitude about her pony before starting was quite
touching, and she made me promise to visit it daily, and see that it
came to no harm.
Caroline gone abroad, and I left here! It is the reverse of an
ordinary situation, for good or ill-luck has mostly ordained that I
should be the absent one. Mother will be quite tired out by the
young enthusiasm of Caroline. She will demand to be taken
everywhere--to Paris continually, of course; to all the stock shrines
of history's devotees; to palaces and prisons; to kings' tombs and
queens' tombs; to cemeteries and picture-galleries, and royal hunting
forests. My poor mother, having gone over most of this ground many
times before, will perhaps not find the perambulation so exhilarating
as will Caroline herself. I wish I could have gone with them. I
would not have minded having my legs walked off to please Caroline.
But this regret is absurd: I could not, of course, leave my father
with not a soul in the house to attend to the calls of the
parishioners or to pour out his tea.
July 15.--A letter from Caroline to-day. It is very strange that she
tells me nothing which I expected her to tell--only trivial details.
She seems dazzled by the brilliancy of Paris--which no doubt appears
still more brilliant to her from the fact of her only being able to
obtain occasional glimpses of it. She would see that Paris, too, has
a seamy side if you live there. I was not aware that the Marlets
knew so many people. If, as mother has said, they went to reside at
Versailles for reasons of economy, they will not effect much in that
direction while they make a practice of entertaining all the
acquaintances who happen to be in their neighbourhood. They do not
confine their hospitalities to English people, either. I wonder who
this M. de la Feste is, in whom Caroline says my mother is so much
July 18.--Another letter from Caroline. I have learnt from this
epistle, that M. Charles de la Feste is 'only one of the many friends
of the Marlets'; that though a Frenchman by birth, and now again
temporarily at Versailles, he has lived in England many many years;
that he is a talented landscape and marine painter, and has exhibited
at the Salon, and I think in London. His style and subjects are
considered somewhat peculiar in Paris--rather English than
Continental. I have not as yet learnt his age, or his condition,
married or single. From the tone and nature of her remarks about him
he sometimes seems to be a middle-aged family man, sometimes quite
the reverse. From his nomadic habits I should say the latter is the
most likely. He has travelled and seen a great deal, she tells me,
and knows more about English literature than she knows herself.
July 21.--Letter from Caroline. Query: Is 'a friend of ours and the
Marlets,' of whom she now anonymously and mysteriously speaks, the
same personage as the 'M. de la Feste' of her former letters? He
must be the same, I think, from his pursuits. If so, whence this
sudden change of tone? . . . I have been lost in thought for at least
a quarter of an hour since writing the preceding sentence. Suppose
my dear sister is falling in love with this young man--there is no
longer any doubt about his age; what a very awkward, risky thing for
her! I do hope that my mother has an eye on these proceedings. But,
then, poor mother never sees the drift of anything: she is in truth
less of a mother to Caroline than I am. If I were there, how
jealously I would watch him, and ascertain his designs!
I am of a stronger nature than Caroline. How I have supported her in
the past through her little troubles and great griefs! Is she
agitated at the presence of this, to her, new and strange feeling?
But I am assuming her to be desperately in love, when I have no proof
of anything of the kind. He may be merely a casual friend, of whom I
shall hear no more.
July 24.--Then he IS a bachelor, as I suspected. 'If M. de la Feste
ever marries he will,' etc. So she writes. They are getting into
close quarters, obviously. Also, 'Something to keep my hair smooth,
which M. de la Feste told me he had found useful for the tips of his
moustache.' Very naively related this; and with how much
unconsciousness of the intimacy between them that the remark reveals!
But my mother--what can she be doing? Does she know of this? And if
so, why does she not allude to it in her letters to my father? . . .
I have been to look at Caroline's pony, in obedience to her
reiterated request that I would not miss a day in seeing that she was
well cared for. Anxious as Caroline was about this pony of hers
before starting, she now never mentioned the poor animal once in her
letters. The image of her pet suffers from displacement.
August 3.--Caroline's forgetfulness of her pony has naturally enough
extended to me, her sister. It is ten days since she last wrote, and
but for a note from my mother I should not know if she were dead or
CHAPTER II.--NEWS INTERESTING AND SERIOUS
August 5.--A cloud of letters. A letter from Caroline, another from
mother; also one from each to my father.
The probability to which all the intelligence from my sister has
pointed of late turns out to be a fact. There is an engagement, or
almost an engagement, announced between my dear Caroline and M. de la
Feste--to Caroline's sublime happiness, and my mother's entire
satisfaction; as well as to that of the Marlets. They and my mother
seem to know all about the young man--which is more than I do, though
a little extended information about him, considering that I am
Caroline's elder sister, would not have been amiss. I half feel with
my father, who is much surprised, and, I am sure, not altogether
satisfied, that he should not have been consulted at all before
matters reached such a definite stage, though he is too amiable to
say so openly. I don't quite say that a good thing should have been
hindered for the sake of our opinion, if it is a good thing; but the
announcement comes very suddenly. It must have been foreseen by my
mother for some time that this upshot was probable, and Caroline
might have told me more distinctly that M. de la Feste was her lover,
instead of alluding so mysteriously to him as only a friend of the
Marlets, and lately dropping his name altogether. My father, without
exactly objecting to him as a Frenchman, 'wishes he were of English
or some other reasonable nationality for one's son-in-law,' but I
tell him that the demarcations of races, kingdoms, and creeds, are
wearing down every day, that patriotism is a sort of vice, and that
the character of the individual is all we need think about in this
case. I wonder if, in the event of their marriage, he will continue
to live at Versailles, or if he will come to England.
August 7.--A supplemental letter from Caroline, answering, by
anticipation, some of the aforesaid queries. She tells me that
'Charles,' though he makes Versailles his present home, is by no
means bound by his profession to continue there; that he will live
just where she wishes, provided it be not too far from some centre of
thought, art, and civilization. My mother and herself both think
that the marriage should not take place till next year. He exhibits
landscapes and canal scenery every year, she says; so I suppose he is
popular, and that his income is sufficient to keep them in comfort.
If not, I do not see why my father could not settle something more on
them than he had intended, and diminish by a little what he had
proposed for me, whilst it was imagined that I should be the first to
stand in need of such.
'Of engaging manner, attractive appearance, and virtuous character,'
is the reply I receive from her in answer to my request for a
personal description. That is vague enough, and I would rather have
had one definite fact of complexion, voice, deed, or opinion. But of
course she has no eye now for material qualities; she cannot see him
as he is. She sees him irradiated with glories such as never
appertained and never will appertain to any man, foreign, English, or
Colonial. To think that Caroline, two years my junior, and so
childlike as to be five years my junior in nature, should be engaged
to be married before me. But that is what happens in families more
often than we are apt to remember.
August 16.--Interesting news to-day. Charles, she says, has pleaded
that their marriage may just as well be this year as next; and he
seems to have nearly converted my mother to the same way of thinking.
I do not myself see any reason for delay, beyond the standing one of
my father having as yet had no opportunity of forming an opinion upon
the man, the time, or anything. However, he takes his lot very
quietly, and they are coming home to talk the question over with us;
Caroline having decided not to make any positive arrangements for
this change of state till she has seen me. Subject to my own and my
father's approval, she says, they are inclined to settle the date of
the wedding for November, three months from the present time, that it
shall take place here in the village, that I, of course, shall be
bridesmaid, and many other particulars. She draws an artless picture
of the probable effect upon the minds of the villagers of this
romantic performance in the chancel of our old church, in which she
is to be chief actor--the foreign gentleman dropping down like a god
from the skies, picking her up, and triumphantly carrying her off.
Her only grief will be separation from me, but this is to be assuaged
by my going and staying with her for long months at a time. This
simple prattle is very sweet to me, my dear sister, but I cannot help
feeling sad at the occasion of it. In the nature of things it is
obvious that I shall never be to you again what I hitherto have been:
your guide, counsellor, and most familiar friend.
M. de la Feste does certainly seem to be all that one could desire as
protector to a sensitive fragile child like Caroline, and for that I
am thankful. Still, I must remember that I see him as yet only
through her eyes. For her sake I am intensely anxious to meet him,
and scrutinise him through and through, and learn what the man is
really made of who is to have such a treasure in his keeping. The
engagement has certainly been formed a little precipitately; I quite
agree with my father in that: still, good and happy marriages have
been made in a hurry before now, and mother seems well satisfied.
August 20.--A terrible announcement came this morning; and we are in
deep trouble. I have been quite unable to steady my thoughts on
anything to-day till now--half-past eleven at night--and I only
attempt writing these notes because I am too restless to remain idle,
and there is nothing but waiting and waiting left for me to do.
Mother has been taken dangerously ill at Versailles: they were
within a day or two of starting; but all thought of leaving must now
be postponed, for she cannot possibly be moved in her present state.
I don't like the sound of haemorrhage at all in a woman of her full
habit, and Caroline and the Marlets have not exaggerated their
accounts I am certain. On the receipt of the letter my father
instantly decided to go to her, and I have been occupied all day in
getting him off, for as he calculates on being absent several days,
there have been many matters for him to arrange before setting out--
the chief being to find some one who will do duty for him next
Sunday--a quest of no small difficulty at such short notice; but at
last poor old feeble Mr. Dugdale has agreed to attempt it, with Mr.
Highman, the Scripture reader, to assist him in the lessons.
I fain would have gone with my father to escape the irksome anxiety
of awaiting her; but somebody had to stay, and I could best be
spared. George has driven him to the station to meet the last train
by which he will catch the midnight boat, and reach Havre some time
in the morning. He hates the sea, and a night passage in particular.
I hope he will get there without mishap of any kind; but I feel
anxious for him, stay-at-home as he is, and unable to cope with any
difficulty. Such an errand, too; the journey will be sad enough at
best. I almost think I ought to have been the one to go to her.
August 21.--I nearly fell asleep of heaviness of spirit last night
over my writing. My father must have reached Paris by this time; and
now here comes a letter . . .
Later.--The letter was to express an earnest hope that my father had
set out. My poor mother is sinking, they fear. What will become of
Caroline? O, how I wish I could see mother; why could not both have
Later.--I get up from my chair, and walk from window to window, and
then come and write a line. I cannot even divine how poor Caroline's
marriage is to be carried out if mother dies. I pray that father may
have got there in time to talk to her and receive some directions
from her about Caroline and M. de la Feste--a man whom neither my
father nor I have seen. I, who might be useful in this emergency, am
doomed to stay here, waiting in suspense.
August 23.--A letter from my father containing the sad news that my
mother's spirit has flown. Poor little Caroline is heart-broken--she
was always more my mother's pet than I was. It is some comfort to
know that my father arrived in time to hear from her own lips her
strongly expressed wish that Caroline's marriage should be solemnized
as soon as possible. M. de la Feste seems to have been a great
favourite of my dear mother's; and I suppose it now becomes almost a
sacred duty of my father to accept him as a son-in-law without
CHAPTER III.--HER GLOOM LIGHTENS A LITTLE
September 10.--I have inserted nothing in my diary for more than a
fortnight. Events have been altogether too sad for me to have the
spirit to put them on paper. And yet there comes a time when the act
of recording one's trouble is recognized as a welcome method of
dwelling upon it . . .
My dear mother has been brought home and buried here in the parish.
It was not so much her own wish that this should be done as my
father's, who particularly desired that she should lie in the family
vault beside his first wife. I saw them side by side before the
vault was closed--two women beloved by one man. As I stood, and
Caroline by my side, I fell into a sort of dream, and had an odd
fancy that Caroline and I might be also beloved of one, and lie like
these together--an impossibility, of course, being sisters. When I
awoke from my reverie Caroline took my hand and said it was time to
September 14.--The wedding is indefinitely postponed. Caroline is
like a girl awakening in the middle of a somnambulistic experience,
and does not realize where she is, or how she stands. She walks
about silently, and I cannot tell her thoughts, as I used to do. It
was her own doing to write to M. de la Feste and tell him that the
wedding could not possibly take place this autumn as originally
planned. There is something depressing in this long postponement if
she is to marry him at all; and yet I do not see how it could be
October 20.--I have had so much to occupy me in consoling Caroline
that I have been continually overlooking my diary. Her life was much
nearer to my mother's than mine was. She has never, as I, lived away
from home long enough to become self-dependent, and hence in her
first loss, and all that it involved, she drooped like a rain-beaten
lily. But she is of a nature whose wounds soon heal, even though
they may be deep, and the supreme poignancy of her sorrow has already
My father is of opinion that the wedding should not be delayed too
long. While at Versailles he made the acquaintance of M. de la
Feste, and though they had but a short and hurried communion with
each other, he was much impressed by M. de la Feste's disposition and
conduct, and is strongly in favour of his suit. It is odd that
Caroline's betrothed should influence in his favour all who come near
him. His portrait, which dear Caroline has shown me, exhibits him to
be of a physique that partly accounts for this: but there must be
something more than mere appearance, and it is probably some sort of
glamour or fascinating power--the quality which prevented Caroline
from describing him to me with any accuracy of detail. At the same
time, I see from the photograph that his face and head are remarkably
well formed; and though the contours of his mouth are hidden by his
moustache, his arched brows show well the romantic disposition of a
true lover and painter of Nature. I think that the owner of such a
face as this must be tender and sympathetic and true.
October 30.--As my sister's grief for her mother becomes more and
more calmed, her love for M. de la Feste begins to reassume its
former absorbing command of her. She thinks of him incessantly, and
writes whole treatises to him by way of letters. Her blank
disappointment at his announcement of his inability to pay us a visit
quite so soon as he had promised, was quite tragic. I, too, am
disappointed, for I wanted to see and estimate him. But having
arranged to go to Holland to seize some aerial effects for his
pictures, which are only to be obtained at this time of the autumn,
he is obliged to postpone his journey this way, which is now to be
made early in the new year. I think myself that he ought to have
come at all sacrifices, considering Caroline's recent loss, the sad
postponement of what she was looking forward to, and her single-
minded affection for him. Still, who knows; his professional success
is important. Moreover, she is cheerful, and hopeful, and the delay
will soon be overpast.
CHAPTER IV.--SHE BEHOLDS THE ATTRACTIVE STRANGER
February 16.--We have had such a dull life here all the winter that I
have found nothing important enough to set down, and broke off my
journal accordingly. I resume it now to make an entry on the subject
of dear Caroline's future. It seems that she was too grieved,
immediately after the loss of our mother, to answer definitely the
question of M. de la Feste how long the postponement was to be; then,
afterwards, it was agreed that the matter should be discussed on his
autumn visit; but as he did not come, it has remained in abeyance
till this week, when Caroline, with the greatest simplicity and
confidence, has written to him without any further pressure on his
part, and told him that she is quite ready to fix the time, and will
do so as soon as he arrives to see her. She is a little frightened
now, lest it should seem forward in her to have revived the subject
of her own accord; but she may assume that his question has been
waiting on for an answer ever since, and that she has, therefore,
acted only within her promise. In truth, the secret at the bottom of
it all is that she is somewhat saddened because he has not latterly
reminded her of the pause in their affairs--that, in short, his
original impatience to possess her is not now found to animate him so
obviously. I suppose that he loves her as much as ever; indeed, I am
sure he must do so, seeing how lovable she is. It is mostly thus
with all men when women are out of their sight; they grow negligent.
Caroline must have patience, and remember that a man of his genius
has many and important calls upon his time. In justice to her I must
add that she does remember it fairly well, and has as much patience
as any girl ever had in the circumstances. He hopes to come at the
beginning of April at latest. Well, when he comes we shall see him.
April 5.--I think that what M. de la Feste writes is reasonable
enough, though Caroline looks heart-sick about it. It is hardly
worth while for him to cross all the way to England and back just
now, while the sea is so turbulent, seeing that he will be obliged,
in any event, to come in May, when he has to be in London for
professional purposes, at which time he can take us easily on his way
both coming and going. When Caroline becomes his wife she will be
more practical, no doubt; but she is such a child as yet that there
is no contenting her with reasons. However, the time will pass
quickly, there being so much to do in preparing a trousseau for her,
which must now be put in hand in order that we may have plenty of
leisure to get it ready. On no account must Caroline be married in
half-mourning; I am sure that mother, could she know, would not wish
it, and it is odd that Caroline should be so intractably persistent
on this point, when she is usually so yielding.
April 30.--This month has flown on swallow's wings. We are in a
great state of excitement--I as much as she--I cannot quite tell why.
He is really coming in ten days, he says.
May 9. Four p.m.--I am so agitated I can scarcely write, and yet am
particularly impelled to do so before leaving my room. It is the
unexpected shape of an expected event which has caused my absurd
excitement, which proves me almost as much a school-girl as Caroline.
M. de la Feste was not, as we understood, to have come till to-
morrow; but he is here--just arrived. All household directions have
devolved upon me, for my father, not thinking M. de la Feste would
appear before us for another four-and-twenty hours, left home before
post time to attend a distant consecration; and hence Caroline and I
were in no small excitement when Charles's letter was opened, and we
read that he had been unexpectedly favoured in the dispatch of his
studio work, and would follow his letter in a few hours. We sent the
covered carriage to meet the train indicated, and waited like two
newly strung harps for the first sound of the returning wheels. At
last we heard them on the gravel; and the question arose who was to
receive him. It was, strictly speaking, my duty; but I felt timid; I
could not help shirking it, and insisted that Caroline should go
down. She did not, however, go near the door as she usually does
when anybody is expected, but waited palpitating in the drawing-room.
He little thought when he saw the silent hall, and the apparently
deserted house, how that house was at the very same moment alive and
throbbing with interest under the surface. I stood at the back of
the upper landing, where nobody could see me from downstairs, and
heard him walk across the hall--a lighter step than my father's--and
heard him then go into the drawing-room, and the servant shut the
door behind him and go away.
What a pretty lover's meeting they must have had in there all to
themselves! Caroline's sweet face looking up from her black gown--
how it must have touched him. I know she wept very much, for I heard
her; and her eyes will be red afterwards, and no wonder, poor dear,
though she is no doubt happy. I can imagine what she is telling him
while I write this--her fears lest anything should have happened to
prevent his coming after all--gentle, smiling reproaches for his long
delay; and things of that sort. His two portmanteaus are at this
moment crossing the landing on the way to his room. I wonder if I
ought to go down.
A little later.--I have seen him! It was not at all in the way that
I intended to encounter him, and I am vexed. Just after his
portmanteaus were brought up I went out from my room to descend,
when, at the moment of stepping towards the first stair, my eyes were
caught by an object in the hall below, and I paused for an instant,
till I saw that it was a bundle of canvas and sticks, composing a
sketching tent and easel. At the same nick of time the drawing-room
door opened and the affianced pair came out. They were saying they
would go into the garden; and he waited a moment while she put on her
hat. My idea was to let them pass on without seeing me, since they
seemed not to want my company, but I had got too far on the landing
to retreat; he looked up, and stood staring at me--engrossed to a
dream-like fixity. Thereupon I, too, instead of advancing as I ought
to have done, stood moonstruck and awkward, and before I could gather
my weak senses sufficiently to descend, she had called him, and they
went out by the garden door together. I then thought of following
them, but have changed my mind, and come here to jot down these few
lines. It is all I am fit for . . .
He is even more handsome than I expected. I was right in feeling he
must have an attraction beyond that of form: it appeared even in
that momentary glance. How happy Caroline ought to be. But I must,
of course, go down to be ready with tea in the drawing-room by the
time they come indoors.
11 p.m.--I have made the acquaintance of M. de la Feste; and I seem
to be another woman from the effect of it. I cannot describe why
this should be so, but conversation with him seems to expand the
view, and open the heart, and raise one as upon stilts to wider
prospects. He has a good intellectual forehead, perfect eyebrows,
dark hair and eyes, an animated manner, and a persuasive voice. His
voice is soft in quality--too soft for a man, perhaps; and yet on
second thoughts I would not have it less so. We have been talking of
his art: I had no notion that art demanded such sacrifices or such
tender devotion; or that there were two roads for choice within its
precincts, the road of vulgar money-making, and the road of high aims
and consequent inappreciation for many long years by the public.
That he has adopted the latter need not be said to those who
understand him. It is a blessing for Caroline that she has been
chosen by such a man, and she ought not to lament at postponements
and delays, since they have arisen unavoidably. Whether he finds
hers a sufficiently rich nature, intellectually and emotionally, for
his own, I know not, but he seems occasionally to be disappointed at
her simple views of things. Does he really feel such love for her at
this moment as he no doubt believes himself to be feeling, and as he
no doubt hopes to feel for the remainder of his life towards her?
It was a curious thing he told me when we were left for a few minutes
alone; that Caroline had alluded so slightly to me in her
conversation and letters that he had not realized my presence in the
house here at all. But, of course, it was only natural that she
should write and talk most about herself. I suppose it was on
account of the fact of his being taken in some measure unawares, that
I caught him on two or three occasions regarding me fixedly in a way
that disquieted me somewhat, having been lately in so little society;
till my glance aroused him from his reverie, and he looked elsewhere
in some confusion. It was fortunate that he did so, and thus failed
to notice my own. It shows that he, too, is not particularly a
May 10.--Have had another interesting conversation with M. de la
Feste on schools of landscape painting in the drawing-room after
dinner this evening--my father having fallen asleep, and left nobody
but Caroline and myself for Charles to talk to. I did not mean to
say so much to him, and had taken a volume of Modern Painters from
the bookcase to occupy myself with, while leaving the two lovers to
themselves; but he would include me in his audience, and I was
obliged to lay the book aside. However, I insisted on keeping
Caroline in the conversation, though her views on pictorial art were
only too charmingly crude and primitive.
To-morrow, if fine, we are all three going to Wherryborne Wood, where
Charles will give us practical illustrations of the principles of
coloring that he has enumerated to-night. I am determined not to
occupy his attention to the exclusion of Caroline, and my plan is
that when we are in the dense part of the wood I will lag behind, and
slip away, and leave them to return by themselves. I suppose the
reason of his attentiveness to me lies in his simply wishing to win
the good opinion of one who is so closely united to Caroline, and so
likely to influence her good opinion of him.
May 11. Late.--I cannot sleep, and in desperation have lit my candle
and taken up my pen. My restlessness is occasioned by what has
occurred to-day, which at first I did not mean to write down, or
trust to any heart but my own. We went to Wherryborne Wood--
Caroline, Charles and I, as we had intended--and walked all three
along the green track through the midst, Charles in the middle
between Caroline and myself. Presently I found that, as usual, he
and I were the only talkers, Caroline amusing herself by observing
birds and squirrels as she walked docilely alongside her betrothed.
Having noticed this I dropped behind at the first opportunity and
slipped among the trees, in a direction in which I knew I should find
another path that would take me home. Upon this track I by and by
emerged, and walked along it in silent thought till, at a bend, I
suddenly encountered M. de la Feste standing stock still and smiling
thoughtfully at me.
'Where is Caroline?' said I.
'Only a little way off,' says he. 'When we missed you from behind us
we thought you might have mistaken the direction we had followed, so
she has gone one way to find you and I have come this way.'
We then went back to find Caroline, but could not discover her
anywhere, and the upshot was that he and I were wandering about the
woods alone for more than an hour. On reaching home we found she had
given us up after searching a little while, and arrived there some
time before. I should not be so disturbed by the incident if I had
not perceived that, during her absence from us, he did not make any
earnest effort to rediscover her; and in answer to my repeated
expressions of wonder as to whither she could have wandered he only
said, 'Oh, she's quite safe; she told me she knew the way home from
any part of this wood. Let us go on with our talk. I assure you I
value this privilege of being with one I so much admire more than you
imagine;' and other things of that kind. I was so foolish as to show
a little perturbation--I cannot tell why I did not control myself;
and I think he noticed that I was not cool. Caroline has, with her
simple good faith, thought nothing of the occurrence; yet altogether
I am not satisfied.
CHAPTER V.--HER SITUATION IS A TRYING ONE
May 15.--The more I think of it day after day, the more convinced I
am that my suspicions are true. He is too interested in me--well, in
plain words, loves me; or, not to degrade that phrase, has a wild
passion for me; and his affection for Caroline is that towards a
sister only. That is the distressing truth; how it has come about I
cannot tell, and it wears upon me.
A hundred little circumstances have revealed this to me, and the
longer I dwell upon it the more agitating does the consideration
become. Heaven only can help me out of the terrible difficulty in
which this places me. I have done nothing to encourage him to be
faithless to her. I have studiously kept out of his way; have
persistently refused to be a third in their interviews. Yet all to
no purpose. Some fatality has seemed to rule, ever since he came to
the house, that this disastrous inversion of things should arise. If
I had only foreseen the possibility of it before he arrived, how
gladly would I have departed on some visit or other to the meanest
friend to hinder such an apparent treachery. But I blindly welcomed
him--indeed, made myself particularly agreeable to him for her sake.
There is no possibility of my suspicions being wrong; not until they
have reached absolute certainty have I dared even to admit the truth
to myself. His conduct to-day would have proved them true had I
entertained no previous apprehensions. Some photographs of myself
came for me by post, and they were handed round at the breakfast
table and criticised. I put them temporarily on a side table, and
did not remember them until an hour afterwards when I was in my own
room. On going to fetch them I discovered him standing at the table
with his back towards the door bending over the photographs, one of
which he raised to his lips.
The witnessing this act so frightened me that I crept away to escape
observation. It was the climax to a series of slight and significant
actions all tending to the same conclusion. The question for me now
is, what am I to do? To go away is what first occurs to me, but what
reason can I give Caroline and my father for such a step; besides, it
might precipitate some sort of catastrophe by driving Charles to
desperation. For the present, therefore, I have decided that I can
only wait, though his contiguity is strangely disturbing to me now,
and I hardly retain strength of mind to encounter him. How will the
distressing complication end?
May 19.--And so it has come! My mere avoidance of him has
precipitated the worst issue--a declaration. I had occasion to go
into the kitchen garden to gather some of the double ragged-robins
which grew in a corner there. Almost as soon as I had entered I
heard footsteps without. The door opened and shut, and I turned to
behold him just inside it. As the garden is closed by four walls and
the gardener was absent, the spot ensured absolute privacy. He came
along the path by the asparagus-bed, and overtook me.
'You know why I come, Alicia?' said he, in a tremulous voice.
I said nothing, and hung my head, for by his tone I did know.
'Yes,' he went on, 'it is you I love; my sentiment towards your
sister is one of affection too, but protective, tutelary affection--
no more. Say what you will I cannot help it. I mistook my feeling
for her, and I know how much I am to blame for my want of self-
knowledge. I have fought against this discovery night and day; but
it cannot be concealed. Why did I ever see you, since I could not
see you till I had committed myself? At the moment my eyes beheld
you on that day of my arrival, I said, "This is the woman for whom my
manhood has waited." Ever since an unaccountable fascination has
riveted my heart to you. Answer one word!'
'O, M. de la Feste!' I burst out. What I said more I cannot
remember, but I suppose that the misery I was in showed pretty
plainly, for he said, 'Something must be done to let her know;
perhaps I have mistaken her affection, too; but all depends upon what
'I cannot tell what I feel,' said I, 'except that this seems terrible
treachery; and every moment that I stay with you here makes it worse!
. . . Try to keep faith with her--her young heart is tender;
believe me there is no mistake in the quality of her love for you.
Would there were! This would kill her if she knew it!'
He sighed heavily. 'She ought never to be my wife,' he said.
'Leaving my own happiness out of the question, it would be a cruelty
to her to unite her to me.'
I said I could not hear such words from him, and begged him in tears
to go away; he obeyed, and I heard the garden door shut behind him.
What is to be the end of the announcement, and the fate of Caroline?
May 20.--I put a good deal on paper yesterday, and yet not all. I
was, in truth, hoping against hope, against conviction, against too
conscious self-judgment. I scarcely dare own the truth now, yet it
relieves my aching heart to set it down. Yes, I love him--that is
the dreadful fact, and I can no longer parry, evade, or deny it to
myself though to the rest of the world it can never be owned. I love
Caroline's betrothed, and he loves me. It is no yesterday's passion,
cultivated by our converse; it came at first sight, independently of
my will; and my talk with him yesterday made rather against it than
for it, but, alas, did not quench it. God forgive us both for this
May 25.--All is vague; our courses shapeless. He comes and goes,
being occupied, ostensibly at least, with sketching in his tent in
the wood. Whether he and she see each other privately I cannot tell,
but I rather think they do not; that she sadly awaits him, and he
does not appear. Not a sign from him that my repulse has done him
any good, or that he will endeavour to keep faith with her. O, if I
only had the compulsion of a god, and the self-sacrifice of a martyr!
May 31.--It has all ended--or rather this act of the sad drama has
ended--in nothing. He has left us. No day for the fulfilment of the
engagement with Caroline is named, my father not being the man to
press any one on such a matter, or, indeed, to interfere in any way.
We two girls are, in fact, quite defenceless in a case of this kind;
lovers may come when they choose, and desert when they choose; poor
father is too urbane to utter a word of remonstrance or inquiry.
Moreover, as the approved of my dead mother, M. de la Feste has a
sort of autocratic power with my father, who holds it unkind to her
memory to have an opinion about him. I, feeling it my duty, asked M.
de la Feste at the last moment about the engagement, in a voice I
could not keep firm.
'Since the death of your mother all has been indefinite--all!' he
said gloomily. That was the whole. Possibly, Wherryborne Rectory
may see him no more.
June 7 .--M. de la Feste has written--one letter to her, one to me.
Hers could not have been very warm, for she did not brighten on
reading it. Mine was an ordinary note of friendship, filling an
ordinary sheet of paper, which I handed over to Caroline when I had
finished looking it through. But there was a scrap of paper in the
bottom of the envelope, which I dared not show any one. This scrap
is his real letter: I scanned it alone in my room, trembling, hot
and cold by turns. He tells me he is very wretched; that he deplores
what has happened, but was helpless. Why did I let him see me, if
only to make him faithless. Alas, alas!
June 21 .--My dear Caroline has lost appetite, spirits, health. Hope
deferred maketh the heart sick. His letters to her grow colder--if
indeed he has written more than one. He has refrained from writing
again to me--he knows it is no use. Altogether the situation that he
and she and I are in is melancholy in the extreme. Why are human
hearts so perverse?
CHAPTER VI.--HER INGENUITY INSTIGATES HER
September 19.--Three months of anxious care--till at length I have
taken the extreme step of writing to him. Our chief distress has
been caused by the state of poor Caroline, who, after sinking by
degrees into such extreme weakness as to make it doubtful if she can
ever recover full vigour, has to-day been taken much worse. Her
position is very critical. The doctor says plainly that she is dying
of a broken heart--and that even the removal of the cause may not now
restore her. Ought I to have written to Charles sooner? But how
could I when she forbade me? It was her pride only which instigated
her, and I should not have obeyed.
Sept. 26.--Charles has arrived and has seen her. He is shocked,
conscience-stricken, remorseful. I have told him that he can do no
good beyond cheering her by his presence. I do not know what he
thinks of proposing to her if she gets better, but he says little to
her at present: indeed he dares not: his words agitate her
Sept. 28.--After a struggle between duty and selfishness, such as I
pray to Heaven I may never have to undergo again, I have asked him
for pity's sake to make her his wife, here and now, as she lies. I
said to him that the poor child would not trouble him long; and such
a solemnization would soothe her last hours as nothing else could do.
He said that he would willingly do so, and had thought of it himself;
but for one forbidding reason: in the event of her death as his wife
he can never marry me, her sister, according to our laws. I started
at his words. He went on: 'On the other hand, if I were sure that
immediate marriage with me would save her life, I would not refuse,
for possibly I might after a while, and out of sight of you, make
myself fairly content with one of so sweet a disposition as hers; but
if, as is probable, neither my marrying her nor any other act can
avail to save her life, by so doing I lose both her and you.' I
could not answer him.
Sept. 29.--He continued firm in his reasons for refusal till this
morning, and then I became possessed with an idea, which I at once
propounded to him. It was that he should at least consent to a FORM
of marriage with Caroline, in consideration of her love; a form which
need not be a legal union, but one which would satisfy her sick and
enfeebled soul. Such things have been done, and the sentiment of
feeling herself his would inexpressibly comfort her mind, I am sure.
Then, if she is taken from us, I should not have lost the power of
becoming his lawful wife at some future day, if it indeed should be
deemed expedient; if, on the other hand, she lives, he can on her
recovery inform her of the incompleteness of their marriage contract,
the ceremony can be repeated, and I can, and I am sure willingly
would, avoid troubling them with my presence till grey hairs and
wrinkles make his unfortunate passion for me a thing of the past. I
put all this before him; but he demurred.
Sept. 30.--I have urged him again. He says he will consider. It is
no time to mince matters, and as a further inducement I have offered
to enter into a solemn engagement to marry him myself a year after
Sept. 30. Later.--An agitating interview. He says he will agree to
whatever I propose, the three possibilities and our contingent acts
being recorded as follows: First, in the event of dear Caroline
being taken from us, I marry him on the expiration of a year:
Second, in the forlorn chance of her recovery I take upon myself the
responsibility of explaining to Caroline the true nature of the
ceremony he has gone through with her, that it was done at my
suggestion to make her happy at once, before a special licence could
be obtained, and that a public ceremony at church is awaiting her:
Third, in the unlikely event of her cooling, and refusing to repeat
the ceremony with him, I leave England, join him abroad, and there
wed him, agreeing not to live in England again till Caroline has
either married another or regards her attachment to Charles as a
bygone matter. I have thought over these conditions, and have agreed
to them all as they stand.
11 p.m.--I do not much like this scheme, after all. For one thing, I
have just sounded my father on it before parting with him for the
night, my impression having been that he would see no objection. But
he says he could on no account countenance any such unreal
proceeding; however good our intentions, and even though the poor
girl were dying, it would not be right. So I sadly seek my pillow.
October 1.--I am sure my father is wrong in his view. Why is it not
right, if it would be balm to Caroline's wounded soul, and if a real
ceremony is absolutely refused by Charles--moreover is hardly
practicable in the difficulty of getting a special licence, if he
were agreed? My father does not know, or will not believe, that
Caroline's attachment has been the cause of her hopeless condition.
But that it is so, and that the form of words would give her
inexpressible happiness, I know well; for I whispered tentatively in
her ear on such marriages, and the effect was great. Henceforth my
father cannot be taken into confidence on the subject of Caroline.
He does not understand her.
12 o'clock noon.--I have taken advantage of my father's absence to-
day to confide my secret notion to a thoughtful young man, who called
here this morning to speak to my father. He is the Mr. Theophilus
Higham, of whom I have already had occasion to speak--a Scripture
reader in the next town, and is soon going to be ordained. I told
him the pitiable case, and my remedy. He says ardently that he will
assist me--would do anything for me (he is, in truth, an admirer of
mine); he sees no wrong in such an act of charity. He is coming
again to the house this afternoon before my father returns, to carry
out the idea. I have spoken to Charles, who promises to be ready. I
must now break the news to Caroline.
