An Imaginative Woman
The Three Strangers
The Withered Arm
Interlopers at the Knap
The Distracted Preacher
An apology is perhaps needed for the neglect of contrast which is shown
by presenting two consecutive stories of hangmen in such a small
collection as the following. But in the neighbourhood of county-towns
tales of executions used to form a large proportion of the local
traditions; and though never personally acquainted with any chief
operator at such scenes, the writer of these pages had as a boy the
privilege of being on speaking terms with a man who applied for the
office, and who sank into an incurable melancholy because he failed to
get it, some slight mitigation of his grief being to dwell upon striking
episodes in the lives of those happier ones who had held it with success
and renown. His tale of disappointment used to cause some wonder why his
ambition should have taken such an unfortunate form, but its nobleness
was never questioned. In those days, too, there was still living an old
woman who, for the cure of some eating disease, had been taken in her
youth to have her 'blood turned' by a convict's corpse, in the manner
described in 'The Withered Arm.'
Since writing this story some years ago I have been reminded by an aged
friend who knew 'Rhoda Brook' that, in relating her dream, my
forgetfulness has weakened the facts our of which the tale grew. In
reality it was while lying down on a hot afternoon that the incubus
oppressed her and she flung it off, with the results upon the body of the
original as described. To my mind the occurrence of such a vision in the
daytime is more impressive than if it had happened in a midnight dream.
Readers are therefore asked to correct the misrelation, which affords an
instance of how our imperfect memories insensibly formalize the fresh
originality of living fact--from whose shape they slowly depart, as
machine-made castings depart by degrees from the sharp hand-work of the
Among the many devices for concealing smuggled goods in caves and pits of
the earth, that of planting an apple-tree in a tray or box which was
placed over the mouth of the pit is, I believe, unique, and it is
detailed in one of the tales precisely as described by an old carrier of
'tubs'--a man who was afterwards in my father's employ for over thirty
years. I never gathered from his reminiscences what means were adopted
for lifting the tree, which, with its roots, earth, and receptacle, must
have been of considerable weight. There is no doubt, however, that the
thing was done through many years. My informant often spoke, too, of the
horribly suffocating sensation produced by the pair of spirit-tubs slung
upon the chest and back, after stumbling with the burden of them for
several miles inland over a rough country and in darkness. He said that
though years of his youth and young manhood were spent in this irregular
business, his profits from the same, taken all together, did not average
the wages he might have earned in a steady employment, whilst the
fatigues and risks were excessive.
I may add that the first story in the series turns upon a physical
possibility that may attach to women of imaginative temperament, and that
is well supported by the experiences of medical men and other observers
of such manifestations.
AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN
When William Marchmill had finished his inquiries for lodgings at a well-
known watering-place in Upper Wessex, he returned to the hotel to find
his wife. She, with the children, had rambled along the shore, and
Marchmill followed in the direction indicated by the military-looking
'By Jove, how far you've gone! I am quite out of breath,' Marchmill
said, rather impatiently, when he came up with his wife, who was reading
as she walked, the three children being considerably further ahead with
Mrs. Marchmill started out of the reverie into which the book had thrown
her. 'Yes,' she said, 'you've been such a long time. I was tired of
staying in that dreary hotel. But I am sorry if you have wanted me,
'Well, I have had trouble to suit myself. When you see the airy and
comfortable rooms heard of, you find they are stuffy and uncomfortable.
Will you come and see if what I've fixed on will do? There is not much
room, I am afraid; hut I can light on nothing better. The town is rather
The pair left the children and nurse to continue their ramble, and went
In age well-balanced, in personal appearance fairly matched, and in
domestic requirements conformable, in temper this couple differed, though
even here they did not often clash, he being equable, if not lymphatic,
and she decidedly nervous and sanguine. It was to their tastes and
fancies, those smallest, greatest particulars, that no common denominator
could be applied. Marchmill considered his wife's likes and inclinations
somewhat silly; she considered his sordid and material. The husband's
business was that of a gunmaker in a thriving city northwards, and his
soul was in that business always; the lady was best characterized by that
superannuated phrase of elegance 'a votary of the muse.' An
impressionable, palpitating creature was Ella, shrinking humanely from
detailed knowledge of her husband's trade whenever she reflected that
everything he manufactured had for its purpose the destruction of life.
She could only recover her equanimity by assuring herself that some, at
least, of his weapons were sooner or later used for the extermination of
horrid vermin and animals almost as cruel to their inferiors in species
as human beings were to theirs.
She had never antecedently regarded this occupation of his as any
objection to having him for a husband. Indeed, the necessity of getting
life-leased at all cost, a cardinal virtue which all good mothers teach,
kept her from thinking of it at all till she had closed with William, had
passed the honeymoon, and reached the reflecting stage. Then, like a
person who has stumbled upon some object in the dark, she wondered what
she had got; mentally walked round it, estimated it; whether it were rare
or common; contained gold, silver, or lead; were a clog or a pedestal,
everything to her or nothing.
She came to some vague conclusions, and since then had kept her heart
alive by pitying her proprietor's obtuseness and want of refinement,
pitying herself, and letting off her delicate and ethereal emotions in
imaginative occupations, day-dreams, and night-sighs, which perhaps would
not much have disturbed William if he had known of them.
Her figure was small, elegant, and slight in build, tripping, or rather
bounding, in movement. She was dark-eyed, and had that marvellously
bright and liquid sparkle in each pupil which characterizes persons of
Ella's cast of soul, and is too often a cause of heartache to the
possessor's male friends, ultimately sometimes to herself. Her husband
was a tall, long-featured man, with a brown beard; he had a pondering
regard; and was, it must be added, usually kind and tolerant to her. He
spoke in squarely shaped sentences, and was supremely satisfied with a
condition of sublunary things which made weapons a necessity.
Husband and wife walked till they had reached the house they were in
search of, which stood in a terrace facing the sea, and was fronted by a
small garden of wind-proof and salt-proof evergreens, stone steps leading
up to the porch. It had its number in the row, but, being rather larger
than the rest, was in addition sedulously distinguished as Coburg House
by its landlady, though everybody else called it 'Thirteen, New Parade.'
The spot was bright and lively now; but in winter it became necessary to
place sandbags against the door, and to stuff up the keyhole against the
wind and rain, which had worn the paint so thin that the priming and
knotting showed through.
The householder, who bad been watching for the gentleman's return, met
them in the passage, and showed the rooms. She informed them that she
was a professional man's widow, left in needy circumstances by the rather
sudden death of her husband, and she spoke anxiously of the conveniences
of the establishment.
Mrs. Marchmill said that she liked the situation and the house; but, it
being small, there would not be accommodation enough, unless she could
have all the rooms.
The landlady mused with an air of disappointment. She wanted the
visitors to be her tenants very badly, she said, with obvious honesty.
But unfortunately two of the rooms were occupied permanently by a
bachelor gentleman. He did not pay season prices, it was true; but as he
kept on his apartments all the year round, and was an extremely nice and
interesting young man, who gave no trouble, she did not like to turn him
out for a month's 'let,' even at a high figure. 'Perhaps, however,' she
added, 'he might offer to go for a time.'
They would not hear of this, and went back to the hotel, intending to
proceed to the agent's to inquire further. Hardly had they sat down to
tea when the landlady called. Her gentleman, she said, had been so
obliging as to offer to give up his rooms for three or four weeks rather
than drive the new-comers away.
'It is very kind, but we won't inconvenience him in that way,' said the
'O, it won't inconvenience him, I assure you!' said the landlady
eloquently. 'You see, he's a different sort of young man from
most--dreamy, solitary, rather melancholy--and he cares more to be here
when the south-westerly gales are beating against the door, and the sea
washes over the Parade, and there's not a soul in the place, than he does
now in the season. He'd just as soon be where, in fact, he's going
temporarily, to a little cottage on the Island opposite, for a change.'
She hoped therefore that they would come.
The Marchmill family accordingly took possession of the house next day,
and it seemed to suit them very well. After luncheon Mr. Marchmill
strolled out towards the pier, and Mrs. Marchmill, having despatched the
children to their outdoor amusements on the sands, settled herself in
more completely, examining this and that article, and testing the
reflecting powers of the mirror in the wardrobe door.
In the small back sitting-room, which had been the young bachelor's, she
found furniture of a more personal nature than in the rest. Shabby
books, of correct rather than rare editions, were piled up in a queerly
reserved manner in corners, as if the previous occupant had not conceived
the possibility that any incoming person of the season's bringing could
care to look inside them. The landlady hovered on the threshold to
rectify anything that Mrs. Marchmill might not find to her satisfaction.
'I'll make this my own little room,' said the latter, 'because the books
are here. By the way, the person who has left seems to have a good many.
He won't mind my reading some of them, Mrs. Hooper, I hope?'
'O dear no, ma'am. Yes, he has a good many. You see, he is in the
literary line himself somewhat. He is a poet--yes, really a poet--and he
has a little income of his own, which is enough to write verses on, but
not enough for cutting a figure, even if he cared to.'
'A poet! O, I did not know that.'
Mrs. Marchmill opened one of the books, and saw the owner's name written
on the title-page. 'Dear me!' she continued; 'I know his name very
well--Robert Trewe--of course I do; and his writings! And it is his
rooms we have taken, and him we have turned out of his home?'
Ella Marchmill, sitting down alone a few minutes later, thought with
interested surprise of Robert Trewe. Her own latter history will best
explain that interest. Herself the only daughter of a struggling man of
letters, she had during the last year or two taken to writing poems, in
an endeavour to find a congenial channel in which to let flow her
painfully embayed emotions, whose former limpidity and sparkle seemed
departing in the stagnation caused by the routine of a practical
household and the gloom of bearing children to a commonplace father.
These poems, subscribed with a masculine pseudonym, had appeared in
various obscure magazines, and in two cases in rather prominent ones. In
the second of the latter the page which bore her effusion at the bottom,
in smallish print, bore at the top, in large print, a few verses on the
same subject by this very man, Robert Trewe. Both of them had, in fact,
been struck by a tragic incident reported in the daily papers, and had
used it simultaneously as an inspiration, the editor remarking in a note
upon the coincidence, and that the excellence of both poems prompted him
to give them together.
After that event Ella, otherwise 'John Ivy,' had watched with much
attention the appearance anywhere in print of verse bearing the signature
of Robert Trewe, who, with a man's unsusceptibility on the question of
sex, had never once thought of passing himself off as a woman. To be
sure, Mrs. Marchmill had satisfied herself with a sort of reason for
doing the contrary in her case; that nobody might believe in her
inspiration if they found that the sentiments came from a pushing
tradesman's wife, from the mother of three children by a matter-of-fact
Trewe's verse contrasted with that of the rank and file of recent minor
poets in being impassioned rather than ingenious, luxuriant rather than
finished. Neither symboliste nor decadent, he was a pessimist in so far
as that character applies to a man who looks at the worst contingencies
as well as the best in the human condition. Being little attracted by
excellences of form and rhythm apart from content, he sometimes, when
feeling outran his artistic speed, perpetrated sonnets in the loosely
rhymed Elizabethan fashion, which every right-minded reviewer said he
ought not to have done.
With sad and hopeless envy, Ella Marchmill had often and often scanned
the rival poet's work, so much stronger as it always was than her own
feeble lines. She had imitated him, and her inability to touch his level
would send her into fits of despondency. Months passed away thus, till
she observed from the publishers' list that Trewe had collected his
fugitive pieces into a volume, which was duly issued, and was much or
little praised according to chance, and had a sale quite sufficient to
pay for the printing.
This step onward had suggested to John Ivy the idea of collecting her
pieces also, or at any rate of making up a book of her rhymes by adding
many in manuscript to the few that had seen the light, for she had been
able to get no great number into print. A ruinous charge was made for
costs of publication; a few reviews noticed her poor little volume; but
nobody talked of it, nobody bought it, and it fell dead in a fortnight--if
it had ever been alive.
The author's thoughts were diverted to another groove just then by the
discovery that she was going to have a third child, and the collapse of
her poetical venture had perhaps less effect upon her mind than it might
have done if she had been domestically unoccupied. Her husband had paid
the publisher's bill with the doctor's, and there it all had ended for
the time. But, though less than a poet of her century, Ella was more
than a mere multiplier of her kind, and latterly she had begun to feel
the old afflatus once more. And now by an odd conjunction she found
herself in the rooms of Robert Trewe.
She thoughtfully rose from her chair and searched the apartment with the
interest of a fellow-tradesman. Yes, the volume of his own verse was
among the rest. Though quite familiar with its contents, she read it
here as if it spoke aloud to her, then called up Mrs. Hooper, the
landlady, for some trivial service, and inquired again about the young
'Well, I'm sure you'd be interested in him, ma'am, if you could see him,
only he's so shy that I don't suppose you will.' Mrs. Hooper seemed
nothing loth to minister to her tenant's curiosity about her predecessor.
'Lived here long? Yes, nearly two years. He keeps on his rooms even
when he's not here: the soft air of this place suits his chest, and he
likes to be able to come back at any time. He is mostly writing or
reading, and doesn't see many people, though, for the matter of that, he
is such a good, kind young fellow that folks would only be too glad to be
friendly with him if they knew him. You don't meet kind-hearted people
'Ah, he's kind-hearted . . . and good.'
'Yes; he'll oblige me in anything if I ask him. "Mr. Trewe," I say to
him sometimes, "you are rather out of spirits." "Well, I am, Mrs.
Hooper," he'll say, "though I don't know how you should find it out."
