Interlopers at the Knap
The north road from Casterbridge is tedious and lonely, especially in winter-
time. Along a part of its course it connects with Long-Ash Lane, a
monotonous track without a village or hamlet for many miles, and with very
seldom a turning. Unapprized wayfarers who are too old, or too young, or in
other respects too weak for the distance to be traversed, but who,
nevertheless, have to walk it, say, as they look wistfully ahead, 'Once at the
top of that hill, and I must surely see the end of Long-Ash Lane!' But they
reach the hilltop, and Long-Ash Lane stretches in front as mercilessly as
Some few years ago a certain farmer was riding through this lane in the
gloom of a winter evening. The farmer's friend, a dairyman, was riding
beside him. A few paces in the rear rode the farmer's man. All three were
well horsed on strong, round-barrelled cobs; and to be well horsed was to be
in better spirits about Long-Ash Lane than poor pedestrians could attain to
during its passage.
But the farmer did not talk much to his friend as he rode along. The
enterprise which had brought him there filled his mind; for in truth it was
important. Not altogether so important was it, perhaps, when estimated by
its value to society at large; but if the true measure of a deed be
proportionate to the space it occupies in the heart of him who undertakes it,
Farmer Charles Darton's business to-night could hold its own with the
business of kings.
He was a large farmer. His turnover, as it is called, was probably thirty
thousand pounds a year. He had a great many draught horses, a great many
milch cows, and of sheep a multitude. This comfortable position was,
however, none of his own making. It had been created by his father, a man
of a very different stamp from the present representative of the line.
Darton, the father, had been a one-idea'd character, with a buttoned-up
pocket and a chink-like eye brimming with commercial subtlety. In Darton
the son, this trade subtlety had become transmuted into emotional, and the
harshness had disappeared; he would have been called a sad man but for
his constant care not to divide himself from lively friends by piping notes out
of harmony with theirs. Contemplative, he allowed his mind to be a quiet
meeting-place for memories and hopes. So that, naturally enough, since
succeeding to the agricultural calling, and up to his present age of thirty-
two, he had neither advanced nor receded as a capitalist--a stationary result
which did not agitate one of his unambitious, unstrategic nature, since he
had all that he desired. The motive of his expedition to-night showed the
same absence of anxious regard for Number One.
The party rode on in the slow, safe trot proper to night-time and bad roads,
Farmer Darton's head jigging rather unromantically up and down against
the sky, and his motions being repeated with bolder emphasis by his friend
Japheth Johns; while those of the latter were travestied in jerks still less
softened by art in the person of the lad who attended them. A pair of whitish
objects hung one on each side of the latter, bumping against him at each
step, and still further spoiling the grace of his seat. On close inspection they
might have been perceived to be open rush baskets--one containing a
turkey, and the other some bottles of wine.
'D'ye feel ye can meet your fate like a man, neighbour Darton?' asked Johns,
breaking a silence which had lasted while five-and-twenty hedgerow trees
had glided by.
Mr. Darton with a half-laugh murmured, 'Ay--call it my fate! Hanging and
wiving go by destiny.' And then they were silent again.
The darkness thickened rapidly, at intervals shutting down on the land in a
perceptible flap, like the wave of a wing. The customary close of day was
accelerated by a simultaneous blurring of the air. With the fall of night had
come a mist just damp enough to incommode, but not sufficient to saturate
them. Countrymen as they were--born, as may be said, with only an open
door between them and the four seasons--they regarded the mist but as an
added obscuration, and ignored its humid quality.
They were travelling in a direction that was enlivened by no modern current
of traffic, the place of Darton's pilgrimage being an old-fashioned village--one
of the Hintocks (several villages of that name, with a distinctive prefix or
affix, lying thereabout)--where the people make the best cider and cider-wine
in all Wessex, and where the dunghills smell of pomace instead of stable
refuse as elsewhere. The lane was sometimes so narrow that the brambles of
the hedge, which hung forward like anglers' rods over a stream, scratched
their hats and curry- combed their whiskers as they passed. Yet this
neglected lane had been a highway to Queen Elizabeth's subjects and the
cavalcades of the past. Its day was over now, and its history as a national
artery done for ever.
'Why I have decided to marry her,' resumed Darton (in a measured musical
voice of confidence which revealed a good deal of his composition), as he
glanced round to see that the lad was not too near, 'is not only that I like
her, but that I can do no better, even from a fairly practical point of view.
That I might ha' looked higher is possibly true, though it is really all
nonsense. I have had experience enough in looking above me. "No more
superior women for me," said I--you know when. Sally is a comely,
independent, simple character, with no make-up about her, who'll think me
as much a superior to her as I used to think--you know who I mean--was to
'Ay,' said Johns. 'However, I shouldn't call Sally Hall simple. Primary,
because no Sally is; secondary, because if some could be, this one wouldn't.
'Tis a wrong denomination to apply to a woman, Charles, and affects me, as
your best man, like cold water. 'Tis like recommending a stage play by
saying there's neither murder, villainy, nor harm of any sort in it, when
that's what you've paid your half-crown to see.'
'Well; may your opinion do you good. Mine's a different one.' And turning the
conversation from the philosophical to the practical, Darton expressed a
hope that the said Sally had received what he'd sent on by the carrier that
Johns wanted to know what that was.
'It is a dress,' said Darton. 'Not exactly a wedding-dress; though she may
use it as one if she likes. It is rather serviceable than showy--suitable for the
'Good,' said Johns. 'Serviceable is a wise word in a bridegroom. I commend
'For,' said Darton, 'why should a woman dress up like a rope-dancer
because she's going to do the most solemn deed of her life except dying?'
'Faith, why? But she will, because she will, I suppose,' said Dairyman
'H'm,' said Darton.
The lane they followed had been nearly straight for several miles, but it now
took a turn, and winding uncertainly for some distance forked into two. By
night country roads are apt to reveal ungainly qualities which pass without
observation during day; and though Darton had travelled this way before, he
had not done so frequently, Sally having been wooed at the house of a
relative near his own. He never remembered seeing at this spot a pair of
alternative ways looking so equally probable as these two did now. Johns
rode on a few steps.
'Don't be out of heart, sonny,' he cried. 'Here's a handpost. Enoch--come
and climm this post, and tell us the way.'
The lad dismounted, and jumped into the hedge where the post stood under
'Unstrap the baskets, or you'll smash up that wine!' cried Darton, as the
young man began spasmodically to climb the post, baskets and all.
'Was there ever less head in a brainless world?' said Johns. 'Here, simple
Nocky, I'll do it.' He leapt off, and with much puffing climbed the post,
striking a match when he reached the top, and moving the light along the
arm, the lad standing and gazing at the spectacle.