11 o'clock p.m.--I have been in too much excitement till now to set
down the result. We have accomplished our plan; and though I feel
like a guilty sinner, I am glad. My father, of course, is not to be
informed as yet. Caroline has had a seraphic expression upon her
wasted, transparent face ever since. I should hardly be surprised if
it really saved her life even now, and rendered a legitimate union
necessary between them. In that case my father can be informed of
the whole proceeding, and in the face of such wonderful success
cannot disapprove. Meanwhile poor Charles has not lost the
possibility of taking unworthy me to fill her place should she--.
But I cannot contemplate that alternative unmoved, and will not write
it. Charles left for the South of Europe immediately after the
ceremony. He was in a high-strung, throbbing, almost wild state of
mind at first, but grew calmer under my exhortations. I had to pay
the penalty of receiving a farewell kiss from him, which I much
regret, considering its meaning; but he took me so unexpectedly, and
in a moment was gone.
Oct. 6.--She certainly is better, and even when she found that
Charles had been suddenly obliged to leave, she received the news
quite cheerfully. The doctor says that her apparent improvement may
be delusive; but I think our impressing upon her the necessity of
keeping what has occurred a secret from papa, and everybody, helps to
give her a zest for life.
Oct. 8.--She is still mending. I am glad to have saved her--my only
sister--if I have done so; though I shall now never become Charles's
CHAPTER VII.--A SURPRISE AWAITS HER
Feb. 5.--Writing has been absolutely impossible for a long while; but
I now reach a stage at which it seems possible to jot down a line.
Caroline's recovery, extending over four months, has been very
engrossing; at first slow, latterly rapid. But a fearful
complication of affairs attends it!
O what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
Charles has written reproachfully to me from Venice, where he is. He
says how can he fulfil in the real what he has enacted in the
counterfeit, while he still loves me? Yet how, on the other hand,
can he leave it unfulfilled? All this time I have not told her, and
up to this minute she believes that he has indeed taken her for
better, for worse, till death them do part. It is a harassing
position for me, and all three. In the awful approach of death,
one's judgment loses its balance, and we do anything to meet the
exigencies of the moment, with a single eye to the one who excites
our sympathy, and from whom we seem on the brink of being separated
Had he really married her at that time all would be settled now. But
he took too much thought; she might have died, and then he had his
reason. If indeed it had turned out so, I should now be perhaps a
sad woman; but not a tempest-tossed one . . . The possibility of his
claiming me after all is what lies at the root of my agitation.
Everything hangs by a thread. Suppose I tell her the marriage was a
mockery; suppose she is indignant with me and with him for the
deception--and then? Otherwise, suppose she is not indignant but
forgives all; he is bound to marry her; and honour constrains me to
urge him thereto, in spite of what he protests, and to smooth the way
to this issue by my method of informing her. I have meant to tell
her the last month--ever since she has been strong enough to bear
such tidings; but I have been without the power--the moral force.
Surely I must write, and get him to come and assist me.
March 14.--She continually wonders why he does not come, the five
months of his enforced absence having expired; and still more she
wonders why he does not write oftener. His last letter was cold, she
says, and she fears he regrets his marriage, which he may only have
celebrated with her for pity's sake, thinking she was sure to die.
It makes one's heart bleed to hear her hovering thus so near the
truth, and yet never discerning its actual shape.
A minor trouble besets me, too, in the person of the young Scripture
reader, whose conscience pricks him for the part he played. Surely I
am punished, if ever woman were, for a too ingenious perversion of
her better judgment!
April 2.--She is practically well. The faint pink revives in her
cheek, though it is not quite so full as heretofore. But she still
wonders what she can have done to offend 'her dear husband,' and I
have been obliged to tell the smallest part of the truth--an
unimportant fragment of the whole, in fact, I said that I feared for
the moment he might regret the precipitancy of the act, which her
illness caused, his affairs not having been quite sufficiently
advanced for marriage just then, though he will doubtless come to her
as soon as he has a home ready. Meanwhile I have written to him,
peremptorily, to come and relieve me in this awful dilemma. He will
find no note of love in that.
April 10.--To my alarm the letter I lately addressed to him at
Venice, where he is staying, as well as the last one she sent him,
have received no reply. She thinks he is ill. I do not quite think
that, but I wish we could hear from him. Perhaps the peremptoriness
of my words had offended him; it grieves me to think it possible.
_I_ offend him! But too much of this. I MUST tell her the truth, or
she may in her ignorance commit herself to some course or other that
may be ruinously compromising. She said plaintively just now that if
he could see her, and know how occupied with him and him alone is her
every waking hour, she is sure he would forgive her the wicked
presumption of becoming his wife. Very sweet all that, and touching.
I could not conceal my tears.
April 15.--The house is in confusion; my father is angry and
distressed, and I am distracted. Caroline has disappeared--gone away
secretly. I cannot help thinking that I know where she is gone to.
How guilty I seem, and how innocent she! O that I had told her
1 o'clock.--No trace of her as yet. We find also that the little
waiting-maid we have here in training has disappeared with Caroline,
and there is not much doubt that Caroline, fearing to travel alone,
has induced this girl to go with her as companion. I am almost sure
she has started in desperation to find him, and that Venice is her
goal. Why should she run away, if not to join her husband, as she
thinks him? Now that I consider, there have been indications of this
wish in her for days, as in birds of passage there lurk signs of
their incipient intention; and yet I did not think she would have
taken such an extreme step, unaided, and without consulting me. I
can only jot down the bare facts--I have no time for reflections.
But fancy Caroline travelling across the continent of Europe with a
chit of a girl, who will be more of a charge than an assistance!
They will be a mark for every marauder who encounters them.
Evening: 8 o'clock.--Yes, it is as I surmised. She has gone to join
him. A note posted by her in Budmouth Regis at daybreak has reached
me this afternoon--thanks to the fortunate chance of one of the
servants calling for letters in town to-day, or I should not have got
it until to-morrow. She merely asserts her determination of going to
him, and has started privately, that nothing may hinder her; stating
nothing about her route. That such a gentle thing should suddenly
become so calmly resolute quite surprises me. Alas, he may have left
Venice--she may not find him for weeks--may not at all.
My father, on learning the facts, bade me at once have everything
ready by nine this evening, in time to drive to the train that meets
the night steam-boat. This I have done, and there being an hour to
spare before we start, I relieve the suspense of waiting by taking up
my pen. He says overtake her we must, and calls Charles the hardest
of names. He believes, of course, that she is merely an infatuated
girl rushing off to meet her lover; and how can the wretched I tell
him that she is more, and in a sense better than that--yet not
sufficiently more and better to make this flight to Charles anything
but a still greater danger to her than a mere lover's impulse. We
shall go by way of Paris, and we think we may overtake her there. I
hear my father walking restlessly up and down the hall, and can write
CHAPTER VIII.--SHE TRAVELS IN PURSUIT
April 16. Evening, Paris, Hotel --.--There is no overtaking her at
this place; but she has been here, as I thought, no other hotel in
Paris being known to her. We go on to-morrow morning.
April 18. Venice.--A morning of adventures and emotions which leave
me sick and weary, and yet unable to sleep, though I have lain down
on the sofa of my room for more than an hour in the attempt. I
therefore make up my diary to date in a hurried fashion, for the sake
of the riddance it affords to ideas which otherwise remain suspended
hotly in the brain.
We arrived here this morning in broad sunlight, which lit up the sea-
girt buildings as we approached so that they seemed like a city of
cork floating raft-like on the smooth, blue deep. But I only glanced
from the carriage window at the lovely scene, and we were soon across
the intervening water and inside the railway station. When we got to
the front steps the row of black gondolas and the shouts of the
gondoliers so bewildered my father that he was understood to require
two gondolas instead of one with two oars, and so I found him in one
and myself in another. We got this righted after a while, and were
rowed at once to the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni where M. de la
Feste had been staying when we last heard from him, the way being
down the Grand Canal for some distance, under the Rialto, and then by
narrow canals which eventually brought us under the Bridge of Sighs--
harmonious to our moods!--and out again into open water. The scene
was purity itself as to colour, but it was cruel that I should behold
it for the first time under such circumstances.
As soon as I entered the hotel, which is an old-fashioned place, like
most places here, where people are taken en pension as well as the
ordinary way, I rushed to the framed list of visitors hanging in the
hall, and in a moment I saw Charles's name upon it among the rest.
But she was our chief thought. I turned to the hall porter, and--
knowing that she would have travelled as 'Madame de la Feste'--I
asked for her under that name, without my father hearing. (He, poor
soul, was making confused inquiries outside the door about 'an
English lady,' as if there were not a score of English ladies at
'She has just come,' said the porter. 'Madame came by the very early
train this morning, when Monsieur was asleep, and she requested us
not to disturb him. She is now in her room.'
Whether Caroline had seen us from the window, or overheard me, I do
not know, but at that moment I heard footsteps on the bare marble
stairs, and she appeared in person descending.
'Caroline!' I exclaimed, 'why have you done this?' and rushed up to
She did not answer; but looked down to hide her emotion, which she
conquered after the lapse of a few seconds, putting on a practical
tone that belied her.
'I am just going to my husband,' she said. 'I have not yet seen him.
I have not been here long.' She condescended to give no further
reason for her movements, and made as if to move on. I implored her
to come into a private room where I could speak to her in confidence,
but she objected. However, the dining-room, close at hand, was quite
empty at this hour, and I got her inside and closed the door. I do
not know how I began my explanation, or how I ended it, but I told
her briefly and brokenly enough that the marriage was not real.
'Not real?' she said vacantly.
'It is not,' said I. 'You will find that it is all as I say.'
She could not believe my meaning even then. 'Not his wife?' she
cried. 'It is impossible. What am I, then?'
I added more details, and reiterated the reason for my conduct as
well as I could; but Heaven knows how very difficult I found it to
feel a jot more justification for it in my own mind than she did in
The revulsion of feeling, as soon as she really comprehended all, was
most distressing. After her grief had in some measure spent itself
she turned against both him and me.
'Why should have I been deceived like this?' she demanded, with a
bitter haughtiness of which I had not deemed such a tractable
creature capable. 'Do you suppose that ANYTHING could justify such
an imposition? What, O what a snare you have spread for me!'
I murmured, 'Your life seemed to require it,' but she did not hear
me. She sank down in a chair, covered her face, and then my father
came in. 'O, here you are!' he said. 'I could not find you. And
'And were YOU, papa, a party to this strange deed of kindness?'
'To what?' said he.
Then out it all came, and for the first time he was made acquainted
with the fact that the scheme for soothing her illness, which I had
sounded him upon, had been really carried out. In a moment he sided
with Caroline. My repeated assurance that my motive was good availed
less than nothing. In a minute or two Caroline arose and went
abruptly out of the room, and my father followed her, leaving me
alone to my reflections.
I was so bent upon finding Charles immediately that I did not notice
whither they went. The servants told me that M. de la Feste was just
outside smoking, and one of them went to look for him, I following;
but before we had gone many steps he came out of the hotel behind me.
I expected him to be amazed; but he showed no surprise at seeing me,
though he showed another kind of feeling to an extent which dismayed
me. I may have revealed something similar; but I struggled hard
against all emotion, and as soon as I could I told him she had come.
He simply said 'Yes' in a low voice.
'You know it, Charles?' said I.
'I have just learnt it,' he said.
'O, Charles,' I went on, 'having delayed completing your marriage
with her till now, I fear--it has become a serious position for us.
Why did you not reply to our letters?'
'I was purposing to reply in person: I did not know how to address
her on the point--how to address you. But what has become of her?'
'She has gone off with my father,' said I; 'indignant with you, and
He was silent: and I suggested that we should follow them, pointing
out the direction which I fancied their gondola had taken. As the
one we got into was doubly manned we soon came in view of their two
figures ahead of us, while they were not likely to observe us, our
boat having the 'felze' on, while theirs was uncovered. They shot
into a narrow canal just beyond the Giardino Reale, and by the time
we were floating up between its slimy walls we saw them getting out
of their gondola at the steps which lead up near the end of the Via
22 Marzo. When we reached the same spot they were walking up and
down the Via in consultation. Getting out he stood on the lower
steps watching them. I watched him. He seemed to fall into a
'Will you not go and speak to her?' said I at length.
He assented, and went forward. Still he did not hasten to join them,
but, screened by a projecting window, observed their musing converse.
At last he looked back at me; whereupon I pointed forward, and he in
obedience stepped out, and met them face to face. Caroline flushed
hot, bowed haughtily to him, turned away, and taking my father's arm
violently, led him off before he had had time to use his own
judgment. They disappeared into a narrow calle, or alley, leading to
the back of the buildings on the Grand Canal.
M. de la Feste came slowly back; as he stepped in beside me I
realized my position so vividly that my heart might almost have been
heard to beat. The third condition had arisen--the least expected by
either of us. She had refused him; he was free to claim me.
We returned in the boat together. He seemed quite absorbed till we
had turned the angle into the Grand Canal, when he broke the silence.
'She spoke very bitterly to you in the salle-a-manger,' he said. 'I
do not think she was quite warranted in speaking so to you, who had
nursed her so tenderly.'
'O, but I think she was,' I answered. 'It was there I told her what
had been done; she did not know till then.'
'She was very dignified--very striking,' he murmured. 'You were
'But how do you know what passed between us,' said I. He then told
me that he had seen and heard all. The dining-room was divided by
folding-doors from an inner portion, and he had been sitting in the
latter part when we entered the outer, so that our words were
'But, dear Alicia,' he went on, 'I was more impressed by the
affection of your apology to her than by anything else. And do you
know that now the conditions have arisen which give me liberty to
consider you my affianced?' I had been expecting this, but yet was
not prepared. I stammered out that we would not discuss it then.
'Why not?' said he. 'Do you know that we may marry here and now?
She has cast off both you and me.'
'It cannot be,' said I, firmly. 'She has not been fairly asked to be
your wife in fact--to repeat the service lawfully; and until that has
been done it would be grievous sin in me to accept you.'
I had not noticed where the gondoliers were rowing us. I suppose he
had given them some direction unheard by me, for as I resigned myself
in despairing indolence to the motion of the gondola, I perceived
that it was taking us up the Canal, and, turning into a side opening
near the Palazzo Grimani, drew up at some steps near the end of a
'Where are we?' said I.
'It is the Church of the Frari,' he replied. 'We might be married
there. At any rate, let us go inside, and grow calm, and decide what
When we had entered I found that whether a place to marry in or not,
it was one to depress. The word which Venice speaks most constantly-
-decay--was in a sense accentuated here. The whole large fabric
itself seemed sinking into an earth which was not solid enough to
bear it. Cobwebbed cracks zigzagged the walls, and similar webs
clouded the window-panes. A sickly-sweet smell pervaded the aisles.
After walking about with him a little while in embarrassing silences,
divided only by his cursory explanations of the monuments and other
objects, and almost fearing he might produce a marriage licence, I
went to a door in the south transept which opened into the sacristy.
I glanced through it, towards the small altar at the upper end. The
place was empty save of one figure; and she was kneeling here in
front of the beautiful altarpiece by Bellini. Beautiful though it
was she seemed not to see it. She was weeping and praying as though
her heart was broken. She was my sister Caroline. I beckoned to
Charles, and he came to my side, and looked through the door with me.
'Speak to her,' said I. 'She will forgive you.'
I gently pushed him through the doorway, and went back into the
transept, down the nave, and onward to the west door. There I saw my
father, to whom I spoke. He answered severely that, having first
obtained comfortable quarters in a pension on the Grand Canal, he had
gone back to the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni to find me; but
that I was not there. He was now waiting for Caroline, to accompany
her back to the pension, at which she had requested to be left to
herself as much as possible till she could regain some composure.
I told him that it was useless to dwell on what was past, that I no
doubt had erred, that the remedy lay in the future and their
marriage. In this he quite agreed with me, and on my informing him
that M. de la Feste was at that moment with Caroline in the sacristy,
he assented to my proposal that we should leave them to themselves,
and return together to await them at the pension, where he had also
engaged a room for me. This we did, and going up to the chamber he
had chosen for me, which overlooked the Canal, I leant from the
window to watch for the gondola that should contain Charles and my
They were not long in coming. I recognized them by the colour of her
sunshade as soon as they turned the bend on my right hand. They were
side by side of necessity, but there was no conversation between
them, and I thought that she looked flushed and he pale. When they
were rowed in to the steps of our house he handed her up. I fancied
she might have refused his assistance, but she did not. Soon I heard
her pass my door, and wishing to know the result of their interview I
went downstairs, seeing that the gondola had not put off with him.
He was turning from the door, but not towards the water, intending
apparently to walk home by way of the calle which led into the Via 22
'Has she forgiven you?' said I.
'I have not asked her,' he said.
'But you are bound to do so,' I told him.
He paused, and then said, 'Alicia, let us understand each other. Do
you mean to tell me, once for all, that if your sister is willing to
become my wife you absolutely make way for her, and will not
entertain any thought of what I suggested to you any more?'
'I do tell you so,' said I with dry lips. 'You belong to her--how
can I do otherwise?'
'Yes; it is so; it is purely a question of honour,' he returned.
'Very well then, honour shall be my word, and not my love. I will
put the question to her frankly; if she says yes, the marriage shall
be. But not here. It shall be at your own house in England.'
'When?' said I.
'I will accompany her there,' he replied, 'and it shall be within a
week of her return. I have nothing to gain by delay. But I will not
answer for the consequences.'
'What do you mean?' said I. He made no reply, went away, and I came
back to my room.
CHAPTER IX.--SHE WITNESSES THE END
April 20. Milan, 10.30 p.m.--We are thus far on our way homeward.
I, being decidedly de trop, travel apart from the rest as much as I
can. Having dined at the hotel here, I went out by myself;
regardless of the proprieties, for I could not stay in. I walked at
a leisurely pace along the Via Allesandro Manzoni till my eye was
caught by the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and I entered under
the high glass arcades till I reached the central octagon, where I
sat down on one of a group of chairs placed there. Becoming
accustomed to the stream of promenaders, I soon observed, seated on
the chairs opposite, Caroline and Charles. This was the first
occasion on which I had seen them en tete-a-tete since my
conversation with him. She soon caught sight of me; averted her
eyes; then, apparently abandoning herself to an impulse, she jumped
up from her seat and came across to me. We had not spoken to each
other since the meeting in Venice.
'Alicia,' she said, sitting down by my side, 'Charles asks me to
forgive you, and I do forgive you.'
I pressed her hand, with tears in my eyes, and said, 'And do you
'Yes,' said she, shyly.
'And what's the result?' said I.
'We are to be married directly we reach home.'
This was almost the whole of our conversation; she walked home with
me, Charles following a little way behind, though she kept turning
her head, as if anxious that he should overtake us. 'Honour and not
love' seemed to ring in my ears. So matters stand. Caroline is
April 25.--We have reached home, Charles with us. Events are now
moving in silent speed, almost with velocity, indeed; and I sometimes
feel oppressed by the strange and preternatural ease which seems to
accompany their flow. Charles is staying at the neighbouring town;
he is only waiting for the marriage licence; when obtained he is to
come here, be quietly married to her, and carry her off. It is
rather resignation than content which sits on his face; but he has
not spoken a word more to me on the burning subject, or deviated one
hair's breadth from the course he laid down. They may be happy in
time to come: I hope so. But I cannot shake off depression.
May 6.--Eve of the wedding. Caroline is serenely happy, though not
blithe. But there is nothing to excite anxiety about her. I wish I
could say the same of him. He comes and goes like a ghost, and yet
nobody seems to observe this strangeness in his mien.
I could not help being here for the ceremony; but my absence would
have resulted in less disquiet on his part, I believe. However, I
may be wrong in attributing causes: my father simply says that
Charles and Caroline have as good a chance of being happy as other
people. Well, to-morrow settles all.
May 7.--They are married: we have just returned from church.
Charles looked so pale this morning that my father asked him if he
was ill. He said, 'No: only a slight headache;' and we started for
There was no hitch or hindrance; and the thing is done.
4 p.m.--They ought to have set out on their journey by this time; but
there is an unaccountable delay. Charles went out half-an-hour ago,
and has not yet returned. Caroline is waiting in the hall; but I am
dreadfully afraid they will miss the train. I suppose the trifling
hindrance is of no account; and yet I am full of misgivings . . .
Sept. 14.--Four months have passed; ONLY four months! It seems like
years. Can it be that only seventeen weeks ago I set on this paper
the fact of their marriage? I am now an aged woman by comparison!
On that never to be forgotten day we waited and waited, and Charles
did not return. At six o'clock, when poor little Caroline had gone
back to her room in a state of suspense impossible to describe, a man
who worked in the water-meadows came to the house and asked for my
father. He had an interview with him in the study. My father then
rang his bell, and sent for me. I went down; and I then learnt the
fatal news. Charles was no more. The waterman had been going to
shut down the hatches of a weir in the meads when he saw a hat on the
edge of the pool below, floating round and round in the eddy, and
looking into the pool saw something strange at the bottom. He knew
what it meant, and lowering the hatches so that the water was still,
could distinctly see the body. It is needless to write particulars
that were in the newspapers at the time. Charles was brought to the
house, but he was dead.
We all feared for Caroline; and she suffered much; but strange to
say, her suffering was purely of the nature of deep grief which found
relief in sobbing and tears. It came out at the inquest that Charles
had been accustomed to cross the meads to give an occasional half-
crown to an old man who lived on the opposite hill, who had once been
a landscape painter in an humble way till he lost his eyesight; and
it was assumed that he had gone thither for the same purpose to-day,
and to bid him farewell. On this information the coroner's jury
found that his death had been caused by misadventure; and everybody
believes to this hour that he was drowned while crossing the weir to
relieve the old man. Except one: she believes in no accident.
After the stunning effect of the first news, I thought it strange
that he should have chosen to go on such an errand at the last
moment, and to go personally, when there was so little time to spare,
since any gift could have been so easily sent by another hand.
Further reflection has convinced me that this step out of life was as
much a part of the day's plan as was the wedding in the church hard
by. They were the two halves of his complete intention when he gave
me on the Grand Canal that assurance which I shall never forget:
'Very well, then; honour shall be my word, not love. If she says
"Yes," the marriage shall be.'
I do not know why I should have made this entry at this particular
time; but it has occurred to me to do it--to complete, in a measure,
that part of my desultory chronicle which relates to the love-story
of my sister and Charles. She lives on meekly in her grief; and will
probably outlive it; while I--but never mind me.
CHAPTER X.--SHE ADDS A NOTE LONG AFTER
Five-years later.--I have lighted upon this old diary, which it has
interested me to look over, containing, as it does, records of the
time when life shone more warmly in my eye than it does now. I am
impelled to add one sentence to round off its record of the past.
About a year ago my sister Caroline, after a persistent wooing,
accepted the hand and heart of Theophilus Higham, once the blushing
young Scripture reader who assisted at the substitute for a marriage
I planned, and now the fully-ordained curate of the next parish. His
penitence for the part he played ended in love. We have all now made
atonement for our sins against her: may she be deceived no more.
THE GRAVE BY THE HANDPOST
I never pass through Chalk-Newton without turning to regard the
neighbouring upland, at a point where a lane crosses the lone
straight highway dividing this from the next parish; a sight which
does not fail to recall the event that once happened there; and,
though it may seem superfluous, at this date, to disinter more
memories of village history, the whispers of that spot may claim to
It was on a dark, yet mild and exceptionally dry evening at
Christmas-time (according to the testimony of William Dewy of
Mellstock, Michael Mail, and others), that the choir of Chalk-Newton-
-a large parish situate about half-way between the towns of Ivel and
Casterbridge, and now a railway station--left their homes just before
midnight to repeat their annual harmonies under the windows of the
local population. The band of instrumentalists and singers was one
of the largest in the county; and, unlike the smaller and finer
Mellstock string-band, which eschewed all but the catgut, it included
brass and reed performers at full Sunday services, and reached all
across the west gallery.
On this night there were two or three violins, two 'cellos, a tenor
viol, double bass, hautboy, clarionets, serpent, and seven singers.
It was, however, not the choir's labours, but what its members
chanced to witness, that particularly marked the occasion.
They had pursued their rounds for many years without meeting with any
incident of an unusual kind, but to-night, according to the
assertions of several, there prevailed, to begin with, an
exceptionally solemn and thoughtful mood among two or three of the
oldest in the band, as if they were thinking they might be joined by
the phantoms of dead friends who had been of their number in earlier
years, and now were mute in the churchyard under flattening mounds--
friends who had shown greater zest for melody in their time than was
shown in this; or that some past voice of a semi-transparent figure
might quaver from some bedroom-window its acknowledgment of their
nocturnal greeting, instead of a familiar living neighbour. Whether
this were fact or fancy, the younger members of the choir met
together with their customary thoughtlessness and buoyancy. When
they had gathered by the stone stump of the cross in the middle of
the village, near the White Horse Inn, which they made their starting
point, some one observed that they were full early, that it was not
yet twelve o'clock. The local waits of those days mostly refrained
from sounding a note before Christmas morning had astronomically
arrived, and not caring to return to their beer, they decided to
begin with some outlying cottages in Sidlinch Lane, where the people
had no clocks, and would not know whether it were night or morning.
In that direction they accordingly went; and as they ascended to
higher ground their attention was attracted by a light beyond the
houses, quite at the top of the lane.
The road from Chalk-Newton to Broad Sidlinch is about two miles long
and in the middle of its course, where it passes over the ridge
dividing the two villages, it crosses at right angles, as has been
stated, the lonely monotonous old highway known as Long Ash Lane,
which runs, straight as a surveyor's line, many miles north and south
of this spot, on the foundation of a Roman road, and has often been
mentioned in these narratives. Though now quite deserted and grass-
grown, at the beginning of the century it was well kept and
frequented by traffic. The glimmering light appeared to come from
the precise point where the roads intersected.
'I think I know what that mid mean!' one of the group remarked.
They stood a few moments, discussing the probability of the light
having origin in an event of which rumours had reached them, and
resolved to go up the hill.
Approaching the high land their conjectures were strengthened. Long
Ash Lane cut athwart them, right and left; and they saw that at the
junction of the four ways, under the hand-post, a grave was dug, into
which, as the choir drew nigh, a corpse had just been thrown by the
four Sidlinch men employed for the purpose. The cart and horse which
had brought the body thither stood silently by.
The singers and musicians from Chalk-Newton halted, and looked on
while the gravediggers shovelled in and trod down the earth, till,
the hole being filled, the latter threw their spades into the cart,
and prepared to depart.
'Who mid ye be a-burying there?' asked Lot Swanhills in a raised
voice. 'Not the sergeant?'
The Sidlinch men had been so deeply engrossed in their task that they
had not noticed the lanterns of the Chalk-Newton choir till now.
'What--be you the Newton carol-singers?' returned the representatives
'Ay, sure. Can it be that it is old Sergeant Holway you've a-buried
''Tis so. You've heard about it, then?'
The choir knew no particulars--only that he had shot himself in his
apple-closet on the previous Sunday. 'Nobody seem'th to know what 'a
did it for, 'a b'lieve? Leastwise, we don't know at Chalk-Newton,'
'O yes. It all came out at the inquest.'
The singers drew close, and the Sidlinch men, pausing to rest after
their labours, told the story. 'It was all owing to that son of his,
poor old man. It broke his heart.'
'But the son is a soldier, surely; now with his regiment in the East
'Ay. And it have been rough with the army over there lately. 'Twas
a pity his father persuaded him to go. But Luke shouldn't have
twyted the sergeant o't, since 'a did it for the best.'
The circumstances, in brief, were these: The sergeant who had come
to this lamentable end, father of the young soldier who had gone with
his regiment to the East, had been singularly comfortable in his
military experiences, these having ended long before the outbreak of
the great war with France. On his discharge, after duly serving his
time, he had returned to his native village, and married, and taken
kindly to domestic life. But the war in which England next involved
herself had cost him many frettings that age and infirmity prevented
him from being ever again an active unit of the army. When his only
son grew to young manhood, and the question arose of his going out in
life, the lad expressed his wish to be a mechanic. But his father
advised enthusiastically for the army.
'Trade is coming to nothing in these days,' he said. 'And if the war
with the French lasts, as it will, trade will be still worse. The
army, Luke--that's the thing for 'ee. 'Twas the making of me, and
'twill be the making of you. I hadn't half such a chance as you'll
have in these splendid hotter times.'
Luke demurred, for he was a home-keeping, peace-loving youth. But,
putting respectful trust in his father's judgment, he at length gave
way, and enlisted in the --d Foot. In the course of a few weeks he
was sent out to India to his regiment, which had distinguished itself
in the East under General Wellesley.
But Luke was unlucky. News came home indirectly that he lay sick out
there; and then on one recent day when his father was out walking,
the old man had received tidings that a letter awaited him at
Casterbridge. The sergeant sent a special messenger the whole nine
miles, and the letter was paid for and brought home; but though, as
he had guessed, it came from Luke, its contents were of an unexpected
The letter had been written during a time of deep depression. Luke
said that his life was a burden and a slavery, and bitterly
reproached his father for advising him to embark on a career for
which he felt unsuited. He found himself suffering fatigues and
illnesses without gaining glory, and engaged in a cause which he did
not understand or appreciate. If it had not been for his father's
bad advice he, Luke, would now have been working comfortably at a
trade in the village that he had never wished to leave.
After reading the letter the sergeant advanced a few steps till he
was quite out of sight of everybody, and then sat down on the bank by
When he arose half-an-hour later he looked withered and broken, and
from that day his natural spirits left him. Wounded to the quick by
his son's sarcastic stings, he indulged in liquor more and more
frequently. His wife had died some years before this date, and the
sergeant lived alone in the house which had been hers. One morning
in the December under notice the report of a gun had been heard on
his premises, and on entering the neighbours found him in a dying
state. He had shot himself with an old firelock that he used for
scaring birds; and from what he had said the day before, and the
arrangements he had made for his decease, there was no doubt that his
end had been deliberately planned, as a consequence of the
despondency into which he had been thrown by his son's letter. The
coroner's jury returned a verdict of felo de se.
'Here's his son's letter,' said one of the Sidlinch men. ''Twas
found in his father's pocket. You can see by the state o't how many
times he read it over. Howsomever, the Lord's will be done, since it
must, whether or no.'
The grave was filled up and levelled, no mound being shaped over it.
The Sidlinch men then bade the Chalk-Newton choir good-night, and
departed with the cart in which they had brought the sergeant's body
to the hill. When their tread had died away from the ear, and the
wind swept over the isolated grave with its customary siffle of
indifference, Lot Swanhills turned and spoke to old Richard Toller,
the hautboy player.
''Tis hard upon a man, and he a wold sojer, to serve en so, Richard.
Not that the sergeant was ever in a battle bigger than would go into
a half-acre paddock, that's true. Still, his soul ought to hae as
good a chance as another man's, all the same, hey?'
Richard replied that he was quite of the same opinion. 'What d'ye
say to lifting up a carrel over his grave, as 'tis Christmas, and no
hurry to begin down in parish, and 'twouldn't take up ten minutes,
and not a soul up here to say us nay, or know anything about it?'
Lot nodded assent. 'The man ought to hae his chances,' he repeated.
'Ye may as well spet upon his grave, for all the good we shall do en
by what we lift up, now he's got so far,' said Notton, the clarionet
man and professed sceptic of the choir. 'But I'm agreed if the rest
They thereupon placed themselves in a semicircle by the newly stirred
earth, and roused the dull air with the well-known Number Sixteen of
their collection, which Lot gave out as being the one he thought best
suited to the occasion and the mood
He comes' the pri'-soners to' re-lease',
In Sa'-tan's bon'-dage held'.
'Jown it--we've never played to a dead man afore,' said Ezra
Cattstock, when, having concluded the last verse, they stood
reflecting for a breath or two. 'But it do seem more merciful than
to go away and leave en, as they t'other fellers have done.'
'Now backalong to Newton, and by the time we get overright the
pa'son's 'twill be half after twelve,' said the leader.
They had not, however, done more than gather up their instruments
when the wind brought to their notice the noise of a vehicle rapidly
driven up the same lane from Sidlinch which the gravediggers had
lately retraced. To avoid being run over when moving on, they waited
till the benighted traveller, whoever he might be, should pass them
where they stood in the wider area of the Cross.
In half a minute the light of the lanterns fell upon a hired fly,
drawn by a steaming and jaded horse. It reached the hand-post, when
a voice from the inside cried, 'Stop here!' The driver pulled rein.
The carriage door was opened from within, and there leapt out a
private soldier in the uniform of some line regiment. He looked
around, and was apparently surprised to see the musicians standing
'Have you buried a man here?' he asked.
'No. We bain't Sidlinch folk, thank God; we be Newton choir. Though
a man is just buried here, that's true; and we've raised a carrel
over the poor mortal's natomy. What--do my eyes see before me young
Luke Holway, that went wi' his regiment to the East Indies, or do I
see his spirit straight from the battlefield? Be you the son that
wrote the letter--'
'Don't--don't ask me. The funeral is over, then?'
'There wer no funeral, in a Christen manner of speaking. But's
buried, sure enough. You must have met the men going back in the
'Like a dog in a ditch, and all through me!'
He remained silent, looking at the grave, and they could not help
pitying him. 'My friends,' he said, 'I understand better now. You
have, I suppose, in neighbourly charity, sung peace to his soul? I
thank you, from my heart, for your kind pity. Yes; I am Sergeant
Holway's miserable son--I'm the son who has brought about his
father's death, as truly as if I had done it with my own hand!'
'No, no. Don't ye take on so, young man. He'd been naturally low
for a good while, off and on, so we hear.'
'We were out in the East when I wrote to him. Everything had seemed
to go wrong with me. Just after my letter had gone we were ordered
home. That's how it is you see me here. As soon as we got into
barracks at Casterbridge I heard o' this . . . Damn me! I'll dare to
follow my father, and make away with myself, too. It is the only
thing left to do!'
'Don't ye be rash, Luke Holway, I say again; but try to make amends
by your future life. And maybe your father will smile a smile down
from heaven upon 'ee for 't.'
He shook his head. 'I don't know about that!' he answered bitterly.
'Try and be worthy of your father at his best. 'Tis not too late.'
'D'ye think not? I fancy it is! . . . Well, I'll turn it over.
Thank you for your good counsel. I'll live for one thing, at any
rate. I'll move father's body to a decent Christian churchyard, if I
do it with my own hands. I can't save his life, but I can give him
an honourable grave. He shan't lie in this accursed place!'
'Ay, as our pa'son says, 'tis a barbarous custom they keep up at
Sidlinch, and ought to be done away wi'. The man a' old soldier,
too. You see, our pa'son is not like yours at Sidlinch.'
'He says it is barbarous, does he? So it is!' cried the soldier.
'Now hearken, my friends.' Then he proceeded to inquire if they
would increase his indebtedness to them by undertaking the removal,
privately, of the body of the suicide to the churchyard, not of
Sidlinch, a parish he now hated, but of Chalk-Newton. He would give
them all he possessed to do it.
Lot asked Ezra Cattstock what he thought of it.
Cattstock, the 'cello player, who was also the sexton, demurred, and
advised the young soldier to sound the rector about it first. 'Mid
be he would object, and yet 'a mid'nt. The pa'son o' Sidlinch is a
hard man, I own ye, and 'a said if folk will kill theirselves in hot
blood they must take the consequences. But ours don't think like
that at all, and might allow it.'
'What's his name?'