"Why not take a little change?" I ask. Then in a day or two he'll say
that he will take a trip to Paris, or Norway, or somewhere; and I assure
you he comes back all the better for it.'
'Ah, indeed! His is a sensitive nature, no doubt.'
'Yes. Still he's odd in some things. Once when he had finished a poem
of his composition late at night he walked up and down the room
rehearsing it; and the floors being so thin--jerry-built houses, you
know, though I say it myself--he kept me awake up above him till I wished
him further . . . But we get on very well.'
This was but the beginning of a series of conversations about the rising
poet as the days went on. On one of these occasions Mrs. Hooper drew
Ella's attention to what she had not noticed before: minute scribblings
in pencil on the wall-paper behind the curtains at the head of the bed.
'O! let me look,' said Mrs. Marchmill, unable to conceal a rush of tender
curiosity as she bent her pretty face close to the wall.
'These,' said Mrs. Hooper, with the manner of a woman who knew things,
'are the very beginnings and first thoughts of his verses. He has tried
to rub most of them out, but you can read them still. My belief is that
he wakes up in the night, you know, with some rhyme in his head, and jots
it down there on the wall lest he should forget it by the morning. Some
of these very lines you see here I have seen afterwards in print in the
magazines. Some are newer; indeed, I have not seen that one before. It
must have been done only a few days ago.'
'O yes! . . . '
Ella Marchmill flushed without knowing why, and suddenly wished her
companion would go away, now that the information was imparted. An
indescribable consciousness of personal interest rather than literary
made her anxious to read the inscription alone; and she accordingly
waited till she could do so, with a sense that a great store of emotion
would be enjoyed in the act.
Perhaps because the sea was choppy outside the Island, Ella's husband
found it much pleasanter to go sailing and steaming about without his
wife, who was a bad sailor, than with her. He did not disdain to go thus
alone on board the steamboats of the cheap-trippers, where there was
dancing by moonlight, and where the couples would come suddenly down with
a lurch into each other's arms; for, as he blandly told her, the company
was too mixed for him to take her amid such scenes. Thus, while this
thriving manufacturer got a great deal of change and sea-air out of his
sojourn here, the life, external at least, of Ella was monotonous enough,
and mainly consisted in passing a certain number of hours each day in
bathing and walking up and down a stretch of shore. But the poetic
impulse having again waxed strong, she was possessed by an inner flame
which left her hardly conscious of what was proceeding around her.
She had read till she knew by heart Trewe's last little volume of verses,
and spent a great deal of time in vainly attempting to rival some of
them, till, in her failure, she burst into tears. The personal element
in the magnetic attraction exercised by this circumambient,
unapproachable master of hers was so much stronger than the intellectual
and abstract that she could not understand it. To be sure, she was
surrounded noon and night by his customary environment, which literally
whispered of him to her at every moment; but he was a man she had never
seen, and that all that moved her was the instinct to specialize a
waiting emotion on the first fit thing that came to hand did not, of
course, suggest itself to Ella.
In the natural way of passion under the too practical conditions which
civilization has devised for its fruition, her husband's love for her had
not survived, except in the form of fitful friendship, any more than, or
even so much as, her own for him; and, being a woman of very living
ardours, that required sustenance of some sort, they were beginning to
feed on this chancing material, which was, indeed, of a quality far
better than chance usually offers.
One day the children had been playing hide-and-seek in a closet, whence,
in their excitement, they pulled out some clothing. Mrs. Hooper
explained that it belonged to Mr. Trewe, and hung it up in the closet
again. Possessed of her fantasy, Ella went later in the afternoon, when
nobody was in that part of the house, opened the closet, unhitched one of
the articles, a mackintosh, and put it on, with the waterproof cap
belonging to it.
'The mantle of Elijah!' she said. 'Would it might inspire me to rival
him, glorious genius that he is!'
Her eyes always grew wet when she thought like that, and she turned to
look at herself in the glass. His heart had beat inside that coat, and
his brain had worked under that hat at levels of thought she would never
reach. The consciousness of her weakness beside him made her feel quite
sick. Before she had got the things off her the door opened, and her
husband entered the room.
'What the devil--'
She blushed, and removed them
'I found them in the closet here,' she said, 'and put them on in a freak.
What have I else to do? You are always away!'
'Always away? Well . . . '
That evening she had a further talk with the landlady, who might herself
have nourished a half-tender regard for the poet, so ready was she to
discourse ardently about him.
'You are interested in Mr. Trewe, I know, ma'am,' she said; 'and he has
just sent to say that he is going to call to-morrow afternoon to look up
some books of his that he wants, if I'll be in, and he may select them
from your room?'
'You could very well meet Mr Trewe then, if you'd like to be in the way!'
She promised with secret delight, and went to bed musing of him.
Next morning her husband observed: 'I've been thinking of what you said,
Ell: that I have gone about a good deal and left you without much to
amuse you. Perhaps it's true. To-day, as there's not much sea, I'll
take you with me on board the yacht.'
For the first time in her experience of such an offer Ella was not glad.
But she accepted it for the moment. The time for setting out drew near,
and she went to get ready. She stood reflecting. The longing to see the
poet she was now distinctly in love with overpowered all other
'I don't want to go,' she said to herself. 'I can't bear to be away! And
I won't go.'
She told her husband that she had changed her mind about wishing to sail.
He was indifferent, and went his way.
For the rest of the day the house was quiet, the children having gone out
upon the sands. The blinds waved in the sunshine to the soft, steady
stroke of the sea beyond the wall; and the notes of the Green Silesian
band, a troop of foreign gentlemen hired for the season, had drawn almost
all the residents and promenaders away from the vicinity of Coburg House.
A knock was audible at the door.
Mrs. Marchmill did not hear any servant go to answer it, and she became
impatient. The books were in the room where she sat; but nobody came up.
She rang the bell.
'There is some person waiting at the door,' she said.
'O no, ma'am! He's gone long ago. I answered it.'
Mrs. Hooper came in herself.
'So disappointing!' she said. 'Mr. Trewe not coming after all!'
'But I heard him knock, I fancy!'
'No; that was somebody inquiring for lodgings who came to the wrong
house. I forgot to tell you that Mr. Trewe sent a note just before lunch
to say I needn't get any tea for him, as he should not require the books,
and wouldn't come to select them.'
Ella was miserable, and for a long time could not even re-read his
mournful ballad on 'Severed Lives,' so aching was her erratic little
heart, and so tearful her eyes. When the children came in with wet
stockings, and ran up to her to tell her of their adventures, she could
not feel that she cared about them half as much as usual.
* * * * *
'Mrs. Hooper, have you a photograph of--the gentleman who lived here?'
She was getting to be curiously shy in mentioning his name.
'Why, yes. It's in the ornamental frame on the mantelpiece in your own
'No; the Royal Duke and Duchess are in that.'
'Yes, so they are; but he's behind them. He belongs rightly to that
frame, which I bought on purpose; but as he went away he said: "Cover me
up from those strangers that are coming, for God's sake. I don't want
them staring at me, and I am sure they won't want me staring at them." So
I slipped in the Duke and Duchess temporarily in front of him, as they
had no frame, and Royalties are more suitable for letting furnished than
a private young man. If you take 'em out you'll see him under. Lord,
ma'am, he wouldn't mind if he knew it! He didn't think the next tenant
would be such an attractive lady as you, or he wouldn't have thought of
hiding himself; perhaps.'
'Is he handsome?' she asked timidly.
'I call him so. Some, perhaps, wouldn't.'
'Should I?' she asked, with eagerness.
'I think you would, though some would say he's more striking than
handsome; a large-eyed thoughtful fellow, you know, with a very electric
flash in his eye when he looks round quickly, such as you'd expect a poet
to be who doesn't get his living by it.'
'How old is he?'
'Several years older than yourself, ma'am; about thirty-one or two, I
Ella was, as a matter of fact, a few months over thirty herself; but she
did not look nearly so much. Though so immature in nature, she was
entering on that tract of life in which emotional women begin to suspect
that last love may be stronger than first love; and she would soon, alas,
enter on the still more melancholy tract when at least the vainer ones of
her sex shrink from receiving a male visitor otherwise than with their
backs to the window or the blinds half down. She reflected on Mrs.
Hooper's remark, and said no more about age.
Just then a telegram was brought up. It came from her husband, who had
gone down the Channel as far as Budmouth with his friends in the yacht,
and would not be able to get back till next day.
After her light dinner Ella idled about the shore with the children till
dusk, thinking of the yet uncovered photograph in her room, with a serene
sense of something ecstatic to come. For, with the subtle luxuriousness
of fancy in which this young woman was an adept, on learning that her
husband was to be absent that night she had refrained from incontinently
rushing upstairs and opening the picture-frame, preferring to reserve the
inspection till she could be alone, and a more romantic tinge be imparted
to the occasion by silence, candles, solemn sea and stars outside, than
was afforded by the garish afternoon sunlight.
The children had been sent to bed, and Ella soon followed, though it was
not yet ten o'clock. To gratify her passionate curiosity she now made
her preparations, first getting rid of superfluous garments and putting
on her dressing-gown, then arranging a chair in front of the table and
reading several pages of Trewe's tenderest utterances. Then she fetched
the portrait-frame to the light, opened the back, took out the likeness,
and set it up before her.
It was a striking countenance to look upon. The poet wore a luxuriant
black moustache and imperial, and a slouched hat which shaded the
forehead. The large dark eyes, described by the landlady, showed an
unlimited capacity for misery; they looked out from beneath well-shaped
brows as if they were reading the universe in the microcosm of the
confronter's face, and were not altogether overjoyed at what the
Ella murmured in her lowest, richest, tenderest tone: 'And it's you
who've so cruelly eclipsed me these many times!'
As she gazed long at the portrait she fell into thought, till her eyes
filled with tears, and she touched the cardboard with her lips. Then she
laughed with a nervous lightness, and wiped her eyes.
She thought how wicked she was, a woman having a husband and three
children, to let her mind stray to a stranger in this unconscionable
manner. No, he was not a stranger! She knew his thoughts and feelings
as well as she knew her own; they were, in fact, the self-same thoughts
and feelings as hers, which her husband distinctly lacked; perhaps
luckily for himself; considering that he had to provide for family
'He's nearer my real self, he's more intimate with the real me than Will
is, after all, even though I've never seen him,' she said.
She laid his book and picture on the table at the bedside, and when she
was reclining on the pillow she re-read those of Robert Trewe's verses
which she had marked from time to time as most touching and true. Putting
these aside, she set up the photograph on its edge upon the coverlet, and
contemplated it as she lay. Then she scanned again by the light of the
candle the half-obliterated pencillings on the wall-paper beside her
head. There they were--phrases, couplets, bouts-rimes, beginnings and
middles of lines, ideas in the rough, like Shelley's scraps, and the
least of them so intense, so sweet, so palpitating, that it seemed as if
his very breath, warm and loving, fanned her cheeks from those walls,
walls that had surrounded his head times and times as they surrounded her
own now. He must often have put up his hand so--with the pencil in it.
Yes, the writing was sideways, as it would be if executed by one who
extended his arm thus.
These inscribed shapes of the poet's world,
'Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of immortality,'
were, no doubt, the thoughts and spirit-strivings which had come to him
in the dead of night, when he could let himself go and have no fear of
the frost of criticism. No doubt they had often been written up hastily
by the light of the moon, the rays of the lamp, in the blue-grey dawn, in
full daylight perhaps never. And now her hair was dragging where his arm
had lain when he secured the fugitive fancies; she was sleeping on a
poet's lips, immersed in the very essence of him, permeated by his spirit
as by an ether.
While she was dreaming the minutes away thus, a footstep came upon the
stairs, and in a moment she heard her husband's heavy step on the landing
'Ell, where are you?'
What possessed her she could not have described, but, with an instinctive
objection to let her husband know what she had been doing, she slipped
the photograph under the pillow just as he flung open the door, with the
air of a man who had dined not badly.
'O, I beg pardon,' said William Marchmill. 'Have you a headache? I am
afraid I have disturbed you.'
'No, I've not got a headache,' said she. 'How is it you've come?'
'Well, we found we could get back in very good time after all, and I
didn't want to make another day of it, because of going somewhere else to-
'Shall I come down again?'
'O no. I'm as tired as a dog. I've had a good feed, and I shall turn in
straight off. I want to get out at six o'clock to-morrow if I can . . .
I shan't disturb you by my getting up; it will be long before you are
awake.' And he came forward into the room.
While her eyes followed his movements, Ella softly pushed the photograph
further out of sight.
'Sure you're not ill?' he asked, bending over her.
'No, only wicked!'
'Never mind that.' And he stooped and kissed her.
Next morning Marchmill was called at six o'clock; and in waking and
yawning she heard him muttering to himself: 'What the deuce is this
that's been crackling under me so?' Imagining her asleep he searched
round him and withdrew something. Through her half-opened eyes she
perceived it to be Mr. Trewe.
'Well, I'm damned!' her husband exclaimed.
'What, dear?' said she.
'O, you are awake? Ha! ha!'
'What do you mean?'
'Some bloke's photograph--a friend of our landlady's, I suppose. I
wonder how it came here; whisked off the table by accident perhaps when
they were making the bed.'
'I was looking at it yesterday, and it must have dropped in then.'
'O, he's a friend of yours? Bless his picturesque heart!'
Ella's loyalty to the object of her admiration could not endure to hear
him ridiculed. 'He's a clever man!' she said, with a tremor in her
gentle voice which she herself felt to be absurdly uncalled for.