'I have faced tantalization these twenty years with a temper as mild as milk!'
said Japheth; 'but such things as this don't come short of devilry!' And
flinging the match away, he slipped down to the ground.
'What's the matter?' asked Darton.
'Not a letter, sacred or heathen--not so much as would tell us the way to the
great fireplace--ever I should sin to say it! Either the moss and mildew have
eat away the words, or we have arrived in a land where the natyves have lost
the art o' writing, and should ha' brought our compass like Christopher
'Let us take the straightest road,' said Darton placidly; 'I shan't be sorry to
get there--'tis a tiresome ride. I would have driven if I had known.'
'Nor I neither, sir,' said Enoch. 'These straps plough my shoulder like a zull.
If 'tis much further to your lady's home, Maister Darton, I shall ask to be let
carry half of these good things in my innerds--hee, hee!'
'Don't you be such a reforming radical, Enoch,' said Johns sternly. 'Here, I'll
take the turkey.'
This being done, they went forward by the right-hand lane, which ascended
a hill, the left winding away under a plantation. The pit-a-pat of their horses'
hoofs lessened up the slope; and the ironical directing-post stood in solitude
as before, holding out its blank arms to the raw breeze, which brought a
snore from the wood as if Skrymir the Giant were sleeping there.
Three miles to the left of the travellers, along the road they had not followed,
rose an old house with mullioned windows of Ham-hill stone, and chimneys
of lavish solidity. It stood at the top of a slope beside King's-Hintock village-
street; and immediately in front of it grew a large sycamore-tree, whose
bared roots formed a convenient staircase from the road below to the front
door of the dwelling. Its situation gave the house what little distinctive name
it possessed, namely, 'The Knap.' Some forty yards off a brook dribbled past,
which, for its size, made a great deal of noise. At the back was a dairy
barton, accessible for vehicles and live-stock by a side 'drong.' Thus much
only of the character of the homestead could be divined out of doors at this
But within there was plenty of light to see by, as plenty was construed at
Hintock. Beside a Tudor fireplace, whose moulded four-centred arch was
nearly hidden by a figured blue-cloth blower, were seated two women--
mother and daughter--Mrs. Hall, and Sarah, or Sally; for this was a part of
the world where the latter modification had not as yet been effaced as a
vulgarity by the march of intellect. The owner of the name was the young
woman by whose means Mr. Darton proposed to put an end to his bachelor
condition on the approaching day.
The mother's bereavement had been so long ago as not to leave much mark
of its occurrence upon her now, either in face or clothes. She had resumed
the mob-cap of her early married life, enlivening its whiteness by a few rose-
du-Barry ribbons. Sally required no such aids to pinkness. Roseate good-
nature lit up her gaze; her features showed curves of decision and judgment;
and she might have been regarded without much mistake as a warm-
hearted, quick-spirited, handsome girl.
She did most of the talking, her mother listening with a half-absent air, as
she picked up fragments of red-hot wood ember with the tongs, and piled
them upon the brands. But the number of speeches that passed was very
small in proportion to the meanings exchanged. Long experience together
often enabled them to see the course of thought in each other's minds
without a word being spoken. Behind them, in the centre of the room, the
table was spread for supper, certain whiffs of air laden with fat vapours,
which ever and anon entered from the kitchen, denoting its preparation
'The new gown he was going to send you stays about on the way like
himself,' Sally's mother was saying.
'Yes, not finished, I daresay,' cried Sally independently. 'Lord, I shouldn't be
amazed if it didn't come at all! Young men make such kind promises when
they are near you, and forget 'em when they go away. But he doesn't intend
it as a wedding-gown--he gives it to me merely as a gown to wear when I
like--a travelling-dress is what it would be called by some. Come rathe or
come late it don't much matter, as I have a dress of my own to fall back
upon. But what time is it?'
She went to the family clock and opened the glass, for the hour was not
otherwise discernible by night, and indeed at all times was rather a thing to
be investigated than beheld, so much more wall than window was there in
the apartment. 'It is nearly eight,' said she.
'Eight o'clock, and neither dress nor man,' said Mrs. Hall.
'Mother, if you think to tantalize me by talking like that, you are much
mistaken! Let him be as late as he will--or stay away altogether--I don't
care,' said Sally. But a tender, minute quaver in the negation showed that
there was something forced in that statement.
Mrs. Hall perceived it, and drily observed that she was not so sure about
Sally not caring. 'But perhaps you don't care so much as I do, after all,' she
said. 'For I see what you don't, that it is a good and flourishing match for
you; a very honourable offer in Mr. Darton. And I think I see a kind husband
in him. So pray God 'twill go smooth, and wind up well.'
Sally would not listen to misgivings. Of course it would go smoothly, she
asserted. 'How you are up and down, mother!' she went on. 'At this moment,
whatever hinders him, we are not so anxious to see him as he is to be here,
and his thought runs on before him, and settles down upon us like the star
in the east. Hark!' she exclaimed, with a breath of relief, her eyes sparkling.
'I heard something. Yes--here they are!'
The next moment her mother's slower ear also distinguished the familiar
reverberation occasioned by footsteps clambering up the roots of the
'Yes it sounds like them at last,' she said. 'Well, it is not so very late after all,
considering the distance.'
The footfall ceased, and they arose, expecting a knock. They began to think
it might have been, after all, some neighbouring villager under Bacchic
influence, giving the centre of the road a wide berth, when their doubts were
dispelled by the new-comer's entry into the passage. The door of the room
was gently opened, and there appeared, not the pair of travellers with whom
we have already made acquaintance, but a pale-faced man in the garb of
extreme poverty--almost in rags.
'O, it's a tramp--gracious me!' said Sally, starting back.
His cheeks and eye-orbits were deep concaves--rather, it might be, from
natural weakness of constitution than irregular living, though there were
indications that he had led no careful life. He gazed at the two women
fixedly for a moment: then with an abashed, humiliated demeanour,
dropped his glance to the floor, and sank into a chair without uttering a
Sally was in advance of her mother, who had remained standing by the fire.
She now tried to discern the visitor across the candles.
'Why--mother,' said Sally faintly, turning back to Mrs. Hall. 'It is Phil, from
Mrs. Hall started, and grew pale, and a fit of coughing seized the man with
the ragged clothes. 'To come home like this!' she said. 'O, Philip--are you ill?'
'No, no, mother,' replied he impatiently, as soon as he could speak.
'But for God's sake how do you come here--and just now too?'
'Well, I am here,' said the man. 'How it is I hardly know. I've come home,
mother, because I was driven to it. Things were against me out there, and
went from bad to worse.'
'Then why didn't you let us know?--you've not writ a line for the last two or
The son admitted sadly that he had not. He said that he had hoped and
thought he might fetch up again, and be able to send good news. Then he
had been obliged to abandon that hope, and had finally come home from
sheer necessity--previously to making a new start. 'Yes, things are very bad
with me,' he repeated, perceiving their commiserating glances at his clothes.