'The honourable and reverent Mr. Oldham, brother to Lord Wessex. But
you needn't be afeard o' en on that account. He'll talk to 'ee like
a common man, if so be you haven't had enough drink to gie 'ee bad
'O, the same as formerly. I'll ask him. Thank you. And that duty
'There's war in Spain. I hear our next move is there. I'll try to
show myself to be what my father wished me. I don't suppose I shall-
-but I'll try in my feeble way. That much I swear--here over his
body. So help me God.'
Luke smacked his palm against the white hand-post with such force
that it shook. 'Yes, there's war in Spain; and another chance for me
to be worthy of father.'
So the matter ended that night. That the private acted in one thing
as he had vowed to do soon became apparent, for during the Christmas
week the rector came into the churchyard when Cattstock was there,
and asked him to find a spot that would be suitable for the purpose
of such an interment, adding that he had slightly known the late
sergeant, and was not aware of any law which forbade him to assent to
the removal, the letter of the rule having been observed. But as he
did not wish to seem moved by opposition to his neighbour at
Sidlinch, he had stipulated that the act of charity should be carried
out at night, and as privately as possible, and that the grave should
be in an obscure part of the enclosure. 'You had better see the
young man about it at once,' added the rector.
But before Ezra had done anything Luke came down to his house. His
furlough had been cut short, owing to new developments of the war in
the Peninsula, and being obliged to go back to his regiment
immediately, he was compelled to leave the exhumation and reinterment
to his friends. Everything was paid for, and he implored them all to
see it carried out forthwith.
With this the soldier left. The next day Ezra, on thinking the
matter over, again went across to the rectory, struck with sudden
misgiving. He had remembered that the sergeant had been buried
without a coffin, and he was not sure that a stake had not been
driven through him. The business would be more troublesome than they
had at first supposed.
'Yes, indeed!' murmured the rector. 'I am afraid it is not feasible
The next event was the arrival of a headstone by carrier from the
nearest town; to be left at Mr. Ezra Cattstock's; all expenses paid.
The sexton and the carrier deposited the stone in the former's
outhouse; and Ezra, left alone, put on his spectacles and read the
brief and simple inscription:-
HERE LYETH THE BODY OF SAMUEL HOLWAY, LATE SERGEANT IN HIS MAJESTY'S
--D REGIMENT OF FOOT, WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE DECEMBER THE 20TH, 180-.
ERECTED BY L. H.
'I AM NOT WORTHY TO BE CALLED THY SON.'
Ezra again called at the riverside rectory. 'The stone is come, sir.
But I'm afeard we can't do it nohow.'
'I should like to oblige him,' said the gentlemanly old incumbent.
'And I would forego all fees willingly. Still, if you and the others
don't think you can carry it out, I am in doubt what to say.'
Well, sir; I've made inquiry of a Sidlinch woman as to his burial,
and what I thought seems true. They buried en wi' a new six-foot
hurdle-saul drough's body, from the sheep-pen up in North Ewelease
though they won't own to it now. And the question is, Is the moving
worth while, considering the awkwardness?'
'Have you heard anything more of the young man?'
Ezra had only heard that he had embarked that week for Spain with the
rest of the regiment. 'And if he's as desperate as 'a seemed, we
shall never see him here in England again.'
'It is an awkward case,' said the rector.
Ezra talked it over with the choir; one of whom suggested that the
stone might be erected at the crossroads. This was regarded as
impracticable. Another said that it might be set up in the
churchyard without removing the body; but this was seen to be
dishonest. So nothing was done.
The headstone remained in Ezra's outhouse till, growing tired of
seeing it there, he put it away among the bushes at the bottom of his
garden. The subject was sometimes revived among them, but it always
ended with: 'Considering how 'a was buried, we can hardly make a job
There was always the consciousness that Luke would never come back,
an impression strengthened by the disasters which were rumoured to
have befallen the army in Spain. This tended to make their inertness
permanent. The headstone grew green as it lay on its back under
Ezra's bushes; then a tree by the river was blown down, and, falling
across the stone, cracked it in three pieces. Ultimately the pieces
became buried in the leaves and mould.
Luke had not been born a Chalk-Newton man, and he had no relations
left in Sidlinch, so that no tidings of him reached either village
throughout the war. But after Waterloo and the fall of Napoleon
there arrived at Sidlinch one day an English sergeant-major covered
with stripes and, as it turned out, rich in glory. Foreign service
had so totally changed Luke Holway that it was not until he told his
name that the inhabitants recognized him as the sergeant's only son.
He had served with unswerving effectiveness through the Peninsular
campaigns under Wellington; had fought at Busaco, Fuentes d'Onore,
Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Quatre Bras, and
Waterloo; and had now returned to enjoy a more than earned pension
and repose in his native district.
He hardly stayed in Sidlinch longer than to take a meal on his
arrival. The same evening he started on foot over the hill to Chalk-
Newton, passing the hand-post, and saying as he glanced at the spot,
'Thank God: he's not there!' Nightfall was approaching when he
reached the latter village; but he made straight for the churchyard.
On his entering it there remained light enough to discern the
headstones by, and these he narrowly scanned. But though he searched
the front part by the road, and the back part by the river, what he
sought he could not find--the grave of Sergeant Holway, and a
memorial bearing the inscription: 'I AM NOT WORTHY TO BE CALLED THY
He left the churchyard and made inquiries. The honourable and
reverend old rector was dead, and so were many of the choir; but by
degrees the sergeant-major learnt that his father still lay at the
cross-roads in Long Ash Lane.
Luke pursued his way moodily homewards, to do which, in the natural
course, he would be compelled to repass the spot, there being no
other road between the two villages. But he could not now go by that
place, vociferous with reproaches in his father's tones; and he got
over the hedge and wandered deviously through the ploughed fields to
avoid the scene. Through many a fight and fatigue Luke had been
sustained by the thought that he was restoring the family honour and
making noble amends. Yet his father lay still in degradation. It
was rather a sentiment than a fact that his father's body had been
made to suffer for his own misdeeds; but to his super-sensitiveness
it seemed that his efforts to retrieve his character and to
propitiate the shade of the insulted one had ended in failure.
He endeavoured, however, to shake off his lethargy, and, not liking
the associations of Sidlinch, hired a small cottage at Chalk-Newton
which had long been empty. Here he lived alone, becoming quite a
hermit, and allowing no woman to enter the house.
The Christmas after taking up his abode herein he was sitting in the
chimney corner by himself, when he heard faint notes in the distance,
and soon a melody burst forth immediately outside his own window, it
came from the carol-singers, as usual; and though many of the old
hands, Ezra and Lot included, had gone to their rest, the same old
carols were still played out of the same old books. There resounded
through the sergeant-major's window-shutters the familiar lines that
the deceased choir had rendered over his father's grave:-
He comes' the pri'-soners to' re-lease',
In Sa'-tan's bon'-dage held'.
When they had finished they went on to another house, leaving him to
silence and loneliness as before.
The candle wanted snuffing, but he did not snuff it, and he sat on
till it had burnt down into the socket and made waves of shadow on
The Christmas cheerfulness of next morning was broken at breakfast-
time by tragic intelligence which went down the village like wind.
Sergeant-Major Holway had been found shot through the head by his own
hand at the cross-roads in Long Ash Lane where his father lay buried.
On the table in the cottage he had left a piece of paper, on which he
had written his wish that he might be buried at the Cross beside his
father. But the paper was accidentally swept to the floor, and
overlooked till after his funeral, which took place in the ordinary
way in the churchyard.
ENTER A DRAGOON
I lately had a melancholy experience (said the gentleman who is
answerable for the truth of this story). It was that of going over a
doomed house with whose outside aspect I had long been familiar--a
house, that is, which by reason of age and dilapidation was to be
pulled down during the following week. Some of the thatch, brown and
rotten as the gills of old mushrooms, had, indeed, been removed
before I walked over the building. Seeing that it was only a very
small house--which is usually called a 'cottage-residence'--situated
in a remote hamlet, and that it was not more than a hundred years
old, if so much, I was led to think in my progress through the hollow
rooms, with their cracked walls and sloping floors, what an
exceptional number of abrupt family incidents had taken place
therein--to reckon only those which had come to my own knowledge.
And no doubt there were many more of which I had never heard.
It stood at the top of a garden stretching down to the lane or street
that ran through a hermit-group of dwellings in Mellstock parish.
From a green gate at the lower entrance, over which the thorn hedge
had been shaped to an arch by constant clippings, a gravel path
ascended between the box edges of once trim raspberry, strawberry,
and vegetable plots, towards the front door. This was in colour an
ancient and bleached green that could be rubbed off with the finger,
and it bore a small long-featured brass knocker covered with
verdigris in its crevices. For some years before this eve of
demolition the homestead had degenerated, and been divided into two
tenements to serve as cottages for farm labourers; but in its prime
it had indisputable claim to be considered neat, pretty, and genteel.
The variety of incidents above alluded to was mainly owing to the
nature of the tenure, whereby the place had been occupied by families
not quite of the kind customary in such spots--people whose
circumstances, position, or antecedents were more or less of a
critical happy-go-lucky cast. And of these residents the family
whose term comprised the story I wish to relate was that of Mr. Jacob
Paddock the market-gardener, who dwelt there for some years with his
wife and grown-up daughter.
An evident commotion was agitating the premises, which jerked busy
sounds across the front plot, resembling those of a disturbed hive.
If a member of the household appeared at the door it was with a
countenance of abstraction and concern.
Evening began to bend over the scene; and the other inhabitants of
the hamlet came out to draw water, their common well being in the
public road opposite the garden and house of the Paddocks. Having
wound up their bucketsfull respectively they lingered, and spoke
significantly together. From their words any casual listener might
have gathered information of what had occurred.
The woodman who lived nearest the site of the story told most of the
tale. Selina, the daughter of the Paddocks opposite, had been
surprised that afternoon by receiving a letter from her once intended
husband, then a corporal, but now a sergeant-major of dragoons, whom
she had hitherto supposed to be one of the slain in the Battle of the
Alma two or three years before.
'She picked up wi'en against her father's wish, as we know, and
before he got his stripes,' their informant continued. 'Not but that
the man was as hearty a feller as you'd meet this side o' London.
But Jacob, you see, wished her to do better, and one can understand
it. However, she was determined to stick to him at that time; and
for what happened she was not much to blame, so near as they were to
matrimony when the war broke out and spoiled all.'
'Even the very pig had been killed for the wedding,' said a woman,
'and the barrel o' beer ordered in. O, the man meant honourable
enough. But to be off in two days to fight in a foreign country--
'twas natural of her father to say they should wait till he got
'And he never came,' murmured one in the shade.
'The war ended but her man never turned up again. She was not sure
he was killed, but was too proud, or too timid, to go and hunt for
'One reason why her father forgave her when he found out how matters
stood was, as he said plain at the time, that he liked the man, and
could see that he meant to act straight. So the old folks made the
best of what they couldn't mend, and kept her there with 'em, when
some wouldn't. Time has proved seemingly that he did mean to act
straight, now that he has writ to her that he's coming. She'd have
stuck to him all through the time, 'tis my belief; if t'other hadn't
'At the time of the courtship,' resumed the woodman, 'the regiment
was quartered in Casterbridge Barracks, and he and she got acquainted
by his calling to buy a penn'orth of rathe-ripes off that tree yonder
in her father's orchard--though 'twas said he seed HER over hedge as
well as the apples. He declared 'twas a kind of apple he much
fancied; and he called for a penn'orth every day till the tree was
cleared. It ended in his calling for her.'
''Twas a thousand pities they didn't jine up at once and ha' done wi'
'Well; better late than never, if so be he'll have her now. But,
Lord, she'd that faith in 'en that she'd no more belief that he was
alive, when a' didn't come, than that the undermost man in our
churchyard was alive. She'd never have thought of another but for
''Tis awkward, altogether, for her now.'
'Still she hadn't married wi' the new man. Though to be sure she
would have committed it next week, even the licence being got, they
say, for she'd have no banns this time, the first being so
'Perhaps the sergeant-major will think he's released, and go as he
'O, not as I reckon. Soldiers bain't particular, and she's a tidy
piece o' furniture still. What will happen is that she'll have her
soldier, and break off with the master-wheelwright, licence or no--
daze me if she won't.'
In the progress of these desultory conjectures the form of another
neighbour arose in the gloom. She nodded to the people at the well,
who replied 'G'd night, Mrs. Stone,' as she passed through Mr.
Paddock's gate towards his door. She was an intimate friend of the
latter's household, and the group followed her with their eyes up the
path and past the windows, which were now lighted up by candles
Mrs. Stone paused at the door, knocked, and was admitted by Selina's
mother, who took her visitor at once into the parlour on the left
hand, where a table was partly spread for supper. On the 'beaufet'
against the wall stood probably the only object which would have
attracted the eye of a local stranger in an otherwise ordinarily
furnished room, a great plum-cake guarded as if it were a curiosity
by a glass shade of the kind seen in museums--square, with a wooden
back like those enclosing stuffed specimens of rare feather or fur.
This was the mummy of the cake intended in earlier days for the
wedding-feast of Selina and the soldier, which had been religiously
and lovingly preserved by the former as a testimony to her
intentional respectability in spite of an untoward subsequent
circumstance, which will be mentioned. This relic was now as dry as
a brick, and seemed to belong to a pre-existent civilization. Till
quite recently, Selina had been in the habit of pausing before it
daily, and recalling the accident whose consequences had thrown a
shadow over her life ever since--that of which the water-drawers had
spoken--the sudden news one morning that the Route had come for the -
-th Dragoons, two days only being the interval before departure; the
hurried consultation as to what should be done, the second time of
asking being past but not the third; and the decision that it would
be unwise to solemnize matrimony in such haphazard circumstances,
even if it were possible, which was doubtful.
Before the fire the young woman in question was now seated on a low
stool, in the stillness of reverie, and a toddling boy played about
the floor around her.
'Ah, Mrs. Stone!' said Selina, rising slowly. 'How kind of you to
come in. You'll bide to supper? Mother has told you the strange
news, of course?'
'No. But I heard it outside, that is, that you'd had a letter from
Mr. Clark--Sergeant-Major Clark, as they say he is now--and that he's
coming to make it up with 'ee.'
'Yes; coming to-night--all the way from the north of England where
he's quartered. I don't know whether I'm happy or--frightened at it.
Of course I always believed that if he was alive he'd come and keep
his solemn vow to me. But when it is printed that a man is killed--
what can you think?'
'It WAS printed?'
'Why, yes. After the Battle of the Alma the book of the names of the
killed and wounded was nailed up against Casterbridge Town Hall door.
'Twas on a Saturday, and I walked there o' purpose to read and see
for myself; for I'd heard that his name was down. There was a crowd
of people round the book, looking for the names of relations; and I
can mind that when they saw me they made way for me--knowing that
we'd been just going to be married--and that, as you may say, I
belonged to him. Well, I reached up my arm, and turned over the
farrels of the book, and under the "killed" I read his surname, but
instead of "John" they'd printed "James," and I thought 'twas a
mistake, and that it must be he. Who could have guessed there were
two nearly of one name in one regiment.'
'Well--he's coming to finish the wedding of 'ee as may be said; so
never mind, my dear. All's well that ends well.'
'That's what he seems to say. But then he has not heard yet about
Mr. Miller; and that's what rather terrifies me. Luckily my marriage
with him next week was to have been by licence, and not banns, as in
John's case; and it was not so well known on that account. Still, I
don't know what to think.'
'Everything seems to come just 'twixt cup and lip with 'ee, don't it
now, Miss Paddock. Two weddings broke off--'tis odd! How came you
to accept Mr. Miller, my dear?'
'He's been so good and faithful! Not minding about the child at all;
for he knew the rights of the story. He's dearly fond o' Johnny, you
know--just as if 'twere his own--isn't he, my duck? Do Mr. Miller
love you or don't he?'
'Iss! An' I love Mr. Miller,' said the toddler.
'Well, you see, Mrs. Stone, he said he'd make me a comfortable home;
and thinking 'twould be a good thing for Johnny, Mr. Miller being so
much better off than me, I agreed at last, just as a widow might--
which is what I have always felt myself; ever since I saw what I
thought was John's name printed there. I hope John will forgive me!'
'So he will forgive 'ee, since 'twas no manner of wrong to him. He
ought to have sent 'ee a line, saying 'twas another man.'
Selina's mother entered. 'We've not known of this an hour, Mrs.
Stone,' she said. 'The letter was brought up from Lower Mellstock
Post-office by one of the school children, only this afternoon. Mr.
Miller was coming here this very night to settle about the wedding
doings. Hark! Is that your father? Or is it Mr. Miller already
The footsteps entered the porch; there was a brushing on the mat, and
the door of the room sprung back to disclose a rubicund man about
thirty years of age, of thriving master-mechanic appearance and
obviously comfortable temper. On seeing the child, and before taking
any notice whatever of the elders, the comer made a noise like the
crowing of a cock and flapped his arms as if they were wings, a
method of entry which had the unqualified admiration of Johnny.
'Yes--it is he,' said Selina constrainedly advancing.
'What--were you all talking about me, my dear?' said the genial young
man when he had finished his crowing and resumed human manners. 'Why
what's the matter,' he went on. 'You look struck all of a heap.'
Mr. Miller spread an aspect of concern over his own face, and drew a
chair up to the fire.
'O mother, would you tell Mr. Miller, if he don't know?'
'MISTER Miller! and going to be married in six days!' he interposed.
'Ah--he don't know it yet!' murmured Mrs. Paddock.
'Well--John Clark--now Sergeant-Major Clark--wasn't shot at Alma
after all. 'Twas another of almost the same name.'
'Now that's interesting! There were several cases like that.'
'And he's home again; and he's coming here to-night to see her.'
'Whatever shall I say, that he may not be offended with what I've
done?' interposed Selina.
'But why should it matter if he be?'
'O! I must agree to be his wife if he forgives me--of course I
'Must! But why not say nay, Selina, even if he do forgive 'ee?'
'O no! How can I without being wicked? You were very very kind, Mr.
Miller, to ask me to have you; no other man would have done it after
what had happened; and I agreed, even though I did not feel half so
warm as I ought. Yet it was entirely owing to my believing him in
the grave, as I knew that if he were not he would carry out his
promise; and this shows that I was right in trusting him.'
'Yes . . . He must be a goodish sort of fellow,' said Mr. Miller, for
a moment so impressed with the excellently faithful conduct of the
sergeant-major of dragoons that he disregarded its effect upon his
own position. He sighed slowly and added, 'Well, Selina, 'tis for
you to say. I love you, and I love the boy; and there's my chimney-
corner and sticks o' furniture ready for 'ee both.'
'Yes, I know! But I mustn't hear it any more now,' murmured Selina
quickly. 'John will be here soon. I hope he'll see how it all was
when I tell him. If so be I could have written it to him it would
have been better.'
'You think he doesn't know a single word about our having been on the
brink o't. But perhaps it's the other way--he's heard of it and that
may have brought him.
'Ah--perhaps he has!' she said brightening. 'And already forgives
'If not, speak out straight and fair, and tell him exactly how it
fell out. If he's a man he'll see it.'
'O he's a man true enough. But I really do think I shan't have to
tell him at all, since you've put it to me that way!'
As it was now Johnny's bedtime he was carried upstairs, and when
Selina came down again her mother observed with some anxiety, 'I
fancy Mr. Clark must be here soon if he's coming; and that being so,
perhaps Mr. Miller wouldn't mind--wishing us good-night! since you
are so determined to stick to your sergeant-major.' A little
bitterness bubbled amid the closing words. 'It would be less
awkward, Mr. Miller not being here--if he will allow me to say it.'
'To be sure; to be sure,' the master-wheelwright exclaimed with
instant conviction, rising alertly from his chair. 'Lord bless my
soul,' he said, taking up his hat and stick, 'and we to have been
married in six days! But Selina--you're right. You do belong to the
child's father since he's alive. I'll try to make the best of it.'
Before the generous Miller had got further there came a knock to the
door accompanied by the noise of wheels.
'I thought I heard something driving up!' said Mrs Paddock.
They heard Mr. Paddock, who had been smoking in the room opposite,
rise and go to the door, and in a moment a voice familiar enough to
Selina was audibly saying, 'At last I am here again--not without many
interruptions! How is it with 'ee, Mr. Paddock? And how is she?
Thought never to see me again, I suppose?'
A step with a clink of spurs in it struck upon the entry floor.
'Danged if I bain't catched!' murmured Mr. Miller, forgetting
company-speech. 'Never mind--I may as well meet him here as
elsewhere; and I should like to see the chap, and make friends with
en, as he seems one o' the right sort.' He returned to the fireplace
just as the sergeant-major was ushered in.
He was a good specimen of the long-service soldier of those days; a
not unhandsome man, with a certain undemonstrative dignity, which
some might have said to be partly owing to the stiffness of his
uniform about his neck, the high stock being still worn. He was much
stouter than when Selina had parted from him. Although she had not
meant to be demonstrative she ran across to him directly she saw him,
and he held her in his arms and kissed her.
Then in much agitation she whispered something to him, at which he
seemed to be much surprised.
'He's just put to bed,' she continued. 'You can go up and see him.
I knew you'd come if you were alive! But I had quite gi'd you up for
dead. You've been home in England ever since the war ended?'
'Why didn't you come sooner?'
'That's just what I ask myself! Why was I such a sappy as not to
hurry here the first day I set foot on shore! Well, who'd have
thought it--you are as pretty as ever!'
He relinquished her to peep upstairs a little way, where, by looking
through the ballusters, he could see Johnny's cot just within an open
door. On his stepping down again Mr. Miller was preparing to depart.
'Now, what's this? I am sorry to see anybody going the moment I've
come,' expostulated the sergeant-major. 'I thought we might make an
evening of it. There's a nine gallon cask o' "Phoenix" beer outside
in the trap, and a ham, and half a rawmil' cheese; for I thought you
might be short o' forage in a lonely place like this; and it struck
me we might like to ask in a neighbour or two. But perhaps it would
be taking a liberty?'
'O no, not at all,' said Mr. Paddock, who was now in the room, in a
judicial measured manner. 'Very thoughtful of 'ee, only 'twas not
necessary, for we had just laid in an extry stock of eatables and
drinkables in preparation for the coming event.'
''Twas very kind, upon my heart,' said the soldier, 'to think me
worth such a jocund preparation, since you could only have got my
letter this morning.'
Selina gazed at her father to stop him, and exchanged embarrassed
glances with Miller. Contrary to her hopes Sergeant-Major Clark
plainly did not know that the preparations referred to were for
something quite other than his own visit.
The movement of the horse outside, and the impatient tapping of a
whip-handle upon the vehicle reminded them that Clark's driver was
still in waiting. The provisions were brought into the house, and
the cart dismissed. Miller, with very little pressure indeed,
accepted an invitation to supper, and a few neighbours were induced
to come in to make up a cheerful party.
During the laying of the meal, and throughout its continuance,
Selina, who sat beside her first intended husband, tried frequently
to break the news to him of her engagement to the other--now
terminated so suddenly, and so happily for her heart, and her sense
of womanly virtue. But the talk ran entirely upon the late war; and
though fortified by half a horn of the strong ale brought by the
sergeant-major she decided that she might have a better opportunity
when supper was over of revealing the situation to him in private.
Having supped, Clark leaned back at ease in his chair and looked
around. 'We used sometimes to have a dance in that other room after
supper, Selina dear, I recollect. We used to clear out all the
furniture into this room before beginning. Have you kept up such
'No, not at all!' said his sweetheart, sadly.
'We were not unlikely to revive it in a few days,' said Mr. Paddock.
'But, howsomever, there's seemingly many a slip, as the saying is.'
'Yes, I'll tell John all about that by and by!' interposed Selina; at
which, perceiving that the secret which he did not like keeping was
to be kept even yet, her father held his tongue with some show of
The subject of a dance having been broached, to put the thought in
practice was the feeling of all. Soon after the tables and chairs
were borne from the opposite room to this by zealous hands, and two
of the villagers sent home for a fiddle and tambourine, when the
majority began to tread a measure well known in that secluded vale.
Selina naturally danced with the sergeant-major, not altogether to
her father's satisfaction, and to the real uneasiness of her mother,
both of whom would have preferred a postponement of festivities till
the rashly anticipated relationship between their daughter and Clark
in the past had been made fact by the church's ordinances. They did
not, however, express a positive objection, Mr. Paddock remembering,
with self-reproach, that it was owing to his original strongly
expressed disapproval of Selina's being a soldier's wife that the
wedding had been delayed, and finally hindered--with worse
consequences than were expected; and ever since the misadventure
brought about by his government he had allowed events to steer their
'My tails will surely catch in your spurs, John!' murmured the
daughter of the house, as she whirled around upon his arm with the
rapt soul and look of a somnambulist. 'I didn't know we should
dance, or I would have put on my other frock.'
'I'll take care, my love. We've danced here before. Do you think
your father objects to me now? I've risen in rank. I fancy he's
still a little against me.'
'He has repented, times enough.'
'And so have I! If I had married you then 'twould have saved many a
misfortune. I have sometimes thought it might have been possible to
rush the ceremony through somehow before I left; though we were only
in the second asking, were we? And even if I had come back straight
here when we returned from the Crimea, and married you then, how much
happier I should have been!'
'Dear John, to say that! Why didn't you?'
'O--dilatoriness and want of thought, and a fear of facing your
father after so long. I was in hospital a great while, you know.
But how familiar the place seems again! What's that I saw on the
beaufet in the other room? It never used to be there. A sort of
withered corpse of a cake--not an old bride-cake surely?'
'Yes, John, ours. 'Tis the very one that was made for our wedding
three years ago.'
'Sakes alive! Why, time shuts up together, and all between then and
now seems not to have been! What became of that wedding-gown that
they were making in this room, I remember--a bluish, whitish, frothy
'I have that too.'
'Really! . . . Why, Selina--'
'Why not put it on now?'
'Wouldn't it seem--. And yet, O how I should like to! It would
remind them all, if we told them what it was, how we really meant to
be married on that bygone day!' Her eyes were again laden with wet.
'Yes . . . The pity that we didn't--the pity!' Moody mournfulness
seemed to hold silent awhile one not naturally taciturn. 'Well--will
you?' he said.
'I will--the next dance, if mother don't mind.'
Accordingly, just before the next figure was formed, Selina
disappeared, and speedily came downstairs in a creased and box-worn,
but still airy and pretty, muslin gown, which was indeed the very one
that had been meant to grace her as a bride three years before.
'It is dreadfully old-fashioned,' she apologized.
'Not at all. What a grand thought of mine! Now, let's to't again.'
She explained to some of them, as he led her to the second dance,
what the frock had been meant for, and that she had put it on at his
request. And again athwart and around the room they went.
'You seem the bride!' he said.
'But I couldn't wear this gown to be married in now!' she replied,
ecstatically, 'or I shouldn't have put it on and made it dusty. It
is really too old-fashioned, and so folded and fretted out, you can't
think. That was with my taking it out so many times to look at. I
have never put it on--never--till now!'
'Selina, I am thinking of giving up the army. Will you emigrate with
me to New Zealand? I've an uncle out there doing well, and he'd soon
help me to making a larger income. The English army is glorious, but
it ain't altogether enriching.'
'Of course, anywhere that you decide upon. Is it healthy there for
'A lovely climate. And I shall never be happy in England . . . Aha!'
he concluded again, with a bitterness of unexpected strength, 'would
to Heaven I had come straight back here!'
As the dance brought round one neighbour after another the re-united
pair were thrown into juxtaposition with Bob Heartall among the rest
who had been called in; one whose chronic expression was that he
carried inside him a joke on the point of bursting with its own
vastness. He took occasion now to let out a little of its quality,
shaking his head at Selina as he addressed her in an undertone -
'This is a bit of a topper to the bridegroom, ho ho! 'Twill teach en
the liberty you'll expect when you've married en!'
'What does he mean by a "topper,"' the sergeant-major asked, who, not
being of local extraction, despised the venerable local language, and
also seemed to suppose 'bridegroom' to be an anticipatory name for
himself. 'I only hope I shall never be worse treated than you've
treated me to-night!'
Selina looked frightened. 'He didn't mean you, dear,' she said as
they moved on. 'We thought perhaps you knew what had happened, owing
to your coming just at this time. Had you--heard anything about--
what I intended?'
'Not a breath--how should I--away up in Yorkshire? It was by the
merest accident that I came just at this date to make peace with you
for my delay.'
'I was engaged to be married to Mr. Bartholomew Miller. That's what
it is! I would have let 'ee know by letter, but there was no time,
only hearing from 'ee this afternoon . . . You won't desert me for
it, will you, John? Because, as you know, I quite supposed you dead,
and--and--' Her eyes were full of tears of trepidation, and he might
have felt a sob heaving within her.
The soldier was silent during two or three double bars of the tune.
'When were you to have been married to the said Mr. Bartholomew
Miller?' he inquired.
'Next week--O yes--just the same as it was with you and me. There's
a strange fate of interruption hanging over me, I sometimes think!
He had bought the licence, which I preferred so that it mightn't be
like--ours. But it made no difference to the fate of it.'
'Had bought the licence! The devil!'
'Don't be angry, dear John. I didn't know!'
'No, no, I'm not angry.'
'It was so kind of him, considering!'
'Yes . . . I see, of course, how natural your action was--never
thinking of seeing me any more! Is it the Mr. Miller who is in this
Clark glanced round upon Bartholomew and was silent again, for some
little while, and she stole a look at him, to find that he seemed
changed. 'John, you look ill!' she almost sobbed. ''Tisn't me, is
'O dear, no. Though I hadn't, somehow, expected it. I can't find
fault with you for a moment--and I don't . . . This is a deuce of a
long dance, don't you think? We've been at it twenty minutes if a
second, and the figure doesn't allow one much rest. I'm quite out of
'They like them so dreadfully long here. Shall we drop out? Or I'll
stop the fiddler.'
'O no, no, I think I can finish. But although I look healthy enough
I have never been so strong as I formerly was, since that long
illness I had in the hospital at Scutari.'
'And I knew nothing about it!'
'You couldn't, dear, as I didn't write. What a fool I have been
altogether!' He gave a twitch, as of one in pain. 'I won't dance
again when this one is over. The fact is I have travelled a long way
to-day, and it seems to have knocked me up a bit.'
There could be no doubt that the sergeant-major was unwell, and
Selina made herself miserable by still believing that her story was
the cause of his ailment. Suddenly he said in a changed voice, and
she perceived that he was paler than ever: 'I must sit down.'
Letting go her waist he went quickly to the other room. She
followed, and found him in the nearest chair, his face bent down upon
his hands and arms, which were resting on the table.
'What's the matter?' said her father, who sat there dozing by the
'John isn't well . . . We are going to New Zealand when we are
married, father. A lovely country! John, would you like something
'A drop o' that Schiedam of old Owlett's, that's under stairs,
perhaps,' suggested her father. 'Not that nowadays 'tis much better
than licensed liquor.'
'John,' she said, putting her face close to his and pressing his arm.
'Will you have a drop of spirits or something?'
He did not reply, and Selina observed that his ear and the side of
his face were quite white. Convinced that his illness was serious, a
growing dismay seized hold of her. The dance ended; her mother came
in, and learning what had happened, looked narrowly at the sergeant-
'We must not let him lie like that, lift him up,' she said. 'Let him
rest in the window-bench on some cushions.'
They unfolded his arms and hands as they lay clasped upon the table,
and on lifting his head found his features to bear the very impress
of death itself. Bartholomew Miller, who had now come in, assisted
Mr. Paddock to make a comfortable couch in the window-seat, where
they stretched out Clark upon his back.
Still he seemed unconscious. 'We must get a doctor,' said Selina.
'O, my dear John, how is it you be taken like this?'
'My impression is that he's dead!' murmured Mr. Paddock. 'He don't
breathe enough to move a tomtit's feather.'
There were plenty to volunteer to go for a doctor, but as it would be
at least an hour before he could get there the case seemed somewhat
hopeless. The dancing-party ended as unceremoniously as it had
begun; but the guests lingered round the premises till the doctor
should arrive. When he did come the sergeant-major's extremities
were already cold, and there was no doubt that death had overtaken
him almost at the moment that he had sat down.
The medical practitioner quite refused to accept the unhappy Selina's
theory that her revelation had in any way induced Clark's sudden
collapse. Both he and the coroner afterwards, who found the
immediate cause to be heart-failure, held that such a supposition was
unwarranted by facts. They asserted that a long day's journey, a
hurried drive, and then an exhausting dance, were sufficient for such
a result upon a heart enfeebled by fatty degeneration after the
privations of a Crimean winter and other trying experiences, the
coincidence of the sad event with any disclosure of hers being a pure
This conclusion, however, did not dislodge Selina's opinion that the
shock of her statement had been the immediate stroke which had felled
a constitution so undermined.
At this date the Casterbridge Barracks were cavalry quarters, their
adaptation to artillery having been effected some years later. It
had been owing to the fact that the --th Dragoons, in which John
Clark had served, happened to be lying there that Selina made his
acquaintance. At the time of his death the barracks were occupied by
the Scots Greys, but when the pathetic circumstances of the sergeant-
major's end became known in the town the officers of the Greys
offered the services of their fine reed and brass band, that he might
have a funeral marked by due military honours. His body was
accordingly removed to the barracks, and carried thence to the
churchyard in the Durnover quarter on the following afternoon, one of
the Greys' most ancient and docile chargers being blacked up to
represent Clark's horse on the occasion.
Everybody pitied Selina, whose story was well known. She followed
the corpse as the only mourner, Clark having been without relations
in this part of the country, and a communication with his regiment
having brought none from a distance. She sat in a little shabby
brown-black mourning carriage, squeezing herself up in a corner to be
as much as possible out of sight during the slow and dramatic march
through the town to the tune from Saul. When the interment had taken
place, the volleys been fired, and the return journey begun, it was
with something like a shock that she found the military escort to be
moving at a quick march to the lively strains of 'Off she goes!' as
if all care for the sergeant-major was expected to be ended with the
late discharge of the carbines. It was, by chance, the very tune to
which they had been footing when he died, and unable to bear its
notes, she hastily told her driver to drop behind. The band and
military party diminished up the High Street, and Selina turned over
Swan bridge and homeward to Mellstock.
Then recommenced for her a life whose incidents were precisely of a
suit with those which had preceded the soldier's return; but how
different in her appreciation of them! Her narrow miss of the
recovered respectability they had hoped for from that tardy event
worked upon her parents as an irritant, and after the first week or
two of her mourning her life with them grew almost insupportable.
She had impulsively taken to herself the weeds of a widow, for such
she seemed to herself to be, and clothed little Johnny in sables
likewise. This assumption of a moral relationship to the deceased,
which she asserted to be only not a legal one by two most unexpected
accidents, led the old people to indulge in sarcasm at her expense
whenever they beheld her attire, though all the while it cost them
more pain to utter than it gave her to hear it. Having become
accustomed by her residence at home to the business carried on by her
father, she surprised them one day by going off with the child to
Chalk-Newton, in the direction of the town of Ivell, and opening a
miniature fruit and vegetable shop, attending Ivell market with her
produce. Her business grew somewhat larger, and it was soon
sufficient to enable her to support herself and the boy in comfort.