'He is a rising poet--the gentleman who occupied two of these rooms
before we came, though I've never seen him.'
'How do you know, if you've never seen him?'
'Mrs. Hooper told me when she showed me the photograph.'
'O; well, I must up and be off. I shall be home rather early. Sorry I
can't take you to-day, dear. Mind the children don't go getting
That day Mrs. Marchmill inquired if Mr. Trewe were likely to call at any
'Yes,' said Mrs. Hooper. 'He's coming this day week to stay with a
friend near here till you leave. He'll be sure to call.'
Marchmill did return quite early in the afternoon; and, opening some
letters which had arrived in his absence, declared suddenly that he and
his family would have to leave a week earlier than they had expected to
do--in short, in three days.
'Surely we can stay a week longer?' she pleaded. 'I like it here.'
'I don't. It is getting rather slow.'
'Then you might leave me and the children!'
'How perverse you are, Ell! What's the use? And have to come to fetch
you! No: we'll all return together; and we'll make out our time in North
Wales or Brighton a little later on. Besides, you've three days longer
It seemed to be her doom not to meet the man for whose rival talent she
had a despairing admiration, and to whose person she was now absolutely
attached. Yet she determined to make a last effort; and having gathered
from her landlady that Trewe was living in a lonely spot not far from the
fashionable town on the Island opposite, she crossed over in the packet
from the neighbouring pier the following afternoon.
What a useless journey it was! Ella knew but vaguely where the house
stood, and when she fancied she had found it, and ventured to inquire of
a pedestrian if he lived there, the answer returned by the man was that
he did not know. And if he did live there, how could she call upon him?
Some women might have the assurance to do it, but she had not. How crazy
he would think her. She might have asked him to call upon her, perhaps;
but she had not the courage for that, either. She lingered mournfully
about the picturesque seaside eminence till it was time to return to the
town and enter the steamer for recrossing, reaching home for dinner
without having been greatly missed.
At the last moment, unexpectedly enough, her husband said that he should
have no objection to letting her and the children stay on till the end of
the week, since she wished to do so, if she felt herself able to get home
without him. She concealed the pleasure this extension of time gave her;
and Marchmill went off the next morning alone.
But the week passed, and Trewe did not call.
On Saturday morning the remaining members of the Marchmill family
departed from the place which had been productive of so much fervour in
her. The dreary, dreary train; the sun shining in moted beams upon the
hot cushions; the dusty permanent way; the mean rows of wire--these
things were her accompaniment: while out of the window the deep blue sea-
levels disappeared from her gaze, and with them her poet's home. Heavy-
hearted, she tried to read, and wept instead.
Mr. Marchmill was in a thriving way of business, and he and his family
lived in a large new house, which stood in rather extensive grounds a few
miles outside the city wherein he carried on his trade. Ella's life was
lonely here, as the suburban life is apt to be, particularly at certain
seasons; and she had ample time to indulge her taste for lyric and
elegiac composition. She had hardly got back when she encountered a
piece by Robert Trewe in the new number of her favourite magazine, which
must have been written almost immediately before her visit to Solentsea,
for it contained the very couplet she had seen pencilled on the wallpaper
by the bed, and Mrs. Hooper had declared to be recent. Ella could resist
no longer, but seizing a pen impulsively, wrote to him as a brother-poet,
using the name of John Ivy, congratulating him in her letter on his
triumphant executions in metre and rhythm of thoughts that moved his
soul, as compared with her own brow-beaten efforts in the same pathetic
To this address there came a response in a few days, little as she had
dared to hope for it--a civil and brief note, in which the young poet
stated that, though he was not well acquainted with Mr. Ivy's verse, he
recalled the name as being one he had seen attached to some very
promising pieces; that he was glad to gain Mr. Ivy's acquaintance by
letter, and should certainly look with much interest for his productions
in the future.
There must have been something juvenile or timid in her own epistle, as
one ostensibly coming from a man, she declared to herself; for Trewe
quite adopted the tone of an elder and superior in this reply. But what
did it matter? he had replied; he had written to her with his own hand
from that very room she knew so well, for he was now back again in his
The correspondence thus begun was continued for two months or more, Ella
Marchmill sending him from time to time some that she considered to be
the best of her pieces, which he very kindly accepted, though he did not
say he sedulously read them, nor did he send her any of his own in
return. Ella would have been more hurt at this than she was if she had
not known that Trewe laboured under the impression that she was one of
his own sex.
Yet the situation was unsatisfactory. A flattering little voice told her
that, were he only to see her, matters would be otherwise. No doubt she
would have helped on this by making a frank confession of womanhood, to
begin with, if something had not happened, to her delight, to render it
unnecessary. A friend of her husband's, the editor of the most important
newspaper in the city and county, who was dining with them one day,
observed during their conversation about the poet that his (the editor's)
brother the landscape-painter was a friend of Mr. Trewe's, and that the
two men were at that very moment in Wales together.
Ella was slightly acquainted with the editor's brother. The next morning
down she sat and wrote, inviting him to stay at her house for a short
time on his way back, and requesting him to bring with him, if
practicable, his companion Mr. Trewe, whose acquaintance she was anxious
to make. The answer arrived after some few days. Her correspondent and
his friend Trewe would have much satisfaction in accepting her invitation
on their way southward, which would be on such and such a day in the
Ella was blithe and buoyant. Her scheme had succeeded; her beloved
though as yet unseen one was coming. "Behold, he standeth behind our
wall; he looked forth at the windows, showing himself through the
lattice," she thought ecstatically. "And, lo, the winter is past, the
rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the
singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our
But it was necessary to consider the details of lodging and feeding him.
This she did most solicitously, and awaited the pregnant day and hour.
It was about five in the afternoon when she heard a ring at the door and
the editor's brother's voice in the hall. Poetess as she was, or as she
thought herself, she had not been too sublime that day to dress with
infinite trouble in a fashionable robe of rich material, having a faint
resemblance to the chiton of the Greeks, a style just then in vogue among
ladies of an artistic and romantic turn, which had been obtained by Ella
of her Bond Street dressmaker when she was last in London. Her visitor
entered the drawing-room. She looked towards his rear; nobody else came
through the door. Where, in the name of the God of Love, was Robert
'O, I'm sorry,' said the painter, after their introductory words had been
spoken. 'Trewe is a curious fellow, you know, Mrs. Marchmill. He said
he'd come; then he said he couldn't. He's rather dusty. We've been
doing a few miles with knapsacks, you know; and he wanted to get on
'He--he's not coming?'
'He's not; and he asked me to make his apologies.'
'When did you p-p-part from him?' she asked, her nether lip starting off
quivering so much that it was like a tremolo-stop opened in her speech.
She longed to run away from this dreadful bore and cry her eyes out.
'Just now, in the turnpike road yonder there.'
'What! he has actually gone past my gates?'
'Yes. When we got to them--handsome gates they are, too, the finest bit
of modern wrought-iron work I have seen--when we came to them we stopped,
talking there a little while, and then he wished me good-bye and went on.
The truth is, he's a little bit depressed just now, and doesn't want to
see anybody. He's a very good fellow, and a warm friend, but a little
uncertain and gloomy sometimes; he thinks too much of things. His poetry
is rather too erotic and passionate, you know, for some tastes; and he
has just come in for a terrible slating from the --- Review that was
published yesterday; he saw a copy of it at the station by accident.
Perhaps you've read it?'
'So much the better. O, it is not worth thinking of; just one of those
articles written to order, to please the narrow-minded set of subscribers
upon whom the circulation depends. But he's upset by it. He says it is
the misrepresentation that hurts him so; that, though he can stand a fair
attack, he can't stand lies that he's powerless to refute and stop from
spreading. That's just Trewe's weak point. He lives so much by himself
that these things affect him much more than they would if he were in the
bustle of fashionable or commercial life. So he wouldn't come here,
making the excuse that it all looked so new and monied--if you'll
'But--he must have known--there was sympathy here! Has he never said
anything about getting letters from this address?'
'Yes, yes, he has, from John Ivy--perhaps a relative of yours, he
thought, visiting here at the time?'
'Did he--like Ivy, did he say?'
'Well, I don't know that he took any great interest in Ivy.'
'Or in his poems?'
'Or in his poems--so far as I know, that is.'
Robert Trewe took no interest in her house, in her poems, or in their
writer. As soon as she could get away she went into the nursery and
tried to let off her emotion by unnecessarily kissing the children, till
she had a sudden sense of disgust at being reminded how plain-looking
they were, like their father.
The obtuse and single-minded landscape-painter never once perceived from
her conversation that it was only Trewe she wanted, and not himself. He
made the best of his visit, seeming to enjoy the society of Ella's
husband, who also took a great fancy to him, and showed him everywhere
about the neighbourhood, neither of them noticing Ella's mood.
The painter had been gone only a day or two when, while sitting upstairs
alone one morning, she glanced over the London paper just arrived, and
read the following paragraph:-
'SUICIDE OF A POET
'Mr. Robert Trewe, who has been favourably known for some years as one
of our rising lyrists, committed suicide at his lodgings at Solentsea
on Saturday evening last by shooting himself in the right temple with
a revolver. Readers hardly need to be reminded that Mr. Trewe has
recently attracted the attention of a much wider public than had
hitherto known him, by his new volume of verse, mostly of an
impassioned kind, entitled "Lyrics to a Woman Unknown," which has been
already favourably noticed in these pages for the extraordinary gamut
of feeling it traverses, and which has been made the subject of a
severe, if not ferocious, criticism in the --- Review. It is
supposed, though not certainly known, that the article may have
partially conduced to the sad act, as a copy of the review in question
was found on his writing-table; and he has been observed to be in a
somewhat depressed state of mind since the critique appeared.'
Then came the report of the inquest, at which the following letter was
read, it having been addressed to a friend at a distance:-
'DEAR -,--Before these lines reach your hands I shall be delivered
from the inconveniences of seeing, hearing, and knowing more of the
things around me. I will not trouble you by giving my reasons for the
step I have taken, though I can assure you they were sound and
logical. Perhaps had I been blessed with a mother, or a sister, or a
female friend of another sort tenderly devoted to me, I might have
thought it worth while to continue my present existence. I have long
dreamt of such an unattainable creature, as you know, and she, this
undiscoverable, elusive one, inspired my last volume; the imaginary
woman alone, for, in spite of what has been said in some quarters,
there is no real woman behind the title. She has continued to the
last unrevealed, unmet, unwon. I think it desirable to mention this
in order that no blame may attach to any real woman as having been the
cause of my decease by cruel or cavalier treatment of me. Tell my
landlady that I am sorry to have caused her this unpleasantness; but
my occupancy of the rooms will soon be forgotten. There are ample
funds in my name at the bank to pay all expenses. R. TREWE.'
Ella sat for a while as if stunned, then rushed into the adjoining
chamber and flung herself upon her face on the bed.
Her grief and distraction shook her to pieces; and she lay in this frenzy
of sorrow for more than an hour. Broken words came every now and then
from her quivering lips: 'O, if he had only known of me--known of me--me!
. . . O, if I had only once met him--only once; and put my hand upon his
hot forehead--kissed him--let him know how I loved him--that I would have
suffered shame and scorn, would have lived and died, for him! Perhaps it
would have saved his dear life! . . . But no--it was not allowed! God is
a jealous God; and that happiness was not for him and me!'
All possibilities were over; the meeting was stultified. Yet it was
almost visible to her in her fantasy even now, though it could never be
'The hour which might have been, yet might not be,
Which man's and woman's heart conceived and bore,
Yet whereof life was barren.'
* * * * *
She wrote to the landlady at Solentsea in the third person, in as subdued
a style as she could command, enclosing a postal order for a sovereign,
and informing Mrs. Hooper that Mrs. Marchmill had seen in the papers the
sad account of the poet's death, and having been, as Mrs. Hooper was
aware, much interested in Mr. Trewe during her stay at Coburg House, she
would be obliged if Mrs. Hooper could obtain a small portion of his hair
before his coffin was closed down, and send it her as a memorial of him,
as also the photograph that was in the frame.
By the return-post a letter arrived containing what had been requested.
Ella wept over the portrait and secured it in her private drawer; the
lock of hair she tied with white ribbon and put in her bosom, whence she
drew it and kissed it every now and then in some unobserved nook.
'What's the matter?' said her husband, looking up from his newspaper on
one of these occasions. 'Crying over something? A lock of hair? Whose
'He's dead!' she murmured.
'I don't want to tell you, Will, just now, unless you insist!' she said,
a sob hanging heavy in her voice.
'O, all right.'
'Do you mind my refusing? I will tell you some day.'
'It doesn't matter in the least, of course.'
He walked away whistling a few bars of no tune in particular; and when he
had got down to his factory in the city the subject came into Marchmill's
He, too, was aware that a suicide had taken place recently at the house
they had occupied at Solentsea. Having seen the volume of poems in his
wife's hand of late, and heard fragments of the landlady's conversation
about Trewe when they were her tenants, he all at once said to himself;
'Why of course it's he! How the devil did she get to know him? What sly
animals women are!'
Then he placidly dismissed the matter, and went on with his daily
affairs. By this time Ella at home had come to a determination. Mrs.
Hooper, in sending the hair and photograph, had informed her of the day
of the funeral; and as the morning and noon wore on an overpowering wish
to know where they were laying him took possession of the sympathetic
woman. Caring very little now what her husband or any one else might
think of her eccentricities; she wrote Marchmill a brief note, stating
that she was called away for the afternoon and evening, but would return
on the following morning. This she left on his desk, and having given
the same information to the servants, went out of the house on foot.