They brought him nearer the fire, took his hat from his thin hand, which
was so small and smooth as to show that his attempts to fetch up again had
not been in a manual direction. His mother resumed her inquiries, and
dubiously asked if he had chosen to come that particular night for any
For no reason, he told her. His arrival had been quite at random. Then
Philip Hall looked round the room, and saw for the first time that the table
was laid somewhat luxuriously, and for a larger number than themselves;
and that an air of festivity pervaded their dress. He asked quickly what was
'Sally is going to be married in a day or two,' replied the mother; and she
explained how Mr. Darton, Sally's intended husband, was coming there that
night with the groomsman, Mr. Johns, and other details. 'We thought it
must be their step when we heard you,' said Mrs. Hall.
The needy wanderer looked again on the floor. 'I see--I see,' he murmured.
'Why, indeed, should I have come to-night? Such folk as I are not wanted
here at these times, naturally. And I have no business here--spoiling other
'Phil,' said his mother, with a tear in her eye, but with a thinness of lip and
severity of manner which were presumably not more than past events
justified; 'since you speak like that to me, I'll speak honestly to you. For
these three years you have taken no thought for us. You left home with a
good supply of money, and strength and education, and you ought to have
made good use of it all. But you come back like a beggar; and that you come
in a very awkward time for us cannot be denied. Your return to-night may
do us much harm. But mind--you are welcome to this home as long as it is
mine. I don't wish to turn you adrift. We will make the best of a bad job; and
I hope you are not seriously ill?'
'O no. I have only this infernal cough.'
She looked at him anxiously. 'I think you had better go to bed at once,' she
'Well--I shall be out of the way there,' said the son wearily. 'Having ruined
myself, don't let me ruin you by being seen in these togs, for Heaven's sake.
Who do you say Sally is going to be married to--a Farmer Darton?'
'Yes--a gentleman-farmer--quite a wealthy man. Far better in station than
she could have expected. It is a good thing, altogether.'
'Well done, little Sal!' said her brother, brightening and looking up at her
with a smile. 'I ought to have written; but perhaps I have thought of you all
the more. But let me get out of sight. I would rather go and jump into the
river than be seen here. But have you anything I can drink? I am
confoundedly thirsty with my long tramp.'
'Yes, yes, we will bring something upstairs to you,' said Sally, with grief in
'Ay, that will do nicely. But, Sally and mother--' He stopped, and they
waited. 'Mother, I have not told you all,' he resumed slowly, still looking on
the floor between his knees. 'Sad as what you see of me is, there's worse
His mother gazed upon him in grieved suspense, and Sally went and leant
upon the bureau, listening for every sound, and sighing. Suddenly she
turned round, saying, 'Let them come, I don't care! Philip, tell the worst, and
take your time.'
'Well, then,' said the unhappy Phil, 'I am not the only one in this mess.
Would to Heaven I were! But--'
'I have a wife as destitute as I.'
'A wife?' said his mother.
'A wife! Yes, that is the way with sons!'
'And besides--' said he.
'Besides! O, Philip, surely--'
'I have two little children.'
'Wife and children!' whispered Mrs. Hall, sinking down confounded.
'Poor little things!' said Sally involuntarily.
His mother turned again to him. 'I suppose these helpless beings are left in
'No. They are in England.'
'Well, I can only hope you've left them in a respectable place.'
'I have not left them at all. They are here--within a few yards of us. In short,
they are in the stable.'
'In the stable. I did not like to bring them indoors till I had seen you,
mother, and broken the bad news a bit to you. They were very tired, and are
resting out there on some straw.'
Mrs. Hall's fortitude visibly broke down. She had been brought up not
without refinement, and was even more moved by such a collapse of genteel
aims as this than a substantial dairyman's widow would in ordinary have
been moved. 'Well, it must be borne,' she said, in a low voice, with her
hands tightly joined. 'A starving son, a starving wife, starving children! Let it
be. But why is this come to us now, to-day, to-night? Could no other
misfortune happen to helpless women than this, which will quite upset my
poor girl's chance of a happy life? Why have you done us this wrong, Philip?
What respectable man will come here, and marry open- eyed into a family of
'Nonsense, mother!' said Sally vehemently, while her face flushed. 'Charley
isn't the man to desert me. But if he should be, and won't marry me because
Phil's come, let him go and marry elsewhere. I won't be ashamed of my own
flesh and blood for any man in England--not I!' And then Sally turned away
and burst into tears.
'Wait till you are twenty years older and you will tell a different tale,' replied
The son stood up. 'Mother,' he said bitterly, 'as I have come, so I will go. All I
ask of you is that you will allow me and mine to lie in your stable to-night. I
give you my word that we'll be gone by break of day, and trouble you no
Mrs. Hall, the mother, changed at that. 'O no,' she answered hastily; 'never
shall it be said that I sent any of my own family from my door. Bring 'em in,
Philip, or take me out to them.'
'We will put 'em all into the large bedroom,' said Sally, brightening, 'and
make up a large fire. Let's go and help them in, and call Rebekah.' (Rebekah
was the woman who assisted at the dairy and housework; she lived in a
cottage hard by with her husband, who attended to the cows.)
Sally went to fetch a lantern from the back-kitchen, but her brother said,
'You won't want a light. I lit the lantern that was hanging there.'
'What must we call your wife?' asked Mrs. Hall.
'Helena,' said Philip.
With shawls over their heads they proceeded towards the back door.
'One minute before you go,' interrupted Philip. 'I--I haven't confessed all.'
'Then Heaven help us!' said Mrs. Hall, pushing to the door and clasping her
hands in calm despair.
'We passed through Evershead as we came,' he continued, 'and I just looked
in at the "Sow-and-Acorn" to see if old Mike still kept on there as usual. The
carrier had come in from Sherton Abbas at that moment, and guessing that
I was bound for this place--for I think he knew me--he asked me to bring on
a dressmaker's parcel for Sally that was marked "immediate." My wife had
walked on with the children. 'Twas a flimsy parcel, and the paper was torn,
and I found on looking at it that it was a thick warm gown. I didn't wish you
to see poor Helena in a shabby state. I was ashamed that you should--'twas
not what she was born to. I untied the parcel in the road, took it on to her
where she was waiting in the Lower Barn, and told her I had managed to get
it for her, and that she was to ask no question. She, poor thing, must have
supposed I obtained it on trust, through having reached a place where I was
known, for she put it on gladly enough. She has it on now. Sally has other
gowns, I daresay.'
Sally looked at her mother, speechless.
'You have others, I daresay!' repeated Phil, with a sick man's impatience. 'I
thought to myself, "Better Sally cry than Helena freeze." Well, is the dress of
great consequence? 'Twas nothing very ornamental, as far as I could see.'
