Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica,
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Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
Anonimo - BEOWULF
Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
Austen, Jane - EMMA
Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH
Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY
Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
Collodi - PINOCCHIO
Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Esopo - FABLES
Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
France, Anatole - THAIS
France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
Goethe - FAUST
Gogol - DEAD SOULS
Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
Homer - THE ILIAD
Homer - THE ODYSSEY
Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
Joyce, James - ULYSSES
Keats, John - ENDYMION
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
King James - THE BIBLE
Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
London, Jack - WHITE FANG
Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
More, Thomas - UTOPIA
Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
Plato - THE REPUBLIC
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
Wordsworth, William - POEMS
Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN
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ISTRUZIONI D'USO DETTAGLIATE
A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
By THOMAS HARDY
A CHANGED MAN
THE WAITING SUPPER
THE GRAVE BY THE HANDPOST
ENTER A DRAGOON
A TRYST AT AN ANCIENT EARTHWORK
WHAT THE SHEPHERD SAW
A COMMITTEE MAN OF 'THE TERROR'
MASTER JOHN HORSELEIGH, KNIGHT
THE DUKE'S REAPPEARANCE
A MERE INTERLUDE
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
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 their sockets.
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 in Casterbridge.
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 balcony.
'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 woman's heart.
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 neighbourhood.
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
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 afternoon.
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
'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
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 interference.
'O well--we've forgotten that. He's a stunning preacher, they tell me.'
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 Casterbridge barrack-square.
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 died.
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
'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 of Sainway.'
'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 soldier?'
'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 said.
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 her.
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 Lane!'
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
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
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
'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 are.'
'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
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. Vannicock.
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 quarters.
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 travel.
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 Mixen
'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
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
'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 meadow.
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 this!'
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
'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 back, Laura.'
He walked a few steps, they helping him, but was obliged to sink down on
'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
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 leaving.
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
'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 violently.
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 Durnover Moor.
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 Budmouth Regis.
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
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 transomed Elizabethan.
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 audible without.
'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 chair.
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 particularly?'
'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 me.'
'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 know.'
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 would cost!'
'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 your
'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
'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 frankness.'
'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 me!'
'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 have been.'
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
'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 licence
'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 following note:-
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
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 unknown.
'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 marry
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,' said
'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 to-day.'
'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 marriage--'
'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 rest.
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
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
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 peasantry.'
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 he?'
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 companion.
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
'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
'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
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 did not.
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 this.'
'What--you have walked?'
'Yes. If I had waited for one of uncle's horses I should have been too
'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
'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 wrong?'
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 early days.
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 it is?'
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-
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
'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
'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 frigidity.
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
'Have you thought it over?'
'Whether we shall try again; you remember saying you would at the dance?'
'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
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, you know.'
'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
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
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
'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
'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 circumstances.
'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
'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 for
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 Nicholas.
'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
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 contempt?
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 nothing.
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 Christine?
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 towards
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 greyish
'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 initiative
'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
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 history
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
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
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
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 the Squire.
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
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 limited.
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
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 housekeeping.
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
'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 four.'
'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
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 ruined.'
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 again.
Christine had soon recovered her composure, but she saw that Mrs. Wake
was gloomy. 'What does it mean, Mrs. Wake?' she said. 'Is it ominous?'
'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. Wake?'
'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 replied.
'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
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 the hand.
'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 walking.
'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
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
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 supper, ma'am?'
'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 retired.
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 sad smile.
'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 reappear.'
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
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
'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,' he
'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; and
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 interested.
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
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 alive.
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 criticism.
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 leave.
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 avoided.
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 passed.
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
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 society person.
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
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
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 you feel.'
'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 terrible treachery.
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
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
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 dangerously.
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 her
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
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 for ever.
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
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 before now!
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 no more.
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
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 hand.)
'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 her.
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 hers.
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 Caroline!'
'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 reverie.
'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
'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 more.'
'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 distinctly audible.
'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 large church.
'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 to do.'
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 sister.
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 Marzo.
'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
'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 forgive
'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 again happy.
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 the church.
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 be preserved.
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
'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
'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 of
'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,' continued
'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 tenor.
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
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 the
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
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 be.'
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 there.
'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 empty cart.'
'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
'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
'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 breath.'
'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
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
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
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
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 o't.'
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
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 SON.'
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
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
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
'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 back.'
'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 him.'
'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 come along.'
'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' it.
'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 that--O no!'
''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 unfortunate.'
'Perhaps the sergeant-major will think he's released, and go as he came.'
'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
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 inside.
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
'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
'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 come?'
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
'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?'
'But why should it matter if he be?'
'O! I must agree to be his wife if he forgives me--of course I must.'
'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
'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 me.'
'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
'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
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 goings on?'
'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 testiness.
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 own courses.
'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
'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 thing?'
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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
'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 dance?'
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 it?'
'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 breath.'
'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 fire.
'John isn't well . . . We are going to New Zealand when we are married,
father. A lovely country! John, would you like something to drink?'
'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
'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-major.
'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 accident.
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
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
'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
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 use.
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
'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 the
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 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-Dun.
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 fame.
* * * * *
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
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 weather began.
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 fierce
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
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 bone.
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 coat pocket.
'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 Casterbridge Museum.
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 followed up.
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
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
'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
'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
'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 more!'
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 alone.
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
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
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
'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 stillness.
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
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--Yours.
'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
'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
'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
'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 lightly.
'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
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 husband.
'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 alone.
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 in
'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
'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 company.
'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 trembling boy repeated the words, and kissed the stone, as desired.
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 floor.
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
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 has
'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 Grace?'
'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 tolling bell.
'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 manage him.'
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 score-and-odd years.
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
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
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
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 Duke.
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 1802-3.
'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 now.'
'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 eighty-
'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
'"Yes, I teach it," said the visitor. "I am looking for a tutorship in
'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
'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 insensible.
'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 recovered?"
'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
'"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 Convention."
'"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
'"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 quite
'"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 and restless.
'"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
'"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 third
'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 slippery.
'"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 mine."
'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 pocket.
'Mademoiselle V--- came homeward, asking herself, "Can he be starving?"
'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
'"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
'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 notice her.
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'"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
'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 they concerned.
'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 transient
"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
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
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 stranger?' asked Roger. 'Did you see him? What manner of man was
'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 thy
'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 here.'
'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
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 to reconnoitre.
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 sellars adjoyninge.
'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 necessary.
'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 planted.'
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;
'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 John.'
'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 many
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 haggard face.
'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
'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
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
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
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
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
'Something's gone awry wi' my dear!' he said. 'What is it? What's the
'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?'
'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 husband!'
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 chil
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