When Mr. Marchmill reached home early in the afternoon the servants
looked anxious. The nurse took him privately aside, and hinted that her
mistress's sadness during the past few days had been such that she feared
she had gone out to drown herself. Marchmill reflected. Upon the whole
he thought that she had not done that. Without saying whither he was
bound he also started off, telling them not to sit up for him. He drove
to the railway-station, and took a ticket for Solentsea.
It was dark when he reached the place, though he had come by a fast
train, and he knew that if his wife had preceded him thither it could
only have been by a slower train, arriving not a great while before his
own. The season at Solentsea was now past: the parade was gloomy, and
the flys were few and cheap. He asked the way to the Cemetery, and soon
reached it. The gate was locked, but the keeper let him in, declaring,
however, that there was nobody within the precincts. Although it was not
late, the autumnal darkness had now become intense; and he found some
difficulty in keeping to the serpentine path which led to the quarter
where, as the man had told him, the one or two interments for the day had
taken place. He stepped upon the grass, and, stumbling over some pegs,
stooped now and then to discern if possible a figure against the sky.
He could see none; but lighting on a spot where the soil was trodden,
beheld a crouching object beside a newly made grave. She heard him, and
'Ell, how silly this is!' he said indignantly. 'Running away from home--I
never heard such a thing! Of course I am not jealous of this unfortunate
man; but it is too ridiculous that you, a married woman with three
children and a fourth coming, should go losing your head like this over a
dead lover! . . . Do you know you were locked in? You might not have
been able to get out all night.'
She did not answer.
'I hope it didn't go far between you and him, for your own sake.'
'Don't insult me, Will.'
'Mind, I won't have any more of this sort of thing; do you hear?'
'Very well,' she said.
He drew her arm within his own, and conducted her out of the Cemetery. It
was impossible to get back that night; and not wishing to be recognized
in their present sorry condition, he took her to a miserable little
coffee-house close to the station, whence they departed early in the
morning, travelling almost without speaking, under the sense that it was
one of those dreary situations occurring in married life which words
could not mend, and reaching their own door at noon.
The months passed, and neither of the twain ever ventured to start a
conversation upon this episode. Ella seemed to be only too frequently in
a sad and listless mood, which might almost have been called pining. The
time was approaching when she would have to undergo the stress of
childbirth for a fourth time, and that apparently did not tend to raise
'I don't think I shall get over it this time!' she said one day.
'Pooh! what childish foreboding! Why shouldn't it be as well now as
She shook her head. 'I feel almost sure I am going to die; and I should
be glad, if it were not for Nelly, and Frank, and Tiny.'
'You'll soon find somebody to fill my place,' she murmured, with a sad
smile. 'And you'll have a perfect right to; I assure you of that.'
'Ell, you are not thinking still about that--poetical friend of yours?'
She neither admitted nor denied the charge. 'I am not going to get over
my illness this time,' she reiterated. 'Something tells me I shan't.'
This view of things was rather a bad beginning, as it usually is; and, in
fact, six weeks later, in the month of May, she was lying in her room,
pulseless and bloodless, with hardly strength enough left to follow up
one feeble breath with another, the infant for whose unnecessary life she
was slowly parting with her own being fat and well. Just before her
death she spoke to Marchmill softly:-
'Will, I want to confess to you the entire circumstances of that--about
you know what--that time we visited Solentsea. I can't tell what
possessed me--how I could forget you so, my husband! But I had got into
a morbid state: I thought you had been unkind; that you had neglected me;
that you weren't up to my intellectual level, while he was, and far above
it. I wanted a fuller appreciator, perhaps, rather than another lover--'
She could get no further then for very exhaustion; and she went off in
sudden collapse a few hours later, without having said anything more to
her husband on the subject of her love for the poet. William Marchmill,
in truth, like most husbands of several years' standing, was little
disturbed by retrospective jealousies, and had not shown the least
anxiety to press her for confessions concerning a man dead and gone
beyond any power of inconveniencing him more.
But when she had been buried a couple of years it chanced one day that,
in turning over some forgotten papers that he wished to destroy before
his second wife entered the house, he lighted on a lock of hair in an
envelope, with the photograph of the deceased poet, a date being written
on the back in his late wife's hand. It was that of the time they spent
Marchmill looked long and musingly at the hair and portrait, for
something struck him. Fetching the little boy who had been the death of
his mother, now a noisy toddler, he took him on his knee, held the lock
of hair against the child's head, and set up the photograph on the table
behind, so that he could closely compare the features each countenance
presented. There were undoubtedly strong traces of resemblance; the
dreamy and peculiar expression of the poet's face sat, as the transmitted
idea, upon the child's, and the hair was of the same hue.
'I'm damned if I didn't think so!' murmured Marchmill. 'Then she did
play me false with that fellow at the lodgings! Let me see: the
dates--the second week in August . . . the third week in May . . . Yes .
. . yes . . . Get away, you poor little brat! You are nothing to me!'
THE THREE STRANGERS
Among the few features of agricultural England which retain an appearance
but little modified by the lapse of centuries, may be reckoned the high,
grassy and furzy downs, coombs, or ewe-leases, as they are indifferently
called, that fill a large area of certain counties in the south and south-
west. If any mark of human occupation is met with hereon, it usually
takes the form of the solitary cottage of some shepherd.
Fifty years ago such a lonely cottage stood on such a down, and may
possibly be standing there now. In spite of its loneliness, however, the
spot, by actual measurement, was not more than five miles from a county-
town. Yet that affected it little. Five miles of irregular upland,
during the long inimical seasons, with their sleets, snows, rains, and
mists, afford withdrawing space enough to isolate a Timon or a
Nebuchadnezzar; much less, in fair weather, to please that less repellent
tribe, the poets, philosophers, artists, and others who 'conceive and
meditate of pleasant things.'
Some old earthen camp or barrow, some clump of trees, at least some
starved fragment of ancient hedge is usually taken advantage of in the
erection of these forlorn dwellings. But, in the present case, such a
kind of shelter had been disregarded. Higher Crowstairs, as the house
was called, stood quite detached and undefended. The only reason for its
precise situation seemed to be the crossing of two footpaths at right
angles hard by, which may have crossed there and thus for a good five
hundred years. Hence the house was exposed to the elements on all sides.
But, though the wind up here blew unmistakably when it did blow, and the
rain hit hard whenever it fell, the various weathers of the winter season
were not quite so formidable on the coomb as they were imagined to be by
dwellers on low ground. The raw rimes were not so pernicious as in the
hollows, and the frosts were scarcely so severe. When the shepherd and
his family who tenanted the house were pitied for their sufferings from
the exposure, they said that upon the whole they were less inconvenienced
by 'wuzzes and flames' (hoarses and phlegms) than when they had lived by
the stream of a snug neighbouring valley.
The night of March 28, 182-, was precisely one of the nights that were
wont to call forth these expressions of commiseration. The level
rainstorm smote walls, slopes, and hedges like the clothyard shafts of
Senlac and Crecy. Such sheep and outdoor animals as had no shelter stood
with their buttocks to the winds; while the tails of little birds trying
to roost on some scraggy thorn were blown inside-out like umbrellas. The
gable-end of the cottage was stained with wet, and the eavesdroppings
flapped against the wall. Yet never was commiseration for the shepherd
more misplaced. For that cheerful rustic was entertaining a large party
in glorification of the christening of his second girl.
The guests had arrived before the rain began to fall, and they were all
now assembled in the chief or living room of the dwelling. A glance into
the apartment at eight o'clock on this eventful evening would have
resulted in the opinion that it was as cosy and comfortable a nook as
could be wished for in boisterous weather. The calling of its inhabitant
was proclaimed by a number of highly-polished sheep-crooks without stems
that were hung ornamentally over the fireplace, the curl of each shining
crook varying from the antiquated type engraved in the patriarchal
pictures of old family Bibles to the most approved fashion of the last
local sheep-fair. The room was lighted by half-a-dozen candles, having
wicks only a trifle smaller than the grease which enveloped them, in
candlesticks that were never used but at high-days, holy-days, and family
feasts. The lights were scattered about the room, two of them standing
on the chimney-piece. This position of candles was in itself
significant. Candles on the chimney-piece always meant a party.
On the hearth, in front of a back-brand to give substance, blazed a fire
of thorns, that crackled 'like the laughter of the fool.'
Nineteen persons were gathered here. Of these, five women, wearing gowns
of various bright hues, sat in chairs along the wall; girls shy and not
shy filled the window-bench; four men, including Charley Jake the hedge-
carpenter, Elijah New the parish-clerk, and John Pitcher, a neighbouring
dairyman, the shepherd's father-in-law, lolled in the settle; a young man
and maid, who were blushing over tentative pourparlers on a
life-companionship, sat beneath the corner-cupboard; and an elderly
engaged man of fifty or upward moved restlessly about from spots where
his betrothed was not to the spot where she was. Enjoyment was pretty
general, and so much the more prevailed in being unhampered by
conventional restrictions. Absolute confidence in each other's good
opinion begat perfect ease, while the finishing stroke of manner,
amounting to a truly princely serenity, was lent to the majority by the
absence of any expression or trait denoting that they wished to get on in
the world, enlarge their minds, or do any eclipsing thing whatever--which
nowadays so generally nips the bloom and bonhomie of all except the two
extremes of the social scale.
Shepherd Fennel had married well, his wife being a dairyman's daughter
from a vale at a distance, who brought fifty guineas in her pocket--and
kept them there, till they should be required for ministering to the
needs of a coming family. This frugal woman had been somewhat exercised
as to the character that should be given to the gathering. A sit-still
party had its advantages; but an undisturbed position of ease in chairs
and settles was apt to lead on the men to such an unconscionable deal of
toping that they would sometimes fairly drink the house dry. A dancing-
party was the alternative; but this, while avoiding the foregoing
objection on the score of good drink, had a counterbalancing disadvantage
in the matter of good victuals, the ravenous appetites engendered by the
exercise causing immense havoc in the buttery. Shepherdess Fennel fell
back upon the intermediate plan of mingling short dances with short
periods of talk and singing, so as to hinder any ungovernable rage in
either. But this scheme was entirely confined to her own gentle mind:
the shepherd himself was in the mood to exhibit the most reckless phases
The fiddler was a boy of those parts, about twelve years of age, who had
a wonderful dexterity in jigs and reels, though his fingers were so small
and short as to necessitate a constant shifting for the high notes, from
which he scrambled back to the first position with sounds not of unmixed
purity of tone. At seven the shrill tweedle-dee of this youngster had
begun, accompanied by a booming ground-bass from Elijah New, the parish-
clerk, who had thoughtfully brought with him his favourite musical
instrument, the serpent. Dancing was instantaneous, Mrs. Fennel
privately enjoining the players on no account to let the dance exceed the
length of a quarter of an hour.
But Elijah and the boy, in the excitement of their position, quite forgot
the injunction. Moreover, Oliver Giles, a man of seventeen, one of the
dancers, who was enamoured of his partner, a fair girl of thirty-three
rolling years, had recklessly handed a new crown-piece to the musicians,
as a bribe to keep going as long as they had muscle and wind. Mrs.
Fennel, seeing the steam begin to generate on the countenances of her
guests, crossed over and touched the fiddler's elbow and put her hand on
the serpent's mouth. But they took no notice, and fearing she might lose
her character of genial hostess if she were to interfere too markedly,
she retired and sat down helpless. And so the dance whizzed on with
cumulative fury, the performers moving in their planet-like courses,
direct and retrograde, from apogee to perigee, till the hand of the well-
kicked clock at the bottom of the room had travelled over the
circumference of an hour.
While these cheerful events were in course of enactment within Fennel's
pastoral dwelling, an incident having considerable bearing on the party
had occurred in the gloomy night without. Mrs. Fennel's concern about
the growing fierceness of the dance corresponded in point of time with
the ascent of a human figure to the solitary hill of Higher Crowstairs
from the direction of the distant town. This personage strode on through
the rain without a pause, following the little-worn path which, further
on in its course, skirted the shepherd's cottage.
It was nearly the time of full moon, and on this account, though the sky
was lined with a uniform sheet of dripping cloud, ordinary objects out of
doors were readily visible. The sad wan light revealed the lonely
pedestrian to be a man of supple frame; his gait suggested that he had
somewhat passed the period of perfect and instinctive agility, though not
so far as to be otherwise than rapid of motion when occasion required. At
a rough guess, he might have been about forty years of age. He appeared
tall, but a recruiting sergeant, or other person accustomed to the
judging of men's heights by the eye, would have discerned that this was
chiefly owing to his gauntness, and that he was not more than five-feet-
eight or nine.
Notwithstanding the regularity of his tread, there was caution in it, as
in that of one who mentally feels his way; and despite the fact that it
was not a black coat nor a dark garment of any sort that he wore, there
was something about him which suggested that he naturally belonged to the
black-coated tribes of men. His clothes were of fustian, and his boots
hobnailed, yet in his progress he showed not the mud-accustomed bearing
of hobnailed and fustianed peasantry.
By the time that he had arrived abreast of the shepherd's premises the
rain came down, or rather came along, with yet more determined violence.
The outskirts of the little settlement partially broke the force of wind
and rain, and this induced him to stand still. The most salient of the
shepherd's domestic erections was an empty sty at the forward corner of
his hedgeless garden, for in these latitudes the principle of masking the
homelier features of your establishment by a conventional frontage was
unknown. The traveller's eye was attracted to this small building by the
pallid shine of the wet slates that covered it. He turned aside, and,
finding it empty, stood under the pent-roof for shelter.