'No--no; not of consequence,' returned Sally sadly, adding in a gentle voice,
'You will not mind if I lend her another instead of that one, will you?'
Philip's agitation at the confession had brought on another attack of the
cough, which seemed to shake him to pieces. He was so obviously unfit to
sit in a chair that they helped him upstairs at once; and having hastily given
him a cordial and kindled the bedroom fire, they descended to fetch their
unhappy new relations.
It was with strange feelings that the girl and her mother, lately so cheerful,
passed out of the back door into the open air of the barton, laden with hay
scents and the herby breath of cows. A fine sleet had begun to fall, and they
trotted across the yard quickly. The stable-door was open; a light shone
from it--from the lantern which always hung there, and which Philip had
lighted, as he said. Softly nearing the door, Mrs. Hall pronounced the name
There was no answer for the moment. Looking in she was taken by surprise.
Two people appeared before her. For one, instead of the drabbish woman
she had expected, Mrs. Hall saw a pale, dark-eyed, ladylike creature, whose
personality ruled her attire rather than was ruled by it. She was in a new
and handsome gown, of course, and an old bonnet. She was standing up,
agitated; her hand was held by her companion--none else than Sally's
affianced, Farmer Charles Darton, upon whose fine figure the pale stranger's
eyes were fixed, as his were fixed upon her. His other hand held the rein of
his horse, which was standing saddled as if just led in.
At sight of Mrs. Hall they both turned, looking at her in a way neither quite
conscious nor unconscious, and without seeming to recollect that words
were necessary as a solution to the scene. In another moment Sally entered
also, when Mr. Darton dropped his companion's hand, led the horse aside,
and came to greet his betrothed and Mrs. Hall.
'Ah!' he said, smiling--with something like forced composure--'this is a
roundabout way of arriving, you will say, my dear Mrs. Hall. But we lost our
way, which made us late. I saw a light here, and led in my horse at once--my
friend Johns and my man have gone back to the little inn with theirs, not to
crowd you too much. No sooner had I entered than I saw that this lady had
taken temporary shelter here--and found I was intruding.'
'She is my daughter-in-law,' said Mrs. Hall calmly. 'My son, too, is in the
house, but he has gone to bed unwell.'
Sally had stood staring wonderingly at the scene until this moment, hardly
recognizing Darton's shake of the hand. The spell that bound her was
broken by her perceiving the two little children seated on a heap of hay. She
suddenly went forward, spoke to them, and took one on her arm and the
other in her hand.
'And two children?' said Mr. Darton, showing thus that he had not been
there long enough as yet to understand the situation.
'My grandchildren,' said Mrs. Hall, with as much affected ease as before.
Philip Hall's wife, in spite of this interruption to her first rencounter, seemed
scarcely so much affected by it as to feel any one's presence in addition to
Mr. Darton's. However, arousing herself by a quick reflection, she threw a
sudden critical glance of her sad eyes upon Mrs. Hall; and, apparently
finding her satisfactory, advanced to her in a meek initiative. Then Sally and
the stranger spoke some friendly words to each other, and Sally went on
with the children into the house. Mrs. Hall and Helena followed, and Mr.
Darton followed these, looking at Helena's dress and outline, and listening
to her voice like a man in a dream.
By the time the others reached the house Sally had already gone upstairs
with the tired children. She rapped against the wall for Rebekah to come in
and help to attend to them, Rebekah's house being a little 'spit-and- dab'
cabin leaning against the substantial stone-work of Mrs. Hall's taller
erection. When she came a bed was made up for the little ones, and some
supper given to them. On descending the stairs after seeing this done Sally
went to the sitting-room. Young Mrs. Hall entered it just in advance of her,
having in the interim retired with her mother-in- law to take off her bonnet,
and otherwise make herself presentable. Hence it was evident that no
further communication could have passed between her and Mr. Darton
since their brief interview in the stable.
Mr. Japheth Johns now opportunely arrived, and broke up the restraint of
the company, after a few orthodox meteorological commentaries had passed
between him and Mrs. Hall by way of introduction. They at once sat down to
supper, the present of wine and turkey not being produced for consumption
to-night, lest the premature display of those gifts should seem to throw
doubt on Mrs. Hall's capacities as a provider.
'Drink hearty, Mr. Johns--drink hearty,' said that matron magnanimously.
'Such as it is there's plenty of. But perhaps cider-wine is not to your taste?--
though there's body in it.'
'Quite the contrairy, ma'am--quite the contrairy,' said the dairyman. 'For
though I inherit the malt-liquor principle from my father, I am a cider-
drinker on my mother's side. She came from these parts, you know. And
there's this to be said for't--'tis a more peaceful liquor, and don't lie about a
man like your hotter drinks. With care, one may live on it a twelvemonth
without knocking down a neighbour, or getting a black eye from an old
The general conversation thus begun was continued briskly, though it was
in the main restricted to Mrs. Hall and Japheth, who in truth required but
little help from anybody. There being slight call upon Sally's tongue, she had
ample leisure to do what her heart most desired, namely, watch her
intended husband and her sister-in-law with a view of elucidating the
strange momentary scene in which her mother and herself had surprised
them in the stable. If that scene meant anything, it meant, at least, that
they had met before. That there had been no time for explanations Sally
could see, for their manner was still one of suppressed amazement at each
other's presence there. Darton's eyes, too, fell continually on the gown worn
by Helena as if this were an added riddle to his perplexity; though to Sally it
was the one feature in the case which was no mystery. He seemed to feel
that fate had impishly changed his vis-a-vis in the lover's jig he was about to
foot; that while the gown had been expected to enclose a Sally, a Helena's
face looked out from the bodice; that some long-lost hand met his own from
Sally could see that whatever Helena might know of Darton, she knew
nothing of how the dress entered into his embarrassment. And at moments
the young girl would have persuaded herself that Darton's looks at her
sister-in-law were entirely the fruit of the clothes query. But surely at other
times a more extensive range of speculation and sentiment was expressed by
her lover's eye than that which the changed dress would account for.
Sally's independence made her one of the least jealous of women. But there
was something in the relations of these two visitors which ought to be
Japheth Johns continued to converse in his well-known style, interspersing
his talk with some private reflections on the position of Darton and Sally,
which, though the sparkle in his eye showed them to be highly entertaining
to himself, were apparently not quite communicable to the company. At last
he withdrew for the night, going off to the roadside inn half-a-mile back,
whither Darton promised to follow him in a few minutes.
Half-an-hour passed, and then Mr. Darton also rose to leave, Sally and her
sister-in-law simultaneously wishing him good-night as they retired upstairs
to their rooms. But on his arriving at the front door with Mrs. Hall a sharp
shower of rain began to come down, when the widow suggested that he
should return to the fire-side till the storm ceased.