She called herself 'Mrs. John Clark' from the day of leaving home,
and painted the name on her signboard--no man forbidding her.
By degrees the pain of her state was forgotten in her new
circumstances, and getting to be generally accepted as the widow of a
sergeant-major of dragoons--an assumption which her modest and
mournful demeanour seemed to substantiate--her life became a placid
one, her mind being nourished by the melancholy luxury of dreaming
what might have been her future in New Zealand with John, if he had
only lived to take her there. Her only travels now were a journey to
Ivell on market-days, and once a fortnight to the churchyard in which
Clark lay, there to tend, with Johnny's assistance, as widows are
wont to do, the flowers she had planted upon his grave.
On a day about eighteen months after his unexpected decease, Selina
was surprised in her lodging over her little shop by a visit from
Bartholomew Miller. He had called on her once or twice before, on
which occasions he had used without a word of comment the name by
which she was known.
'I've come this time,' he said, 'less because I was in this direction
than to ask you, Mrs. Clark, what you mid well guess. I've come o'
purpose, in short.'
''Tis to ask me again to marry you?'
'Yes, of course. You see, his coming back for 'ee proved what I
always believed of 'ee, though others didn't. There's nobody but
would be glad to welcome you to our parish again, now you've showed
your independence and acted up to your trust in his promise. Well,
my dear, will you come?'
'I'd rather bide as Mrs. Clark, I think,' she answered. 'I am not
ashamed of my position at all; for I am John's widow in the eyes of
'I quite agree--that's why I've come. Still, you won't like to be
always straining at this shop-keeping and market-standing; and
'twould be better for Johnny if you had nothing to do but tend him.'
He here touched the only weak spot in Selina's resistance to his
proposal--the good of the boy. To promote that there were other men
she might have married offhand without loving them if they had asked
her to; but though she had known the worthy speaker from her youth,
she could not for the moment fancy herself happy as Mrs. Miller.
He paused awhile. 'I ought to tell 'ee, Mrs. Clark,' he said by and
by, 'that marrying is getting to be a pressing question with me. Not
on my own account at all. The truth is, that mother is growing old,
and I am away from home a good deal, so that it is almost necessary
there should be another person in the house with her besides me.
That's the practical consideration which forces me to think of taking
a wife, apart from my wish to take you; and you know there's nobody
in the world I care for so much.'
She said something about there being far better women than she, and
other natural commonplaces; but assured him she was most grateful to
him for feeling what he felt, as indeed she sincerely was. However,
Selina would not consent to be the useful third person in his
comfortable home--at any rate just then. He went away, after taking
tea with her, without discerning much hope for him in her good-bye.
After that evening she saw and heard nothing of him for a great
while. Her fortnightly journeys to the sergeant-major's grave were
continued, whenever weather did not hinder them; and Mr. Miller must
have known, she thought, of this custom of hers. But though the
churchyard was not nearly so far from his homestead as was her shop
at Chalk-Newton, he never appeared in the accidental way that lovers
An explanation was forthcoming in the shape of a letter from her
mother, who casually mentioned that Mr. Bartholomew Miller had gone
away to the other side of Shottsford-Forum to be married to a
thriving dairyman's daughter that he knew there. His chief motive,
it was reported, had been less one of love than a wish to provide a
companion for his aged mother.
Selina was practical enough to know that she had lost a good and
possibly the only opportunity of settling in life after what had
happened, and for a moment she regretted her independence. But she
became calm on reflection, and to fortify herself in her course
started that afternoon to tend the sergeant-major's grave, in which
she took the same sober pleasure as at first.
On reaching the churchyard and turning the corner towards the spot as
usual, she was surprised to perceive another woman, also apparently a
respectable widow, and with a tiny boy by her side, bending over
Clark's turf, and spudding up with the point of her umbrella some
ivy-roots that Selina had reverently planted there to form an
evergreen mantle over the mound.
'What are you digging up my ivy for!' cried Selina, rushing forward
so excitedly that Johnny tumbled over a grave with the force of the
tug she gave his hand in her sudden start.
'Your ivy?' said the respectable woman.
'Why yes! I planted it there--on my husband's grave.'
'Yes. The late Sergeant-Major Clark. Anyhow, as good as my husband,
for he was just going to be.'
'Indeed. But who may be my husband, if not he? I am the only Mrs.
John Clark, widow of the late Sergeant-Major of Dragoons, and this is
his only son and heir.'
'How can that be?' faltered Selina, her throat seeming to stick
together as she just began to perceive its possibility. 'He had
been--going to marry me twice--and we were going to New Zealand.'
'Ah!--I remember about you,' returned the legitimate widow calmly and
not unkindly. 'You must be Selina; he spoke of you now and then, and
said that his relations with you would always be a weight on his
conscience. Well; the history of my life with him is soon told.
When he came back from the Crimea he became acquainted with me at my
home in the north, and we were married within a month of first
knowing each other. Unfortunately, after living together a few
months, we could not agree; and after a particularly sharp quarrel,
in which, perhaps, I was most in the wrong--as I don't mind owning
here by his graveside--he went away from me, declaring he would buy
his discharge and emigrate to New Zealand, and never come back to me
any more. The next thing I heard was that he had died suddenly at
Mellstock at some low carouse; and as he had left me in such anger to
live no more with me, I wouldn't come down to his funeral, or do
anything in relation to him. 'Twas temper, I know, but that was the
fact. Even if we had parted friends it would have been a serious
expense to travel three hundred miles to get there, for one who
wasn't left so very well off . . . I am sorry I pulled up your ivy-
roots; but that common sort of ivy is considered a weed in my part of
A TRYST AT AN ANCIENT EARTH WORK
At one's every step forward it rises higher against the south sky,
with an obtrusive personality that compels the senses to regard it
and consider. The eyes may bend in another direction, but never
without the consciousness of its heavy, high-shouldered presence at
its point of vantage. Across the intervening levels the gale races
in a straight line from the fort, as if breathed out of it
hitherward. With the shifting of the clouds the faces of the steeps
vary in colour and in shade, broad lights appearing where mist and
vagueness had prevailed, dissolving in their turn into melancholy
gray, which spreads over and eclipses the luminous bluffs. In this
so-thought immutable spectacle all is change.
Out of the invisible marine region on the other side birds soar
suddenly into the air, and hang over the summits of the heights with
the indifference of long familiarity. Their forms are white against
the tawny concave of cloud, and the curves they exhibit in their
floating signify that they are sea-gulls which have journeyed inland
from expected stress of weather. As the birds rise behind the fort,
so do the clouds rise behind the birds, almost as it seems, stroking
with their bagging bosoms the uppermost flyers.
The profile of the whole stupendous ruin, as seen at a distance of a
mile eastward, is cleanly cut as that of a marble inlay. It is
varied with protuberances, which from hereabouts have the animal
aspect of warts, wens, knuckles, and hips. It may indeed be likened
to an enormous many-limbed organism of an antediluvian time--
partaking of the cephalopod in shape--lying lifeless, and covered
with a thin green cloth, which hides its substance, while revealing
its contour. This dull green mantle of herbage stretches down
towards the levels, where the ploughs have essayed for centuries to
creep up near and yet nearer to the base of the castle, but have
always stopped short before reaching it. The furrows of these
environing attempts show themselves distinctly, bending to the
incline as they trench upon it; mounting in steeper curves, till the
steepness baffles them, and their parallel threads show like the
striae of waves pausing on the curl. The peculiar place of which
these are some of the features is 'Mai-Dun,' 'The Castle of the Great
Hill,' said to be the Dunium of Ptolemy, the capital of the
Durotriges, which eventually came into Roman occupation, and was
finally deserted on their withdrawal from the island.
The evening is followed by a night on which an invisible moon bestows
a subdued, yet pervasive light--without radiance, as without
blackness. From the spot whereon I am ensconced in a cottage, a mile
away, the fort has now ceased to be visible; yet, as by day, to
anybody whose thoughts have been engaged with it and its barbarous
grandeurs of past time the form asserts its existence behind the
night gauzes as persistently as if it had a voice. Moreover, the
south-west wind continues to feed the intervening arable flats with
vapours brought directly from its sides.
The midnight hour for which there has been occasion to wait at length
arrives, and I journey towards the stronghold in obedience to a
request urged earlier in the day. It concerns an appointment, which
I rather regret my decision to keep now that night is come. The
route thither is hedgeless and treeless--I need not add deserted.
The moonlight is sufficient to disclose the pale riband-like surface
of the way as it trails along between the expanses of darker fallow.
Though the road passes near the fortress it does not conduct directly
to its fronts. As the place is without an inhabitant, so it is
without a trackway. So presently leaving the macadamized road to
pursue its course elsewhither, I step off upon the fallow, and plod
stumblingly across it. The castle looms out off the shade by
degrees, like a thing waking up and asking what I want there. It is
now so enlarged by nearness that its whole shape cannot be taken in
at one view. The ploughed ground ends as the rise sharpens, the
sloping basement of grass begins, and I climb upward to invade Mai-
Impressive by day as this largest Ancient-British work in the kingdom
undoubtedly is, its impressiveness is increased now. After standing
still and spending a few minutes in adding its age to its size, and
its size to its solitude, it becomes appallingly mournful in its
growing closeness. A squally wind blows in the face with an impact
which proclaims that the vapours of the air sail low to-night. The
slope that I so laboriously clamber up the wind skips sportively
down. Its track can be discerned even in this light by the
undulations of the withered grass-bents--the only produce of this
upland summit except moss. Four minutes of ascent, and a vantage-
ground of some sort is gained. It is only the crest of the outer
rampart. Immediately within this a chasm gapes; its bottom is
imperceptible, but the counterscarp slopes not too steeply to admit
of a sliding descent if cautiously performed. The shady bottom, dank
and chilly, is thus gained, and reveals itself as a kind of winding
lane, wide enough for a waggon to pass along, floored with rank
herbage, and trending away, right and left, into obscurity, between
the concentric walls of earth. The towering closeness of these on
each hand, their impenetrability, and their ponderousness, are felt
as a physical pressure. The way is now up the second of them, which
stands steeper and higher than the first. To turn aside, as did
Christian's companion, from such a Hill Difficulty, is the more
natural tendency; but the way to the interior is upward. There is,
of course, an entrance to the fortress; but that lies far off on the
other side. It might possibly have been the wiser course to seek for
easier ingress there.
However, being here, I ascend the second acclivity. The grass stems-
-the grey beard of the hill--sway in a mass close to my stooping
face. The dead heads of these various grasses--fescues, fox-tails,
and ryes--bob and twitch as if pulled by a string underground. From
a few thistles a whistling proceeds; and even the moss speaks, in its
humble way, under the stress of the blast.
That the summit of the second line of defence has been gained is
suddenly made known by a contrasting wind from a new quarter, coming
over with the curve of a cascade. These novel gusts raise a sound
from the whole camp or castle, playing upon it bodily as upon a harp.
It is with some difficulty that a foothold can be preserved under
their sweep. Looking aloft for a moment I perceive that the sky is
much more overcast than it has been hitherto, and in a few instants a
dead lull in what is now a gale ensues with almost preternatural
abruptness. I take advantage of this to sidle down the second
counterscarp, but by the time the ditch is reached the lull reveals
itself to be but the precursor of a storm. It begins with a heave of
the whole atmosphere, like the sigh of a weary strong man on turning
to re-commence unusual exertion, just as I stand here in the second
fosse. That which now radiates from the sky upon the scene is not so
much light as vaporous phosphorescence.
The wind, quickening, abandons the natural direction it has pursued
on the open upland, and takes the course of the gorge's length,
rushing along therein helter-skelter, and carrying thick rain upon
its back. The rain is followed by hailstones which fly through the
defile in battalions--rolling, hopping, ricochetting, snapping,
clattering down the shelving banks in an undefinable haze of
confusion. The earthen sides of the fosse seem to quiver under the
drenching onset, though it is practically no more to them than the
blows of Thor upon the giant of Jotun-land. It is impossible to
proceed further till the storm somewhat abates, and I draw up behind
a spur of the inner scarp, where possibly a barricade stood two
thousand years ago; and thus await events.
The roar of the storm can be heard travelling the complete circuit of
the castle--a measured mile--coming round at intervals like a
circumambulating column of infantry. Doubtless such a column has
passed this way in its time, but the only columns which enter in
these latter days are the columns of sheep and oxen that are
sometimes seen here now; while the only semblance of heroic voices
heard are the utterances of such, and of the many winds which make
their passage through the ravines.
The expected lightning radiates round, and a rumbling as from its
subterranean vaults--if there are any--fills the castle. The
lightning repeats itself, and, coming after the aforesaid thoughts of
martial men, it bears a fanciful resemblance to swords moving in
combat. It has the very brassy hue of the ancient weapons that here
were used. The so sudden entry upon the scene of this metallic flame
is as the entry of a presiding exhibitor who unrolls the maps,
uncurtains the pictures, unlocks the cabinets, and effects a
transformation by merely exposing the materials of his science,
unintelligibly cloaked till then. The abrupt configuration of the
bluffs and mounds is now for the first time clearly revealed--mounds
whereon, doubtless, spears and shields have frequently lain while
their owners loosened their sandals and yawned and stretched their
arms in the sun. For the first time, too, a glimpse is obtainable of
the true entrance used by its occupants of old, some way ahead.
There, where all passage has seemed to be inviolably barred by an
almost vertical facade, the ramparts are found to overlap each other
like loosely clasped fingers, between which a zigzag path may be
followed--a cunning construction that puzzles the uninformed eye.
But its cunning, even where not obscured by dilapidation, is now
wasted on the solitary forms of a few wild badgers, rabbits, and
hares. Men must have often gone out by those gates in the morning to
battle with the Roman legions under Vespasian; some to return no
more, others to come back at evening, bringing with them the noise of
their heroic deeds. But not a page, not a stone, has preserved their
Acoustic perceptions multiply to-night. We can almost hear the
stream of years that have borne those deeds away from us. Strange
articulations seem to float on the air from that point, the gateway,
where the animation in past times must frequently have concentrated
itself at hours of coming and going, and general excitement. There
arises an ineradicable fancy that they are human voices; if so, they
must be the lingering air-borne vibrations of conversations uttered
at least fifteen hundred years ago. The attention is attracted from
mere nebulous imaginings about yonder spot by a real moving of
something close at hand.
I recognize by the now moderate flashes of lightning, which are
sheet-like and nearly continuous, that it is the gradual elevation of
a small mound of earth. At first no larger than a man's fist it
reaches the dimensions of a hat, then sinks a little and is still.
It is but the heaving of a mole who chooses such weather as this to
work in from some instinct that there will be nobody abroad to molest
him. As the fine earth lifts and lifts and falls loosely aside
fragments of burnt clay roll out of it--clay that once formed part of
cups or other vessels used by the inhabitants of the fortress.
The violence of the storm has been counterbalanced by its
transitoriness. From being immersed in well-nigh solid media of
cloud and hail shot with lightning, I find myself uncovered of the
humid investiture and left bare to the mild gaze of the moon, which
sparkles now on every wet grass-blade and frond of moss.
But I am not yet inside the fort, and the delayed ascent of the third
and last escarpment is now made. It is steeper than either. The
first was a surface to walk up, the second to stagger up, the third
can only be ascended on the hands and toes. On the summit obtrudes
the first evidence which has been met with in these precincts that
the time is really the nineteenth century; it is in the form of a
white notice-board on a post, and the wording can just be discerned
by the rays of the setting moon:
CAUTION.--Any Person found removing Relics, Skeletons, Stones,
Pottery, Tiles, or other Material from this Earthwork, or cutting up
the Ground, will be Prosecuted as the Law directs.
Here one observes a difference underfoot from what has gone before:
scraps of Roman tile and stone chippings protrude through the grass
in meagre quantity, but sufficient to suggest that masonry stood on
the spot. Before the eye stretches under the moonlight the interior
of the fort. So open and so large is it as to be practically an
upland plateau, and yet its area lies wholly within the walls of what
may be designated as one building. It is a long-violated retreat;
all its corner-stones, plinths, and architraves were carried away to
build neighbouring villages even before mediaeval or modern history
began. Many a block which once may have helped to form a bastion
here rests now in broken and diminished shape as part of the chimney-
corner of some shepherd's cottage within the distant horizon, and the
corner-stones of this heathen altar may form the base-course of some
adjoining village church.
Yet the very bareness of these inner courts and wards, their
condition of mere pasturage, protects what remains of them as no
defences could do. Nothing is left visible that the hands can seize
on or the weather overturn, and a permanence of general outline at
least results, which no other condition could ensure.
The position of the castle on this isolated hill bespeaks deliberate
and strategic choice exercised by some remote mind capable of
prospective reasoning to a far extent. The natural configuration of
the surrounding country and its bearing upon such a stronghold were
obviously long considered and viewed mentally before its extensive
design was carried into execution. Who was the man that said, 'Let
it be built here!'--not on that hill yonder, or on that ridge behind,
but on this best spot of all? Whether he were some great one of the
Belgae, or of the Durotriges, or the travelling engineer of Britain's
united tribes, must for ever remain time's secret; his form cannot be
realized, nor his countenance, nor the tongue that he spoke, when he
set down his foot with a thud and said, 'Let it be here!'
Within the innermost enclosure, though it is so wide that at a
superficial glance the beholder has only a sense of standing on a
breezy down, the solitude is rendered yet more solitary by the
knowledge that between the benighted sojourner herein and all kindred
humanity are those three concentric walls of earth which no being
would think of scaling on such a night as this, even were he to hear
the most pathetic cries issuing hence that could be uttered by a
spectre-chased soul. I reach a central mound or platform--the crown
and axis of the whole structure. The view from here by day must be
of almost limitless extent. On this raised floor, dais, or rostrum,
harps have probably twanged more or less tuneful notes in celebration
of daring, strength, or cruelty; of worship, superstition, love,
birth, and death; of simple loving-kindness perhaps never. Many a
time must the king or leader have directed his keen eyes hence across
the open lands towards the ancient road, the Icening Way, still
visible in the distance, on the watch for armed companies approaching
either to succour or to attack.
I am startled by a voice pronouncing my name. Past and present have
become so confusedly mingled under the associations of the spot that
for a time it has escaped my memory that this mound was the place
agreed on for the aforesaid appointment. I turn and behold my
friend. He stands with a dark lantern in his hand and a spade and
light pickaxe over his shoulder. He expresses both delight and
surprise that I have come. I tell him I had set out before the bad
He, to whom neither weather, darkness, nor difficulty seems to have
any relation or significance, so entirely is his soul wrapped up in
his own deep intentions, asks me to take the lantern and accompany
him. I take it and walk by his side. He is a man about sixty, small
in figure, with grey old-fashioned whiskers cut to the shape of a
pair of crumb-brushes. He is entirely in black broadcloth--or
rather, at present, black and brown, for he is bespattered with mud
from his heels to the crown of his low hat. He has no consciousness
of this--no sense of anything but his purpose, his ardour for which
causes his eyes to shine like those of a lynx, and gives his motions,
all the elasticity of an athlete's.
'Nobody to interrupt us at this time of night!' he chuckles with
We retreat a little way and find a sort of angle, an elevation in the
sod, a suggested squareness amid the mass of irregularities around.
Here, he tells me, if anywhere, the king's house stood. Three months
of measurement and calculation have confirmed him in this conclusion.
He requests me now to open the lantern, which I do, and the light
streams out upon the wet sod. At last divining his proceedings I say
that I had no idea, in keeping the tryst, that he was going to do
more at such an unusual time than meet me for a meditative ramble
through the stronghold. I ask him why, having a practicable object,
he should have minded interruptions and not have chosen the day? He
informs me, quietly pointing to his spade, that it was because his
purpose is to dig, then signifying with a grim nod the gaunt notice-
post against the sky beyond. I inquire why, as a professed and well-
known antiquary with capital letters at the tail of his name, he did
not obtain the necessary authority, considering the stringent
penalties for this sort of thing; and he chuckles fiercely again with
suppressed delight, and says, 'Because they wouldn't have given it!'
He at once begins cutting up the sod, and, as he takes the pickaxe to
follow on with, assures me that, penalty or no penalty, honest men or
marauders, he is sure of one thing, that we shall not be disturbed at
our work till after dawn.
I remember to have heard of men who, in their enthusiasm for some
special science, art, or hobby, have quite lost the moral sense which
would restrain them from indulging it illegitimately; and I
conjecture that here, at last, is an instance of such an one. He
probably guesses the way my thoughts travel, for he stands up and
solemnly asserts that he has a distinctly justifiable intention in
this matter; namely, to uncover, to search, to verify a theory or
displace it, and to cover up again. He means to take away nothing--
not a grain of sand. In this he says he sees no such monstrous sin.
I inquire if this is really a promise to me? He repeats that it is a
promise, and resumes digging. My contribution to the labour is that
of directing the light constantly upon the hole. When he has reached
something more than a foot deep he digs more cautiously, saying that,
be it much or little there, it will not lie far below the surface;
such things never are deep. A few minutes later the point of the
pickaxe clicks upon a stony substance. He draws the implement out as
feelingly as if it had entered a man's body. Taking up the spade he
shovels with care, and a surface, level as an altar, is presently
disclosed. His eyes flash anew; he pulls handfuls of grass and mops
the surface clean, finally rubbing it with his handkerchief.
Grasping the lantern from my hand he holds it close to the ground,
when the rays reveal a complete mosaic--a pavement of minute tesserae
of many colours, of intricate pattern, a work of much art, of much
time, and of much industry. He exclaims in a shout that he knew it
always--that it is not a Celtic stronghold exclusively, but also a
Roman; the former people having probably contributed little more than
the original framework which the latter took and adapted till it
became the present imposing structure.
I ask, What if it is Roman?
A great deal, according to him. That it proves all the world to be
wrong in this great argument, and himself alone to be right! Can I
wait while he digs further?
I agree--reluctantly; but he does not notice my reluctance. At an
adjoining spot he begins flourishing the tools anew with the skill of
a navvy, this venerable scholar with letters after his name.
Sometimes he falls on his knees, burrowing with his hands in the
manner of a hare, and where his old-fashioned broadcloth touches the
sides of the hole it gets plastered with the damp earth. He
continually murmurs to himself how important, how very important,
this discovery is! He draws out an object; we wash it in the same
primitive way by rubbing it with the wet grass, and it proves to be a
semi-transparent bottle of iridescent beauty, the sight of which
draws groans of luxurious sensibility from the digger. Further and
further search brings out a piece of a weapon. It is strange indeed
that by merely peeling off a wrapper of modern accumulations we have
lowered ourselves into an ancient world. Finally a skeleton is
uncovered, fairly perfect. He lays it out on the grass, bone to its
My friend says the man must have fallen fighting here, as this is no
place of burial. He turns again to the trench, scrapes, feels, till
from a corner he draws out a heavy lump--a small image four or five
inches high. We clean it as before. It is a statuette, apparently of
gold, or, more probably, of bronze-gilt--a figure of Mercury,
obviously, its head being surmounted with the petasus or winged hat,
the usual accessory of that deity. Further inspection reveals the
workmanship to be of good finish and detail, and, preserved by the
limy earth, to be as fresh in every line as on the day it left the
hands of its artificer.
We seem to be standing in the Roman Forum and not on a hill in
Wessex. Intent upon this truly valuable relic of the old empire of
which even this remote spot was a component part, we do not notice
what is going on in the present world till reminded of it by the
sudden renewal of the storm. Looking up I perceive that the wide
extinguisher of cloud has again settled down upon the fortress-town,
as if resting upon the edge of the inner rampart, and shutting out
the moon. I turn my back to the tempest, still directing the light
across the hole. My companion digs on unconcernedly; he is living
two thousand years ago, and despises things of the moment as dreams.
But at last he is fairly beaten, and standing up beside me looks
round on what he has done. The rays of the lantern pass over the
trench to the tall skeleton stretched upon the grass on the other
side. The beating rain has washed the bones clean and smooth, and
the forehead, cheek-bones, and two-and-thirty teeth of the skull
glisten in the candle-shine as they lie.
This storm, like the first, is of the nature of a squall, and it ends
as abruptly as the other. We dig no further. My friend says that it
is enough--he has proved his point. He turns to replace the bones in
the trench and covers them. But they fall to pieces under his touch:
the air has disintegrated them, and he can only sweep in the
fragments. The next act of his plan is more than difficult, but is
carried out. The treasures are inhumed again in their respective
holes: they are not ours. Each deposition seems to cost him a
twinge; and at one moment I fancied I saw him slip his hand into his
'We must re-bury them ALL,' say I.
'O yes,' he answers with integrity. 'I was wiping my hand.'
The beauties of the tesselated floor of the governor's house are once
again consigned to darkness; the trench is filled up; the sod laid
smoothly down; he wipes the perspiration from his forehead with the
same handkerchief he had used to mop the skeleton and tesserae clean;
and we make for the eastern gate of the fortress.
Dawn bursts upon us suddenly as we reach the opening. It comes by
the lifting and thinning of the clouds that way till we are bathed in
a pink light. The direction of his homeward journey is not the same
as mine, and we part under the outer slope.
Walking along quickly to restore warmth I muse upon my eccentric
friend, and cannot help asking myself this question: Did he really
replace the gilded image of the god Mercurius with the rest of the
treasures? He seemed to do so; and yet I could not testify to the
fact. Probably, however, he was as good as his word.
* * *
It was thus I spoke to myself, and so the adventure ended. But one
thing remains to be told, and that is concerned with seven years
after. Among the effects of my friend, at that time just deceased,
was found, carefully preserved, a gilt statuette representing
Mercury, labelled 'Debased Roman.' No record was attached to explain
how it came into his possession. The figure was bequeathed to the
WHAT THE SHEPHERD SAW: A TALE OF FOUR MOONLIGHT NIGHTS
The genial Justice of the Peace--now, alas, no more--who made himself
responsible for the facts of this story, used to begin in the good
old-fashioned way with a bright moonlight night and a mysterious
figure, an excellent stroke for an opening, even to this day, if well
The Christmas moon (he would say) was showing her cold face to the
upland, the upland reflecting the radiance in frost-sparkles so
minute as only to be discernible by an eye near at hand. This eye,
he said, was the eye of a shepherd lad, young for his occupation, who
stood within a wheeled hut of the kind commonly in use among sheep-
keepers during the early lambing season, and was abstractedly looking
through the loophole at the scene without.
The spot was called Lambing Corner, and it was a sheltered portion of
that wide expanse of rough pastureland known as the Marlbury Downs,
which you directly traverse when following the turnpike-road across
Mid-Wessex from London, through Aldbrickham, in the direction of Bath
and Bristol. Here, where the hut stood, the land was high and dry,
open, except to the north, and commanding an undulating view for
miles. On the north side grew a tall belt of coarse furze, with
enormous stalks, a clump of the same standing detached in front of
the general mass. The clump was hollow, and the interior had been
ingeniously taken advantage of as a position for the before-mentioned
hut, which was thus completely screened from winds, and almost
invisible, except through the narrow approach. But the furze twigs
had been cut away from the two little windows of the hut, that the
occupier might keep his eye on his sheep.
In the rear, the shelter afforded by the belt of furze bushes was
artificially improved by an inclosure of upright stakes, interwoven
with boughs of the same prickly vegetation, and within the inclosure
lay a renowned Marlbury-Down breeding flock of eight hundred ewes.
To the south, in the direction of the young shepherd's idle gaze,
there rose one conspicuous object above the uniform moonlit plateau,
and only one. It was a Druidical trilithon, consisting of three
oblong stones in the form of a doorway, two on end, and one across as
a lintel. Each stone had been worn, scratched, washed, nibbled,
split, and otherwise attacked by ten thousand different weathers; but
now the blocks looked shapely and little the worse for wear, so
beautifully were they silvered over by the light of the moon. The
ruin was locally called the Devil's Door.
An old shepherd presently entered the hut from the direction of the
ewes, and looked around in the gloom. 'Be ye sleepy?' he asked in
cross accents of the boy.
The lad replied rather timidly in the negative.
'Then,' said the shepherd, 'I'll get me home-along, and rest for a
few hours. There's nothing to be done here now as I can see. The
ewes can want no more tending till daybreak--'tis beyond the bounds
of reason that they can. But as the order is that one of us must
bide, I'll leave 'ee, d'ye hear. You can sleep by day, and I can't.
And you can be down to my house in ten minutes if anything should
happen. I can't afford 'ee candle; but, as 'tis Christmas week, and
the time that folks have hollerdays, you can enjoy yerself by falling
asleep a bit in the chair instead of biding awake all the time. But
mind, not longer at once than while the shade of the Devil's Door
moves a couple of spans, for you must keep an eye upon the ewes.'
The boy made no definite reply, and the old man, stirring the fire in
the stove with his crook-stem, closed the door upon his companion and
As this had been more or less the course of events every night since
the season's lambing had set in, the boy was not at all surprised at
the charge, and amused himself for some time by lighting straws at
the stove. He then went out to the ewes and new-born lambs, re-
entered, sat down, and finally fell asleep. This was his customary
manner of performing his watch, for though special permission for
naps had this week been accorded, he had, as a matter of fact, done
the same thing on every preceding night, sleeping often till awakened
by a smack on the shoulder at three or four in the morning from the
crook-stem of the old man.
It might have been about eleven o'clock when he awoke. He was so
surprised at awaking without, apparently, being called or struck,
that on second thoughts he assumed that somebody must have called him
in spite of appearances, and looked out of the hut window towards the
sheep. They all lay as quiet as when he had visited them, very
little bleating being audible, and no human soul disturbing the
scene. He next looked from the opposite window, and here the case
was different. The frost-facets glistened under the moon as before;
an occasional furze bush showed as a dark spot on the same; and in
the foreground stood the ghostly form of the trilithon. But in front
of the trilithon stood a man.
That he was not the shepherd or any one of the farm labourers was
apparent in a moment's observation,--his dress being a dark suit, and
his figure of slender build and graceful carriage. He walked
backwards and forwards in front of the trilithon.
The shepherd lad had hardly done speculating on the strangeness of
the unknown's presence here at such an hour, when he saw a second
figure crossing the open sward towards the locality of the trilithon
and furze-clump that screened the hut. This second personage was a
woman; and immediately on sight of her the male stranger hastened
forward, meeting her just in front of the hut window. Before she
seemed to be aware of his intention he clasped her in his arms.
The lady released herself and drew back with some dignity.
'You have come, Harriet--bless you for it!' he exclaimed, fervently.
'But not for this,' she answered, in offended accents. And then,
more good-naturedly, 'I have come, Fred, because you entreated me so!
What can have been the object of your writing such a letter? I
feared I might be doing you grievous ill by staying away. How did
you come here?'
'I walked all the way from my father's.'
'Well, what is it? How have you lived since we last met?'
'But roughly; you might have known that without asking. I have seen
many lands and many faces since I last walked these downs, but I have
only thought of you.'
'Is it only to tell me this that you have summoned me so strangely?'
A passing breeze blew away the murmur of the reply and several
succeeding sentences, till the man's voice again became audible in
the words, 'Harriet--truth between us two! I have heard that the
Duke does not treat you too well.'
'He is warm-tempered, but he is a good husband.'
'He speaks roughly to you, and sometimes even threatens to lock you
out of doors.'
'Only once, Fred! On my honour, only once. The Duke is a fairly
good husband, I repeat. But you deserve punishment for this night's
trick of drawing me out. What does it mean?'
'Harriet, dearest, is this fair or honest? Is it not notorious that
your life with him is a sad one--that, in spite of the sweetness of
your temper, the sourness of his embitters your days. I have come to
know if I can help you. You are a Duchess, and I am Fred Ogbourne;
but it is not impossible that I may be able to help you . . . By God!
the sweetness of that tongue ought to keep him civil, especially when
there is added to it the sweetness of that face!'
'Captain Ogbourne!' she exclaimed, with an emphasis of playful fear.
'How can such a comrade of my youth behave to me as you do? Don't
speak so, and stare at me so! Is this really all you have to say? I
see I ought not to have come. 'Twas thoughtlessly done.'
Another breeze broke the thread of discourse for a time.
'Very well. I perceive you are dead and lost to me,' he could next
be heard to say, '"Captain Ogbourne" proves that. As I once loved
you I love you now, Harriet, without one jot of abatement; but you
are not the woman you were--you once were honest towards me; and now
you conceal your heart in made-up speeches. Let it be: I can never
see you again.'
'You need not say that in such a tragedy tone, you silly. You may
see me in an ordinary way--why should you not? But, of course, not
in such a way as this. I should not have come now, if it had not
happened that the Duke is away from home, so that there is nobody to
check my erratic impulses.'
'When does he return?'
'The day after to-morrow, or the day after that.'
'Then meet me again to-morrow night.'
'No, Fred, I cannot.'
'If you cannot to-morrow night, you can the night after; one of the
two before he comes please bestow on me. Now, your hand upon it!
To-morrow or next night you will see me to bid me farewell!' He
seized the Duchess's hand.
'No, but Fred--let go my hand! What do you mean by holding me so?
If it be love to forget all respect to a woman's present position in
thinking of her past, then yours may be so, Frederick. It is not
kind and gentle of you to induce me to come to this place for pity of
you, and then to hold me tight here.'
'But see me once more! I have come two thousand miles to ask it.'
'O, I must not! There will be slanders--Heaven knows what! I cannot
meet you. For the sake of old times don't ask it.'
'Then own two things to me; that you did love me once, and that your
husband is unkind to you often enough now to make you think of the
time when you cared for me.'
'Yes--I own them both,' she answered faintly. 'But owning such as
that tells against me; and I swear the inference is not true.'
'Don't say that; for you have come--let me think the reason of your
coming what I like to think it. It can do you no harm. Come once
He still held her hand and waist. 'Very well, then,' she said.
'Thus far you shall persuade me. I will meet you to-morrow night or
the night after. Now, let me go.'
He released her, and they parted. The Duchess ran rapidly down the
hill towards the outlying mansion of Shakeforest Towers, and when he
had watched her out of sight, he turned and strode off in the
opposite direction. All then was silent and empty as before.
Yet it was only for a moment. When they had quite departed, another
shape appeared upon the scene. He came from behind the trilithon.
He was a man of stouter build than the first, and wore the boots and
spurs of a horseman. Two things were at once obvious from this
phenomenon: that he had watched the interview between the Captain
and the Duchess; and that, though he probably had seen every movement
of the couple, including the embrace, he had been too remote to hear
the reluctant words of the lady's conversation--or, indeed, any words
at all--so that the meeting must have exhibited itself to his eye as
the assignation of a pair of well-agreed lovers. But it was
necessary that several years should elapse before the shepherd-boy
was old enough to reason out this.
The third individual stood still for a moment, as if deep in
meditation. He crossed over to where the lady and gentleman had
stood, and looked at the ground; then he too turned and went away in
a third direction, as widely divergent as possible from those taken
by the two interlocutors. His course was towards the highway; and a
few minutes afterwards the trot of a horse might have been heard upon
its frosty surface, lessening till it died away upon the ear.