While he stood, the boom of the serpent within the adjacent house, and
the lesser strains of the fiddler, reached the spot as an accompaniment
to the surging hiss of the flying rain on the sod, its louder beating on
the cabbage-leaves of the garden, on the eight or ten beehives just
discernible by the path, and its dripping from the eaves into a row of
buckets and pans that had been placed under the walls of the cottage. For
at Higher Crowstairs, as at all such elevated domiciles, the grand
difficulty of housekeeping was an insufficiency of water; and a casual
rainfall was utilized by turning out, as catchers, every utensil that the
house contained. Some queer stories might be told of the contrivances
for economy in suds and dish-waters that are absolutely necessitated in
upland habitations during the droughts of summer. But at this season
there were no such exigencies; a mere acceptance of what the skies
bestowed was sufficient for an abundant store.
At last the notes of the serpent ceased and the house was silent. This
cessation of activity aroused the solitary pedestrian from the reverie
into which he had lapsed, and, emerging from the shed, with an apparently
new intention, he walked up the path to the house-door. Arrived here,
his first act was to kneel down on a large stone beside the row of
vessels, and to drink a copious draught from one of them. Having
quenched his thirst he rose and lifted his hand to knock, but paused with
his eye upon the panel. Since the dark surface of the wood revealed
absolutely nothing, it was evident that he must be mentally looking
through the door, as if he wished to measure thereby all the
possibilities that a house of this sort might include, and how they might
bear upon the question of his entry.
In his indecision he turned and surveyed the scene around. Not a soul
was anywhere visible. The garden-path stretched downward from his feet,
gleaming like the track of a snail; the roof of the little well (mostly
dry), the well-cover, the top rail of the garden-gate, were varnished
with the same dull liquid glaze; while, far away in the vale, a faint
whiteness of more than usual extent showed that the rivers were high in
the meads. Beyond all this winked a few bleared lamplights through the
beating drops--lights that denoted the situation of the county-town from
which he had appeared to come. The absence of all notes of life in that
direction seemed to clinch his intentions, and he knocked at the door.
Within, a desultory chat had taken the place of movement and musical
sound. The hedge-carpenter was suggesting a song to the company, which
nobody just then was inclined to undertake, so that the knock afforded a
not unwelcome diversion.
'Walk in!' said the shepherd promptly.
The latch clicked upward, and out of the night our pedestrian appeared
upon the door-mat. The shepherd arose, snuffed two of the nearest
candles, and turned to look at him.
Their light disclosed that the stranger was dark in complexion and not
unprepossessing as to feature. His hat, which for a moment he did not
remove, hung low over his eyes, without concealing that they were large,
open, and determined, moving with a flash rather than a glance round the
room. He seemed pleased with his survey, and, baring his shaggy head,
said, in a rich deep voice, 'The rain is so heavy, friends, that I ask
leave to come in and rest awhile.'
'To be sure, stranger,' said the shepherd. 'And faith, you've been lucky
in choosing your time, for we are having a bit of a fling for a glad
cause--though, to be sure, a man could hardly wish that glad cause to
happen more than once a year.'
'Nor less,' spoke up a woman. 'For 'tis best to get your family over and
done with, as soon as you can, so as to be all the earlier out of the fag
'And what may be this glad cause?' asked the stranger.
'A birth and christening,' said the shepherd.
The stranger hoped his host might not be made unhappy either by too many
or too few of such episodes, and being invited by a gesture to a pull at
the mug, he readily acquiesced. His manner, which, before entering, had
been so dubious, was now altogether that of a careless and candid man.
'Late to be traipsing athwart this coomb--hey?' said the engaged man of
'Late it is, master, as you say.--I'll take a seat in the chimney-corner,
if you have nothing to urge against it, ma'am; for I am a little moist on
the side that was next the rain.'
Mrs. Shepherd Fennel assented, and made room for the self-invited comer,
who, having got completely inside the chimney-corner, stretched out his
legs and his arms with the expansiveness of a person quite at home.
'Yes, I am rather cracked in the vamp,' he said freely, seeing that the
eyes of the shepherd's wife fell upon his boots, 'and I am not well
fitted either. I have had some rough times lately, and have been forced
to pick up what I can get in the way of wearing, but I must find a suit
better fit for working-days when I reach home.'
'One of hereabouts?' she inquired.
'Not quite that--further up the country.'
'I thought so. And so be I; and by your tongue you come from my
'But you would hardly have heard of me,' he said quickly. 'My time would
be long before yours, ma'am, you see.'
This testimony to the youthfulness of his hostess had the effect of
stopping her cross-examination.
'There is only one thing more wanted to make me happy,' continued the new-
comer. 'And that is a little baccy, which I am sorry to say I am out
'I'll fill your pipe,' said the shepherd.
'I must ask you to lend me a pipe likewise.'
'A smoker, and no pipe about 'ee?'
'I have dropped it somewhere on the road.'
The shepherd filled and handed him a new clay pipe, saying, as he did so,
'Hand me your baccy-box--I'll fill that too, now I am about it.'
The man went through the movement of searching his pockets.
'Lost that too?' said his entertainer, with some surprise.
'I am afraid so,' said the man with some confusion. 'Give it to me in a
screw of paper.' Lighting his pipe at the candle with a suction that
drew the whole flame into the bowl, he resettled himself in the corner
and bent his looks upon the faint steam from his damp legs, as if he
wished to say no more.
Meanwhile the general body of guests had been taking little notice of
this visitor by reason of an absorbing discussion in which they were
engaged with the band about a tune for the next dance. The matter being
settled, they were about to stand up when an interruption came in the
shape of another knock at the door.
At sound of the same the man in the chimney-corner took up the poker and
began stirring the brands as if doing it thoroughly were the one aim of
his existence; and a second time the shepherd said, 'Walk in!' In a
moment another man stood upon the straw-woven door-mat. He too was a
This individual was one of a type radically different from the first.
There was more of the commonplace in his manner, and a certain jovial
cosmopolitanism sat upon his features. He was several years older than
the first arrival, his hair being slightly frosted, his eyebrows bristly,
and his whiskers cut back from his cheeks. His face was rather full and
flabby, and yet it was not altogether a face without power. A few grog-
blossoms marked the neighbourhood of his nose. He flung back his long
drab greatcoat, revealing that beneath it he wore a suit of cinder-gray
shade throughout, large heavy seals, of some metal or other that would
take a polish, dangling from his fob as his only personal ornament.
Shaking the water-drops from his low-crowned glazed hat, he said, 'I must
ask for a few minutes' shelter, comrades, or I shall be wetted to my skin
before I get to Casterbridge.'
'Make yourself at home, master,' said the shepherd, perhaps a trifle less
heartily than on the first occasion. Not that Fennel had the least tinge
of niggardliness in his composition; but the room was far from large,
spare chairs were not numerous, and damp companions were not altogether
desirable at close quarters for the women and girls in their
However, the second comer, after taking off his greatcoat, and hanging
his hat on a nail in one of the ceiling-beams as if he had been specially
invited to put it there, advanced and sat down at the table. This had
been pushed so closely into the chimney-corner, to give all available
room to the dancers, that its inner edge grazed the elbow of the man who
had ensconced himself by the fire; and thus the two strangers were
brought into close companionship. They nodded to each other by way of
breaking the ice of unacquaintance, and the first stranger handed his
neighbour the family mug--a huge vessel of brown ware, having its upper
edge worn away like a threshold by the rub of whole generations of
thirsty lips that had gone the way of all flesh, and bearing the
following inscription burnt upon its rotund side in yellow letters
THERE IS NO FUN
UNTiLL i CUM.
The other man, nothing loth, raised the mug to his lips, and drank on,
and on, and on--till a curious blueness overspread the countenance of the
shepherd's wife, who had regarded with no little surprise the first
stranger's free offer to the second of what did not belong to him to
'I knew it!' said the toper to the shepherd with much satisfaction. 'When
I walked up your garden before coming in, and saw the hives all of a row,
I said to myself; "Where there's bees there's honey, and where there's
honey there's mead." But mead of such a truly comfortable sort as this I
really didn't expect to meet in my older days.' He took yet another pull
at the mug, till it assumed an ominous elevation.
'Glad you enjoy it!' said the shepherd warmly.
'It is goodish mead,' assented Mrs. Fennel, with an absence of enthusiasm
which seemed to say that it was possible to buy praise for one's cellar
at too heavy a price. 'It is trouble enough to make--and really I hardly
think we shall make any more. For honey sells well, and we ourselves can
make shift with a drop o' small mead and metheglin for common use from
'O, but you'll never have the heart!' reproachfully cried the stranger in
cinder-gray, after taking up the mug a third time and setting it down
empty. 'I love mead, when 'tis old like this, as I love to go to church
o' Sundays, or to relieve the needy any day of the week.'
'Ha, ha, ha!' said the man in the chimney-corner, who, in spite of the
taciturnity induced by the pipe of tobacco, could not or would not
refrain from this slight testimony to his comrade's humour.
Now the old mead of those days, brewed of the purest first-year or maiden
honey, four pounds to the gallon--with its due complement of white of
eggs, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, rosemary, yeast, and processes of
working, bottling, and cellaring--tasted remarkably strong; but it did
not taste so strong as it actually was. Hence, presently, the stranger
in cinder-gray at the table, moved by its creeping influence, unbuttoned
his waistcoat, threw himself back in his chair, spread his legs, and made
his presence felt in various ways.
'Well, well, as I say,' he resumed, 'I am going to Casterbridge, and to
Casterbridge I must go. I should have been almost there by this time;
but the rain drove me into your dwelling, and I'm not sorry for it.'
'You don't live in Casterbridge?' said the shepherd.
'Not as yet; though I shortly mean to move there.'
'Going to set up in trade, perhaps?'
'No, no,' said the shepherd's wife. 'It is easy to see that the
gentleman is rich, and don't want to work at anything.'
The cinder-gray stranger paused, as if to consider whether he would
accept that definition of himself. He presently rejected it by
answering, 'Rich is not quite the word for me, dame. I do work, and I
must work. And even if I only get to Casterbridge by midnight I must
begin work there at eight to-morrow morning. Yes, het or wet, blow or
snow, famine or sword, my day's work to-morrow must be done.'
'Poor man! Then, in spite o' seeming, you be worse off than we?' replied
the shepherd's wife.
''Tis the nature of my trade, men and maidens. 'Tis the nature of my
trade more than my poverty . . . But really and truly I must up and off,
or I shan't get a lodging in the town.' However, the speaker did not
move, and directly added, 'There's time for one more draught of
friendship before I go; and I'd perform it at once if the mug were not
'Here's a mug o' small,' said Mrs. Fennel. 'Small, we call it, though to
be sure 'tis only the first wash o' the combs.'
'No,' said the stranger disdainfully. 'I won't spoil your first kindness
by partaking o' your second.'
'Certainly not,' broke in Fennel. 'We don't increase and multiply every
day, and I'll fill the mug again.' He went away to the dark place under
the stairs where the barrel stood. The shepherdess followed him.
'Why should you do this?' she said reproachfully, as soon as they were
alone. 'He's emptied it once, though it held enough for ten people; and
now he's not contented wi' the small, but must needs call for more o' the
strong! And a stranger unbeknown to any of us. For my part, I don't
like the look o' the man at all.'
'But he's in the house, my honey; and 'tis a wet night, and a
christening. Daze it, what's a cup of mead more or less? There'll be
plenty more next bee-burning.'
'Very well--this time, then,' she answered, looking wistfully at the
barrel. 'But what is the man's calling, and where is he one of; that he
should come in and join us like this?'
'I don't know. I'll ask him again.'
The catastrophe of having the mug drained dry at one pull by the stranger
in cinder-gray was effectually guarded against this time by Mrs. Fennel.
She poured out his allowance in a small cup, keeping the large one at a
discreet distance from him. When he had tossed off his portion the
shepherd renewed his inquiry about the stranger's occupation.
The latter did not immediately reply, and the man in the chimney-corner,
with sudden demonstrativeness, said, 'Anybody may know my trade--I'm a
'A very good trade for these parts,' said the shepherd.
'And anybody may know mine--if they've the sense to find it out,' said
the stranger in cinder-gray.
'You may generally tell what a man is by his claws,' observed the hedge-
carpenter, looking at his own hands. 'My fingers be as full of thorns as
an old pin-cushion is of pins.'
The hands of the man in the chimney-corner instinctively sought the
shade, and he gazed into the fire as he resumed his pipe. The man at the
table took up the hedge-carpenter's remark, and added smartly, 'True; but
the oddity of my trade is that, instead of setting a mark upon me, it
sets a mark upon my customers.'
No observation being offered by anybody in elucidation of this enigma,
the shepherd's wife once more called for a song. The same obstacles
presented themselves as at the former time--one had no voice, another had
forgotten the first verse. The stranger at the table, whose soul had now
risen to a good working temperature, relieved the difficulty by
exclaiming that, to start the company, he would sing himself. Thrusting
one thumb into the arm-hole of his waistcoat, he waved the other hand in
the air, and, with an extemporizing gaze at the shining sheep-crooks
above the mantelpiece, began:-
'O my trade it is the rarest one,
Simple shepherds all -
My trade is a sight to see;
For my customers I tie, and take them up on high,
And waft 'em to a far countree!'