Darton accepted her proposal, but insisted that, as it was getting late, and
she was obviously tired, she should not sit up on his account, since he
could let himself out of the house, and would quite enjoy smoking a pipe by
the hearth alone. Mrs. Hall assented; and Darton was left by himself. He
spread his knees to the brands, lit up his tobacco as he had said, and sat
gazing into the fire, and at the notches of the chimney- crook which hung
An occasional drop of rain rolled down the chimney with a hiss, and still he
smoked on; but not like a man whose mind was at rest. In the long run,
however, despite his meditations, early hours afield and a long ride in the
open air produced their natural result. He began to doze.
How long he remained in this half-unconscious state he did not know. He
suddenly opened his eyes. The back-brand had burnt itself in two, and
ceased to flame; the light which he had placed on the mantelpiece had
nearly gone out. But in spite of these deficiencies there was a light in the
apartment, and it came from elsewhere. Turning his head he saw Philip
Hall's wife standing at the entrance of the room with a bed-candle in one
hand, a small brass tea-kettle in the other, and his gown, as it certainly
seemed, still upon her.
'Helena!' said Darton, starting up.
Her countenance expressed dismay, and her first words were an apology. 'I--
did not know you were here, Mr. Darton,' she said, while a blush flashed to
her cheek. 'I thought every one had retired--I was coming to make a little
water boil; my husband seems to be worse. But perhaps the kitchen fire can
be lighted up again.'
'Don't go on my account. By all means put it on here as you intended,' said
Darton. 'Allow me to help you.' He went forward to take the kettle from her
hand, but she did not allow him, and placed it on the fire herself.
They stood some way apart, one on each side of the fireplace, waiting till the
water should boil, the candle on the mantel between them, and Helena with
her eyes on the kettle. Darton was the first to break the silence. 'Shall I call
Sally?' he said.
'O no,' she quickly returned. 'We have given trouble enough already. We
have no right here. But we are the sport of fate, and were obliged to come.'
'No right here!' said he in surprise.
'None. I can't explain it now,' answered Helena. 'This kettle is very slow.'
There was another pause; the proverbial dilatoriness of watched pots was
never more clearly exemplified.
Helena's face was of that sort which seems to ask for assistance without the
owner's knowledge--the very antipodes of Sally's, which was self-reliance
expressed. Darton's eyes travelled from the kettle to Helena's face, then back
to the kettle, then to the face for rather a longer time. 'So I am not to know
anything of the mystery that has distracted me all the evening?' he said.
'How is it that a woman, who refused me because (as I supposed) my
position was not good enough for her taste, is found to be the wife of a man
who certainly seems to be worse off than I?'
'He had the prior claim,' said she.
'What! you knew him at that time?'
'Yes, yes! Please say no more,' she implored.
'Whatever my errors, I have paid for them during the last five years!'
The heart of Darton was subject to sudden overflowings. He was kind to a
fault. 'I am sorry from my soul,' he said, involuntarily approaching her.
Helena withdrew a step or two, at which he became conscious of his
movement, and quickly took his former place. Here he stood without
speaking, and the little kettle began to sing.
'Well, you might have been my wife if you had chosen,' he said at last. 'But
that's all past and gone. However, if you are in any trouble or poverty I shall
be glad to be of service, and as your relation by marriage I shall have a right
to be. Does your uncle know of your distress?'
'My uncle is dead. He left me without a farthing. And now we have two
children to maintain.'
'What, left you nothing? How could he be so cruel as that?'
'I disgraced myself in his eyes.'
'Now,' said Darton earnestly, 'let me take care of the children, at least while
you are so unsettled. You belong to another, so I cannot take care of you.'
'Yes you can,' said a voice; and suddenly a third figure stood beside them. It
was Sally. 'You can, since you seem to wish to?' she repeated. 'She no longer
belongs to another . . . My poor brother is dead!'
Her face was red, her eyes sparkled, and all the woman came to the front. 'I
have heard it!' she went on to him passionately. 'You can protect her now as
well as the children!' She turned then to her agitated sister-in- law. 'I heard
something,' said Sally (in a gentle murmur, differing much from her previous
passionate words), 'and I went into his room. It must have been the moment
you left. He went off so quickly, and weakly, and it was so unexpected, that I
couldn't leave even to call you.'
Darton was just able to gather from the confused discourse which followed
that, during his sleep by the fire, this brother whom he had never seen had
become worse; and that during Helena's absence for water the end had
unexpectedly come. The two young women hastened upstairs, and he was
again left alone.
* * * * * * *
After standing there a short time he went to the front door and looked out;
till, softly closing it behind him, he advanced and stood under the large
sycamore-tree. The stars were flickering coldly, and the dampness which
had just descended upon the earth in rain now sent up a chill from it.
Darton was in a strange position, and he felt it. The unexpected appearance,
in deep poverty, of Helena--a young lady, daughter of a deceased naval
officer, who had been brought up by her uncle, a solicitor, and had refused
Darton in marriage years ago--the passionate, almost angry demeanour of
Sally at discovering them, the abrupt announcement that Helena was a
widow; all this coming together was a conjuncture difficult to cope with in a
moment, and made him question whether he ought to leave the house or
offer assistance. But for Sally's manner he would unhesitatingly have done
He was still standing under the tree when the door in front of him opened,
and Mrs. Hall came out. She went round to the garden-gate at the side
without seeing him. Darton followed her, intending to speak.
Pausing outside, as if in thought, she proceeded to a spot where the sun
came earliest in spring-time, and where the north wind never blew; it was
where the row of beehives stood under the wall. Discerning her object, he
waited till she had accomplished it.
It was the universal custom thereabout to wake the bees by tapping at their
hives whenever a death occurred in the household, under the belief that if
this were not done the bees themselves would pine away and perish during
the ensuing year. As soon as an interior buzzing responded to her tap at the
first hive Mrs. Hall went on to the second, and thus passed down the row.
As soon as she came back he met her.
'What can I do in this trouble, Mrs. Hall?' he said.
'O--nothing, thank you, nothing,' she said in a tearful voice, now just
perceiving him. 'We have called Rebekah and her husband, and they will do
everything necessary.' She told him in a few words the particulars of her
son's arrival, broken in health--indeed, at death's very door, though they did
not suspect it--and suggested, as the result of a conversation between her
and her daughter, that the wedding should be postponed.
'Yes, of course,' said Darton. 'I think now to go straight to the inn and tell
Johns what has happened.' It was not till after he had shaken hands with
her that he turned hesitatingly and added, 'Will you tell the mother of his
children that, as they are now left fatherless, I shall be glad to take the
eldest of them, if it would be any convenience to her and to you?'