The boy remained in the hut, confronting the trilithon as if he
expected yet more actors on the scene, but nobody else appeared. How
long he stood with his little face against the loophole he hardly
knew; but he was rudely awakened from his reverie by a punch in his
back, and in the feel of it he familiarly recognized the stem of the
old shepherd's crook.
'Blame thy young eyes and limbs, Bill Mills--now you have let the
fire out, and you know I want it kept in! I thought something would
go wrong with 'ee up here, and I couldn't bide in bed no more than
thistledown on the wind, that I could not! Well, what's happened,
fie upon 'ee?'
'Ewes all as I left 'em?'
'Any lambs want bringing in?'
The shepherd relit the fire, and went out among the sheep with a
lantern, for the moon was getting low. Soon he came in again.
'Blame it all--thou'st say that nothing have happened; when one ewe
have twinned and is like to go off, and another is dying for want of
half an eye of looking to! I told 'ee, Bill Mills, if anything went
wrong to come down and call me; and this is how you have done it.'
'You said I could go to sleep for a hollerday, and I did.'
'Don't you speak to your betters like that, young man, or you'll come
to the gallows-tree! You didn't sleep all the time, or you wouldn't
have been peeping out of that there hole! Now you can go home, and
be up here again by breakfast-time. I be an old man, and there's old
men that deserve well of the world; but no I--must rest how I can!'
The elder shepherd then lay down inside the hut, and the boy went
down the hill to the hamlet where he dwelt.
When the next night drew on the actions of the boy were almost enough
to show that he was thinking of the meeting he had witnessed, and of
the promise wrung from the lady that she would come there again. As
far as the sheep-tending arrangements were concerned, to-night was
but a repetition of the foregoing one. Between ten and eleven
o'clock the old shepherd withdrew as usual for what sleep at home he
might chance to get without interruption, making up the other
necessary hours of rest at some time during the day; the boy was left
The frost was the same as on the night before, except perhaps that it
was a little more severe. The moon shone as usual, except that it
was three-quarters of an hour later in its course; and the boy's
condition was much the same, except that he felt no sleepiness
whatever. He felt, too, rather afraid; but upon the whole he
preferred witnessing an assignation of strangers to running the risk
of being discovered absent by the old shepherd.
It was before the distant clock of Shakeforest Towers had struck
eleven that he observed the opening of the second act of this
midnight drama. It consisted in the appearance of neither lover nor
Duchess, but of the third figure--the stout man, booted and spurred--
who came up from the easterly direction in which he had retreated the
night before. He walked once round the trilithon, and next advanced
towards the clump concealing the hut, the moonlight shining full upon
his face and revealing him to be the Duke. Fear seized upon the
shepherd-boy: the Duke was Jove himself to the rural population,
whom to offend was starvation, homelessness, and death, and whom to
look at was to be mentally scathed and dumbfoundered. He closed the
stove, so that not a spark of light appeared, and hastily buried
himself in the straw that lay in a corner.
The Duke came close to the clump of furze and stood by the spot where
his wife and the Captain had held their dialogue; he examined the
furze as if searching for a hiding-place, and in doing so discovered
the hut. The latter he walked round and then looked inside; finding
it to all seeming empty, he entered, closing the door behind him and
taking his place at the little circular window against which the
boy's face had been pressed just before.
The Duke had not adopted his measures too rapidly, if his object were
concealment. Almost as soon as he had stationed himself there eleven
o'clock struck, and the slender young man who had previously graced
the scene promptly reappeared from the north quarter of the down.
The spot of assignation having, by the accident of his running
forward on the foregoing night, removed itself from the Devil's Door
to the clump of furze, he instinctively came thither, and waited for
the Duchess where he had met her before.
But a fearful surprise was in store for him to-night, as well as for
the trembling juvenile. At his appearance the Duke breathed more and
more quickly, his breathings being distinctly audible to the
crouching boy. The young man had hardly paused when the alert
nobleman softly opened the door of the hut, and, stepping round the
furze, came full upon Captain Fred.
'You have dishonoured her, and you shall die the death you deserve!'
came to the shepherd's ears, in a harsh, hollow whisper through the
boarding of the hut.
The apathetic and taciturn boy was excited enough to run the risk of
rising and looking from the window, but he could see nothing for the
intervening furze boughs, both the men having gone round to the side.
What took place in the few following moments he never exactly knew.
He discerned portion of a shadow in quick muscular movement; then
there was the fall of something on the grass; then there was
Two or three minutes later the Duke became visible round the corner
of the hut, dragging by the collar the now inert body of the second
man. The Duke dragged him across the open space towards the
trilithon. Behind this ruin was a hollow, irregular spot, overgrown
with furze and stunted thorns, and riddled by the old holes of
badgers, its former inhabitants, who had now died out or departed.
The Duke vanished into this depression with his burden, reappearing
after the lapse of a few seconds. When he came forth he dragged
nothing behind him.
He returned to the side of the hut, cleansed something on the grass,
and again put himself on the watch, though not as before, inside the
hut, but without, on the shady side. 'Now for the second!' he said.
It was plain, even to the unsophisticated boy, that he now awaited
the other person of the appointment--his wife, the Duchess--for what
purpose it was terrible to think. He seemed to be a man of such
determined temper that he would scarcely hesitate in carrying out a
course of revenge to the bitter end. Moreover--though it was what
the shepherd did not perceive--this was all the more probable, in
that the moody Duke was labouring under the exaggerated impression
which the sight of the meeting in dumb show had conveyed.
The jealous watcher waited long, but he waited in vain. From within
the hut the boy could hear his occasional exclamations of surprise,
as if he were almost disappointed at the failure of his assumption
that his guilty Duchess would surely keep the tryst. Sometimes he
stepped from the shade of the furze into the moonlight, and held up
his watch to learn the time.
About half-past eleven he seemed to give up expecting her. He then
went a second time to the hollow behind the trilithon, remaining
there nearly a quarter of an hour. From this place he proceeded
quickly over a shoulder of the declivity, a little to the left,
presently returning on horseback, which proved that his horse had
been tethered in some secret place down there. Crossing anew the
down between the hut and the trilithon, and scanning the precincts as
if finally to assure himself that she had not come, he rode slowly
downwards in the direction of Shakeforest Towers.
The juvenile shepherd thought of what lay in the hollow yonder; and
no fear of the crook-stem of his superior officer was potent enough
to detain him longer on that hill alone. Any live company, even the
most terrible, was better than the company of the dead; so, running
with the speed of a hare in the direction pursued by the horseman, he
overtook the revengeful Duke at the second descent (where the great
western road crossed before you came to the old park entrance on that
side--now closed up and the lodge cleared away, though at the time it
was wondered why, being considered the most convenient gate of all).
Once within the sound of the horse's footsteps, Bill Mills felt
comparatively comfortable; for, though in awe of the Duke because of
his position, he had no moral repugnance to his companionship on
account of the grisly deed he had committed, considering that
powerful nobleman to have a right to do what he chose on his own
lands. The Duke rode steadily on beneath his ancestral trees, the
hoofs of his horse sending up a smart sound now that he had reached
the hard road of the drive, and soon drew near the front door of his
house, surmounted by parapets with square-cut battlements that cast a
notched shade upon the gravelled terrace. These outlines were quite
familiar to little Bill Mills, though nothing within their boundary
had ever been seen by him.
When the rider approached the mansion a small turret door was quickly
opened and a woman came out. As soon as she saw the horseman's
outlines she ran forward into the moonlight to meet him.
'Ah dear--and are you come?' she said. 'I heard Hero's tread just
when you rode over the hill, and I knew it in a moment. I would have
come further if I had been aware--'
'Glad to see me, eh?'
'How can you ask that?'
'Well; it is a lovely night for meetings.'
'Yes, it is a lovely night.'
The Duke dismounted and stood by her side. 'Why should you have been
listening at this time of night, and yet not expecting me?' he asked.
'Why, indeed! There is a strange story attached to that, which I
must tell you at once. But why did you come a night sooner than you
said you would come? I am rather sorry--I really am!' (shaking her
head playfully) 'for as a surprise to you I had ordered a bonfire to
be built, which was to be lighted on your arrival to-morrow; and now
it is wasted. You can see the outline of it just out there.'
The Duke looked across to a spot of rising glade, and saw the faggots
in a heap. He then bent his eyes with a bland and puzzled air on the
ground, 'What is this strange story you have to tell me that kept you
awake?' he murmured.
'It is this--and it is really rather serious. My cousin Fred
Ogbourne--Captain Ogbourne as he is now--was in his boyhood a great
admirer of mine, as I think I have told you, though I was six years
his senior. In strict truth, he was absurdly fond of me.'
'You have never told me of that before.'
'Then it was your sister I told--yes, it was. Well, you know I have
not seen him for many years, and naturally I had quite forgotten his
admiration of me in old times. But guess my surprise when the day
before yesterday, I received a mysterious note bearing no address,
and found on opening it that it came from him. The contents
frightened me out of my wits. He had returned from Canada to his
father's house, and conjured me by all he could think of to meet him
at once. But I think I can repeat the exact words, though I will
show it to you when we get indoors.
"MY DEAR COUSIN HARRIET," the note said, "After this long absence you
will be surprised at my sudden reappearance, and more by what I am
going to ask. But if my life and future are of any concern to you at
all, I beg that you will grant my request. What I require of you,
is, dear Harriet, that you meet me about eleven to-night by the Druid
stones on Marlbury Downs, about a mile or more from your house. I
cannot say more, except to entreat you to come. I will explain all
when you are there. The one thing is, I want to see you. Come
alone. Believe me, I would not ask this if my happiness did not hang
upon it--God knows how entirely! I am too agitated to say more--
'That was all of it. Now, of course I ought have gone, as it turned
out, but that I did not think of then. I remembered his impetuous
temper, and feared that something grievous was impending over his
head, while he had not a friend in the world to help him, or any one
except myself to whom he would care to make his trouble known. So I
wrapped myself up and went to Marlbury Downs at the time he had
named. Don't you think I was courageous?'
'When I got there--but shall we not walk on; it is getting cold?'
The Duke, however, did not move. 'When I got there he came, of
course, as a full grown man and officer, and not as the lad that I
had known him. When I saw him I was sorry I had come. I can hardly
tell you how he behaved. What he wanted I don't know even now; it
seemed to be no more than the mere meeting with me. He held me by
the hand and waist--O so tight--and would not let me go till I had
promised to meet him again. His manner was so strange and passionate
that I was afraid of him in such a lonely place, and I promised to
come. Then I escaped--then I ran home--and that's all. When the
time drew on this evening for the appointment--which, of course, I
never intended to keep, I felt uneasy, lest when he found I meant to
disappoint him he would come on to the house; and that's why I could
not sleep. But you are so silent!'
'I have had a long journey.'
'Then let us get into the house. Why did you come alone and
unattended like this?'
'It was my humour.'
After a moment's silence, during which they moved on, she said, 'I
have thought of something which I hardly like to suggest to you. He
said that if I failed to come to-night he would wait again to-morrow
night. Now, shall we to-morrow night go to the hill together--just
to see if he is there; and if he is, read him a lesson on his
foolishness in nourishing this old passion, and sending for me so
oddly, instead of coming to the house?'
'Why should we see if he's there?' said her husband moodily.
'Because I think we ought to do something in it. Poor Fred! He
would listen to you if you reasoned with him, and set our positions
in their true light before him. It would be no more than Christian
kindness to a man who unquestionably is very miserable from some
cause or other. His head seems quite turned.'
By this time they had reached the door, rung the bell, and waited.
All the house seemed to be asleep; but soon a man came to them, the
horse was taken away, and the Duke and Duchess went in.
There was no help for it. Bill Mills was obliged to stay on duty, in
the old shepherd's absence, this evening as before, or give up his
post and living. He thought as bravely as he could of what lay
behind the Devil's Door, but with no great success, and was therefore
in a measure relieved, even if awe-stricken, when he saw the forms of
the Duke and Duchess strolling across the frosted greensward. The
Duchess was a few yards in front of her husband and tripped on
'I tell you he has not thought it worth while to come again!' the
Duke insisted, as he stood still, reluctant to walk further.
'He is more likely to come and wait all night; and it would be harsh
treatment to let him do it a second time.'
'He is not here; so turn and come home.'
'He seems not to be here, certainly; I wonder if anything has
happened to him. If it has, I shall never forgive myself!'
The Duke, uneasily, 'O, no. He has some other engagement.'
'That is very unlikely.'
'Or perhaps he has found the distance too far.'
'Nor is that probable.'
'Then he may have thought better of it.'
'Yes, he may have thought better of it; if, indeed, he is not here
all the time--somewhere in the hollow behind the Devil's Door. Let
us go and see; it will serve him right to surprise him.'
'O, he's not there.'
'He may be lying very quiet because of you,' she said archly.
'O, no--not because of me!'
'Come, then. I declare, dearest, you lag like an unwilling schoolboy
to-night, and there's no responsiveness in you! You are jealous of
that poor lad, and it is quite absurd of you.'
'I'll come! I'll come! Say no more, Harriet!' And they crossed
over the green.
Wondering what they would do, the young shepherd left the hut, and
doubled behind the belt of furze, intending to stand near the
trilithon unperceived. But, in crossing the few yards of open ground
he was for a moment exposed to view.
'Ah, I see him at last!' said the Duchess.
'See him!' said the Duke. 'Where?'
'By the Devil's Door; don't you notice a figure there? Ah, my poor
lover-cousin, won't you catch it now?' And she laughed half-
pityingly. 'But what's the matter?' she asked, turning to her
'It is not he!' said the Duke hoarsely. 'It can't be he!'
'No, it is not he. It is too small for him. It is a boy.'
'Ah, I thought so! Boy, come here.'
The youthful shepherd advanced with apprehension.
'What are you doing here?'
'Keeping sheep, your Grace.'
'Ah, you know me! Do you keep sheep here every night?'
'Off and on, my Lord Duke.'
'And what have you seen here to-night or last night?' inquired the
Duchess. 'Any person waiting or walking about?'
The boy was silent.
'He has seen nothing,' interrupted her husband, his eyes so
forbiddingly fixed on the boy that they seemed to shine like points
of fire. 'Come, let us go. The air is too keen to stand in long.'
When they were gone the boy retreated to the hut and sheep, less
fearful now than at first--familiarity with the situation having
gradually overpowered his thoughts of the buried man. But he was not
to be left alone long. When an interval had elapsed of about
sufficient length for walking to and from Shakeforest Towers, there
appeared from that direction the heavy form of the Duke. He now came
The nobleman, on his part, seemed to have eyes no less sharp than the
boy's, for he instantly recognized the latter among the ewes, and
came straight towards him.
'Are you the shepherd lad I spoke to a short time ago?'
'I be, my Lord Duke.'
'Now listen to me. Her Grace asked you what you had seen this last
night or two up here, and you made no reply. I now ask the same
thing, and you need not be afraid to answer. Have you seen anything
strange these nights you have been watching here?'
'My Lord Duke, I be a poor heedless boy, and what I see I don't bear
'I ask you again,' said the Duke, coming nearer, 'have you seen
anything strange these nights you have been watching here?'
'O, my Lord Duke! I be but the under-shepherd boy, and my father he
was but your humble Grace's hedger, and my mother only the cinder-
woman in the back-yard! I fall asleep when left alone, and I see
nothing at all!'
The Duke grasped the boy by the shoulder, and, directly impending
over him, stared down into his face, 'Did you see anything strange
done here last night, I say?'
'O, my Lord Duke, have mercy, and don't stab me!' cried the shepherd,
falling on his knees. 'I have never seen you walking here, or riding
here, or lying-in-wait for a man, or dragging a heavy load!'
'H'm!' said his interrogator, grimly, relaxing his hold. 'It is well
to know that you have never seen those things. Now, which would you
rather--SEE ME DO THOSE THINGS NOW, or keep a secret all your life?'
'Keep a secret, my Lord Duke!'
'Sure you are able?'
'O, your Grace, try me!'
'Very well. And now, how do you like sheep-keeping?'
'Not at all. 'Tis lonely work for them that think of spirits, and
I'm badly used.'
'I believe you. You are too young for it. I must do something to
make you more comfortable. You shall change this smock-frock for a
real cloth jacket, and your thick boots for polished shoes. And you
shall be taught what you have never yet heard of; and be put to
school, and have bats and balls for the holidays, and be made a man
of. But you must never say you have been a shepherd boy, and watched
on the hills at night, for shepherd boys are not liked in good
'Trust me, my Lord Duke.'
'The very moment you forget yourself, and speak of your shepherd
days--this year, next year, in school, out of school, or riding in
your carriage twenty years hence--at that moment my help will be
withdrawn, and smash down you come to shepherding forthwith. You
have parents, I think you say?'
'A widowed mother only, my Lord Duke.'
'I'll provide for her, and make a comfortable woman of her, until you
'Of my shepherd days, and what I saw here.'
'Good. If you do speak of it?'
'Smash down she comes to widowing forthwith!'
'That's well--very well. But it's not enough. Come here.' He took
the boy across to the trilithon, and made him kneel down.
'Now, this was once a holy place,' resumed the Duke. 'An altar stood
here, erected to a venerable family of gods, who were known and
talked of long before the God we know now. So that an oath sworn
here is doubly an oath. Say this after me: "May all the host above-
-angels and archangels, and principalities and powers--punish me; may
I be tormented wherever I am--in the house or in the garden, in the
fields or in the roads, in church or in chapel, at home or abroad, on
land or at sea; may I be afflicted in eating and in drinking, in
growing up and in growing old, in living and dying, inwardly and
outwardly, and for always, if I ever speak of my life as a shepherd
boy, or of what I have seen done on this Marlbury Down. So be it,
and so let it be. Amen and amen." Now kiss the stone.'
The trembling boy repeated the words, and kissed the stone, as
The Duke led him off by the hand. That night the junior shepherd
slept in Shakeforest Towers, and the next day he was sent away for
tuition to a remote village. Thence he went to a preparatory
establishment, and in due course to a public school.
On a winter evening many years subsequent to the above-mentioned
occurrences, the ci-devant shepherd sat in a well-furnished office in
the north wing of Shakeforest Towers in the guise of an ordinary
educated man of business. He appeared at this time as a person of
thirty-eight or forty, though actually he was several years younger.
A worn and restless glance of the eye now and then, when he lifted
his head to search for some letter or paper which had been mislaid,
seemed to denote that his was not a mind so thoroughly at ease as his
surroundings might have led an observer to expect.
His pallor, too, was remarkable for a countryman. He was professedly
engaged in writing, but he shaped not word. He had sat there only a
few minutes, when, laying down his pen and pushing back his chair, he
rested a hand uneasily on each of the chair-arms and looked on the
Soon he arose and left the room. His course was along a passage
which ended in a central octagonal hall; crossing this he knocked at
a door. A faint, though deep, voice told him to come in. The room
he entered was the library, and it was tenanted by a single person
only--his patron the Duke.
During this long interval of years the Duke had lost all his
heaviness of build. He was, indeed, almost a skeleton; his white
hair was thin, and his hands were nearly transparent. 'Oh--Mills?'
he murmured. 'Sit down. What is it?'
'Nothing new, your Grace. Nobody to speak of has written, and nobody
'Ah--what then? You look concerned.'
'Old times have come to life, owing to something waking them.'
'Old times be cursed--which old times are they?'
'That Christmas week twenty-two years ago, when the late Duchess's
cousin Frederick implored her to meet him on Marlbury Downs. I saw
the meeting--it was just such a night as this--and I, as you know,
saw more. She met him once, but not the second time.'
'Mills, shall I recall some words to you--the words of an oath taken
on that hill by a shepherd-boy?'
'It is unnecessary. He has strenuously kept that oath and promise.
Since that night no sound of his shepherd life has crossed his lips--
even to yourself. But do you wish to hear more, or do you not, your
'I wish to hear no more,' said the Duke sullenly.
'Very well; let it be so. But a time seems coming--may be quite near
at hand--when, in spite of my lips, that episode will allow itself to
go undivulged no longer.'
'I wish to hear no more!' repeated the Duke.
'You need be under no fear of treachery from me,' said the steward,
somewhat bitterly. 'I am a man to whom you have been kind--no patron
could have been kinder. You have clothed and educated me; have
installed me here; and I am not unmindful. But what of it--has your
Grace gained much by my stanchness? I think not. There was great
excitement about Captain Ogbourne's disappearance, but I spoke not a
word. And his body has never been found. For twenty-two years I
have wondered what you did with him. Now I know. A circumstance
that occurred this afternoon recalled the time to me most forcibly.
To make it certain to myself that all was not a dream, I went up
there with a spade; I searched, and saw enough to know that something
decays there in a closed badger's hole.'
'Mills, do you think the Duchess guessed?'
'She never did, I am sure, to the day of her death.'
'Did you leave all as you found it on the hill?'
'What made you think of going up there this particular afternoon?'
'What your Grace says you don't wish to be told.'
The Duke was silent; and the stillness of the evening was so marked
that there reached their ears from the outer air the sound of a
'What is that bell tolling for?' asked the nobleman.
'For what I came to tell you of, your Grace.'
'You torment me it is your way!' said the Duke querulously. 'Who's
dead in the village?'
'The oldest man--the old shepherd.'
'Dead at last--how old is he?'
'And I am only seventy. I have four-and-twenty years to the good!'
'I served under that old man when I kept sheep on Marlbury Downs.
And he was on the hill that second night, when I first exchanged
words with your Grace. He was on the hill all the time; but I did
not know he was there--nor did you.'
'Ah!' said the Duke, starting up. 'Go on--I yield the point--you may
'I heard this afternoon that he was at the point of death. It was
that which set me thinking of that past time--and induced me to
search on the hill for what I have told you. Coming back I heard
that he wished to see the Vicar to confess to him a secret he had
kept for more than twenty years--"out of respect to my Lord the
Duke"--something that he had seen committed on Marlbury Downs when
returning to the flock on a December night twenty-two years ago. I
have thought it over. He had left me in charge that evening; but he
was in the habit of coming back suddenly, lest I should have fallen
asleep. That night I saw nothing of him, though he had promised to
return. He must have returned, and--found reason to keep in hiding.
It is all plain. The next thing is that the Vicar went to him two
hours ago. Further than that I have not heard.'
'It is quite enough. I will see the Vicar at daybreak to-morrow.'
'What to do?'
'Stop his tongue for four-and-twenty years--till I am dead at ninety-
four, like the shepherd.'
'Your Grace--while you impose silence on me, I will not speak, even
though nay neck should pay the penalty. I promised to be yours, and
I am yours. But is this persistence of any avail?'
'I'll stop his tongue, I say!' cried the Duke with some of his old
rugged force. 'Now, you go home to bed, Mills, and leave me to
The interview ended, and the steward withdrew. The night, as he had
said, was just such an one as the night of twenty-two years before,
and the events of the evening destroyed in him all regard for the
season as one of cheerfulness and goodwill. He went off to his own
house on the further verge of the park, where he led a lonely life,
scarcely calling any man friend. At eleven he prepared to retire to
bed--but did not retire. He sat down and reflected. Twelve o'clock
struck; he looked out at the colourless moon, and, prompted by he
knew not what, put on his hat and emerged into the air. Here William
Mills strolled on and on, till he reached the top of Marlbury Downs,
a spot he had not visited at this hour of the night during the whole
He placed himself, as nearly as he could guess, on the spot where the
shepherd's hut had stood. No lambing was in progress there now, and
the old shepherd who had used him so roughly had ceased from his
labours that very day. But the trilithon stood up white as ever;
and, crossing the intervening sward, the steward fancifully placed
his mouth against the stone. Restless and self-reproachful as he
was, he could not resist a smile as he thought of the terrifying oath
of compact, sealed by a kiss upon the stones of a Pagan temple. But
he had kept his word, rather as a promise than as a formal vow, with
much worldly advantage to himself, though not much happiness; till
increase of years had bred reactionary feelings which led him to
receive the news of to-night with emotions akin to relief.
While leaning against the Devil's Door and thinking on these things,
he became conscious that he was not the only inhabitant of the down.
A figure in white was moving across his front with long, noiseless
strides. Mills stood motionless, and when the form drew quite near
he perceived it to be that of the Duke himself in his nightshirt--
apparently walking in his sleep. Not to alarm the old man, Mills
clung close to the shadow of the stone. The Duke went straight on
into the hollow. There he knelt down, and began scratching the earth
with his hands like a badger. After a few minutes he arose, sighed
heavily, and retraced his steps as he had come.
Fearing that he might harm himself, yet unwilling to arouse him, the
steward followed noiselessly. The Duke kept on his path unerringly,
entered the park, and made for the house, where he let himself in by
a window that stood open--the one probably by which he had come out.
Mills softly closed the window behind his patron, and then retired
homeward to await the revelations of the morning, deeming it
unnecessary to alarm the house.
However, he felt uneasy during the remainder of the night, no less on
account of the Duke's personal condition than because of that which
was imminent next day. Early in the morning he called at Shakeforest
Towers. The blinds were down, and there was something singular upon
the porter's face when he opened the door. The steward inquired for
The man's voice was subdued as he replied: 'Sir, I am sorry to say
that his Grace is dead! He left his room some time in the night, and
wandered about nobody knows where. On returning to the upper floor
he lost his balance and fell downstairs.'
The steward told the tale of the Down before the Vicar had spoken.
Mills had always intended to do so after the death of the Duke. The
consequences to himself he underwent cheerfully; but his life was not
prolonged. He died, a farmer at the Cape, when still somewhat under
forty-nine years of age.
The splendid Marlbury breeding flock is as renowned as ever, and, to
the eye, seems the same in every particular that it was in earlier
times; but the animals which composed it on the occasion of the
events gathered from the Justice are divided by many ovine
generations from its members now. Lambing Corner has long since
ceased to be used for lambing purposes, though the name still lingers
on as the appellation of the spot. This abandonment of site may be
partly owing to the removal of the high furze bushes which lent such
convenient shelter at that date. Partly, too, it may be due to
another circumstance. For it is said by present shepherds in that
district that during the nights of Christmas week flitting shapes are
seen in the open space around the trilithon, together with the gleam
of a weapon, and the shadow of a man dragging a burden into the
hollow. But of these things there is no certain testimony.
A COMMITTEE-MAN OF 'THE TERROR'
We had been talking of the Georgian glories of our old-fashioned
watering-place, which now, with its substantial russet-red and dun
brick buildings in the style of the year eighteen hundred, looks like
one side of a Soho or Bloomsbury Street transported to the shore, and
draws a smile from the modern tourist who has no eye for solidity of
build. The writer, quite a youth, was present merely as a listener.
The conversation proceeded from general subjects to particular, until
old Mrs. H--, whose memory was as perfect at eighty as it had ever
been in her life, interested us all by the obvious fidelity with
which she repeated a story many times related to her by her mother
when our aged friend was a girl--a domestic drama much affecting the
life of an acquaintance of her said parent, one Mademoiselle V--, a
teacher of French. The incidents occurred in the town during the
heyday of its fortunes, at the time of our brief peace with France in
'I wrote it down in the shape of a story some years ago, just after
my mother's death,' said Mrs. H--. 'It is locked up in my desk there
'Read it!' said we.
'No,' said she; 'the light is bad, and I can remember it well enough,
word for word, flourishes and all.' We could not be choosers in the
circumstances, and she began.
'There are two in it, of course, the man and the woman, and it was on
an evening in September that she first got to know him. There had
not been such a grand gathering on the Esplanade all the season. His
Majesty King George the Third was present, with all the princesses
and royal dukes, while upwards of three hundred of the general
nobility and other persons of distinction were also in the town at
the time. Carriages and other conveyances were arriving every minute
from London and elsewhere; and when among the rest a shabby stage-
coach came in by a by-route along the coast from Havenpool, and drew
up at a second-rate tavern, it attracted comparatively little notice.
'From this dusty vehicle a man alighted, left his small quantity of
luggage temporarily at the office, and walked along the street as if
to look for lodgings.
'He was about forty-five--possibly fifty--and wore a long coat of
faded superfine cloth, with a heavy collar, and a hunched-up
neckcloth. He seemed to desire obscurity.
'But the display appeared presently to strike him, and he asked of a
rustic he met in the street what was going on; his accent being that
of one to whom English pronunciation was difficult.
'The countryman looked at him with a slight surprise, and said, "King
Jarge is here and his royal Cwort."
'The stranger inquired if they were going to stay long.
'"Don't know, Sir. Same as they always do, I suppose."
'"How long is that?"
'"Till some time in October. They've come here every summer since
'The stranger moved onward down St. Thomas Street, and approached the
bridge over the harbour backwater, that then, as now, connected the
old town with the more modern portion. The spot was swept with the
rays of a low sun, which lit up the harbour lengthwise, and shone
under the brim of the man's hat and into his eyes as he looked
westward. Against the radiance figures were crossing in the opposite
direction to his own; among them this lady of my mother's later
acquaintance, Mademoiselle V--. She was the daughter of a good old
French family, and at that date a pale woman, twenty-eight or thirty
years of age, tall and elegant in figure, but plainly dressed and
wearing that evening (she said) a small muslin shawl crossed over the
bosom in the fashion of the time, and tied behind.
'At sight of his face, which, as she used to tell us, was unusually
distinct in the peering sunlight, she could not help giving a little
shriek of horror, for a terrible reason connected with her history,
and after walking a few steps further, she sank down against the
parapet of the bridge in a fainting fit.
'In his preoccupation the foreign gentleman had hardly noticed her,
but her strange collapse immediately attracted his attention. He
quickly crossed the carriageway, picked her up, and carried her into
the first shop adjoining the bridge, explaining that she was a lady
who had been taken ill outside.
'She soon revived; but, clearly much puzzled, her helper perceived
that she still had a dread of him which was sufficient to hinder her
complete recovery of self-command. She spoke in a quick and nervous
way to the shopkeeper, asking him to call a coach.
'This the shopkeeper did, Mademoiselle V-- and the stranger remaining
in constrained silence while he was gone. The coach came up, and
giving the man the address, she entered it and drove away.
'"Who is that lady?" said the newly arrived gentleman.
'"She's of your nation, as I should make bold to suppose," said the
shopkeeper. And he told the other that she was Mademoiselle V--,
governess at General Newbold's, in the same town.
'"You have many foreigners here?" the stranger inquired.
'"Yes, though mostly Hanoverians. But since the peace they are
learning French a good deal in genteel society, and French
instructors are rather in demand."
'"Yes, I teach it," said the visitor. "I am looking for a tutorship
in an academy."
'The information given by the burgess to the Frenchman seemed to
explain to the latter nothing of his countrywoman's conduct--which,
indeed, was the case--and he left the shop, taking his course again
over the bridge and along the south quay to the Old Rooms Inn, where
he engaged a bedchamber.
'Thoughts of the woman who had betrayed such agitation at sight of
him lingered naturally enough with the newcomer. Though, as I
stated, not much less than thirty years of age, Mademoiselle V--, one
of his own nation, and of highly refined and delicate appearance, had
kindled a singular interest in the middle-aged gentleman's breast,
and her large dark eyes, as they had opened and shrunk from him,
exhibited a pathetic beauty to which hardly any man could have been
'The next day, having written some letters, he went out and made
known at the office of the town "Guide" and of the newspaper, that a
teacher of French and calligraphy had arrived, leaving a card at the
bookseller's to the same effect. He then walked on aimlessly, but at
length inquired the way to General Newbold's. At the door, without
giving his name, he asked to see Mademoiselle V--, and was shown into
a little back parlour, where she came to him with a gaze of surprise.
'"My God! Why do you intrude here, Monsieur?" she gasped in French
as soon as she saw his face.
'"You were taken ill yesterday. I helped you. You might have been
run over if I had not picked you up. It was an act of simple
humanity certainly; but I thought I might come to ask if you had
'She had turned aside, and had scarcely heard a word of his speech.
"I hate you, infamous man!" she said. "I cannot bear your helping
me. Go away!"
'"But you are a stranger to me."
'"I know you too well!"
'"You have the advantage then, Mademoiselle. I am a newcomer here.
I never have seen you before to my knowledge; and I certainly do not,
could not, hate you."
'"Are you not Monsieur B--?"
'He flinched. "I am--in Paris," he said. "But here I am Monsieur G-
'"That is trivial. You are the man I say you are."
'"How did you know my real name, Mademoiselle?"
'"I saw you in years gone by, when you did not see me. You were
formerly Member of the Committee of Public Safety, under the
'"You guillotined my father, my brother, my uncle--all my family,
nearly, and broke my mother's heart. They had done nothing but keep
silence. Their sentiments were only guessed. Their headless corpses
were thrown indiscriminately into the ditch of the Mousseaux
Cemetery, and destroyed with lime."
'"You left me without a friend, and here I am now, alone in a foreign
'"I am sorry for you," said be. "Sorry for the consequence, not for
the intent. What I did was a matter of conscience, and, from a point
of view indiscernible by you, I did right. I profited not a
farthing. But I shall not argue this. You have the satisfaction of
seeing me here an exile also, in poverty, betrayed by comrades, as
friendless as yourself."
'"It is no satisfaction to me, Monsieur."
'"Well, things done cannot be altered. Now the question: are you
'"Not from dislike and dread of you--otherwise, yes."
'"Good morning, Mademoiselle."
'They did not meet again till one evening at the theatre (which my
mother's friend was with great difficulty induced to frequent, to
perfect herself in English pronunciation, the idea she entertained at
that time being to become a teacher of English in her own country
later on). She found him sitting next to her, and it made her pale
'"You are still afraid of me?"
'"I am. O cannot you understand!"
'He signified the affirmative.
'"I follow the play with difficulty," he said, presently.
'"So do I--NOW," said she.
'He regarded her long, and she was conscious of his look; and while
she kept her eyes on the stage they filled with tears. Still she
would not move, and the tears ran visibly down her cheek, though the
play was a merry one, being no other than Mr. Sheridan's comedy of
"The Rivals," with Mr. S. Kemble as Captain Absolute. He saw her
distress, and that her mind was elsewhere; and abruptly rising from
his seat at candle-snuffing time he left the theatre.
'Though he lived in the old town, and she in the new, they frequently
saw each other at a distance. One of these occasions was when she
was on the north side of the harbour, by the ferry, waiting for the
boat to take her across. He was standing by Cove Row, on the quay
opposite. Instead of entering the boat when it arrived she stepped
back from the quay; but looking to see if he remained she beheld him
pointing with his finger to the ferry-boat.
'"Enter!" he said, in a voice loud enough to reach her.
'Mademoiselle V-- stood still.
'"Enter!" he said, and, as she did not move, he repeated the word a
'She had really been going to cross, and now approached and stepped
down into the boat. Though she did not raise her eyes she knew that
he was watching her over. At the landing steps she saw from under
the brim of her hat a hand stretched down. The steps were steep and
'"No, Monsieur," she said. "Unless, indeed, you believe in God, and
repent of your evil past!"
'"I am sorry you were made to suffer. But I only believe in the god
called Reason, and I do not repent. I was the instrument of a
national principle. Your friends were not sacrificed for any ends of
'She thereupon withheld her hand, and clambered up unassisted. He
went on, ascending the Look-out Hill, and disappearing over the brow.