The room was silent when he had finished the verse--with one exception,
that of the man in the chimney-corner, who, at the singer's word,
'Chorus! 'joined him in a deep bass voice of musical relish -
'And waft 'em to a far countree!'
Oliver Giles, John Pitcher the dairyman, the parish-clerk, the engaged
man of fifty, the row of young women against the wall, seemed lost in
thought not of the gayest kind. The shepherd looked meditatively on the
ground, the shepherdess gazed keenly at the singer, and with some
suspicion; she was doubting whether this stranger were merely singing an
old song from recollection, or was composing one there and then for the
occasion. All were as perplexed at the obscure revelation as the guests
at Belshazzar's Feast, except the man in the chimney-corner, who quietly
said, 'Second verse, stranger,' and smoked on.
The singer thoroughly moistened himself from his lips inwards, and went
on with the next stanza as requested:-
'My tools are but common ones,
Simple shepherds all -
My tools are no sight to see:
A little hempen string, and a post whereon to swing,
Are implements enough for me!'
Shepherd Fennel glanced round. There was no longer any doubt that the
stranger was answering his question rhythmically. The guests one and all
started back with suppressed exclamations. The young woman engaged to
the man of fifty fainted half-way, and would have proceeded, but finding
him wanting in alacrity for catching her she sat down trembling.
'O, he's the--!' whispered the people in the background, mentioning the
name of an ominous public officer. 'He's come to do it! 'Tis to be at
Casterbridge jail to-morrow--the man for sheep-stealing--the poor clock-
maker we heard of; who used to live away at Shottsford and had no work to
do--Timothy Summers, whose family were a-starving, and so he went out of
Shottsford by the high-road, and took a sheep in open daylight, defying
the farmer and the farmer's wife and the farmer's lad, and every man jack
among 'em. He' (and they nodded towards the stranger of the deadly
trade) 'is come from up the country to do it because there's not enough
to do in his own county-town, and he's got the place here now our own
county man's dead; he's going to live in the same cottage under the
The stranger in cinder-gray took no notice of this whispered string of
observations, but again wetted his lips. Seeing that his friend in the
chimney-corner was the only one who reciprocated his joviality in any
way, he held out his cup towards that appreciative comrade, who also held
out his own. They clinked together, the eyes of the rest of the room
hanging upon the singer's actions. He parted his lips for the third
verse; but at that moment another knock was audible upon the door. This
time the knock was faint and hesitating.
The company seemed scared; the shepherd looked with consternation towards
the entrance, and it was with some effort that he resisted his alarmed
wife's deprecatory glance, and uttered for the third time the welcoming
words, 'Walk in!'
The door was gently opened, and another man stood upon the mat. He, like
those who had preceded him, was a stranger. This time it was a short,
small personage, of fair complexion, and dressed in a decent suit of dark
'Can you tell me the way to--?' he began: when, gazing round the room to
observe the nature of the company amongst whom he had fallen, his eyes
lighted on the stranger in cinder-gray. It was just at the instant when
the latter, who had thrown his mind into his song with such a will that
he scarcely heeded the interruption, silenced all whispers and inquiries
by bursting into his third verse:-
'To-morrow is my working day,
Simple shepherds all -
To-morrow is a working day for me:
For the farmer's sheep is slain, and the lad who did it ta'en,
And on his soul may God ha' merc-y!'
The stranger in the chimney-corner, waving cups with the singer so
heartily that his mead splashed over on the hearth, repeated in his bass
voice as before:-
'And on his soul may God ha' merc-y!'
All this time the third stranger had been standing in the doorway.
Finding now that he did not come forward or go on speaking, the guests
particularly regarded him. They noticed to their surprise that he stood
before them the picture of abject terror--his knees trembling, his hand
shaking so violently that the door-latch by which he supported himself
rattled audibly: his white lips were parted, and his eyes fixed on the
merry officer of justice in the middle of the room. A moment more and he
had turned, closed the door, and fled.
'What a man can it be?' said the shepherd.
The rest, between the awfulness of their late discovery and the odd
conduct of this third visitor, looked as if they knew not what to think,
and said nothing. Instinctively they withdrew further and further from
the grim gentleman in their midst, whom some of them seemed to take for
the Prince of Darkness himself; till they formed a remote circle, an
empty space of floor being left between them and him -
' . . . circulus, cujus centrum diabolus.'
The room was so silent--though there were more than twenty people in
it--that nothing could be heard but the patter of the rain against the
window-shutters, accompanied by the occasional hiss of a stray drop that
fell down the chimney into the fire, and the steady puffing of the man in
the corner, who had now resumed his pipe of long clay.
The stillness was unexpectedly broken. The distant sound of a gun
reverberated through the air--apparently from the direction of the county-
'Be jiggered!' cried the stranger who had sung the song, jumping up.
'What does that mean?' asked several.
'A prisoner escaped from the jail--that's what it means.'
All listened. The sound was repeated, and none of them spoke but the man
in the chimney-corner, who said quietly, 'I've often been told that in
this county they fire a gun at such times; but I never heard it till
'I wonder if it is my man?' murmured the personage in cinder-gray.
'Surely it is!' said the shepherd involuntarily. 'And surely we've zeed
him! That little man who looked in at the door by now, and quivered like
a leaf when he zeed ye and heard your song!'
'His teeth chattered, and the breath went out of his body,' said the
'And his heart seemed to sink within him like a stone,' said Oliver
'And he bolted as if he'd been shot at,' said the hedge-carpenter.
'True--his teeth chattered, and his heart seemed to sink; and he bolted
as if he'd been shot at,' slowly summed up the man in the chimney-corner.
'I didn't notice it,' remarked the hangman.
'We were all a-wondering what made him run off in such a fright,'
faltered one of the women against the wall, 'and now 'tis explained!'
The firing of the alarm-gun went on at intervals, low and sullenly, and
their suspicions became a certainty. The sinister gentleman in cinder-
gray roused himself. 'Is there a constable here?' he asked, in thick
tones. 'If so, let him step forward.'
The engaged man of fifty stepped quavering out from the wall, his
betrothed beginning to sob on the back of the chair.
'You are a sworn constable?'
'I be, sir.'
'Then pursue the criminal at once, with assistance, and bring him back
here. He can't have gone far.'
'I will, sir, I will--when I've got my staff. I'll go home and get it,
and come sharp here, and start in a body.'
'Staff!--never mind your staff; the man'll be gone!'
'But I can't do nothing without my staff--can I, William, and John, and
Charles Jake? No; for there's the king's royal crown a painted on en in
yaller and gold, and the lion and the unicorn, so as when I raise en up
and hit my prisoner, 'tis made a lawful blow thereby. I wouldn't 'tempt
to take up a man without my staff--no, not I. If I hadn't the law to gie
me courage, why, instead o' my taking up him he might take up me!'
'Now, I'm a king's man myself; and can give you authority enough for
this,' said the formidable officer in gray. 'Now then, all of ye, be
ready. Have ye any lanterns?'
'Yes--have ye any lanterns?--I demand it!' said the constable.
'And the rest of you able-bodied--'
'Able-bodied men--yes--the rest of ye!' said the constable.
'Have you some good stout staves and pitch-forks--'
'Staves and pitchforks--in the name o' the law! And take 'em in yer
hands and go in quest, and do as we in authority tell ye!'
Thus aroused, the men prepared to give chase. The evidence was, indeed,
though circumstantial, so convincing, that but little argument was needed
to show the shepherd's guests that after what they had seen it would look
very much like connivance if they did not instantly pursue the unhappy
third stranger, who could not as yet have gone more than a few hundred
yards over such uneven country.
A shepherd is always well provided with lanterns; and, lighting these
hastily, and with hurdle-staves in their hands, they poured out of the
door, taking a direction along the crest of the hill, away from the town,
the rain having fortunately a little abated.
Disturbed by the noise, or possibly by unpleasant dreams of her baptism,
the child who had been christened began to cry heart-brokenly in the room
overhead. These notes of grief came down through the chinks of the floor
to the ears of the women below, who jumped up one by one, and seemed glad
of the excuse to ascend and comfort the baby, for the incidents of the
last half-hour greatly oppressed them. Thus in the space of two or three
minutes the room on the ground-floor was deserted quite.
But it was not for long. Hardly had the sound of footsteps died away
when a man returned round the corner of the house from the direction the
pursuers had taken. Peeping in at the door, and seeing nobody there, he
entered leisurely. It was the stranger of the chimney-corner, who had
gone out with the rest. The motive of his return was shown by his
helping himself to a cut piece of skimmer-cake that lay on a ledge beside
where he had sat, and which he had apparently forgotten to take with him.
He also poured out half a cup more mead from the quantity that remained,
ravenously eating and drinking these as he stood. He had not finished
when another figure came in just as quietly--his friend in cinder-gray.
'O--you here?' said the latter, smiling. 'I thought you had gone to help
in the capture.' And this speaker also revealed the object of his return
by looking solicitously round for the fascinating mug of old mead.
'And I thought you had gone,' said the other, continuing his skimmer-cake
with some effort.
'Well, on second thoughts, I felt there were enough without me,' said the
first confidentially, 'and such a night as it is, too. Besides, 'tis the
business o' the Government to take care of its criminals--not mine.'
'True; so it is. And I felt as you did, that there were enough without
'I don't want to break my limbs running over the humps and hollows of
this wild country.'
'Nor I neither, between you and me.'
'These shepherd-people are used to it--simple-minded souls, you know,
stirred up to anything in a moment. They'll have him ready for me before
the morning, and no trouble to me at all.'
'They'll have him, and we shall have saved ourselves all labour in the
'True, true. Well, my way is to Casterbridge; and 'tis as much as my
legs will do to take me that far. Going the same way?'
'No, I am sorry to say! I have to get home over there' (he nodded
indefinitely to the right), 'and I feel as you do, that it is quite
enough for my legs to do before bedtime.'
The other had by this time finished the mead in the mug, after which,
shaking hands heartily at the door, and wishing each other well, they
went their several ways.
In the meantime the company of pursuers had reached the end of the hog's-
back elevation which dominated this part of the down. They had decided
on no particular plan of action; and, finding that the man of the baleful
trade was no longer in their company, they seemed quite unable to form
any such plan now. They descended in all directions down the hill, and
straightway several of the party fell into the snare set by Nature for
all misguided midnight ramblers over this part of the cretaceous
formation. The 'lanchets,' or flint slopes, which belted the escarpment
at intervals of a dozen yards, took the less cautious ones unawares, and
losing their footing on the rubbly steep they slid sharply downwards, the
lanterns rolling from their hands to the bottom, and there lying on their
sides till the horn was scorched through.
When they had again gathered themselves together, the shepherd, as the
man who knew the country best, took the lead, and guided them round these
treacherous inclines. The lanterns, which seemed rather to dazzle their
eyes and warn the fugitive than to assist them in the exploration, were
extinguished, due silence was observed; and in this more rational order
they plunged into the vale. It was a grassy, briery, moist defile,
affording some shelter to any person who had sought it; but the party
perambulated it in vain, and ascended on the other side. Here they
wandered apart, and after an interval closed together again to report
At the second time of closing in they found themselves near a lonely ash,
the single tree on this part of the coomb, probably sown there by a
passing bird some fifty years before. And here, standing a little to one
side of the trunk, as motionless as the trunk itself; appeared the man
they were in quest of; his outline being well defined against the sky
beyond. The band noiselessly drew up and faced him.
'Your money or your life!' said the constable sternly to the still
'No, no,' whispered John Pitcher. ''Tisn't our side ought to say that.
That's the doctrine of vagabonds like him, and we be on the side of the
'Well, well,' replied the constable impatiently; 'I must say something,
mustn't I? and if you had all the weight o' this undertaking upon your
mind, perhaps you'd say the wrong thing too!--Prisoner at the bar,
surrender, in the name of the Father--the Crown, I mane!'
The man under the tree seemed now to notice them for the first time, and,
giving them no opportunity whatever for exhibiting their courage, he
strolled slowly towards them. He was, indeed, the little man, the third
stranger; but his trepidation had in a great measure gone.
'Well, travellers,' he said, 'did I hear ye speak to me?'
'You did: you've got to come and be our prisoner at once!' said the
constable. 'We arrest 'ee on the charge of not biding in Casterbridge
jail in a decent proper manner to be hung to-morrow morning. Neighbours,
do your duty, and seize the culpet!'
On hearing the charge, the man seemed enlightened, and, saying not
another word, resigned himself with preternatural civility to the search-
party, who, with their staves in their hands, surrounded him on all
sides, and marched him back towards the shepherd's cottage.
It was eleven o'clock by the time they arrived. The light shining from
the open door, a sound of men's voices within, proclaimed to them as they
approached the house that some new events had arisen in their absence. On
entering they discovered the shepherd's living room to be invaded by two
officers from Casterbridge jail, and a well-known magistrate who lived at
the nearest country-seat, intelligence of the escape having become
'Gentlemen,' said the constable, 'I have brought back your man--not
without risk and danger; but every one must do his duty! He is inside
this circle of able-bodied persons, who have lent me useful aid,
considering their ignorance of Crown work. Men, bring forward your
prisoner!' And the third stranger was led to the light.
'Who is this?' said one of the officials.
'The man,' said the constable.
'Certainly not,' said the turnkey; and the first corroborated his
'But how can it be otherwise?' asked the constable. 'Or why was he so
terrified at sight o' the singing instrument of the law who sat there?'
Here he related the strange behaviour of the third stranger on entering
the house during the hangman's song.