Mrs. Hall promised that her son's widow should he told of the offer, and they
parted. He retired down the rooty slope and disappeared in the direction of
the inn, where he informed Johns of the circumstances. Meanwhile Mrs.
Hall had entered the house, Sally was downstairs in the sitting-room alone,
and her mother explained to her that Darton had readily assented to the
'No doubt he has,' said Sally, with sad emphasis. 'It is not put off for a week,
or a month, or a year. I shall never marry him, and she will!'
Time passed, and the household on the Knap became again serene under
the composing influences of daily routine. A desultory, very desultory
correspondence, dragged on between Sally Hall and Darton, who, not quite
knowing how to take her petulant words on the night of her brother's death,
had continued passive thus long. Helena and her children remained at the
dairy-house, almost of necessity, and Darton therefore deemed it advisable
to stay away.
One day, seven months later on, when Mr. Darton was as usual at his farm,
twenty miles from Hintock, a note reached him from Helena. She thanked
him for his kind offer about her children, which her mother-in-law had duly
communicated, and stated that she would be glad to accept it as regarded
the eldest, the boy. Helena had, in truth, good need to do so, for her uncle
had left her penniless, and all application to some relatives in the north had
failed. There was, besides, as she said, no good school near Hintock to
which she could send the child.
On a fine summer day the boy came. He was accompanied half-way by Sally
and his mother--to the 'White Horse,' at Chalk Newton--where he was
handed over to Darton's bailiff in a shining spring-cart, who met them there.
He was entered as a day-scholar at a popular school at Casterbridge, three
or four miles from Darton's, having first been taught by Darton to ride a
forest-pony, on which he cantered to and from the aforesaid fount of
knowledge, and (as Darton hoped) brought away a promising headful of the
same at each diurnal expedition. The thoughtful taciturnity into which
Darton had latterly fallen was quite dissipated by the presence of this boy.
When the Christmas holidays came it was arranged that he should spend
them with his mother. The journey was, for some reason or other, performed
in two stages, as at his coming, except that Darton in person took the place
of the bailiff, and that the boy and himself rode on horseback.
Reaching the renowned 'White Horse,' Darton inquired if Miss and young
Mrs. Hall were there to meet little Philip (as they had agreed to be). He was
answered by the appearance of Helena alone at the door.
'At the last moment Sally would not come,' she faltered.
That meeting practically settled the point towards which these long-severed
persons were converging. But nothing was broached about it for some time
yet. Sally Hall had, in fact, imparted the first decisive motion to events by
refusing to accompany Helena. She soon gave them a second move by
writing the following note
'[Private.] 'DEAR CHARLES,--Living here so long and intimately with
Helena, I have
naturally learnt her history, especially that of it which refers to
you. I am sure she would accept you as a husband at the proper time,
and I think you ought to give her the opportunity. You inquire in an
old note if I am sorry that I showed temper (which it wasn't) that
night when I heard you talking to her. No, Charles, I am not sorry at
all for what I said then.--Yours sincerely, SALLY HALL.'
Thus set in train, the transfer of Darton's heart back to its original quarters
proceeded by mere lapse of time. In the following July, Darton went to his
friend Japheth to ask him at last to fulfil the bridal office which had been in
abeyance since the previous January twelvemonths.
'With all my heart, man o' constancy!' said Dairyman Johns warmly. 'I've
lost most of my genteel fair complexion haymaking this hot weather, 'tis
true, but I'll do your business as well as them that look better. There be
scents and good hair-oil in the world yet, thank God, and they'll take off the
roughest o' my edge. I'll compliment her. "Better late than never, Sally Hall,"
'It is not Sally,' said Darton hurriedly. 'It is young Mrs. Hall.'
Japheth's face, as soon as he really comprehended, became a picture of
reproachful dismay. 'Not Sally?' he said. 'Why not Sally? I can't believe it!
Young Mrs. Hall! Well, well--where's your wisdom?'
Darton shortly explained particulars; but Johns would not be reconciled.
'She was a woman worth having if ever woman was,' he cried. 'And now to
let her go!'
'But I suppose I can marry where I like,' said Darton.
'H'm,' replied the dairyman, lifting his eyebrows expressively. 'This don't
become you, Charles--it really do not. If I had done such a thing you would
have sworn I was a curst no'thern fool to be drawn off the scent by such a
Farmer Darton responded in such sharp terms to this laconic opinion that
the two friends finally parted in a way they had never parted before. Johns
was to be no groomsman to Darton after all. He had flatly declined. Darton
went off sorry, and even unhappy, particularly as Japheth was about to
leave that side of the county, so that the words which had divided them were
not likely to be explained away or softened down.
A short time after the interview Darton was united to Helena at a simple
matter-of fact wedding; and she and her little girl joined the boy who had
already grown to look on Darton's house as home.
For some months the farmer experienced an unprecedented happiness and
satisfaction. There had been a flaw in his life, and it was as neatly mended
as was humanly possible. But after a season the stream of events followed
less clearly, and there were shades in his reveries. Helena was a fragile
woman, of little staying power, physically or morally, and since the time that
he had originally known her--eight or ten years before--she had been
severely tried. She had loved herself out, in short, and was now occasionally
given to moping. Sometimes she spoke regretfully of the gentilities of her
early life, and instead of comparing her present state with her condition as
the wife of the unlucky Hall, she mused rather on what it had been before
she took the first fatal step of clandestinely marrying him. She did not care
to please such people as those with whom she was thrown as a thriving
farmer's wife. She allowed the pretty trifles of agricultural domesticity to
glide by her as sorry details, and had it not been for the children Darton's
house would have seemed but little brighter than it had been before.
This led to occasional unpleasantness, until Darton sometimes declared to
himself that such endeavours as his to rectify early deviations of the heart
by harking back to the old point mostly failed of success. 'Perhaps Johns
was right,' he would say. 'I should have gone on with Sally. Better go with
the tide and make the best of its course than stem it at the risk of a capsize.'
But he kept these unmelodious thoughts to himself, and was outwardly
considerate and kind.
This somewhat barren tract of his life had extended to less than a year and
a half when his ponderings were cut short by the loss of the woman they
concerned. When she was in her grave he thought better of her than when
she had been alive; the farm was a worse place without her than with her,
after all. No woman short of divine could have gone through such an
experience as hers with her first husband without becoming a little soured.
Her stagnant sympathies, her sometimes unreasonable manner, had
covered a heart frank and well meaning, and originally hopeful and warm.
She left him a tiny red infant in white wrappings. To make life as easy as
possible to this touching object became at once his care.
As this child learnt to walk and talk Darton learnt to see feasibility in a
scheme which pleased him. Revolving the experiment which he had hitherto
made upon life, he fancied he had gained wisdom from his mistakes and
caution from his miscarriages.