Her way was in the same direction, her errand being to bring home the
two young girls under her charge, who had gone to the cliff for an
airing. When she joined them at the top she saw his solitary figure
at the further edge, standing motionless against the sea. All the
while that she remained with her pupils he stood without turning, as
if looking at the frigates in the roadstead, but more probably in
meditation, unconscious where he was. In leaving the spot one of the
children threw away half a sponge-biscuit that she had been eating.
Passing near it he stooped, picked it up carefully, and put it in his
'Mademoiselle V-- came homeward, asking herself, "Can he be
'From that day he was invisible for so long a time that she thought
he had gone away altogether. But one evening a note came to her, and
she opened it trembling.
'"I am here ill," it said, "and, as you know, alone. There are one
or two little things I want done, in case my death should occur,--and
I should prefer not to ask the people here, if it could be avoided.
Have you enough of the gift of charity to come and carry out my
wishes before it is too late?"
'Now so it was that, since seeing him possess himself of the broken
cake, she had insensibly begun to feel something that was more than
curiosity, though perhaps less than anxiety, about this fellow-
countryman of hers; and it was not in her nervous and sensitive heart
to resist his appeal. She found his lodging (to which he had removed
from the Old Rooms inn for economy) to be a room over a shop, half-
way up the steep and narrow street of the old town, to which the
fashionable visitors seldom penetrated. With some misgiving she
entered the house, and was admitted to the chamber where he lay.
'"You are too good, too good," he murmured. And presently, "You need
not shut the door. You will feel safer, and they will not understand
what we say."
'"Are you in want, Monsieur? Can I give you--"
'"No, no. I merely want you to do a trifling thing or two that I
have not strength enough to do myself. Nobody in the town but you
knows who I really am--unless you have told?"
'"I have not told . . . I thought you MIGHT have acted from principle
in those sad days, even--"
'"You are kind to concede that much. However, to the present. I was
able to destroy my few papers before I became so weak . . . But in
the drawer there you will find some pieces of linen clothing--only
two or three--marked with initials that may be recognized. Will you
rip them out with a penknife?"
'She searched as bidden, found the garments, cut out the stitches of
the lettering, and replaced the linen as before. A promise to post,
in the event of his death, a letter he put in her hand, completed all
that he required of her.
'He thanked her. "I think you seem sorry for me," he murmured. "And
I am surprised. You are sorry?"
'She evaded the question. "Do you repent and believe?" she asked.
'Contrary to her expectations and his own he recovered, though very
slowly; and her manner grew more distant thenceforward, though his
influence upon her was deeper than she knew. Weeks passed away, and
the month of May arrived. One day at this time she met him walking
slowly along the beach to the northward.
'"You know the news?" he said.
'"You mean of the rupture between France and England again?"
'"Yes; and the feeling of antagonism is stronger than it was in the
last war, owing to Bonaparte's high-handed arrest of the innocent
English who were travelling in our country for pleasure. I feel that
the war will be long and bitter; and that my wish to live unknown in
England will be frustrated. See here."
'He took from his pocket a piece of the single newspaper which
circulated in the county in those days, and she read -
"The magistrates acting under the Alien Act have been requested to
direct a very scrutinizing eye to the Academies in our towns and
other places, in which French tutors are employed, and to all of that
nationality who profess to be teachers in this country. Many of them
are known to be inveterate Enemies and Traitors to the nation among
whose people they have found a livelihood and a home."
'He continued: "I have observed since the declaration of war a
marked difference in the conduct of the rougher class of people here
towards me. If a great battle were to occur--as it soon will, no
doubt--feeling would grow to a pitch that would make it impossible
for me, a disguised man of no known occupation, to stay here. With
you, whose duties and antecedents are known, it may be less
difficult, but still unpleasant. Now I propose this. You have
probably seen how my deep sympathy with you has quickened to a warm
feeling; and what I say is, will you agree to give me a title to
protect you by honouring me with your hand? I am older than you, it
is true, but as husband and wife we can leave England together, and
make the whole world our country. Though I would propose Quebec, in
Canada, as the place which offers the best promise of a home."
'"My God! You surprise me!" said she.
'"But you accept my proposal?"
'"And yet I think you will, Mademoiselle, some day!"
'"I think not."
'"I won't distress you further now."
'"Much thanks . . . I am glad to see you looking better, Monsieur; I
mean you are looking better."
'"Ah, yes. I am improving. I walk in the sun every day."
'And almost every day she saw him--sometimes nodding stiffly only,
sometimes exchanging formal civilities. "You are not gone yet," she
said on one of these occasions.
'"No. At present I don't think of going without you."
'"But you find it uncomfortable here?"
'"Somewhat. So when will you have pity on me?"
'She shook her head and went on her way. Yet she was a little moved.
"He did it on principle," she would murmur. "He had no animosity
towards them, and profited nothing!"
'She wondered how he lived. It was evident that he could not be so
poor as she had thought; his pretended poverty might be to escape
notice. She could not tell, but she knew that she was dangerously
interested in him.
'And he still mended, till his thin, pale face became more full and
firm. As he mended she had to meet that request of his, advanced
with even stronger insistency.
'The arrival of the King and Court for the season as usual brought
matters to a climax for these two lonely exiles and fellow country-
people. The King's awkward preference for a part of the coast in
such dangerous proximity to France made it necessary that a strict
military vigilance should be exercised to guard the royal residents.
Half-a-dozen frigates were every night posted in a line across the
bay, and two lines of sentinels, one at the water's edge and another
behind the Esplanade, occupied the whole sea-front after eight every
night. The watering-place was growing an inconvenient residence even
for Mademoiselle V-- herself, her friendship for this strange French
tutor and writing-master who never had any pupils having been
observed by many who slightly knew her. The General's wife, whose
dependent she was, repeatedly warned her against the acquaintance;
while the Hanoverian and other soldiers of the Foreign Legion, who
had discovered the nationality of her friend, were more aggressive
than the English military gallants who made it their business to
'In this tense state of affairs her answers became more agitated. "O
Heaven, how can I marry you!" she would say.
'"You will; surely you will!" he answered again. "I don't leave
without you. And I shall soon be interrogated before the magistrates
if I stay here; probably imprisoned. You will come?"
'She felt her defences breaking down. Contrary to all reason and
sense of family honour she was, by some abnormal craving, inclining
to a tenderness for him that was founded on its opposite. Sometimes
her warm sentiments burnt lower than at others, and then the enormity
of her conduct showed itself in more staring hues.
'Shortly after this he came with a resigned look on his face. "It is
as I expected," he said. "I have received a hint to go. In good
sooth, I am no Bonapartist--I am no enemy to England; but the
presence of the King made it impossible for a foreigner with no
visible occupation, and who may be a spy, to remain at large in the
town. The authorities are civil, but firm. They are no more than
reasonable. Good. I must go. You must come also."
'She did not speak. But she nodded assent, her eyes drooping.
'On her way back to the house on the Esplanade she said to herself,
"I am glad, I am glad! I could not do otherwise. It is rendering
good for evil!" But she knew how she mocked herself in this, and
that the moral principle had not operated one jot in her acceptance
of him. In truth she had not realized till now the full presence of
the emotion which had unconsciously grown up in her for this lonely
and severe man, who, in her tradition, was vengeance and irreligion
personified. He seemed to absorb her whole nature, and, absorbing,
to control it.
'A day or two before the one fixed for the wedding there chanced to
come to her a letter from the only acquaintance of her own sex and
country she possessed in England, one to whom she had sent
intelligence of her approaching marriage, without mentioning with
whom. This friend's misfortunes had been somewhat similar to her
own, which fact had been one cause of their intimacy; her friend's
sister, a nun of the Abbey of Montmartre, having perished on the
scaffold at the hands of the same Comite de Salut Public which had
numbered Mademoiselle V--'s affianced among its members. The writer
had felt her position much again of late, since the renewal of the
war, she said; and the letter wound up with a fresh denunciation of
the authors of their mutual bereavement and subsequent troubles.
'Coming just then, its contents produced upon Mademoiselle V-- the
effect of a pail of water upon a somnambulist. What had she been
doing in betrothing herself to this man! Was she not making herself
a parricide after the event? At this crisis in her feelings her
lover called. He beheld her trembling, and, in reply to his
question, she told him of her scruples with impulsive candour.
'She had not intended to do this, but his attitude of tender command
coerced her into frankness. Thereupon he exhibited an agitation
never before apparent in him. He said, "But all that is past. You
are the symbol of Charity, and we are pledged to let bygones be."
'His words soothed her for the moment, but she was sadly silent, and
he went away.
'That night she saw (as she firmly believed to the end of her life) a
divinely sent vision. A procession of her lost relatives--father,
brother, uncle, cousin--seemed to cross her chamber between her bed
and the window, and when she endeavoured to trace their features she
perceived them to be headless, and that she had recognized them by
their familiar clothes only. In the morning she could not shake off
the effects of this appearance on her nerves. All that day she saw
nothing of her wooer, he being occupied in making arrangements for
their departure. It grew towards evening--the marriage eve; but, in
spite of his re-assuring visit, her sense of family duty waxed
stronger now that she was left alone. Yet, she asked herself, how
could she, alone and unprotected, go at this eleventh hour and
reassert to an affianced husband that she could not and would not
marry him while admitting at the same time that she loved him? The
situation dismayed her. She had relinquished her post as governess,
and was staying temporarily in a room near the coach-office, where
she expected him to call in the morning to carry out the business of
their union and departure.
'Wisely or foolishly, Mademoiselle V-- came to a resolution: that
her only safety lay in flight. His contiguity influenced her too
sensibly; she could not reason. So packing up her few possessions
and placing on the table the small sum she owed, she went out
privately, secured a last available seat in the London coach, and,
almost before she had fully weighed her action, she was rolling out
of the town in the dusk of the September evening.
'Having taken this startling step she began to reflect upon her
reasons. He had been one of that tragic Committee the sound of whose
name was a horror to the civilized world; yet he had been only one of
several members, and, it seemed, not the most active. He had marked
down names on principle, had felt no personal enmity against his
victims, and had enriched himself not a sou out of the office he had
held. Nothing could change the past. Meanwhile he loved her, and
her heart inclined to as much of him as she could detach from that
past. Why not, as he had suggested, bury memories, and inaugurate a
new era by this union? In other words, why not indulge her
tenderness, since its nullification could do no good.
'Thus she held self-communion in her seat in the coach, passing
through Casterbridge, and Shottsford, and on to the White Hart at
Melchester, at which place the whole fabric of her recent intentions
crumbled down. Better be staunch having got so far; let things take
their course, and marry boldly the man who had so impressed her. How
great he was; how small was she! And she had presumed to judge him!
Abandoning her place in the coach with the precipitancy that had
characterized her taking it, she waited till the vehicle had driven
off, something in the departing shapes of the outside passengers
against the starlit sky giving her a start, as she afterwards
remembered. Presently the down coach, "The Morning Herald," entered
the city, and she hastily obtained a place on the top.
'"I'll be firm--I'll be his--if it cost me my immortal soul!" she
said. And with troubled breathings she journeyed back over the road
she had just traced.
'She reached our royal watering-place by the time the day broke, and
her first aim was to get back to the hired room in which her last few
days had been spent. When the landlady appeared at the door in
response to Mademoiselle V--'s nervous summons, she explained her
sudden departure and return as best she could; and no objection being
offered to her re-engagement of the room for one day longer she
ascended to the chamber and sat down panting. She was back once
more, and her wild tergiversations were a secret from him whom alone
'A sealed letter was on the mantelpiece. "Yes, it is directed to
you, Mademoiselle," said the woman who had followed her. "But we
were wondering what to do with it. A town messenger brought it after
you had gone last night."
'When the landlady had left, Mademoiselle V-- opened the letter and
"MY DEAR AND HONOURED FRIEND.--You have been throughout our
acquaintance absolutely candid concerning your misgivings. But I
have been reserved concerning mine. That is the difference between
us. You probably have not guessed that every qualm you have felt on
the subject of our marriage has been paralleled in my heart to the
full. Thus it happened that your involuntary outburst of remorse
yesterday, though mechanically deprecated by me in your presence, was
a last item in my own doubts on the wisdom of our union, giving them
a force that I could no longer withstand. I came home; and, on
reflection, much as I honour and adore you, I decide to set you free.
"As one whose life has been devoted, and I may say sacrificed, to the
cause of Liberty, I cannot allow your judgment (probably a permanent
one) to be fettered beyond release by a feeling which may be
"It would be no less than excruciating to both that I should announce
this decision to you by word of mouth. I have therefore taken the
less painful course of writing. Before you receive this I shall have
left the town by the evening coach for London, on reaching which city
my movements will be revealed to none.
"Regard me, Mademoiselle, as dead, and accept my renewed assurances
of respect, remembrance, and affection."
'When she had recovered from her shock of surprise and grief, she
remembered that at the starting of the coach out of Melchester before
dawn, the shape of a figure among the outside passengers against the
starlit sky had caused her a momentary start, from its resemblance to
that of her friend. Knowing nothing of each other's intentions, and
screened from each other by the darkness, they had left the town by
the same conveyance. "He, the greater, persevered; I, the smaller,
returned!" she said.
'Recovering from her stupor, Mademoiselle V-- bethought herself again
of her employer, Mrs. Newbold, whom recent events had estranged. To
that lady she went with a full heart, and explained everything. Mrs.
Newbold kept to herself her opinion of the episode, and reinstalled
the deserted bride in her old position as governess to the family.
'A governess she remained to the end of her days. After the final
peace with France she became acquainted with my mother, to whom by
degrees she imparted these experiences of hers. As her hair grew
white, and her features pinched, Mademoiselle V-- would wonder what
nook of the world contained her lover, if he lived, and if by any
chance she might see him again. But when, some time in the
'twenties, death came to her, at no great age, that outline against
the stars of the morning remained as the last glimpse she ever
obtained of her family's foe and her once affianced husband.'
MASTER JOHN HORSELEIGH, KNIGHT
In the earliest and mustiest volume of the Havenpool marriage
registers (said the thin-faced gentleman) this entry may still be
read by any one curious enough to decipher the crabbed handwriting of
the date. I took a copy of it when I was last there; and it runs
thus (he had opened his pocket-book, and now read aloud the extract;
afterwards handing round the book to us, wherein we saw transcribed
the following) -
Mastr John Horseleigh, Knyght, of the p'ysshe of Clyffton was maryd
to Edith the wyffe late off John Stocker, m'chawnte of Havenpool the
xiiij daje of December be p'vylegge gevyn by our sup'me hedd of the
chyrche of Ingelonde Kynge Henry the viii th 1539.
Now, if you turn to the long and elaborate pedigree of the ancient
family of the Horseleighs of Clyfton Horseleigh, you will find no
mention whatever of this alliance, notwithstanding the privilege
given by the Sovereign and head of the Church; the said Sir John
being therein chronicled as marrying, at a date apparently earlier
than the above, the daughter and heiress of Richard Phelipson, of
Montislope, in Nether Wessex, a lady who outlived him, of which
marriage there were issue two daughters and a son, who succeeded him
in his estates. How are we to account for these, as it would seem,
contemporaneous wives? A strange local tradition only can help us,
and this can be briefly told.
One evening in the autumn of the year 1540 or 1541, a young sailor,
whose Christian name was Roger, but whose surname is not known,
landed at his native place of Havenpool, on the South Wessex coast,
after a voyage in the Newfoundland trade, then newly sprung into
existence. He returned in the ship Primrose with a cargo of 'trayne
oyle brought home from the New Founde Lande,' to quote from the town
records of the date. During his absence of two summers and a winter,
which made up the term of a Newfoundland 'spell,' many unlooked-for
changes had occurred within the quiet little seaport, some of which
closely affected Roger the sailor. At the time of his departure his
only sister Edith had become the bride of one Stocker, a respectable
townsman, and part owner of the brig in which Roger had sailed; and
it was to the house of this couple, his only relatives, that the
young man directed his steps. On trying the door in Quay Street he
found it locked, and then observed that the windows were boarded up.
Inquiring of a bystander, he learnt for the first time of the death
of his brother-in-law, though that event had taken place nearly
eighteen months before.
'And my sister Edith?' asked Roger.
'She's married again--as they do say, and hath been so these twelve
months. I don't vouch for the truth o't, though if she isn't she
ought to be.'
Roger's face grew dark. He was a man with a considerable reserve of
strong passion, and he asked his informant what he meant by speaking
The man explained that shortly after the young woman's bereavement a
stranger had come to the port. He had seen her moping on the quay,
had been attracted by her youth and loneliness, and in an
extraordinarily brief wooing had completely fascinated her--had
carried her off, and, as was reported, had married her. Though he
had come by water, he was supposed to live no very great distance off
by land. They were last heard of at Oozewood, in Upper Wessex, at
the house of one Wall, a timber-merchant, where, he believed, she
still had a lodging, though her husband, if he were lawfully that
much, was but an occasional visitor to the place.
'The stranger?' asked Roger. 'Did you see him? What manner of man
'I liked him not,' said the other. 'He seemed of that kind that hath
something to conceal, and as he walked with her he ever and anon
turned his head and gazed behind him, as if he much feared an
unwelcome pursuer. But, faith,' continued he, 'it may have been the
man's anxiety only. Yet did I not like him.'
'Was he older than my sister?' Roger asked.
'Ay--much older; from a dozen to a score of years older. A man of
some position, maybe, playing an amorous game for the pleasure of the
hour. Who knoweth but that he have a wife already? Many have done
the thing hereabouts of late.'
Having paid a visit to the graves of his relatives, the sailor next
day went along the straight road which, then a lane, now a highway,
conducted to the curious little inland town named by the Havenpool
man. It is unnecessary to describe Oozewood on the South-Avon. It
has a railway at the present day; but thirty years of steam traffic
past its precincts have hardly modified its original features.
Surrounded by a sort of fresh-water lagoon, dividing it from meadows
and coppice, its ancient thatch and timber houses have barely made
way even in the front street for the ubiquitous modern brick and
slate. It neither increases nor diminishes in size; it is difficult
to say what the inhabitants find to do, for, though trades in
woodware are still carried on, there cannot be enough of this class
of work nowadays to maintain all the householders, the forests around
having been so greatly thinned and curtailed. At the time of this
tradition the forests were dense, artificers in wood abounded, and
the timber trade was brisk. Every house in the town, without
exception, was of oak framework, filled in with plaster, and covered
with thatch, the chimney being the only brick portion of the
structure. Inquiry soon brought Roger the sailor to the door of
Wall, the timber-dealer referred to, but it was some time before he
was able to gain admission to the lodging of his sister, the people
having plainly received directions not to welcome strangers.
She was sitting in an upper room on one of the lath-backed, willow-
bottomed 'shepherd's' chairs, made on the spot then as to this day,
and as they were probably made there in the days of the Heptarchy.
In her lap was an infant, which she had been suckling, though now it
had fallen asleep; so had the young mother herself for a few minutes,
under the drowsing effects of solitude. Hearing footsteps on the
stairs, she awoke, started up with a glad cry, and ran to the door,
opening which she met her brother on the threshold.
'O, this is merry; I didn't expect 'ee!' she said. 'Ah, Roger--I
thought it was John.' Her tones fell to disappointment.
The sailor kissed her, looked at her sternly for a few moments, and
pointing to the infant, said, 'You mean the father of this?'
'Yes, my husband,' said Edith.
'I hope so,' he answered.
'Why, Roger, I'm married--of a truth am I!' she cried.
'Shame upon 'ee, if true! If not true, worse. Master Stocker was an
honest man, and ye should have respected his memory longer. Where is
'He comes often. I thought it was he now. Our marriage has to be
kept secret for a while--it was done privily for certain reasons; but
we was married at church like honest folk--afore God we were, Roger,
six months after poor Stocker's death.'
''Twas too soon,' said Roger.
'I was living in a house alone; I had nowhere to go to. You were far
over sea in the New Found Land, and John took me and brought me
'How often doth he come?' says Roger again.
'Once or twice weekly,' says she.
'I wish th' 'dst waited till I returned, dear Edy,' he said. 'It mid
be you are a wife--I hope so. But, if so, why this mystery? Why
this mean and cramped lodging in this lonely copse-circled town? Of
what standing is your husband, and of where?'
'He is of gentle breeding--his name is John. I am not free to tell
his family-name. He is said to be of London, for safety' sake; but
he really lives in the county next adjoining this.'
'Where in the next county?'
'I do not know. He has preferred not to tell me, that I may not have
the secret forced from me, to his and my hurt, by bringing the
marriage to the ears of his kinsfolk and friends.'
Her brother's face flushed. 'Our people have been honest townsmen,
well-reputed for long; why should you readily take such humbling from
a sojourner of whom th' 'st know nothing?'
They remained in constrained converse till her quick ear caught a
sound, for which she might have been waiting--a horse's footfall.
'It is John!' said she. 'This is his night--Saturday.'
'Don't be frightened lest he should find me here!' said Roger. 'I am
on the point of leaving. I wish not to be a third party. Say
nothing at all about my visit, if it will incommode you so to do. I
will see thee before I go afloat again.'
Speaking thus he left the room, and descending the staircase let
himself out by the front door, thinking he might obtain a glimpse of
the approaching horseman. But that traveller had in the meantime
gone stealthily round to the back of the homestead, and peering along
the pinion-end of the house Roger discerned him unbridling and
haltering his horse with his own hands in the shed there.
Roger retired to the neighbouring inn called the Black Lamb, and
meditated. This mysterious method of approach determined him, after
all, not to leave the place till he had ascertained more definite
facts of his sister's position--whether she were the deluded victim
of the stranger or the wife she obviously believed herself to be.
Having eaten some supper, he left the inn, it being now about eleven
o'clock. He first looked into the shed, and, finding the horse still
standing there, waited irresolutely near the door of his sister's
lodging. Half an hour elapsed, and, while thinking he would climb
into a loft hard by for a night's rest, there seemed to be a movement
within the shutters of the sitting-room that his sister occupied.
Roger hid himself behind a faggot-stack near the back door, rightly
divining that his sister's visitor would emerge by the way he had
entered. The door opened, and the candle she held in her hand
lighted for a moment the stranger's form, showing it to be that of a
tall and handsome personage, about forty years of age, and apparently
of a superior position in life. Edith was assisting him to cloak
himself, which being done he took leave of her with a kiss and left
the house. From the door she watched him bridle and saddle his
horse, and having mounted and waved an adieu to her as she stood
candle in hand, he turned out of the yard and rode away.
The horse which bore him was, or seemed to be, a little lame, and
Roger fancied from this that the rider's journey was not likely to be
a long one. Being light of foot he followed apace, having no great
difficulty on such a still night in keeping within earshot some few
miles, the horseman pausing more than once. In this pursuit Roger
discovered the rider to choose bridle-tracks and open commons in
preference to any high road. The distance soon began to prove a more
trying one than he had bargained for; and when out of breath and in
some despair of being able to ascertain the man's identity, he
perceived an ass standing in the starlight under a hayrick, from
which the animal was helping itself to periodic mouthfuls.
The story goes that Roger caught the ass, mounted, and again resumed
the trail of the unconscious horseman, which feat may have been
possible to a nautical young fellow, though one can hardly understand
how a sailor would ride such an animal without bridle or saddle, and
strange to his hands, unless the creature were extraordinarily
docile. This question, however, is immaterial. Suffice it to say
that at dawn the following morning Roger beheld his sister's lover or
husband entering the gates of a large and well-timbered park on the
south-western verge of the White Hart Forest (as it was then called),
now known to everybody as the Vale of Blackmoor. Thereupon the
sailor discarded his steed, and finding for himself an obscurer
entrance to the same park a little further on, he crossed the grass
He presently perceived amid the trees before him a mansion which, new
to himself, was one of the best known in the county at that time. Of
this fine manorial residence hardly a trace now remains; but a
manuscript dated some years later than the events we are regarding
describes it in terms from which the imagination may construct a
singularly clear and vivid picture. This record presents it as
consisting of 'a faire yellow freestone building, partly two and
partly three storeys; a faire halle and parlour, both waynscotted; a
faire dyning roome and withdrawing roome, and many good lodgings; a
kitchen adjoyninge backwarde to one end of the dwelling-house, with a
faire passage from it into the halle, parlour, and dyninge roome, and
'In the front of the house a square greene court, and a curious
gatehouse with lodgings in it, standing with the front of the house
to the south; in a large outer court three stables, a coach-house, a
large barne, and a stable for oxen and kyne, and all houses
'Without the gatehouse, paled in, a large square greene, in which
standeth a faire chappell; of the south-east side of the greene
court, towards the river, a large garden.
'Of the south-west side of the greene court is a large bowling
greene, with fower mounted walks about it, all walled about with a
batteled wall, and sett with all sorts of fruit; and out of it into
the feildes there are large walks under many tall elmes orderly
Then follows a description of the orchards and gardens; the servants'
offices, brewhouse, bakehouse, dairy, pigeon-houses, and corn-mill;
the river and its abundance of fish; the warren, the coppices, the
walks; ending thus -
'And all the country north of the house, open champaign, sandy
feildes, very dry and pleasant for all kindes of recreation,
huntinge, and hawkinge, and profitble for tillage . . . The house
hath a large prospect east, south, and west, over a very large and
pleasant vale . . . is seated from the good markett towns of Sherton
Abbas three miles, and Ivel a mile, that plentifully yield all manner
of provision; and within twelve miles of the south sea.'
It was on the grass before this seductive and picturesque structure
that the sailor stood at gaze under the elms in the dim dawn of
Sunday morning, and saw to his surprise his sister's lover and horse
vanish within the court of the building.
Perplexed and weary, Roger slowly retreated, more than ever convinced
that something was wrong in his sister's position. He crossed the
bowling green to the avenue of elms, and, bent on further research,
was about to climb into one of these, when, looking below, he saw a
heap of hay apparently for horses or deer. Into this he crept, and,
having eaten a crust of bread which he had hastily thrust into his
pocket at the inn, he curled up and fell asleep, the hay forming a
comfortable bed, and quite covering him over.
He slept soundly and long, and was awakened by the sound of a bell.
On peering from the hay he found the time had advanced to full day;
the sun was shining brightly. The bell was that of the 'faire
chappell' on the green outside the gatehouse, and it was calling to
matins. Presently the priest crossed the green to a little side-door
in the chancel, and then from the gateway of the mansion emerged the
household, the tall man whom Roger had seen with his sister on the
previous night, on his arm being a portly dame, and, running beside
the pair, two little girls and a boy. These all entered the chapel,
and the bell having ceased and the environs become clear, the sailor
crept out from his hiding.
He sauntered towards the chapel, the opening words of the service
being audible within. While standing by the porch he saw a belated
servitor approaching from the kitchen-court to attend the service
also. Roger carelessly accosted him, and asked, as an idle wanderer,
the name of the family he had just seen cross over from the mansion.
'Od zounds! if ye modden be a stranger here in very truth, goodman.
That wer Sir John and his dame, and his children Elizabeth, Mary, and
'I be from foreign parts. Sir John what d'ye call'n?'
'Master John Horseleigh, Knight, who had a'most as much lond by
inheritance of his mother as 'a had by his father, and likewise some
by his wife. Why, bain't his arms dree goolden horses' heads, and
idden his lady the daughter of Master Richard Phelipson, of
Montislope, in Nether Wessex, known to us all?'
'It mid be so, and yet it mid not. However, th' 'lt miss thy prayers
for such an honest knight's welfare, and I have to traipse seaward
He went onward, and as he walked continued saying to himself, 'Now to
that poor wronged fool Edy. The fond thing! I thought it; 'twas too
quick--she was ever amorous. What's to become of her! God wot! How
be I going to face her with the news, and how be I to hold it from
her? To bring this disgrace on my father's honoured name, a double-
tongued knave!' He turned and shook his fist at the chapel and all
in it, and resumed his way.
Perhaps it was owing to the perplexity of his mind that, instead of
returning by the direct road towards his sister's obscure lodging in
the next county, he followed the highway to Casterbridge, some
fifteen miles off, where he remained drinking hard all that afternoon
and evening, and where he lay that and two or three succeeding
nights, wandering thence along the Anglebury road to some village
that way, and lying the Friday night after at his native place of
Havenpool. The sight of the familiar objects there seems to have
stirred him anew to action, and the next morning he was observed
pursuing the way to Oozewood that he had followed on the Saturday
previous, reckoning, no doubt, that Saturday night would, as before,
be a time for finding Sir John with his sister again.
He delayed to reach the place till just before sunset. His sister
was walking in the meadows at the foot of the garden, with a
nursemaid who carried the baby, and she looked up pensively when he
approached. Anxiety as to her position had already told upon her
once rosy cheeks and lucid eyes. But concern for herself and child
was displaced for the moment by her regard of Roger's worn and
'Why--you are sick, Roger--you are tired! Where have you been these
many days? Why not keep me company a bit--my husband is much away?
And we have hardly spoke at all of dear father and of your voyage to
the New Land. Why did you go away so suddenly? There is a spare
chamber at my lodging.'
'Come indoors,' he said. 'We'll talk now--talk a good deal. As for
him [nodding to the child], better heave him into the river; better
for him and you!'
She forced a laugh, as if she tried to see a good joke in the remark,
and they went silently indoors.
'A miserable hole!' said Roger, looking round the room.
'Nay, but 'tis very pretty!'
'Not after what I've seen. Did he marry 'ee at church in orderly
'He did sure--at our church at Havenpool.'
'But in a privy way?'
'Ay--because of his friends--it was at night-time.'
'Ede, ye fond one--for all that he's not thy husband! Th' 'rt not
his wife; and the child is a bastard. He hath a wife and children of
his own rank, and bearing his name; and that's Sir John Horseleigh,
of Clyfton Horseleigh, and not plain Jack, as you think him, and your
lawful husband. The sacrament of marriage is no safeguard nowadays.
The King's new-made headship of the Church hath led men to practise
these tricks lightly.'
She had turned white. 'That's not true, Roger!' she said. 'You are
in liquor, my brother, and you know not what you say! Your seafaring
years have taught 'ee bad things!'
'Edith--I've seen them; wife and family--all. How canst--'
They were sitting in the gathered darkness, and at that moment steps
were heard without. 'Go out this way,' she said. 'It is my husband.
He must not see thee in this mood. Get away till to-morrow, Roger,
as you care for me.'
She pushed her brother through a door leading to the back stairs, and
almost as soon as it was closed her visitor entered. Roger, however,
did not retreat down the stairs; he stood and looked through the
bobbin-hole. If the visitor turned out to be Sir John, he had
determined to confront him.
It was the knight. She had struck a light on his entry, and he
kissed the child, and took Edith tenderly by the shoulders, looking
into her face.
'Something's gone awry wi' my dear!' he said. 'What is it? What's
'O, Jack!' she cried. 'I have heard such a fearsome rumour--what
doth it mean? He who told me is my best friend. He must be
deceived! But who deceived him, and why? Jack, I was just told that
you had a wife living when you married me, and have her still!'
'Yes, and children. Say no, say no!'
'By God! I have no lawful wife but you; and as for children, many or
few, they are all bastards, save this one alone!'
'And that you be Sir John Horseleigh of Clyfton?'
'I mid be. I have never said so to 'ee.'
'But Sir John is known to have a lady, and issue of her!'
The knight looked down. 'How did thy mind get filled with such as
this?' he asked.
'One of my kindred came.'
'A traitor! Why should he mar our life? Ah! you said you had a
brother at sea--where is he now?'
'Here!' came from close behind him. And flinging open the door,
Roger faced the intruder. 'Liar!' he said, 'to call thyself her
Sir John fired up, and made a rush at the sailor, who seized him by
the collar, and in the wrestle they both fell, Roger under. But in a
few seconds he contrived to extricate his right arm, and drawing from
his belt a knife which he wore attached to a cord round his neck he
opened it with his teeth, and struck it into the breast of Sir John
stretched above him. Edith had during these moments run into the
next room to place the child in safety, and when she came back the
knight was relaxing his hold on Roger's throat. He rolled over upon
his back and groaned.
The only witness of the scene save the three concerned was the
nursemaid, who had brought in the child on its father's arrival. She
stated afterwards that nobody suspected Sir John had received his
death wound; yet it was so, though he did not die for a long while,
meaning thereby an hour or two; that Mistress Edith continually
endeavoured to staunch the blood, calling her brother Roger a wretch,
and ordering him to get himself gone; on which order he acted, after
a gloomy pause, by opening the window, and letting himself down by
the sill to the ground.
It was then that Sir John, in difficult accents, made his dying
declaration to the nurse and Edith, and, later, the apothecary; which
was to this purport, that the Dame Horseleigh who passed as his wife
at Clyfton, and who had borne him three children, was in truth and
deed, though unconsciously, the wife of another man. Sir John had
married her several years before, in the face of the whole county, as
the widow of one Decimus Strong, who had disappeared shortly after
her union with him, having adventured to the North to join the revolt
of the Nobles, and on that revolt being quelled retreated across the
sea. Two years ago, having discovered this man to be still living in
France, and not wishing to disturb the mind and happiness of her who
believed herself his wife, yet wishing for legitimate issue, Sir John
had informed the King of the facts, who had encouraged him to wed
honestly, though secretly, the young merchant's widow at Havenpool;
she being, therefore, his lawful wife, and she only. That to avoid
all scandal and hubbub he had purposed to let things remain as they
were till fair opportunity should arise of making the true case known
with least pain to all parties concerned, but that, having been thus
suspected and attacked by his own brother-in-law, his zest for such
schemes and for all things had died out in him, and he only wished to
commend his soul to God.
That night, while the owls were hooting from the forest that
encircled the sleeping townlet, and the South-Avon was gurgling
through the wooden piles of the bridge, Sir John died there in the
arms of his wife. She concealed nothing of the cause of her
husband's death save the subject of the quarrel, which she felt it
would be premature to announce just then, and until proof of her
status should be forthcoming. But before a month had passed, it
happened, to her inexpressible sorrow, that the child of this
clandestine union fell sick and died. From that hour all interest in
the name and fame of the Horseleighs forsook the younger of the twain
who called themselves wives of Sir John, and, being careless about
her own fame, she took no steps to assert her claims, her legal
position having, indeed, grown hateful to her in her horror at the
tragedy. And Sir William Byrt, the curate who had married her to her
husband, being an old man and feeble, was not disinclined to leave
the embers unstirred of such a fiery matter as this, and to assist
her in letting established things stand. Therefore, Edith retired
with the nurse, her only companion and friend, to her native town,
where she lived in absolute obscurity till her death in middle age.
Her brother was never seen again in England.
A strangely corroborative sequel to the story remains to be told.
Shortly after the death of Sir John Horseleigh, a soldier of fortune
returned from the Continent, called on Dame Horseleigh the
fictitious, living in widowed state at Clyfton Horseleigh, and, after
a singularly brief courtship, married her. The tradition at
Havenpool and elsewhere has ever been that this man was already her
husband, Decimus Strong, who remarried her for appearance' sake only.
The illegitimate son of this lady by Sir John succeeded to the
estates and honours, and his son after him, there being nobody on the
alert to investigate their pretensions. Little difference would it
have made to the present generation, however, had there been such a
one, for the family in all its branches, lawful and unlawful, has
been extinct these many score years, the last representative but one
being killed at the siege of Sherton Castle, while attacking in the
service of the Parliament, and the other being outlawed later in the
same century for a debt of ten pounds, and dying in the county jail.