'Can't understand it,' said the officer coolly. 'All I know is that it
is not the condemned man. He's quite a different character from this
one; a gauntish fellow, with dark hair and eyes, rather good-looking, and
with a musical bass voice that if you heard it once you'd never mistake
as long as you lived.'
'Why, souls--'twas the man in the chimney-corner!'
'Hey--what?' said the magistrate, coming forward after inquiring
particulars from the shepherd in the background. 'Haven't you got the
man after all?'
'Well, sir,' said the constable, 'he's the man we were in search of,
that's true; and yet he's not the man we were in search of. For the man
we were in search of was not the man we wanted, sir, if you understand my
everyday way; for 'twas the man in the chimney-corner!'
'A pretty kettle of fish altogether!' said the magistrate. 'You had
better start for the other man at once.'
The prisoner now spoke for the first time. The mention of the man in the
chimney-corner seemed to have moved him as nothing else could do. 'Sir,'
he said, stepping forward to the magistrate, 'take no more trouble about
me. The time is come when I may as well speak. I have done nothing; my
crime is that the condemned man is my brother. Early this afternoon I
left home at Shottsford to tramp it all the way to Casterbridge jail to
bid him farewell. I was benighted, and called here to rest and ask the
way. When I opened the door I saw before me the very man, my brother,
that I thought to see in the condemned cell at Casterbridge. He was in
this chimney-corner; and jammed close to him, so that he could not have
got out if he had tried, was the executioner who'd come to take his life,
singing a song about it and not knowing that it was his victim who was
close by, joining in to save appearances. My brother looked a glance of
agony at me, and I knew he meant, "Don't reveal what you see; my life
depends on it." I was so terror-struck that I could hardly stand, and,
not knowing what I did, I turned and hurried away.'
The narrator's manner and tone had the stamp of truth, and his story made
a great impression on all around. 'And do you know where your brother is
at the present time?' asked the magistrate.
'I do not. I have never seen him since I closed this door.'
'I can testify to that, for we've been between ye ever since,' said the
'Where does he think to fly to?--what is his occupation?'
'He's a watch-and-clock-maker, sir.'
''A said 'a was a wheelwright--a wicked rogue,' said the constable.
'The wheels of clocks and watches he meant, no doubt,' said Shepherd
Fennel. 'I thought his hands were palish for's trade.'
'Well, it appears to me that nothing can be gained by retaining this poor
man in custody,' said the magistrate; 'your business lies with the other,
And so the little man was released off-hand; but he looked nothing the
less sad on that account, it being beyond the power of magistrate or
constable to raze out the written troubles in his brain, for they
concerned another whom he regarded with more solicitude than himself.
When this was done, and the man had gone his way, the night was found to
be so far advanced that it was deemed useless to renew the search before
the next morning.
Next day, accordingly, the quest for the clever sheep-stealer became
general and keen, to all appearance at least. But the intended
punishment was cruelly disproportioned to the transgression, and the
sympathy of a great many country-folk in that district was strongly on
the side of the fugitive. Moreover, his marvellous coolness and daring
in hob-and-nobbing with the hangman, under the unprecedented
circumstances of the shepherd's party, won their admiration. So that it
may be questioned if all those who ostensibly made themselves so busy in
exploring woods and fields and lanes were quite so thorough when it came
to the private examination of their own lofts and outhouses. Stories
were afloat of a mysterious figure being occasionally seen in some old
overgrown trackway or other, remote from turnpike roads; but when a
search was instituted in any of these suspected quarters nobody was
found. Thus the days and weeks passed without tidings.
In brief; the bass-voiced man of the chimney-corner was never recaptured.
Some said that he went across the sea, others that he did not, but buried
himself in the depths of a populous city. At any rate, the gentleman in
cinder-gray never did his morning's work at Casterbridge, nor met
anywhere at all, for business purposes, the genial comrade with whom he
had passed an hour of relaxation in the lonely house on the coomb.
The grass has long been green on the graves of Shepherd Fennel and his
frugal wife; the guests who made up the christening party have mainly
followed their entertainers to the tomb; the baby in whose honour they
all had met is a matron in the sere and yellow leaf. But the arrival of
the three strangers at the shepherd's that night, and the details
connected therewith, is a story as well known as ever in the country
about Higher Crowstairs.
THE WITHERED ARM
CHAPTER I--A LORN MILKMAID
It was an eighty-cow dairy, and the troop of milkers, regular and
supernumerary, were all at work; for, though the time of year was as yet
but early April, the feed lay entirely in water-meadows, and the cows
were 'in full pail.' The hour was about six in the evening, and three-
fourths of the large, red, rectangular animals having been finished off,
there was opportunity for a little conversation.
'He do bring home his bride to-morrow, I hear. They've come as far as
The voice seemed to proceed from the belly of the cow called Cherry, but
the speaker was a milking-woman, whose face was buried in the flank of
that motionless beast.
'Hav' anybody seen her?' said another.
There was a negative response from the first. 'Though they say she's a
rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little body enough,' she added; and as the
milkmaid spoke she turned her face so that she could glance past her
cow's tail to the other side of the barton, where a thin, fading woman of
thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest.
'Years younger than he, they say,' continued the second, with also a
glance of reflectiveness in the same direction.
'How old do you call him, then?'
'Thirty or so.'
'More like forty,' broke in an old milkman near, in a long white pinafore
or 'wropper,' and with the brim of his hat tied down, so that he looked
like a woman. ''A was born before our Great Weir was builded, and I
hadn't man's wages when I laved water there.'
The discussion waxed so warm that the purr of the milk-streams became
jerky, till a voice from another cow's belly cried with authority, 'Now
then, what the Turk do it matter to us about Farmer Lodge's age, or
Farmer Lodge's new mis'ess? I shall have to pay him nine pound a year
for the rent of every one of these milchers, whatever his age or hers.
Get on with your work, or 'twill be dark afore we have done. The evening
is pinking in a'ready.' This speaker was the dairyman himself; by whom
the milkmaids and men were employed.
Nothing more was said publicly about Farmer Lodge's wedding, but the
first woman murmured under her cow to her next neighbour, ''Tis hard for
she,' signifying the thin worn milkmaid aforesaid.
'O no,' said the second. 'He ha'n't spoke to Rhoda Brook for years.'
When the milking was done they washed their pails and hung them on a many-
forked stand made of the peeled limb of an oak-tree, set upright in the
earth, and resembling a colossal antlered horn. The majority then
dispersed in various directions homeward. The thin woman who had not
spoken was joined by a boy of twelve or thereabout, and the twain went
away up the field also.
Their course lay apart from that of the others, to a lonely spot high
above the water-meads, and not far from the border of Egdon Heath, whose
dark countenance was visible in the distance as they drew nigh to their
'They've just been saying down in barton that your father brings his
young wife home from Anglebury to-morrow,' the woman observed. 'I shall
want to send you for a few things to market, and you'll be pretty sure to
'Yes, mother,' said the boy. 'Is father married then?'
'Yes . . . You can give her a look, and tell me what's she's like, if you
do see her.'
'If she's dark or fair, and if she's tall--as tall as I. And if she
seems like a woman who has ever worked for a living, or one that has been
always well off, and has never done anything, and shows marks of the lady
on her, as I expect she do.'
They crept up the hill in the twilight, and entered the cottage. It was
built of mud-walls, the surface of which had been washed by many rains
into channels and depressions that left none of the original flat face
visible; while here and there in the thatch above a rafter showed like a
bone protruding through the skin.
She was kneeling down in the chimney-corner, before two pieces of turf
laid together with the heather inwards, blowing at the red-hot ashes with
her breath till the turves flamed. The radiance lit her pale cheek, and
made her dark eyes, that had once been handsome, seem handsome anew.
'Yes,' she resumed, 'see if she is dark or fair, and if you can, notice
if her hands be white; if not, see if they look as though she had ever
done housework, or are milker's hands like mine.'
The boy again promised, inattentively this time, his mother not observing
that he was cutting a notch with his pocket-knife in the beech-backed
CHAPTER II--THE YOUNG WIFE
The road from Anglebury to Holmstoke is in general level; but there is
one place where a sharp ascent breaks its monotony. Farmers homeward-
bound from the former market-town, who trot all the rest of the way, walk
their horses up this short incline.
The next evening, while the sun was yet bright, a handsome new gig, with
a lemon-coloured body and red wheels, was spinning westward along the
level highway at the heels of a powerful mare. The driver was a yeoman
in the prime of life, cleanly shaven like an actor, his face being toned
to that bluish-vermilion hue which so often graces a thriving farmer's
features when returning home after successful dealings in the town.
Beside him sat a woman, many years his junior--almost, indeed, a girl.
Her face too was fresh in colour, but it was of a totally different
quality--soft and evanescent, like the light under a heap of rose-petals.
Few people travelled this way, for it was not a main road; and the long
white riband of gravel that stretched before them was empty, save of one
small scarce-moving speck, which presently resolved itself into the
figure of boy, who was creeping on at a snail's pace, and continually
looking behind him--the heavy bundle he carried being some excuse for, if
not the reason of, his dilatoriness. When the bouncing gig-party slowed
at the bottom of the incline above mentioned, the pedestrian was only a
few yards in front. Supporting the large bundle by putting one hand on
his hip, he turned and looked straight at the farmer's wife as though he
would read her through and through, pacing along abreast of the horse.
The low sun was full in her face, rendering every feature, shade, and
contour distinct, from the curve of her little nostril to the colour of
her eyes. The farmer, though he seemed annoyed at the boy's persistent
presence, did not order him to get out of the way; and thus the lad
preceded them, his hard gaze never leaving her, till they reached the top
of the ascent, when the farmer trotted on with relief in his
lineaments--having taken no outward notice of the boy whatever.
'How that poor lad stared at me!' said the young wife.
'Yes, dear; I saw that he did.'
'He is one of the village, I suppose?'
'One of the neighbourhood. I think he lives with his mother a mile or
'He knows who we are, no doubt?'
'O yes. You must expect to be stared at just at first, my pretty
'I do,--though I think the poor boy may have looked at us in the hope we
might relieve him of his heavy load, rather than from curiosity.'
'O no,' said her husband off-handedly. 'These country lads will carry a
hundredweight once they get it on their backs; besides his pack had more
size than weight in it. Now, then, another mile and I shall be able to
show you our house in the distance--if it is not too dark before we get
there.' The wheels spun round, and particles flew from their periphery
as before, till a white house of ample dimensions revealed itself, with
farm-buildings and ricks at the back.
Meanwhile the boy had quickened his pace, and turning up a by-lane some
mile and half short of the white farmstead, ascended towards the leaner
pastures, and so on to the cottage of his mother.
She had reached home after her day's milking at the outlying dairy, and
was washing cabbage at the doorway in the declining light. 'Hold up the
net a moment,' she said, without preface, as the boy came up.
He flung down his bundle, held the edge of the cabbage-net, and as she
filled its meshes with the dripping leaves she went on, 'Well, did you
'Yes; quite plain.'
'Is she ladylike?'
'Yes; and more. A lady complete.'
'Is she young?'
'Well, she's growed up, and her ways be quite a woman's.'
'Of course. What colour is her hair and face?'
'Her hair is lightish, and her face as comely as a live doll's.'
'Her eyes, then, are not dark like mine?'
'No--of a bluish turn, and her mouth is very nice and red; and when she
smiles, her teeth show white.'
'Is she tall?' said the woman sharply.
'I couldn't see. She was sitting down.'
'Then do you go to Holmstoke church to-morrow morning: she's sure to be
there. Go early and notice her walking in, and come home and tell me if
she's taller than I.'
'Very well, mother. But why don't you go and see for yourself?'
'I go to see her! I wouldn't look up at her if she were to pass my
window this instant. She was with Mr. Lodge, of course. What did he say
'Just the same as usual.'
'Took no notice of you?'
Next day the mother put a clean shirt on the boy, and started him off for
Holmstoke church. He reached the ancient little pile when the door was
just being opened, and he was the first to enter. Taking his seat by the
font, he watched all the parishioners file in. The well-to-do Farmer
Lodge came nearly last; and his young wife, who accompanied him, walked
up the aisle with the shyness natural to a modest woman who had appeared
thus for the first time. As all other eyes were fixed upon her, the
youth's stare was not noticed now.
When he reached home his mother said, 'Well?' before he had entered the
'She is not tall. She is rather short,' he replied.
'Ah!' said his mother, with satisfaction.
'But she's very pretty--very. In fact, she's lovely.'
The youthful freshness of the yeoman's wife had evidently made an
impression even on the somewhat hard nature of the boy.
'That's all I want to hear,' said his mother quickly. 'Now, spread the
table-cloth. The hare you caught is very tender; but mind that nobody
catches you.--You've never told me what sort of hands she had.'
'I have never seen 'em. She never took off her gloves.'
'What did she wear this morning?'
'A white bonnet and a silver-coloured gownd. It whewed and whistled so
loud when it rubbed against the pews that the lady coloured up more than
ever for very shame at the noise, and pulled it in to keep it from
touching; but when she pushed into her seat, it whewed more than ever.
Mr. Lodge, he seemed pleased, and his waistcoat stuck out, and his great
golden seals hung like a lord's; but she seemed to wish her noisy gownd
anywhere but on her.'
'Not she! However, that will do now.'