What the scheme was needs no penetration to discover. Once more he had
opportunity to recast and rectify his ill-wrought situations by returning to
Sally Hall, who still lived quietly on under her mother's roof at Hintock.
Helena had been a woman to lend pathos and refinement to a home; Sally
was the woman to brighten it. She would not, as Helena did, despise the
rural simplicities of a farmer's fireside. Moreover, she had a pre-eminent
qualification for Darton's household; no other woman could make so
desirable a mother to her brother's two children and Darton's one as Sally--
while Darton, now that Helena had gone, was a more promising husband for
Sally than he had ever been when liable to reminders from an uncured
Darton was not a man to act rapidly, and the working out of his reparative
designs might have been delayed for some time. But there came a winter
evening precisely like the one which had darkened over that former ride to
Hintock, and he asked himself why he should postpone longer, when the
very landscape called for a repetition of that attempt.
He told his man to saddle the mare, booted and spurred himself with a
younger horseman's nicety, kissed the two youngest children, and rode off.
To make the journey a complete parallel to the first, he would fain have had
his old acquaintance Japheth Johns with him. But Johns, alas! was
missing. His removal to the other side of the county had left unrepaired the
breach which had arisen between him and Darton; and though Darton had
forgiven him a hundred times, as Johns had probably forgiven Darton, the
effort of reunion in present circumstances was one not likely to be made.
He screwed himself up to as cheerful a pitch as he could without his former
crony, and became content with his own thoughts as he rode, instead of the
words of a companion. The sun went down; the boughs appeared scratched
in like an etching against the sky; old crooked men with faggots at their
backs said 'Good-night, sir,' and Darton replied 'Good-night' right heartily.
By the time he reached the forking roads it was getting as dark as it had
been on the occasion when Johns climbed the directing-post. Darton made
no mistake this time. 'Nor shall I be able to mistake, thank Heaven, when I
arrive,' he murmured. It gave him peculiar satisfaction to think that the
proposed marriage, like his first, was of the nature of setting in order things
long awry, and not a momentary freak of fancy.
Nothing hindered the smoothness of his journey, which seemed not half its
former length. Though dark, it was only between five and six o'clock when
the bulky chimneys of Mrs. Hall's residence appeared in view behind the
sycamore-tree. On second thoughts he retreated and put up at the ale-
house as in former time; and when he had plumed himself before the inn
mirror, called for something to drink, and smoothed out the incipient
wrinkles of care, he walked on to the Knap with a quick step.
That evening Sally was making 'pinners' for the milkers, who were now
increased by two, for her mother and herself no longer joined in milking the
cows themselves. But upon the whole there was little change in the
household economy, and not much in its appearance, beyond such minor
particulars as that the crack over the window, which had been a hundred
years coming, was a trifle wider; that the beams were a shade blacker; that
the influence of modernism had supplanted the open chimney corner by a
grate; that Rebekah, who had worn a cap when she had plenty of hair, had
left it off now she had scarce any, because it was reported that caps were
not fashionable; and that Sally's face had naturally assumed a more
womanly and experienced cast.
Mrs. Hall was actually lifting coals with the tongs, as she had used to do.
'Five years ago this very night, if I am not mistaken--' she said, laying on an
'Not this very night--though 'twas one night this week,' said the correct
'Well, 'tis near enough. Five years ago Mr. Darton came to marry you, and
my poor boy Phil came home to die.' She sighed. 'Ah, Sally,' she presently
said, 'if you had managed well Mr. Darton would have had you, Helena or
'Don't be sentimental about that, mother,' begged Sally. 'I didn't care to
manage well in such a case. Though I liked him, I wasn't so anxious. I would
never have married the man in the midst of such a hitch as that was,' she
added with decision; 'and I don't think I would if he were to ask me now.'
'I am not sure about that, unless you have another in your eye.'
'I wouldn't; and I'll tell you why. I could hardly marry him for love at this
time o' day. And as we've quite enough to live on if we give up the dairy to-
morrow, I should have no need to marry for any meaner reason . . . I am
quite happy enough as I am, and there's an end of it.'
Now it was not long after this dialogue that there came a mild rap at the
door, and in a moment there entered Rebekah, looking as though a ghost
had arrived. The fact was that that accomplished skimmer and churner
(now a resident in the house) had overheard the desultory observations
between mother and daughter, and on opening the door to Mr. Darton
thought the coincidence must have a grisly meaning in it. Mrs. Hall
welcomed the farmer with warm surprise, as did Sally, and for a moment
they rather wanted words.
'Can you push up the chimney-crook for me, Mr Darton? the notches hitch,'
said the matron. He did it, and the homely little act bridged over the
awkward consciousness that he had been a stranger for four years.
Mrs. Hall soon saw what he had come for, and left the principals together
while she went to prepare him a late tea, smiling at Sally's recent hasty
assertions of indifference, when she saw how civil Sally was. When tea was
ready she joined them. She fancied that Darton did not look so confident as
when he had arrived; but Sally was quite light-hearted, and the meal passed
About seven he took his leave of them. Mrs. Hall went as far as the door to
light him down the slope. On the doorstep he said frankly--'I came to ask
your daughter to marry me; chose the night and everything, with an eye to a
favourable answer. But she won't.'
'Then she's a very ungrateful girl!' emphatically said Mrs. Hall.
Darton paused to shape his sentence, and asked, 'I--I suppose there's
nobody else more favoured?'
'I can't say that there is, or that there isn't,' answered Mrs. Hall. 'She's
private in some things. I'm on your side, however, Mr. Darton, and I'll talk to
'Thank 'ee, thank 'ee!' said the farmer in a gayer accent; and with this
assurance the not very satisfactory visit came to an end. Darton descended
the roots of the sycamore, the light was withdrawn, and the door closed. At
the bottom of the slope he nearly ran against a man about to ascend.
'Can a jack-o'-lent believe his few senses on such a dark night, or can't he?'
exclaimed one whose utterance Darton recognized in a moment, despite its
unexpectedness. 'I dare not swear he can, though I fain would!' The speaker
Darton said he was glad of this opportunity, bad as it was, of putting an end
to the silence of years, and asked the dairyman what he was travelling that
Japheth showed the old jovial confidence in a moment. 'I'm going to see
your--relations--as they always seem to me,' he said--'Mrs. Hall and Sally.
Well, Charles, the fact is I find the natural barbarousness of man is much
increased by a bachelor life, and, as your leavings were always good enough
for me, I'm trying civilization here.' He nodded towards the house.
'Not with Sally--to marry her?' said Darton, feeling something like a rill of ice
water between his shoulders.
'Yes, by the help of Providence and my personal charms. And I think I shall
get her. I am this road every week--my present dairy is only four miles off,
you know, and I see her through the window. 'Tis rather odd that I was
going to speak practical to-night to her for the first time. You've just called?'