The mansion house and its appurtenances were, as I have previously
stated, destroyed, excepting one small wing, which now forms part of
a farmhouse, and is visible as you pass along the railway from
Casterbridge to Ivel. The outline of the old bowling-green is also
distinctly to be seen.
This, then, is the reason why the only lawful marriage of Sir John,
as recorded in the obscure register at Havenpool, does not appear in
the pedigree of the house of Horseleigh.
THE DUKE'S REAPPEARANCE--A FAMILY TRADITION
According to the kinsman who told me the story, Christopher Swetman's
house, on the outskirts of King's-Hintock village, was in those days
larger and better kept than when, many years later, it was sold to
the lord of the manor adjoining; after having been in the Swetman
family, as one may say, since the Conquest.
Some people would have it to be that the thing happened at the house
opposite, belonging to one Childs, with whose family the Swetmans
afterwards intermarried. But that it was at the original homestead
of the Swetmans can be shown in various ways; chiefly by the unbroken
traditions of the family, and indirectly by the evidence of the walls
themselves, which are the only ones thereabout with windows mullioned
in the Elizabethan manner, and plainly of a date anterior to the
event; while those of the other house might well have been erected
fifty or eighty years later, and probably were; since the choice of
Swetman's house by the fugitive was doubtless dictated by no other
circumstance than its then suitable loneliness.
It was a cloudy July morning just before dawn, the hour of two having
been struck by Swetman's one-handed clock on the stairs, that is
still preserved in the family. Christopher heard the strokes from
his chamber, immediately at the top of the staircase, and overlooking
the front of the house. He did not wonder that he was sleepless.
The rumours and excitements which had latterly stirred the
neighbourhood, to the effect that the rightful King of England had
landed from Holland, at a port only eighteen miles to the south-west
of Swetman's house, were enough to make wakeful and anxious even a
contented yeoman like him. Some of the villagers, intoxicated by the
news, had thrown down their scythes, and rushed to the ranks of the
invader. Christopher Swetman had weighed both sides of the question,
and had remained at home.
Now as he lay thinking of these and other things he fancied that he
could hear the footfall of a man on the road leading up to his house-
-a byway, which led scarce anywhere else; and therefore a tread was
at any time more apt to startle the inmates of the homestead than if
it had stood in a thoroughfare. The footfall came opposite the gate,
and stopped there. One minute, two minutes passed, and the
pedestrian did not proceed. Christopher Swetman got out of bed, and
opened the casement. 'Hoi! who's there?' cries he.
'A friend,' came from the darkness.
'And what mid ye want at this time o' night?' says Swetman.
'Shelter. I've lost my way.'
'What's thy name?'
There came no answer.
'Be ye one of King Monmouth's men?'
'He that asks no questions will hear no lies from me. I am a
stranger; and I am spent, and hungered. Can you let me lie with you
Swetman was generous to people in trouble, and his house was roomy.
'Wait a bit,' he said, 'and I'll come down and have a look at thee,
He struck a light, put on his clothes, and descended, taking his
horn-lantern from a nail in the passage, and lighting it before
opening the door. The rays fell on the form of a tall, dark man in
cavalry accoutrements and wearing a sword. He was pale with fatigue
and covered with mud, though the weather was dry.
'Prithee take no heed of my appearance,' said the stranger. 'But let
That his visitor was in sore distress admitted of no doubt, and the
yeoman's natural humanity assisted the other's sad importunity and
gentle voice. Swetman took him in, not without a suspicion that this
man represented in some way Monmouth's cause, to which he was not
unfriendly in his secret heart. At his earnest request the new-comer
was given a suit of the yeoman's old clothes in exchange for his own,
which, with his sword, were hidden in a closet in Swetman's chamber;
food was then put before him and a lodging provided for him in a room
at the back.
Here he slept till quite late in the morning, which was Sunday, the
sixth of July, and when he came down in the garments that he had
borrowed he met the household with a melancholy smile. Besides
Swetman himself, there were only his two daughters, Grace and Leonard
(the latter was, oddly enough, a woman's name here), and both had
been enjoined to secrecy. They asked no questions and received no
information; though the stranger regarded their fair countenances
with an interest almost too deep. Having partaken of their usual
breakfast of ham and cider he professed weariness and retired to the
chamber whence he had come.
In a couple of hours or thereabout he came down again, the two young
women having now gone off to morning service. Seeing Christopher
bustling about the house without assistance, he asked if he could do
anything to aid his host.
As he seemed anxious to hide all differences and appear as one of
themselves, Swetman set him to get vegetables from the garden and
fetch water from Buttock's Spring in the dip near the house (though
the spring was not called by that name till years after, by the way).
'And what can I do next?' says the stranger when these services had
His meekness and docility struck Christopher much, and won upon him.
'Since you be minded to,' says the latter, 'you can take down the
dishes and spread the table for dinner. Take a pewter plate for
thyself, but the trenchers will do for we.'
But the other would not, and took a trencher likewise, in doing which
he spoke of the two girls and remarked how comely they were.
This quietude was put an end to by a stir out of doors, which was
sufficient to draw Swetman's attention to it, and he went out. Farm
hands who had gone off and joined the Duke on his arrival had begun
to come in with news that a midnight battle had been fought on the
moors to the north, the Duke's men, who had attacked, being entirely
worsted; the Duke himself, with one or two lords and other friends,
had fled, no one knew whither.
'There has been a battle,' says Swetman, on coming indoors after
these tidings, and looking earnestly at the stranger.
'May the victory be to the rightful in the end, whatever the issue
now,' says the other, with a sorrowful sigh.
'Dost really know nothing about it?' said Christopher. 'I could have
sworn you was one from that very battle!'
'I was here before three o' the clock this morning; and these men
have only arrived now.'
'True,' said the yeoman. 'But still, I think--'
'Do not press your question,' the stranger urged. 'I am in a strait,
and can refuse a helper nothing; such inquiry is, therefore, unfair.'
'True again,' said Swetman, and held his tongue.
The daughters of the house returned from church, where the service
had been hurried by reason of the excitement. To their father's
questioning if they had spoken of him who sojourned there they
replied that they had said never a word; which, indeed, was true, as
He bade them serve the dinner; and, as the visitor had withdrawn
since the news of the battle, prepared to take a platter to him
upstairs. But he preferred to come down and dine with the family.
During the afternoon more fugitives passed through the village, but
Christopher Swetman, his visitor, and his family kept indoors. In
the evening, however, Swetman came out from his gate, and, harkening
in silence to these tidings and more, wondered what might be in store
for him for his last night's work.
He returned homeward by a path across the mead that skirted his own
orchard. Passing here, he heard the voice of his daughter Leonard
expostulating inside the hedge, her words being: 'Don't ye, sir;
don't! I prithee let me go!'
'Because I've a-promised another!'
Peeping through, as he could not help doing, he saw the girl
struggling in the arms of the stranger, who was attempting to kiss
her; but finding her resistance to be genuine, and her distress
unfeigned, he reluctantly let her go.
Swetman's face grew dark, for his girls were more to him than
himself. He hastened on, meditating moodily all the way. He entered
the gate, and made straight for the orchard. When he reached it his
daughter had disappeared, but the stranger was still standing there.
'Sir!' said the yeoman, his anger having in no wise abated, 'I've
seen what has happened! I have taken 'ee into my house, at some
jeopardy to myself; and, whoever you be, the least I expected of 'ee
was to treat the maidens with a seemly respect. You have not done
it, and I no longer trust you. I am the more watchful over them in
that they are motherless; and I must ask 'ee to go after dark this
The stranger seemed dazed at discovering what his impulse had brought
down upon his head, and his pale face grew paler. He did not reply
for a time. When he did speak his soft voice was thick with feeling.
'Sir,' says he, 'I own that I am in the wrong, if you take the matter
gravely. We do not what we would but what we must. Though I have
not injured your daughter as a woman, I have been treacherous to her
as a hostess and friend in need. I'll go, as you say; I can do no
less. I shall doubtless find a refuge elsewhere.'
They walked towards the house in silence, where Swetman insisted that
his guest should have supper before departing. By the time this was
eaten it was dusk and the stranger announced that he was ready.
They went upstairs to where the garments and sword lay hidden, till
the departing one said that on further thought he would ask another
favour: that he should be allowed to retain the clothes he wore, and
that his host would keep the others and the sword till he, the
speaker, should come or send for them.
'As you will,' said Swetman. 'The gain is on my side; for those
clouts were but kept to dress a scarecrow next fall.'
'They suit my case,' said the stranger sadly. 'However much they may
misfit me, they do not misfit my sorry fortune now!'
'Nay, then,' said Christopher relenting, 'I was too hasty. Sh'lt
But the other would not, saying that it was better that things should
take their course. Notwithstanding that Swetman importuned him, he
only added, 'If I never come again, do with my belongings as you
list. In the pocket you will find a gold snuff-box, and in the
snuff-box fifty gold pieces.'
'But keep 'em for thy use, man!' said the yeoman.
'No,' says the parting guest; 'they are foreign pieces and would harm
me if I were taken. Do as I bid thee. Put away these things again
and take especial charge of the sword. It belonged to my father's
father and I value it much. But something more common becomes me
Saying which, he took, as he went downstairs, one of the ash sticks
used by Swetman himself for walking with. The yeoman lighted him out
to the garden hatch, where he disappeared through Clammers Gate by
the road that crosses King's-Hintock Park to Evershead.
Christopher returned to the upstairs chamber, and sat down on his bed
reflecting. Then he examined the things left behind, and surely
enough in one of the pockets the gold snuff-box was revealed,
containing the fifty gold pieces as stated by the fugitive. The
yeoman next looked at the sword which its owner had stated to have
belonged to his grandfather. It was two-edged, so that he almost
feared to handle it. On the blade was inscribed the words 'ANDREA
FERARA,' and among the many fine chasings were a rose and crown, the
plume of the Prince of Wales, and two portraits; portraits of a man
and a woman, the man's having the face of the first King Charles, and
the woman's, apparently, that of his Queen.
Swetman, much awed and surprised, returned the articles to the
closet, and went downstairs pondering. Of his surmise he said
nothing to his daughters, merely declaring to them that the gentleman
was gone; and never revealing that he had been an eye-witness of the
unpleasant scene in the orchard that was the immediate cause of the
Nothing occurred in Hintock during the week that followed, beyond the
fitful arrival of more decided tidings concerning the utter defeat of
the Duke's army and his own disappearance at an early stage of the
battle. Then it was told that Monmouth was taken, not in his own
clothes but in the disguise of a countryman. He had been sent to
London, and was confined in the Tower.
The possibility that his guest had been no other than the Duke made
Swetman unspeakably sorry now; his heart smote him at the thought
that, acting so harshly for such a small breach of good faith, he
might have been the means of forwarding the unhappy fugitive's
capture. On the girls coming up to him he said, 'Get away with ye,
wenches: I fear you have been the ruin of an unfortunate man!'
On the Tuesday night following, when the yeoman was sleeping as usual
in his chamber, he was, he said, conscious of the entry of some one.
Opening his eyes, he beheld by the light of the moon, which shone
upon the front of his house, the figure of a man who seemed to be the
stranger moving from the door towards the closet. He was dressed
somewhat differently now, but the face was quite that of his late
guest in its tragical pensiveness, as was also the tallness of his
figure. He neared the closet; and, feeling his visitor to be within
his rights, Christopher refrained from stirring. The personage
turned his large haggard eyes upon the bed where Swetman lay, and
then withdrew from their hiding the articles that belonged to him,
again giving a hard gaze at Christopher as he went noiselessly out of
the chamber with his properties on his arm. His retreat down the
stairs was just audible, and also his departure by the side door,
through which entrance or exit was easy to those who knew the place.
Nothing further happened, and towards morning Swetman slept. To
avoid all risk he said not a word to the girls of the visit of the
night, and certainly not to any one outside the house; for it was
dangerous at that time to avow anything.
Among the killed in opposing the recent rising had been a younger
brother of the lord of the manor, who lived at King's-Hintock Court
hard by. Seeing the latter ride past in mourning clothes next day,
Swetman ventured to condole with him.
'He'd no business there!' answered the other. His words and manner
showed the bitterness that was mingled with his regret. 'But say no
more of him. You know what has happened since, I suppose?'
'I know that they say Monmouth is taken, Sir Thomas, but I can't
think it true,' answered Swetman.
'O zounds! 'tis true enough,' cried the knight, 'and that's not all.
The Duke was executed on Tower Hill two days ago.'
'D'ye say it verily?' says Swetman.
'And a very hard death he had, worse luck for 'n,' said Sir Thomas.
'Well, 'tis over for him and over for my brother. But not for the
rest. There'll be searchings and siftings down here anon; and happy
is the man who has had nothing to do with this matter!'
Now Swetman had hardly heard the latter words, so much was he
confounded by the strangeness of the tidings that the Duke had come
to his death on the previous Tuesday. For it had been only the night
before this present day of Friday that he had seen his former guest,
whom he had ceased to doubt could be other than the Duke, come into
his chamber and fetch away his accoutrements as he had promised.
'It couldn't have been a vision,' said Christopher to himself when
the knight had ridden on. 'But I'll go straight and see if the
things be in the closet still; and thus I shall surely learn if
'twere a vision or no.'
To the closet he went, which he had not looked into since the
stranger's departure. And searching behind the articles placed to
conceal the things hidden, he found that, as he had never doubted,
they were gone.
When the rumour spread abroad in the West that the man beheaded in
the Tower was not indeed the Duke, but one of his officers taken
after the battle, and that the Duke had been assisted to escape out
of the country, Swetman found in it an explanation of what so deeply
mystified him. That his visitor might have been a friend of the
Duke's, whom the Duke had asked to fetch the things in a last
request, Swetman would never admit. His belief in the rumour that
Monmouth lived, like that of thousands of others, continued to the
end of his days.
Such, briefly, concluded my kinsman, is the tradition which has been
handed down in Christopher Swetman's family for the last two hundred
A MERE INTERLUDE
The traveller in school-books, who vouched in dryest tones for the
fidelity to fact of the following narrative, used to add a ring of
truth to it by opening with a nicety of criticism on the heroine's
personality. People were wrong, he declared, when they surmised that
Baptista Trewthen was a young woman with scarcely emotions or
character. There was nothing in her to love, and nothing to hate--so
ran the general opinion. That she showed few positive qualities was
true. The colours and tones which changing events paint on the faces
of active womankind were looked for in vain upon hers. But still
waters run deep; and no crisis had come in the years of her early
maidenhood to demonstrate what lay hidden within her, like metal in a
She was the daughter of a small farmer in St. Maria's, one of the
Isles of Lyonesse beyond Off-Wessex, who had spent a large sum, as
there understood, on her education, by sending her to the mainland
for two years. At nineteen she was entered at the Training College
for Teachers, and at twenty-one nominated to a school in the country,
near Tor-upon-Sea, whither she proceeded after the Christmas
examination and holidays.
The months passed by from winter to spring and summer, and Baptista
applied herself to her new duties as best she could, till an
uneventful year had elapsed. Then an air of abstraction pervaded her
bearing as she walked to and fro, twice a day, and she showed the
traits of a person who had something on her mind. A widow, by name
Mrs. Wace, in whose house Baptista Trewthen had been provided with a
sitting-room and bedroom till the school-house should be built,
noticed this change in her youthful tenant's manner, and at last
ventured to press her with a few questions.
'It has nothing to do with the place, nor with you,' said Miss
'Then it is the salary?'
'No, nor the salary.'
'Then it is something you have heard from home, my dear.'
Baptista was silent for a few moments. 'It is Mr. Heddegan,' she
murmured. 'Him they used to call David Heddegan before he got his
'And who is the Mr. Heddegan they used to call David?'
'An old bachelor at Giant's Town, St. Maria's, with no relations
whatever, who lives about a stone's throw from father's. When I was
a child he used to take me on his knee and say he'd marry me some
day. Now I am a woman the jest has turned earnest, and he is anxious
to do it. And father and mother says I can't do better than have
'He's well off?'
'Yes--he's the richest man we know--as a friend and neighbour.'
'How much older did you say he was than yourself?'
'I didn't say. Twenty years at least.'
'And an unpleasant man in the bargain perhaps?'
'No--he's not unpleasant.'
'Well, child, all I can say is that I'd resist any such engagement if
it's not palatable to 'ee. You are comfortable here, in my little
house, I hope. All the parish like 'ee: and I've never been so
cheerful, since my poor husband left me to wear his wings, as I've
been with 'ee as my lodger.'
The schoolmistress assured her landlady that she could return the
sentiment. 'But here comes my perplexity,' she said. 'I don't like
keeping school. Ah, you are surprised--you didn't suspect it.
That's because I've concealed my feeling. Well, I simply hate
school. I don't care for children--they are unpleasant, troublesome
little things, whom nothing would delight so much as to hear that you
had fallen down dead. Yet I would even put up with them if it was
not for the inspector. For three months before his visit I didn't
sleep soundly. And the Committee of Council are always changing the
Code, so that you don't know what to teach, and what to leave
untaught. I think father and mother are right. They say I shall
never excel as a schoolmistress if I dislike the work so, and that
therefore I ought to get settled by marrying Mr. Heddegan. Between
us two, I like him better than school; but I don't like him quite so
much as to wish to marry him.'
These conversations, once begun, were continued from day to day; till
at length the young girl's elderly friend and landlady threw in her
opinion on the side of Miss Trewthen's parents. All things
considered, she declared, the uncertainty of the school, the labour,
Baptista's natural dislike for teaching, it would be as well to take
what fate offered, and make the best of matters by wedding her
father's old neighbour and prosperous friend.
The Easter holidays came round, and Baptista went to spend them as
usual in her native isle, going by train into Off-Wessex and crossing
by packet from Pen-zephyr. When she returned in the middle of April
her face wore a more settled aspect.
'Well?' said the expectant Mrs. Wace.
'I have agreed to have him as my husband,' said Baptista, in an off-
hand way. 'Heaven knows if it will be for the best or not. But I
have agreed to do it, and so the matter is settled.'
Mrs. Wace commended her; but Baptista did not care to dwell on the
subject; so that allusion to it was very infrequent between them.
Nevertheless, among other things, she repeated to the widow from time
to time in monosyllabic remarks that the wedding was really
impending; that it was arranged for the summer, and that she had
given notice of leaving the school at the August holidays. Later on
she announced more specifically that her marriage was to take place
immediately after her return home at the beginning of the month
She now corresponded regularly with Mr. Heddegan. Her letters from
him were seen, at least on the outside, and in part within, by Mrs.
Wace. Had she read more of their interiors than the occasional
sentences shown her by Baptista she would have perceived that the
scratchy, rusty handwriting of Miss Trewthen's betrothed conveyed
little more matter than details of their future housekeeping, and his
preparations for the same, with innumerable 'my dears' sprinkled in
disconnectedly, to show the depth of his affection without the
inconveniences of syntax.
It was the end of July--dry, too dry, even for the season, the
delicate green herbs and vegetables that grew in this favoured end of
the kingdom tasting rather of the watering-pot than of the pure fresh
moisture from the skies. Baptista's boxes were packed, and one
Saturday morning she departed by a waggonette to the station, and
thence by train to Pen-zephyr, from which port she was, as usual, to
cross the water immediately to her home, and become Mr. Heddegan's
wife on the Wednesday of the week following.
She might have returned a week sooner. But though the wedding day
had loomed so near, and the banns were out, she delayed her departure
till this last moment, saying it was not necessary for her to be at
home long beforehand. As Mr. Heddegan was older than herself, she
said, she was to be married in her ordinary summer bonnet and grey
silk frock, and there were no preparations to make that had not been
amply made by her parents and intended husband.
In due time, after a hot and tedious journey, she reached Pen-zephyr.
She here obtained some refreshment, and then went towards the pier,
where she learnt to her surprise that the little steamboat plying
between the town and the islands had left at eleven o'clock; the
usual hour of departure in the afternoon having been forestalled in
consequence of the fogs which had for a few days prevailed towards
evening, making twilight navigation dangerous.
This being Saturday, there was now no other boat till Tuesday, and it
became obvious that here she would have to remain for the three days,
unless her friends should think fit to rig out one of the island'
sailing-boats and come to fetch her--a not very likely contingency,
the sea distance being nearly forty miles.
Baptista, however, had been detained in Pen-zephyr on more than one
occasion before, either on account of bad weather or some such reason
as the present, and she was therefore not in any personal alarm.
But, as she was to be married on the following Wednesday, the delay
was certainly inconvenient to a more than ordinary degree, since it
would leave less than a day's interval between her arrival and the
Apart from this awkwardness she did not much mind the accident. It
was indeed curious to see how little she minded. Perhaps it would
not be too much to say that, although she was going to do the
critical deed of her life quite willingly, she experienced an
indefinable relief at the postponement of her meeting with Heddegan.
But her manner after making discovery of the hindrance was quiet and
subdued, even to passivity itself; as was instanced by her having, at
the moment of receiving information that the steamer had sailed,
replied 'Oh,' so coolly to the porter with her luggage, that he was
almost disappointed at her lack of disappointment.
The question now was, should she return again to Mrs. Wace, in the
village of Lower Wessex, or wait in the town at which she had
arrived. She would have preferred to go back, but the distance was
too great; moreover, having left the place for good, and somewhat
dramatically, to become a bride, a return, even for so short a space,
would have been a trifle humiliating.
Leaving, then, her boxes at the station, her next anxiety was to
secure a respectable, or rather genteel, lodging in the popular
seaside resort confronting her. To this end she looked about the
town, in which, though she had passed through it half-a-dozen times,
she was practically a stranger.
Baptista found a room to suit her over a fruiterer's shop; where she
made herself at home, and set herself in order after her journey. An
early cup of tea having revived her spirits she walked out to
Being a schoolmistress she avoided looking at the schools, and having
a sort of trade connection with books, she avoided looking at the
booksellers; but wearying of the other shops she inspected the
churches; not that for her own part she cared much about
ecclesiastical edifices; but tourists looked at them, and so would
she--a proceeding for which no one would have credited her with any
great originality, such, for instance, as that she subsequently
showed herself to possess. The churches soon oppressed her. She
tried the Museum, but came out because it seemed lonely and tedious.
Yet the town and the walks in this land of strawberries, these
headquarters of early English flowers and fruit, were then, as
always, attractive. From the more picturesque streets she went to
the town gardens, and the Pier, and the Harbour, and looked at the
men at work there, loading and unloading as in the time of the
'Not Baptista? Yes, Baptista it is!'
The words were uttered behind her. Turning round she gave a start,
and became confused, even agitated, for a moment. Then she said in
her usual undemonstrative manner, 'O--is it really you, Charles?'
Without speaking again at once, and with a half-smile, the new-comer
glanced her over. There was much criticism, and some resentment--
even temper--in his eye.
'I am going home,' continued she. 'But I have missed the boat.'
He scarcely seemed to take in the meaning of this explanation, in the
intensity of his critical survey. 'Teaching still? What a fine
schoolmistress you make, Baptista, I warrant!' he said with a slight
flavour of sarcasm, which was not lost upon her.
'I know I am nothing to brag of,' she replied. 'That's why I have
'O--given up? You astonish me.'
'I hate the profession.'
'Perhaps that's because I am in it.'
'O no, it isn't. But I am going to enter on another life altogether.
I am going to be married next week to Mr. David Heddegan.'
The young man--fortified as he was by a natural cynical pride and
passionateness--winced at this unexpected reply, notwithstanding.
'Who is Mr. David Heddegan?' he asked, as indifferently as lay in his
She informed him the bearer of the name was a general merchant of
Giant's Town, St. Maria's island--her father's nearest neighbour and
'Then we shan't see anything more of you on the mainland?' inquired
'O, I don't know about that,' said Miss Trewthen.
'Here endeth the career of the belle of the boarding-school your
father was foolish enough to send you to. A "general merchant's"
wife in the Lyonesse Isles. Will you sell pounds of soap and
pennyworths of tin tacks, or whole bars of saponaceous matter, and
great tenpenny nails?'
'He's not in such a small way as that!' she almost pleaded. 'He owns
ships, though they are rather little ones!'
'O, well, it is much the same. Come, let us walk on; it is tedious
to stand still. I thought you would be a failure in education,' he
continued, when she obeyed him and strolled ahead. 'You never showed
power that way. You remind me much of some of those women who think
they are sure to be great actresses if they go on the stage, because
they have a pretty face, and forget that what we require is acting.
But you found your mistake, didn't you?'
'Don't taunt me, Charles.' It was noticeable that the young
schoolmaster's tone caused her no anger or retaliatory passion; far
otherwise: there was a tear in her eye. 'How is it you are at Pen-
zephyr?' she inquired.
'I don't taunt you. I speak the truth, purely in a friendly way, as
I should to any one I wished well. Though for that matter I might
have some excuse even for taunting you. Such a terrible hurry as
you've been in. I hate a woman who is in such a hurry.'
'How do you mean that?'
'Why--to be somebody's wife or other--anything's wife rather than
nobody's. You couldn't wait for me, O, no. Well, thank God, I'm
cured of all that!'
'How merciless you are!' she said bitterly. 'Wait for you? What
does that mean, Charley? You never showed--anything to wait for--
anything special towards me.'
'O come, Baptista dear; come!'
'What I mean is, nothing definite,' she expostulated. 'I suppose you
liked me a little; but it seemed to me to be only a pastime on your
part, and that you never meant to make an honourable engagement of
'There, that's just it! You girls expect a man to mean business at
the first look. No man when he first becomes interested in a woman
has any definite scheme of engagement to marry her in his mind,
unless he is meaning a vulgar mercenary marriage. However, I DID at
last mean an honourable engagement, as you call it, come to that.'
'But you never said so, and an indefinite courtship soon injures a
woman's position and credit, sooner than you think.'
'Baptista, I solemnly declare that in six months I should have asked
you to marry me.'
She walked along in silence, looking on the ground, and appearing
very uncomfortable. Presently he said, 'Would you have waited for me
if you had known?' To this she whispered in a sorrowful whisper,
They went still farther in silence--passing along one of the
beautiful walks on the outskirts of the town, yet not observant of
scene or situation. Her shoulder and his were close together, and he
clasped his fingers round the small of her arm--quite lightly, and
without any attempt at impetus; yet the act seemed to say, 'Now I
hold you, and my will must be yours.'
Recurring to a previous question of hers he said, 'I have merely run
down here for a day or two from school near Trufal, before going off
to the north for the rest of my holiday. I have seen my relations at
Redrutin quite lately, so I am not going there this time. How little
I thought of meeting you! How very different the circumstances would
have been if, instead of parting again as we must in half-an-hour or
so, possibly for ever, you had been now just going off with me, as my
wife, on our honeymoon trip. Ha--ha--well--so humorous is life!'
She stopped suddenly. 'I must go back now--this is altogether too
painful, Charley! It is not at all a kind mood you are in to-day.'
'I don't want to pain you--you know I do not,' he said more gently.
'Only it just exasperates me--this you are going to do. I wish you
'Marry him. There, now I have showed you my true sentiments.'
'I must do it now,' said she.
'Why?' he asked, dropping the off-hand masterful tone he had hitherto
spoken in, and becoming earnest; still holding her arm, however, as
if she were his chattel to be taken up or put down at will. 'It is
never too late to break off a marriage that's distasteful to you.
Now I'll say one thing; and it is truth: I wish you would marry me
instead of him, even now, at the last moment, though you have served
me so badly.'
'O, it is not possible to think of that!' she answered hastily,
shaking her head. 'When I get home all will be prepared--it is ready
even now--the things for the party, the furniture, Mr. Heddegan's new
suit, and everything. I should require the courage of a tropical
lion to go home there and say I wouldn't carry out my promise!'
'Then go, in Heaven's name! But there would be no necessity for you
to go home and face them in that way. If we were to marry, it would
have to be at once, instantly; or not at all. I should think your
affection not worth the having unless you agreed to come back with me
to Trufal this evening, where we could be married by licence on
Monday morning. And then no Mr. David Heddegan or anybody else could
get you away from me.'
'I must go home by the Tuesday boat,' she faltered. 'What would they
think if I did not come?'
'You could go home by that boat just the same. All the difference
would be that I should go with you. You could leave me on the quay,
where I'd have a smoke, while you went and saw your father and mother
privately; you could then tell them what you had done, and that I was
waiting not far off; that I was a school-master in a fairly good
position, and a young man you had known when you were at the Training
College. Then I would come boldly forward; and they would see that
it could not be altered, and so you wouldn't suffer a lifelong misery
by being the wife of a wretched old gaffer you don't like at all.
Now, honestly; you do like me best, don't you, Baptista?'
'Then we will do as I say.'
She did not pronounce a clear affirmative. But that she consented to
the novel proposition at some moment or other of that walk was
apparent by what occurred a little later.
An enterprise of such pith required, indeed, less talking than
consideration. The first thing they did in carrying it out was to
return to the railway station, where Baptista took from her luggage a
small trunk of immediate necessaries which she would in any case have
required after missing the boat. That same afternoon they travelled
up the line to Trufal.
Charles Stow (as his name was), despite his disdainful indifference
to things, was very careful of appearances, and made the journey
independently of her though in the same train. He told her where she
could get board and lodgings in the city; and with merely a distant
nod to her of a provisional kind, went off to his own quarters, and
to see about the licence.
On Sunday she saw him in the morning across the nave of the pro-
cathedral. In the afternoon they walked together in the fields,
where he told her that the licence would be ready next day, and would
be available the day after, when the ceremony could be performed as
early after eight o'clock as they should choose.
His courtship, thus renewed after an interval of two years, was as
impetuous, violent even, as it was short. The next day came and
passed, and the final arrangements were made. Their agreement was to
get the ceremony over as soon as they possibly could the next
morning, so as to go on to Pen-zephyr at once, and reach that place
in time for the boat's departure the same day. It was in obedience
to Baptista's earnest request that Stow consented thus to make the
whole journey to Lyonesse by land and water at one heat, and not
break it at Pen-zephyr; she seemed to be oppressed with a dread of
lingering anywhere, this great first act of disobedience to her
parents once accomplished, with the weight on her mind that her home
had to be convulsed by the disclosure of it. To face her
difficulties over the water immediately she had created them was,
however, a course more desired by Baptista than by her lover; though
for once he gave way.
The next morning was bright and warm as those which had preceded it.
By six o'clock it seemed nearly noon, as is often the case in that
part of England in the summer season. By nine they were husband and
wife. They packed up and departed by the earliest train after the
service; and on the way discussed at length what she should say on
meeting her parents, Charley dictating the turn of each phrase. In
her anxiety they had travelled so early that when they reached Pen-
zephyr they found there were nearly two hours on their hands before
the steamer's time of sailing.
Baptista was extremely reluctant to be seen promenading the streets
of the watering-place with her husband till, as above stated, the
household at Giant's Town should know the unexpected course of events
from her own lips; and it was just possible, if not likely, that some
Lyonessian might be prowling about there, or even have come across
the sea to look for her. To meet any one to whom she was known, and
to have to reply to awkward questions about the strange young man at
her side before her well-framed announcement had been delivered at
proper time and place, was a thing she could not contemplate with
equanimity. So, instead of looking at the shops and harbour, they
went along the coast a little way.
The heat of the morning was by this time intense. They clambered up
on some cliffs, and while sitting there, looking around at St.
Michael's Mount and other objects, Charles said to her that he
thought he would run down to the beach at their feet, and take just
one plunge into the sea.
Baptista did not much like the idea of being left alone; it was
gloomy, she said. But he assured her he would not be gone more than
a quarter of an hour at the outside, and she passively assented.
Down he went, disappeared, appeared again, and looked back. Then he
again proceeded, and vanished, till, as a small waxen object, she saw
him emerge from the nook that had screened him, cross the white
fringe of foam, and walk into the undulating mass of blue. Once in
the water he seemed less inclined to hurry than before; he remained a
long time; and, unable either to appreciate his skill or criticize
his want of it at that distance, she withdrew her eyes from the spot,
and gazed at the still outline of St. Michael's--now beautifully
toned in grey.
Her anxiety for the hour of departure, and to cope at once with the
approaching incidents that she would have to manipulate as best she
could, sent her into a reverie. It was now Tuesday; she would reach
home in the evening--a very late time they would say; but, as the
delay was a pure accident, they would deem her marriage to Mr.
Heddegan to-morrow still practicable. Then Charles would have to be
produced from the background. It was a terrible undertaking to think
of, and she almost regretted her temerity in wedding so hastily that
morning. The rage of her father would be so crushing; the reproaches
of her mother so bitter; and perhaps Charles would answer hotly, and
perhaps cause estrangement till death. There had obviously been no
alarm about her at St. Maria's, or somebody would have sailed across
to inquire for her. She had, in a letter written at the beginning of
the week, spoken of the hour at which she intended to leave her
country schoolhouse; and from this her friends had probably perceived
that by such timing she would run a risk of losing the Saturday boat.
She had missed it, and as a consequence sat here on the shore as Mrs.
This brought her to the present, and she turned from the outline of
St. Michael's Mount to look about for her husband's form. He was, as
far as she could discover, no longer in the sea. Then he was
dressing. By moving a few steps she could see where his clothes lay.
But Charles was not beside them.
Baptista looked back again at the water in bewilderment, as if her
senses were the victim of some sleight of hand. Not a speck or spot
resembling a man's head or face showed anywhere. By this time she
was alarmed, and her alarm intensified when she perceived a little
beyond the scene of her husband's bathing a small area of water, the
quality of whose surface differed from that of the surrounding
expanse as the coarse vegetation of some foul patch in a mead differs
from the fine green of the remainder. Elsewhere it looked flexuous,
here it looked vermiculated and lumpy, and her marine experiences
suggested to her in a moment that two currents met and caused a
turmoil at this place.
She descended as hastily as her trembling limbs would allow. The way
down was terribly long, and before reaching the heap of clothes it
occurred to her that, after all, it would be best to run first for
help. Hastening along in a lateral direction she proceeded inland
till she met a man, and soon afterwards two others. To them she
exclaimed, 'I think a gentleman who was bathing is in some danger. I
cannot see him as I could. Will you please run and help him, at
once, if you will be so kind?'
She did not think of turning to show them the exact spot, indicating
it vaguely by the direction of her hand, and still going on her way
with the idea of gaining more assistance. When she deemed, in her
faintness, that she had carried the alarm far enough, she faced about
and dragged herself back again. Before reaching the now dreaded spot
she met one of the men.
'We can see nothing at all, Miss,' he declared.
Having gained the beach, she found the tide in, and no sign of
Charley's clothes. The other men whom she had besought to come had
disappeared, it must have been in some other direction, for she had
not met them going away. They, finding nothing, had probably thought
her alarm a mere conjecture, and given up the quest.
Baptista sank down upon the stones near at hand. Where Charley had
undressed was now sea. There could not be the least doubt that he
was drowned, and his body sucked under by the current; while his
clothes, lying within high-water mark, had probably been carried away
by the rising tide.
She remained in a stupor for some minutes, till a strange sensation
succeeded the aforesaid perceptions, mystifying her intelligence, and
leaving her physically almost inert. With his personal
disappearance, the last three days of her life with him seemed to be
swallowed up, also his image, in her mind's eye, waned curiously,
receded far away, grew stranger and stranger, less and less real.
Their meeting and marriage had been so sudden, unpremeditated,
adventurous, that she could hardly believe that she had played her
part in such a reckless drama. Of all the few hours of her life with
Charles, the portion that most insisted in coming back to memory was
their fortuitous encounter on the previous Saturday, and those bitter
reprimands with which he had begun the attack, as it might be called,
which had piqued her to an unexpected consummation.
A sort of cruelty, an imperiousness, even in his warmth, had
characterized Charles Stow. As a lover he had ever been a bit of a
tyrant; and it might pretty truly have been said that he had stung
her into marriage with him at last. Still more alien from her life
did these reflections operate to make him; and then they would be
chased away by an interval of passionate weeping and mad regret.
Finally, there returned upon the confused mind of the young wife the
recollection that she was on her way homeward, and that the packet
would sail in three-quarters of an hour.
Except the parasol in her hand, all she possessed was at the station
awaiting her onward journey.
She looked in that direction; and, entering one of those
undemonstrative phases so common with her, walked quietly on.
At first she made straight for the railway; but suddenly turning she
went to a shop and wrote an anonymous line announcing his death by
drowning to the only person she had ever heard Charles mention as a
relative. Posting this stealthily, and with a fearful look around
her, she seemed to acquire a terror of the late events, pursuing her
way to the station as if followed by a spectre.
When she got to the office she asked for the luggage that she had
left there on the Saturday as well as the trunk left on the morning
just lapsed. All were put in the boat, and she herself followed.
Quickly as these things had been done, the whole proceeding,
nevertheless, had been almost automatic on Baptista's part, ere she
had come to any definite conclusion on her course.
Just before the bell rang she heard a conversation on the pier, which
removed the last shade of doubt from her mind, if any had existed,
that she was Charles Stow's widow. The sentences were but
fragmentary, but she could easily piece them out.
'A man drowned--swam out too far--was a stranger to the place--people
in boat--saw him go down--couldn't get there in time.'
The news was little more definite than this as yet; though it may as
well be stated once for all that the statement was true. Charley,
with the over-confidence of his nature, had ventured out too far for
his strength, and succumbed in the absence of assistance, his
lifeless body being at that moment suspended in the transparent mid-
depths of the bay. His clothes, however, had merely been gently
lifted by the rising tide, and floated into a nook hard by, where
they lay out of sight of the passers-by till a day or two after.
In ten minutes they were steaming out of the harbour for their voyage
of four or five hours, at whose ending she would have to tell her
As Pen-zephyr and all its environing scenes disappeared behind
Mousehole and St. Clement's Isle, Baptista's ephemeral, meteor-like
husband impressed her yet more as a fantasy. She was still in such a
trance-like state that she had been an hour on the little packet-boat
before she became aware of the agitating fact that Mr. Heddegan was
on board with her. Involuntarily she slipped from her left hand the
symbol of her wifehood.
'Hee-hee! Well, the truth is, I wouldn't interrupt 'ee. "I reckon
she don't see me, or won't see me," I said, "and what's the hurry?
She'll see enough o' me soon!" I hope ye be well, mee deer?'
He was a hale, well-conditioned man of about five and fifty, of the
complexion common to those whose lives are passed on the bluffs and
beaches of an ocean isle. He extended the four quarters of his face
in a genial smile, and his hand for a grasp of the same magnitude.
She gave her own in surprised docility, and he continued: 'I
couldn't help coming across to meet 'ee. What an unfortunate thing
you missing the boat and not coming Saturday! They meant to have
warned 'ee that the time was changed, but forgot it at the last
moment. The truth is that I should have informed 'ee myself; but I
was that busy finishing up a job last week, so as to have this week
free, that I trusted to your father for attending to these little
things. However, so plain and quiet as it is all to be, it really do
not matter so much as it might otherwise have done, and I hope ye
haven't been greatly put out. Now, if you'd sooner that I should not
be seen talking to 'ee--if 'ee feel shy at all before strangers--just
say. I'll leave 'ee to yourself till we get home.'
'Thank you much. I am indeed a little tired, Mr. Heddegan.'
He nodded urbane acquiescence, strolled away immediately, and
minutely inspected the surface of the funnel, till some female
passengers of Giant's Town tittered at what they must have thought a
rebuff--for the approaching wedding was known to many on St. Maria's
Island, though to nobody elsewhere. Baptista coloured at their
satire, and called him back, and forced herself to commune with him
in at least a mechanically friendly manner.
The opening event had been thus different from her expectation, and
she had adumbrated no act to meet it. Taken aback she passively
allowed circumstances to pilot her along; and so the voyage was made.
It was near dusk when they touched the pier of Giant's Town, where
several friends and neighbours stood awaiting them. Her father had a
lantern in his hand. Her mother, too, was there, reproachfully glad
that the delay had at last ended so simply. Mrs. Trewthen and her
daughter went together along the Giant's Walk, or promenade, to the
house, rather in advance of her husband and Mr. Heddegan, who talked
in loud tones which reached the women over their shoulders.
Some would have called Mrs. Trewthen a good mother; but though well
meaning she was maladroit, and her intentions missed their mark.
This might have been partly attributable to the slight deafness from
which she suffered. Now, as usual, the chief utterances came from
'Ah, yes, I'm so glad, my child, that you've got over safe. It is
all ready, and everything so well arranged, that nothing but
misfortune could hinder you settling as, with God's grace, becomes
'ee. Close to your mother's door a'most, 'twill be a great blessing,
I'm sure; and I was very glad to find from your letters that you'd
held your word sacred. That's right--make your word your bond
always. Mrs. Wace seems to be a sensible woman. I hope the Lord
will do for her as he's doing for you no long time hence. And how
did 'ee get over the terrible journey from Tor-upon-Sea to Pen-
zephyr? Once you'd done with the railway, of course, you seemed
quite at home. Well, Baptista, conduct yourself seemly, and all will
Thus admonished, Baptista entered the house, her father and Mr.
Heddegan immediately at her back. Her mother had been so didactic
that she had felt herself absolutely unable to broach the subjects in
the centre of her mind.
The familiar room, with the dark ceiling, the well-spread table, the
old chairs, had never before spoken so eloquently of the times ere
she knew or had heard of Charley Stow. She went upstairs to take off
her things, her mother remaining below to complete the disposition of
the supper, and attend to the preparation of to-morrow's meal,
altogether composing such an array of pies, from pies of fish to pies
of turnips, as was never heard of outside the Western Duchy.
Baptista, once alone, sat down and did nothing; and was called before
she had taken off her bonnet.
'I'm coming,' she cried, jumping up, and speedily disapparelling
herself, brushed her hair with a few touches and went down.
Two or three of Mr. Heddegan's and her father's friends had dropped
in, and expressed their sympathy for the delay she had been subjected
to. The meal was a most merry one except to Baptista. She had
desired privacy, and there was none; and to break the news was
already a greater difficulty than it had been at first. Everything
around her, animate and inanimate, great and small, insisted that she
had come home to be married; and she could not get a chance to say
One or two people sang songs, as overtures to the melody of the
morrow, till at length bedtime came, and they all withdrew, her
mother having retired a little earlier. When Baptista found herself
again alone in her bedroom the case stood as before: she had come
home with much to say, and she had said nothing.
It was now growing clear even to herself that Charles being dead, she
had not determination sufficient within her to break tidings which,
had he been alive, would have imperatively announced themselves. And
thus with the stroke of midnight came the turning of the scale; her
story should remain untold. It was not that upon the whole she
thought it best not to attempt to tell it; but that she could not
undertake so explosive a matter. To stop the wedding now would cause
a convulsion in Giant's Town little short of volcanic. Weakened,
tired, and terrified as she had been by the day's adventures, she
could not make herself the author of such a catastrophe. But how
refuse Heddegan without telling? It really seemed to her as if her
marriage with Mr. Heddegan were about to take place as if nothing had
Morning came. The events of the previous days were cut off from her
present existence by scene and sentiment more completely than ever.
Charles Stow had grown to be a special being of whom, owing to his
character, she entertained rather fearful than loving memory.
Baptista could hear when she awoke that her parents were already
moving about downstairs. But she did not rise till her mother's
rather rough voice resounded up the staircase as it had done on the
'Baptista! Come, time to be stirring! The man will be here, by
heaven's blessing, in three-quarters of an hour. He has looked in
already for a minute or two--and says he's going to the church to see
if things be well forward.'
Baptista arose, looked out of the window, and took the easy course.
When she emerged from the regions above she was arrayed in her new
silk frock and best stockings, wearing a linen jacket over the former
for breakfasting, and her common slippers over the latter, not to
spoil the new ones on the rough precincts of the dwelling.
It is unnecessary to dwell at any great length on this part of the
morning's proceedings. She revealed nothing; and married Heddegan,
as she had given her word to do, on that appointed August day.
Mr. Heddegan forgave the coldness of his bride's manner during and
after the wedding ceremony, full well aware that there had been
considerable reluctance on her part to acquiesce in this neighbourly
arrangement, and, as a philosopher of long standing, holding that
whatever Baptista's attitude now, the conditions would probably be
much the same six months hence as those which ruled among other
An absolutely unexpected shock was given to Baptista's listless mind
about an hour after the wedding service. They had nearly finished
the mid-day dinner when the now husband said to her father, 'We think
of starting about two. And the breeze being so fair we shall bring
up inside Pen-zephyr new pier about six at least.'
'What--are we going to Pen-zephyr?' said Baptista. 'I don't know
anything of it.'
'Didn't you tell her?' asked her father of Heddegan.
It transpired that, owing to the delay in her arrival, this proposal
too, among other things, had in the hurry not been mentioned to her,
except some time ago as a general suggestion that they would go
somewhere. Heddegan had imagined that any trip would be pleasant,
and one to the mainland the pleasantest of all.
She looked so distressed at the announcement that her husband
willingly offered to give it up, though he had not had a holiday off
the island for a whole year. Then she pondered on the inconvenience
of staying at Giant's Town, where all the inhabitants were bonded, by
the circumstances of their situation, into a sort of family party,
which permitted and encouraged on such occasions as these oral
criticism that was apt to disturb the equanimity of newly married
girls, and would especially worry Baptista in her strange situation.
Hence, unexpectedly, she agreed not to disorganize her husband's
plans for the wedding jaunt, and it was settled that, as originally
intended, they should proceed in a neighbour's sailing boat to the
metropolis of the district.
In this way they arrived at Pen-zephyr without difficulty or mishap.
Bidding adieu to Jenkin and his man, who had sailed them over, they
strolled arm in arm off the pier, Baptista silent, cold, and
obedient. Heddegan had arranged to take her as far as Plymouth
before their return, but to go no further than where they had landed
that day. Their first business was to find an inn; and in this they
had unexpected difficulty, since for some reason or other--possibly
the fine weather--many of the nearest at hand were full of tourists
and commercial travellers. He led her on till he reached a tavern
which, though comparatively unpretending, stood in as attractive a
spot as any in the town; and this, somewhat to their surprise after
their previous experience, they found apparently empty. The
considerate old man, thinking that Baptista was educated to artistic
notions, though he himself was deficient in them, had decided that it
was most desirable to have, on such an occasion as the present, an
apartment with 'a good view' (the expression being one he had often
heard in use among tourists); and he therefore asked for a favourite
room on the first floor, from which a bow-window protruded, for the
express purpose of affording such an outlook.
The landlady, after some hesitation, said she was sorry that
particular apartment was engaged; the next one, however, or any other
in the house, was unoccupied.
'The gentleman who has the best one will give it up to-morrow, and
then you can change into it,' she added, as Mr. Heddegan hesitated
about taking the adjoining and less commanding one.
'We shall be gone to-morrow, and shan't want it,' he said.
Wishing not to lose customers, the landlady earnestly continued that
since he was bent on having the best room, perhaps the other
gentleman would not object to move at once into the one they
despised, since, though nothing could be seen from the window, the
room was equally large.
'Well, if he doesn't care for a view,' said Mr. Heddegan, with the
air of a highly artistic man who did.
'O no--I am sure he doesn't,' she said. 'I can promise that you
shall have the room you want. If you would not object to go for a
walk for half an hour, I could have it ready, and your things in it,
and a nice tea laid in the bow-window by the time you come back?'
This proposal was deemed satisfactory by the fussy old tradesman, and
they went out. Baptista nervously conducted him in an opposite
direction to her walk of the former day in other company, showing on
her wan face, had he observed it, how much she was beginning to
regret her sacrificial step for mending matters that morning.
She took advantage of a moment when her husband's back was turned to
inquire casually in a shop if anything had been heard of the
gentleman who was sucked down in the eddy while bathing.
The shopman said, 'Yes, his body has been washed ashore,' and had
just handed Baptista a newspaper on which she discerned the heading,
'A Schoolmaster drowned while bathing,' when her husband turned to
join her. She might have pursued the subject without raising
suspicion; but it was more than flesh and blood could do, and
completing a small purchase almost ran out of the shop.
'What is your terrible hurry, mee deer?' said Heddegan, hastening
'I don't know--I don't want to stay in shops,' she gasped.
'And we won't,' he said. 'They are suffocating this weather. Let's
go back and have some tay!'
They found the much desired apartment awaiting their entry. It was a
sort of combination bed and sitting-room, and the table was prettily
spread with high tea in the bow-window, a bunch of flowers in the
midst, and a best-parlour chair on each side. Here they shared the
meal by the ruddy light of the vanishing sun. But though the view
had been engaged, regardless of expense, exclusively for Baptista's
pleasure, she did not direct any keen attention out of the window.
Her gaze as often fell on the floor and walls of the room as
elsewhere, and on the table as much as on either, beholding nothing
But there was a change. Opposite her seat was the door, upon which
her eyes presently became riveted like those of a little bird upon a
snake. For, on a peg at the back of the door, there hung a hat; such
a hat--surely, from its peculiar make, the actual hat--that had been
worn by Charles. Conviction grew to certainty when she saw a railway
ticket sticking up from the band. Charles had put the ticket there--
she had noticed the act.
Her teeth almost chattered; she murmured something incoherent. Her
husband jumped up and said, 'You are not well! What is it? What
shall I get 'ee?'
'Smelling salts!' she said, quickly and desperately; 'at that
chemist's shop you were in just now.'
He jumped up like the anxious old man that he was, caught up his own
hat from a back table, and without observing the other hastened out
Left alone she gazed and gazed at the back of the door, then
spasmodically rang the bell. An honest-looking country maid-servant
appeared in response.
'A hat!' murmured Baptista, pointing with her finger. 'It does not
belong to us.'
'O yes, I'll take it away,' said the young woman with some hurry.
'It belongs to the other gentleman.'
She spoke with a certain awkwardness, and took the hat out of the
room. Baptista had recovered her outward composure. 'The other
gentleman?' she said. 'Where is the other gentleman?'
'He's in the next room, ma'am. He removed out of this to oblige
'How can you say so? I should hear him if he were there,' said
Baptista, sufficiently recovered to argue down an apparent untruth.
'He's there,' said the girl, hardily.
'Then it is strange that he makes no noise,' said Mrs. Heddegan,
convicting the girl of falsity by a look.
'He makes no noise; but it is not strange,' said the servant.
All at once a dread took possession of the bride's heart, like a cold
hand laid thereon; for it flashed upon her that there was a
possibility of reconciling the girl's statement with her own
knowledge of facts.
'Why does he make no noise?' she weakly said.
The waiting-maid was silent, and looked at her questioner. 'If I
tell you, ma'am, you won't tell missis?' she whispered.
'Because he's a-lying dead!' said the girl. 'He's the schoolmaster
that was drownded yesterday.'
'O!' said the bride, covering her eyes. 'Then he was in this room
till just now?'
'Yes,' said the maid, thinking the young lady's agitation natural
enough. 'And I told missis that I thought she oughtn't to have done
it, because I don't hold it right to keep visitors so much in the
dark where death's concerned; but she said the gentleman didn't die
of anything infectious; she was a poor, honest, innkeeper's wife, she
says, who had to get her living by making hay while the sun sheened.
And owing to the drownded gentleman being brought here, she said, it
kept so many people away that we were empty, though all the other
houses were full. So when your good man set his mind upon the room,
and she would have lost good paying folk if he'd not had it, it
wasn't to be supposed, she said, that she'd let anything stand in the
way. Ye won't say that I've told ye, please, m'm? All the linen has
been changed, and as the inquest won't be till to-morrow, after you
are gone, she thought you wouldn't know a word of it, being strangers
The returning footsteps of her husband broke off further narration.
Baptista waved her hand, for she could not speak. The waiting-maid
quickly withdrew, and Mr. Heddegan entered with the smelling salts
and other nostrums.
'Any better?' he questioned.
'I don't like the hotel,' she exclaimed, almost simultaneously. 'I
can't bear it--it doesn't suit me!'
'Is that all that's the matter?' he returned pettishly (this being
the first time of his showing such a mood). 'Upon my heart and life
such trifling is trying to any man's temper, Baptista! Sending me
about from here to yond, and then when I come back saying 'ee don't
like the place that I have sunk so much money and words to get for
'ee. 'Od dang it all, 'tis enough to--But I won't say any more at
present, mee deer, though it is just too much to expect to turn out
of the house now. We shan't get another quiet place at this time of
the evening--every other inn in the town is bustling with rackety
folk of one sort and t'other, while here 'tis as quiet as the grave--
the country, I would say. So bide still, d'ye hear, and to-morrow we
shall be out of the town altogether--as early as you like.'
The obstinacy of age had, in short, overmastered its complaisance,
and the young woman said no more. The simple course of telling him
that in the adjoining room lay a corpse which had lately occupied
their own might, it would have seemed, have been an effectual one
without further disclosure, but to allude to that subject, however it
was disguised, was more than Heddegan's young wife had strength for.
Horror broke her down. In the contingency one thing only presented
itself to her paralyzed regard--that here she was doomed to abide, in
a hideous contiguity to the dead husband and the living, and her
conjecture did, in fact, bear itself out. That night she lay between
the two men she had married--Heddegan on the one hand, and on the
other through the partition against which the bed stood, Charles
Kindly time had withdrawn the foregoing event three days from the
present of Baptista Heddegan. It was ten o'clock in the morning; she
had been ill, not in an ordinary or definite sense, but in a state of
cold stupefaction, from which it was difficult to arouse her so much
as to say a few sentences. When questioned she had replied that she
was pretty well.
Their trip, as such, had been something of a failure. They had gone
on as far as Falmouth, but here he had given way to her entreaties to
return home. This they could not very well do without repassing
through Pen-zephyr, at which place they had now again arrived.
In the train she had seen a weekly local paper, and read there a
paragraph detailing the inquest on Charles. It was added that the
funeral was to take place at his native town of Redrutin on Friday.
After reading this she had shown no reluctance to enter the fatal
neighbourhood of the tragedy, only stipulating that they should take
their rest at a different lodging from the first; and now
comparatively braced up and calm--indeed a cooler creature altogether
than when last in the town, she said to David that she wanted to walk
out for a while, as they had plenty of time on their hands.
'To a shop as usual, I suppose, mee deer?'
'Partly for shopping,' she said. 'And it will be best for you, dear,
to stay in after trotting about so much, and have a good rest while I
He assented; and Baptista sallied forth. As she had stated, her
first visit was made to a shop, a draper's. Without the exercise of
much choice she purchased a black bonnet and veil, also a black stuff
gown; a black mantle she already wore. These articles were made up
into a parcel which, in spite of the saleswoman's offers, her
customer said she would take with her. Bearing it on her arm she
turned to the railway, and at the station got a ticket for Redrutin.
Thus it appeared that, on her recovery from the paralyzed mood of the
former day, while she had resolved not to blast utterly the happiness
of her present husband by revealing the history of the departed one,
she had also determined to indulge a certain odd, inconsequent,
feminine sentiment of decency, to the small extent to which it could
do no harm to any person. At Redrutin she emerged from the railway
carriage in the black attire purchased at the shop, having during the
transit made the change in the empty compartment she had chosen. The
other clothes were now in the bandbox and parcel. Leaving these at
the cloak-room she proceeded onward, and after a wary survey reached
the side of a hill whence a view of the burial ground could be
It was now a little before two o'clock. While Baptista waited a
funeral procession ascended the road. Baptista hastened across, and
by the time the procession entered the cemetery gates she had
unobtrusively joined it.
In addition to the schoolmaster's own relatives (not a few), the
paragraph in the newspapers of his death by drowning had drawn
together many neighbours, acquaintances, and onlookers. Among them
she passed unnoticed, and with a quiet step pursued the winding path
to the chapel, and afterwards thence to the grave. When all was
over, and the relatives and idlers had withdrawn, she stepped to the
edge of the chasm. From beneath her mantle she drew a little bunch
of forget-me-nots, and dropped them in upon the coffin. In a few
minutes she also turned and went away from the cemetery. By five
o'clock she was again in Pen-zephyr.
'You have been a mortal long time!' said her husband, crossly. 'I
allowed you an hour at most, mee deer.'
'It occupied me longer,' said she.
'Well--I reckon it is wasting words to complain. Hang it, ye look so
tired and wisht that I can't find heart to say what I would!'
'I am--weary and wisht, David; I am. We can get home to-morrow for
certain, I hope?'
'We can. And please God we will!' said Mr. Heddegan heartily, as if
he too were weary of his brief honeymoon. 'I must be into business
again on Monday morning at latest.'
They left by the next morning steamer, and in the afternoon took up
their residence in their own house at Giant's Town.
The hour that she reached the island it was as if a material weight
had been removed from Baptista's shoulders. Her husband attributed
the change to the influence of the local breezes after the hot-house
atmosphere of the mainland. However that might be, settled here, a
few doors from her mother's dwelling, she recovered in no very long
time much of her customary bearing, which was never very
demonstrative. She accepted her position calmly, and faintly smiled
when her neighbours learned to call her Mrs. Heddegan, and said she
seemed likely to become the leader of fashion in Giant's Town.
Her husband was a man who had made considerably more money by trade
than her father had done: and perhaps the greater profusion of
surroundings at her command than she had heretofore been mistress of,
was not without an effect upon her. One week, two weeks, three weeks
passed; and, being pre-eminently a young woman who allowed things to
drift, she did nothing whatever either to disclose or conceal traces
of her first marriage; or to learn if there existed possibilities--
which there undoubtedly did--by which that hasty contract might
become revealed to those about her at any unexpected moment.
While yet within the first month of her marriage, and on an evening
just before sunset, Baptista was standing within her garden adjoining
the house, when she saw passing along the road a personage clad in a
greasy black coat and battered tall hat, which, common enough in the
slums of a city, had an odd appearance in St. Maria's. The tramp, as
he seemed to be, marked her at once--bonnetless and unwrapped as she
was her features were plainly recognizable--and with an air of
friendly surprise came and leant over the wall.
'What! don't you know me?' said he.
She had some dim recollection of his face, but said that she was not
acquainted with him.
'Why, your witness to be sure, ma'am. Don't you mind the man that
was mending the church-window when you and your intended husband
walked up to be made one; and the clerk called me down from the
ladder, and I came and did my part by writing my name and
Baptista glanced quickly around; her husband was out of earshot.
That would have been of less importance but for the fact that the
wedding witnessed by this personage had not been the wedding with Mr.
Heddegan, but the one on the day previous.
'I've had a misfortune since then, that's pulled me under,' continued
her friend. 'But don't let me damp yer wedded joy by naming the
particulars. Yes, I've seen changes since; though 'tis but a short
time ago--let me see, only a month next week, I think; for 'twere the
first or second day in August.'
'Yes--that's when it was,' said another man, a sailor, who had come
up with a pipe in his mouth, and felt it necessary to join in
(Baptista having receded to escape further speech). 'For that was
the first time I set foot in Giant's Town; and her husband took her
to him the same day.'
A dialogue then proceeded between the two men outside the wall, which
Baptista could not help hearing.
'Ay, I signed the book that made her one flesh,' repeated the decayed
glazier. 'Where's her goodman?'
'About the premises somewhere; but you don't see 'em together much,'
replied the sailor in an undertone. 'You see, he's older than she.'
'Older? I should never have thought it from my own observation,'
said the glazier. 'He was a remarkably handsome man.'
'Handsome? Well, there he is--we can see for ourselves.'
David Heddegan had, indeed, just shown himself at the upper end of
the garden; and the glazier, looking in bewilderment from the husband
to the wife, saw the latter turn pale.
Now that decayed glazier was a far-seeing and cunning man--too far-
seeing and cunning to allow himself to thrive by simple and
straightforward means--and he held his peace, till he could read more
plainly the meaning of this riddle, merely adding carelessly, 'Well--
marriage do alter a man, 'tis true. I should never ha' knowed him!'
He then stared oddly at the disconcerted Baptista, and moving on to
where he could again address her, asked her to do him a good turn,
since he once had done the same for her. Understanding that he meant
money, she handed him some, at which he thanked her, and instantly
She had escaped exposure on this occasion; but the incident had been
an awkward one, and should have suggested to Baptista that sooner or
later the secret must leak out. As it was, she suspected that at any
rate she had not heard the last of the glazier.
In a day or two, when her husband had gone to the old town on the
other side of the island, there came a gentle tap at the door, and
the worthy witness of her first marriage made his appearance a second
'It took me hours to get to the bottom of the mystery--hours!' he
said with a gaze of deep confederacy which offended her pride very
deeply. 'But thanks to a good intellect I've done it. Now, ma'am,
I'm not a man to tell tales, even when a tale would be so good as
this. But I'm going back to the mainland again, and a little
assistance would be as rain on thirsty ground.'
'I helped you two days ago,' began Baptista.
'Yes--but what was that, my good lady? Not enough to pay my passage
to Pen-zephyr. I came over on your account, for I thought there was
a mystery somewhere. Now I must go back on my own. Mind this--
'twould be very awkward for you if your old man were to know. He's a
queer temper, though he may be fond.'
She knew as well as her visitor how awkward it would be; and the
hush-money she paid was heavy that day. She had, however, the
satisfaction of watching the man to the steamer, and seeing him
diminish out of sight. But Baptista perceived that the system into
which she had been led of purchasing silence thus was one fatal to
her peace of mind, particularly if it had to be continued.
Hearing no more from the glazier she hoped the difficulty was past.
But another week only had gone by, when, as she was pacing the
Giant's Walk (the name given to the promenade), she met the same
personage in the company of a fat woman carrying a bundle.
'This is the lady, my dear,' he said to his companion. 'This, ma'am,
is my wife. We've come to settle in the town for a time, if so be we
can find room.'
'That you won't do,' said she. 'Nobody can live here who is not
'I am privileged,' said the glazier, 'by my trade.'
Baptista went on, but in the afternoon she received a visit from the
man's wife. This honest woman began to depict, in forcible colours,
the necessity for keeping up the concealment.
'I will intercede with my husband, ma'am,' she said. 'He's a true
man if rightly managed; and I'll beg him to consider your position.
'Tis a very nice house you've got here,' she added, glancing round,
'and well worth a little sacrifice to keep it.'
The unlucky Baptista staved off the danger on this third occasion as
she had done on the previous two. But she formed a resolve that, if
the attack were once more to be repeated she would face a revelation-
-worse though that must now be than before she had attempted to
purchase silence by bribes. Her tormentors, never believing her
capable of acting upon such an intention, came again; but she shut
the door in their faces. They retreated, muttering something; but
she went to the back of the house, where David Heddegan was.
She looked at him, unconscious of all. The case was serious; she
knew that well; and all the more serious in that she liked him better
now than she had done at first. Yet, as she herself began to see,
the secret was one that was sure to disclose itself. Her name and
Charles's stood indelibly written in the registers; and though a
month only had passed as yet it was a wonder that his clandestine
union with her had not already been discovered by his friends. Thus
spurring herself to the inevitable, she spoke to Heddegan.
'David, come indoors. I have something to tell you.'
He hardly regarded her at first. She had discerned that during the
last week or two he had seemed preoccupied, as if some private
business harassed him. She repeated her request. He replied with a
sigh, 'Yes, certainly, mee deer.'
When they had reached the sitting-room and shut the door she
repeated, faintly, 'David, I have something to tell you--a sort of
tragedy I have concealed. You will hate me for having so far
deceived you; but perhaps my telling you voluntarily will make you
think a little better of me than you would do otherwise.'
'Tragedy?' he said, awakening to interest. 'Much you can know about
tragedies, mee deer, that have been in the world so short a time!'
She saw that he suspected nothing, and it made her task the harder.
But on she went steadily. 'It is about something that happened
before we were married,' she said.
'Not a very long time before--a short time. And it is about a
lover,' she faltered.
'I don't much mind that,' he said mildly. 'In truth, I was in hopes
This screwed her up to the necessary effort. 'I met my old
sweetheart. He scorned me, chid me, dared me, and I went and married
him. We were coming straight here to tell you all what we had done;
but he was drowned; and I thought I would say nothing about him: and
I married you, David, for the sake of peace and quietness. I've
tried to keep it from you, but have found I cannot. There--that's
the substance of it, and you can never, never forgive me, I am sure!'
She spoke desperately. But the old man, instead of turning black or
blue, or slaying her in his indignation, jumped up from his chair,
and began to caper around the room in quite an ecstatic emotion.
'O, happy thing! How well it falls out!' he exclaimed, snapping his,
fingers over his head. 'Ha-ha--the knot is cut--I see a way out of
my trouble--ha-ha!' She looked at him without uttering a sound,
till, as he still continued smiling joyfully, she said, 'O--what do
you mean! Is it done to torment me?'
'No--no! O, mee deer, your story helps me out of the most heart-
aching quandary a poor man ever found himself in! You see, it is
this--I'VE got a tragedy, too; and unless you had had one to tell, I
could never have seen my way to tell mine!'
'What is yours--what is it?' she asked, with altogether a new view of
'Well--it is a bouncer; mine is a bouncer!' said he, looking on the
ground and wiping his eyes.
'Not worse than mine?'
'Well--that depends upon how you look at it. Yours had to do with
the past alone; and I don't mind it. You see, we've been married a
month, and it don't jar upon me as it would if we'd only been married
a day or two. Now mine refers to past, present, and future; so that-
'Past, present, and future!' she murmured. 'It never occurred to me
that YOU had a tragedy, too.'
'But I have!' he said, shaking his head. 'In fact, four.'
'Then tell 'em!' cried the young woman.
'I will--I will. But be considerate, I beg 'ee, mee deer. Well--I
wasn't a bachelor when I married 'ee, any more than you were a
spinster. Just as you was a widow-woman, I was a widow-man.
'Ah!' said she, with some surprise. 'But is that all?--then we are
nicely balanced,' she added, relieved.
'No--it is not all. There's the point. I am not only a widower.'
'I am a widower with four tragedies--that is to say, four strapping
girls--the eldest taller than you. Don't 'ee look so struck--dumb-
like! It fell out in this way. I knew the poor woman, their mother,
in Pen-zephyr for some years; and--to cut a long story short--I
privately married her at last, just before she died. I kept the
matter secret, but it is getting known among the people here by
degrees. I've long felt for the children--that it is my duty to have
them here, and do something for them. I have not had courage to
break it to 'ee, but I've seen lately that it would soon come to your
ears, and that hev worried me.'
'Are they educated?' said the ex-schoolmistress.
'No. I am sorry to say they have been much neglected; in truth, they
can hardly read. And so I thought that by marrying a young
schoolmistress I should get some one in the house who could teach
'em, and bring 'em into genteel condition, all for nothing. You see,
they are growed up too tall to be sent to school.'
'O, mercy!' she almost moaned. 'Four great girls to teach the
rudiments to, and have always in the house with me spelling over
their books; and I hate teaching, it kills me. I am bitterly
punished--I am, I am!'
'You'll get used to 'em, mee deer, and the balance of secrets--mine
against yours--will comfort your heart with a sense of justice. I
could send for 'em this week very well--and I will! In faith, I
could send this very day. Baptista, you have relieved me of all my
Thus the interview ended, so far as this matter was concerned.
Baptista was too stupefied to say more, and when she went away to her
room she wept from very mortification at Mr. Heddegan's duplicity.
Education, the one thing she abhorred; the shame of it to delude a
young wife so!
The next meal came round. As they sat, Baptista would not suffer her
eyes to turn towards him. He did not attempt to intrude upon her
reserve, but every now and then looked under the table and chuckled
with satisfaction at the aspect of affairs. 'How very well matched
we be!' he said, comfortably.
Next day, when the steamer came in, Baptista saw her husband rush
down to meet it; and soon after there appeared at her door four tall,
hipless, shoulderless girls, dwindling in height and size from the
eldest to the youngest, like a row of Pan pipes; at the head of them
standing Heddegan. He smiled pleasantly through the grey fringe of
his whiskers and beard, and turning to the girls said, 'Now come
forrard, and shake hands properly with your stepmother.'
Thus she made their acquaintance, and he went out, leaving them
together. On examination the poor girls turned out to be not only
plain-looking, which she could have forgiven, but to have such a
lamentably meagre intellectual equipment as to be hopelessly
inadequate as companions. Even the eldest, almost her own age, could
only read with difficulty words of two syllables; and taste in dress
was beyond their comprehension. In the long vista of future years
she saw nothing but dreary drudgery at her detested old trade without
prospect of reward.
She went about quite despairing during the next few days--an
unpromising, unfortunate mood for a woman who had not been married
six weeks. From her parents she concealed everything. They had been
amongst the few acquaintances of Heddegan who knew nothing of his
secret, and were indignant enough when they saw such a ready-made
household foisted upon their only child. But she would not support
them in their remonstrances.
'No, you don't yet know all,' she said.
Thus Baptista had sense enough to see the retributive fairness of
this issue. For some time, whenever conversation arose between her
and Heddegan, which was not often, she always said, 'I am miserable,
and you know it. Yet I don't wish things to be otherwise.'
But one day when he asked, 'How do you like 'em now?' her answer was
unexpected. 'Much better than I did,' she said, quietly. 'I may
like them very much some day.'
This was the beginning of a serener season for the chastened spirit
of Baptista Heddegan. She had, in truth, discovered, underneath the
crust of uncouthness and meagre articulation which was due to their
Troglodytean existence, that her unwelcomed daughters had natures
that were unselfish almost to sublimity. The harsh discipline
accorded to their young lives before their mother's wrong had been
righted, had operated less to crush them than to lift them above all
personal ambition. They considered the world and its contents in a
purely objective way, and their own lot seemed only to affect them as
that of certain human beings among the rest, whose troubles they knew
rather than suffered.
This was such an entirely new way of regarding life to a woman of
Baptista's nature, that her attention, from being first arrested by
it, became deeply interested. By imperceptible pulses her heart
expanded in sympathy with theirs. The sentences of her tragi-comedy,
her life, confused till now, became clearer daily. That in humanity,
as exemplified by these girls, there was nothing to dislike, but
infinitely much to pity, she learnt with the lapse of each week in
their company. She grew to like the girls of unpromising exterior,
and from liking she got to love them; till they formed an unexpected
point of junction between her own and her husband's interests,
generating a sterling friendship at least, between a pair in whose
existence there had threatened to be neither friendship nor love.