'Yes, for a short while. But she didn't say a word about you.'
'A good sign, a good sign. Now that decides me. I'll swing the mallet and get
her answer this very night as I planned.'
A few more remarks, and Darton, wishing his friend joy of Sally in a slightly
hollow tone of jocularity, bade him good-bye. Johns promised to write
particulars, and ascended, and was lost in the shade of the house and tree.
A rectangle of light appeared when Johns was admitted, and all was dark
'Happy Japheth!' said Darton. 'This then is the explanation!'
He determined to return home that night. In a quarter of an hour he passed
out of the village, and the next day went about his swede-lifting and storing
as if nothing had occurred.
He waited and waited to hear from Johns whether the wedding-day was
fixed: but no letter came. He learnt not a single particular till, meeting
Johns one day at a horse-auction, Darton exclaimed genially--rather more
genially than he felt--'When is the joyful day to be?'
To his great surprise a reciprocity of gladness was not conspicuous in
Johns. 'Not at all,' he said, in a very subdued tone. ''Tis a bad job; she won't
Darton held his breath till he said with treacherous solicitude, 'Try again--
'O no,' said Johns decisively. 'There's been none of that. We talked it over
dozens of times in the most fair and square way. She tells me plainly, I don't
suit her. 'Twould be simply annoying her to ask her again. Ah, Charles, you
threw a prize away when you let her slip five years ago.'
'I did--I did,' said Darton.
He returned from that auction with a new set of feelings in play. He had
certainly made a surprising mistake in thinking Johns his successful rival.
It really seemed as if he might hope for Sally after all.
This time, being rather pressed by business, Darton had recourse to pen-
and-ink, and wrote her as manly and straightforward a proposal as any
woman could wish to receive. The reply came promptly:-
'DEAR MR. DARTON,--I am as sensible as any woman can be of the
goodness that leads you to make me this offer a second time. Better
women than I would be proud of the honour, for when I read your nice
long speeches on mangold-wurzel, and such like topics, at the
Casterbridge Farmers' Club, I do feel it an honour, I assure you. But
my answer is just the same as before. I will not try to explain what,
in truth, I cannot explain--my reasons; I will simply say that I must
decline to be married to you. With good wishes as in former times, I
am, your faithful friend, 'SALLY HALL.'
Darton dropped the letter hopelessly. Beyond the negative, there was just a
possibility of sarcasm in it--'nice long speeches on mangold-wurzel' had a
suspicious sound. However, sarcasm or none, there was the answer, and he
had to be content.
He proceeded to seek relief in a business which at this time engrossed much
of his attention--that of clearing up a curious mistake just current in the
county, that he had been nearly ruined by the recent failure of a local bank.
A farmer named Darton had lost heavily, and the similarity of name had
probably led to the error. Belief in it was so persistent that it demanded
several days of letter-writing to set matters straight, and persuade the world
that he was as solvent as ever he had been in his life. He had hardly
concluded this worrying task when, to his delight, another letter arrived in
the handwriting of Sally.
Darton tore it open; it was very short.
'DEAR MR. DARTON,--We have been so alarmed these last few days by the
report that you were ruined by the stoppage of --'s Bank, that, now it
is contradicted I hasten, by my mother's wish, to say how truly glad
we are to find there is no foundation for the report. After your
kindness to my poor brother's children, I can do no less than write at
such a moment. We had a letter from each of them a few days ago.--Your
faithful friend, 'SALLY HALL.'
'Mercenary little woman!' said Darton to himself with a smile. 'Then that was
the secret of her refusal this time--she thought I was ruined.'
Now, such was Darton, that as hours went on he could not help feeling too
generously towards Sally to condemn her in this. What did he want in a
wife? he asked himself. Love and integrity. What next? Worldly wisdom. And
was there really more than worldly wisdom in her refusal to go aboard a
sinking ship? She now knew it was otherwise. 'Begad,' he said, 'I'll try her
The fact was he had so set his heart upon Sally, and Sally alone, that
nothing was to be allowed to baulk him; and his reasoning was purely
Anniversaries having been unpropitious, he waited on till a bright day late in
May--a day when all animate nature was fancying, in its trusting, foolish
way, that it was going to bask out of doors for evermore. As he rode through
Long-Ash Lane it was scarce recognizable as the track of his two winter
journeys. No mistake could be made now, even with his eyes shut. The
cuckoo's note was at its best, between April tentativeness and midsummer
decrepitude, and the reptiles in the sun behaved as winningly as kittens on
a hearth. Though afternoon, and about the same time as on the last
occasion, it was broad day and sunshine when he entered Hintock, and the
details of the Knap dairy-house were visible far up the road. He saw Sally in
the garden, and was set vibrating. He had first intended to go on to the inn;
but 'No,' he said; 'I'll tie my horse to the garden- gate. If all goes well it can
soon be taken round: if not, I mount and ride away'
The tall shade of the horseman darkened the room in which Mrs. Hall sat,
and made her start, for he had ridden by a side path to the top of the slope,
where riders seldom came. In a few seconds he was in the garden with Sally.
Five--ay, three minutes--did the business at the back of that row of bees.
Though spring had come, and heavenly blue consecrated the scene, Darton
succeeded not. 'No,' said Sally firmly. 'I will never, never marry you, Mr.
Darton. I would have done it once; but now I never can.'
'But!'--implored Mr. Darton. And with a burst of real eloquence he went on
to declare all sorts of things that he would do for her. He would drive her to
see her mother every week--take her to London--settle so much money upon
her--Heaven knows what he did not promise, suggest, and tempt her with.
But it availed nothing. She interposed with a stout negative, which closed
the course of his argument like an iron gate across a highway. Darton
'Then,' said he simply, 'you hadn't heard of my supposed failure when you
declined last time?'
'I had not,' she said. 'But if I had 'twould have been all the same.'
'And 'tis not because of any soreness from my slighting you years ago?'
'No. That soreness is long past.'
'Ah--then you despise me, Sally?'
'No,' she slowly answered. 'I don't altogether despise you. I don't think you
quite such a hero as I once did--that's all. The truth is, I am happy enough
as I am; and I don't mean to marry at all. Now, may I ask a favour, sir?' She
spoke with an ineffable charm, which, whenever he thought of it, made him
curse his loss of her as long as he lived.
'To any extent.'
'Please do not put this question to me any more. Friends as long as you like,
but lovers and married never.'
'I never will,' said Darton. 'Not if I live a hundred years.'
And he never did. That he had worn out his welcome in her heart was only
When his step-children had grown up, and were placed out in life, all
communication between Darton and the Hall family ceased. It was only by
chance that, years after, he learnt that Sally, notwithstanding the
solicitations her attractions drew down upon her, had refused several offers
of marriage, and steadily adhered to her purpose of leading a single life.