These descriptions of the newly-married couple were continued from time
to time by the boy at his mother's request, after any chance encounter he
had had with them. But Rhoda Brook, though she might easily have seen
young Mrs. Lodge for herself by walking a couple of miles, would never
attempt an excursion towards the quarter where the farmhouse lay. Neither
did she, at the daily milking in the dairyman's yard on Lodge's outlying
second farm, ever speak on the subject of the recent marriage. The
dairyman, who rented the cows of Lodge, and knew perfectly the tall
milkmaid's history, with manly kindliness always kept the gossip in the
cow-barton from annoying Rhoda. But the atmosphere thereabout was full
of the subject during the first days of Mrs. Lodge's arrival; and from
her boy's description and the casual words of the other milkers, Rhoda
Brook could raise a mental image of the unconscious Mrs Lodge that was
realistic as a photograph.
CHAPTER III--A VISION
One night, two or three weeks after the bridal return, when the boy was
gone to bed, Rhoda sat a long time over the turf ashes that she had raked
out in front of her to extinguish them. She contemplated so intently the
new wife, as presented to her in her mind's eye over the embers, that she
forgot the lapse of time. At last, wearied with her day's work, she too
But the figure which had occupied her so much during this and the
previous days was not to be banished at night. For the first time
Gertrude Lodge visited the supplanted woman in her dreams. Rhoda Brook
dreamed--since her assertion that she really saw, before falling asleep,
was not to be believed--that the young wife, in the pale silk dress and
white bonnet, but with features shockingly distorted, and wrinkled as by
age, was sitting upon her chest as she lay. The pressure of Mrs. Lodge's
person grew heavier; the blue eyes peered cruelly into her face; and then
the figure thrust forward its left hand mockingly, so as to make the
wedding-ring it wore glitter in Rhoda's eyes. Maddened mentally, and
nearly suffocated by pressure, the sleeper struggled; the incubus, still
regarding her, withdrew to the foot of the bed, only, however, to come
forward by degrees, resume her seat, and flash her left hand as before.
Gasping for breath, Rhoda, in a last desperate effort, swung out her
right hand, seized the confronting spectre by its obtrusive left arm, and
whirled it backward to the floor, starting up herself as she did so with
a low cry.
'O, merciful heaven!' she cried, sitting on the edge of the bed in a cold
sweat; 'that was not a dream--she was here!'
She could feel her antagonist's arm within her grasp even now--the very
flesh and bone of it, as it seemed. She looked on the floor whither she
had whirled the spectre, but there was nothing to be seen.
Rhoda Brook slept no more that night, and when she went milking at the
next dawn they noticed how pale and haggard she looked. The milk that
she drew quivered into the pail; her hand had not calmed even yet, and
still retained the feel of the arm. She came home to breakfast as
wearily as if it had been suppertime.
'What was that noise in your chimmer, mother, last night?' said her son.
'You fell off the bed, surely?'
'Did you hear anything fall? At what time?'
'Just when the clock struck two.'
She could not explain, and when the meal was done went silently about her
household work, the boy assisting her, for he hated going afield on the
farms, and she indulged his reluctance. Between eleven and twelve the
garden-gate clicked, and she lifted her eyes to the window. At the
bottom of the garden, within the gate, stood the woman of her vision.
Rhoda seemed transfixed.
'Ah, she said she would come!' exclaimed the boy, also observing her.
'Said so--when? How does she know us?'
'I have seen and spoken to her. I talked to her yesterday.'
'I told you,' said the mother, flushing indignantly, 'never to speak to
anybody in that house, or go near the place.'
'I did not speak to her till she spoke to me. And I did not go near the
place. I met her in the road.'
'What did you tell her?'
'Nothing. She said, "Are you the poor boy who had to bring the heavy
load from market?" And she looked at my boots, and said they would not
keep my feet dry if it came on wet, because they were so cracked. I told
her I lived with my mother, and we had enough to do to keep ourselves,
and that's how it was; and she said then, "I'll come and bring you some
better boots, and see your mother." She gives away things to other folks
in the meads besides us.'
Mrs. Lodge was by this time close to the door--not in her silk, as Rhoda
had seen her in the bed-chamber, but in a morning hat, and gown of common
light material, which became her better than silk. On her arm she
carried a basket.
The impression remaining from the night's experience was still strong.
Brook had almost expected to see the wrinkles, the scorn, and the cruelty
on her visitor's face.
She would have escaped an interview, had escape been possible. There
was, however, no backdoor to the cottage, and in an instant the boy had
lifted the latch to Mrs. Lodge's gentle knock.
'I see I have come to the right house,' said she, glancing at the lad,
and smiling. 'But I was not sure till you opened the door.'
The figure and action were those of the phantom; but her voice was so
indescribably sweet, her glance so winning, her smile so tender, so
unlike that of Rhoda's midnight visitant, that the latter could hardly
believe the evidence of her senses. She was truly glad that she had not
hidden away in sheer aversion, as she had been inclined to do. In her
basket Mrs. Lodge brought the pair of boots that she had promised to the
boy, and other useful articles.
At these proofs of a kindly feeling towards her and hers Rhoda's heart
reproached her bitterly. This innocent young thing should have her
blessing and not her curse. When she left them a light seemed gone from
the dwelling. Two days later she came again to know if the boots fitted;
and less than a fortnight after that paid Rhoda another call. On this
occasion the boy was absent.
'I walk a good deal,' said Mrs. Lodge, 'and your house is the nearest
outside our own parish. I hope you are well. You don't look quite
Rhoda said she was well enough; and, indeed, though the paler of the two,
there was more of the strength that endures in her well-defined features
and large frame, than in the soft-cheeked young woman before her. The
conversation became quite confidential as regarded their powers and
weaknesses; and when Mrs. Lodge was leaving, Rhoda said, 'I hope you will
find this air agree with you, ma'am, and not suffer from the damp of the
The younger one replied that there was not much doubt of it, her general
health being usually good. 'Though, now you remind me,' she added, 'I
have one little ailment which puzzles me. It is nothing serious, but I
cannot make it out.'
She uncovered her left hand and arm; and their outline confronted Rhoda's
gaze as the exact original of the limb she had beheld and seized in her
dream. Upon the pink round surface of the arm were faint marks of an
unhealthy colour, as if produced by a rough grasp. Rhoda's eyes became
riveted on the discolorations; she fancied that she discerned in them the
shape of her own four fingers.
'How did it happen?' she said mechanically.
'I cannot tell,' replied Mrs. Lodge, shaking her head. 'One night when I
was sound asleep, dreaming I was away in some strange place, a pain
suddenly shot into my arm there, and was so keen as to awaken me. I must
have struck it in the daytime, I suppose, though I don't remember doing
so.' She added, laughing, 'I tell my dear husband that it looks just as
if he had flown into a rage and struck me there. O, I daresay it will
'Ha, ha! Yes . . . On what night did it come?'
Mrs. Lodge considered, and said it would be a fortnight ago on the
morrow. 'When I awoke I could not remember where I was,' she added,
'till the clock striking two reminded me.'
She had named the night and the hour of Rhoda's spectral encounter, and
Brook felt like a guilty thing. The artless disclosure startled her; she
did not reason on the freaks of coincidence; and all the scenery of that
ghastly night returned with double vividness to her mind.
'O, can it be,' she said to herself, when her visitor had departed, 'that
I exercise a malignant power over people against my own will?' She knew
that she had been slily called a witch since her fall; but never having
understood why that particular stigma had been attached to her, it had
passed disregarded. Could this be the explanation, and had such things
as this ever happened before?
CHAPTER IV--A SUGGESTION
The summer drew on, and Rhoda Brook almost dreaded to meet Mrs. Lodge
again, notwithstanding that her feeling for the young wife amounted well-
nigh to affection. Something in her own individuality seemed to convict
Rhoda of crime. Yet a fatality sometimes would direct the steps of the
latter to the outskirts of Holmstoke whenever she left her house for any
other purpose than her daily work; and hence it happened that their next
encounter was out of doors. Rhoda could not avoid the subject which had
so mystified her, and after the first few words she stammered, 'I hope
your--arm is well again, ma'am?' She had perceived with consternation
that Gertrude Lodge carried her left arm stiffly.
'No; it is not quite well. Indeed it is no better at all; it is rather
worse. It pains me dreadfully sometimes.'
'Perhaps you had better go to a doctor, ma'am.'
She replied that she had already seen a doctor. Her husband had insisted
upon her going to one. But the surgeon had not seemed to understand the
afflicted limb at all; he had told her to bathe it in hot water, and she
had bathed it, but the treatment had done no good.
'Will you let me see it?' said the milkwoman.
Mrs. Lodge pushed up her sleeve and disclosed the place, which was a few
inches above the wrist. As soon as Rhoda Brook saw it, she could hardly
preserve her composure. There was nothing of the nature of a wound, but
the arm at that point had a shrivelled look, and the outline of the four
fingers appeared more distinct than at the former time. Moreover, she
fancied that they were imprinted in precisely the relative position of
her clutch upon the arm in the trance; the first finger towards
Gertrude's wrist, and the fourth towards her elbow.
What the impress resembled seemed to have struck Gertrude herself since
their last meeting. 'It looks almost like finger-marks,' she said;
adding with a faint laugh, 'my husband says it is as if some witch, or
the devil himself, had taken hold of me there, and blasted the flesh.'
Rhoda shivered. 'That's fancy,' she said hurriedly. 'I wouldn't mind
it, if I were you.'
'I shouldn't so much mind it,' said the younger, with hesitation, 'if--if
I hadn't a notion that it makes my husband--dislike me--no, love me less.
Men think so much of personal appearance.'
'Some do--he for one.'
'Yes; and he was very proud of mine, at first.'
'Keep your arm covered from his sight.'
'Ah--he knows the disfigurement is there!' She tried to hide the tears
that filled her eyes.
'Well, ma'am, I earnestly hope it will go away soon.'
And so the milkwoman's mind was chained anew to the subject by a horrid
sort of spell as she returned home. The sense of having been guilty of
an act of malignity increased, affect as she might to ridicule her
superstition. In her secret heart Rhoda did not altogether object to a
slight diminution of her successor's beauty, by whatever means it had
come about; but she did not wish to inflict upon her physical pain. For
though this pretty young woman had rendered impossible any reparation
which Lodge might have made Rhoda for his past conduct, everything like
resentment at the unconscious usurpation had quite passed away from the
If the sweet and kindly Gertrude Lodge only knew of the scene in the bed-
chamber, what would she think? Not to inform her of it seemed treachery
in the presence of her friendliness; but tell she could not of her own
accord--neither could she devise a remedy.
She mused upon the matter the greater part of the night; and the next
day, after the morning milking, set out to obtain another glimpse of
Gertrude Lodge if she could, being held to her by a gruesome fascination.
By watching the house from a distance the milkmaid was presently able to
discern the farmer's wife in a ride she was taking alone--probably to
join her husband in some distant field. Mrs. Lodge perceived her, and
cantered in her direction.
'Good morning, Rhoda!' Gertrude said, when she had come up. 'I was going
Rhoda noticed that Mrs. Lodge held the reins with some difficulty.
'I hope--the bad arm,' said Rhoda.
'They tell me there is possibly one way by which I might be able to find
out the cause, and so perhaps the cure, of it,' replied the other
anxiously. 'It is by going to some clever man over in Egdon Heath. They
did not know if he was still alive--and I cannot remember his name at
this moment; but they said that you knew more of his movements than
anybody else hereabout, and could tell me if he were still to be
consulted. Dear me--what was his name? But you know.'
'Not Conjuror Trendle?' said her thin companion, turning pale.
'Trendle--yes. Is he alive?'
'I believe so,' said Rhoda, with reluctance.
'Why do you call him conjuror?'
'Well--they say--they used to say he was a--he had powers other folks
'O, how could my people be so superstitious as to recommend a man of that
sort! I thought they meant some medical man. I shall think no more of
Rhoda looked relieved, and Mrs. Lodge rode on. The milkwoman had
inwardly seen, from the moment she heard of her having been mentioned as
a reference for this man, that there must exist a sarcastic feeling among
the work-folk that a sorceress would know the whereabouts of the
exorcist. They suspected her, then. A short time ago this would have
given no concern to a woman of her common-sense. But she had a haunting
reason to be superstitious now; and she had been seized with sudden dread
that this Conjuror Trendle might name her as the malignant influence
which was blasting the fair person of Gertrude, and so lead her friend to
hate her for ever, and to treat her as some fiend in human shape.
But all was not over. Two days after, a shadow intruded into the window-
pattern thrown on Rhoda Brook's floor by the afternoon sun. The woman
opened the door at once, almost breathlessly.
'Are you alone?' said Gertrude. She seemed to be no less harassed and
anxious than Brook herself.
'Yes,' said Rhoda.
'The place on my arm seems worse, and troubles me!' the young farmer's
wife went on. 'It is so mysterious! I do hope it will not be an
incurable wound. I have again been thinking of what they said about
Conjuror Trendle. I don't really believe in such men, but I should not
mind just visiting him, from curiosity--though on no account must my
husband know. Is it far to where he lives?'
'Yes--five miles,' said Rhoda backwardly. 'In the heart of Egdon.'
'Well, I should have to walk. Could not you go with me to show me the
way--say to-morrow afternoon?'
'O, not I--that is,' the milkwoman murmured, with a start of dismay.
Again the dread seized her that something to do with her fierce act in
the dream might be revealed, and her character in the eyes of the most
useful friend she had ever had be ruined irretrievably.
Mrs. Lodge urged, and Rhoda finally assented, though with much misgiving.
Sad as the journey would be to her, she could not conscientiously stand
in the way of a possible remedy for her patron's strange affliction. It
was agreed that, to escape suspicion of their mystic intent, they should
meet at the edge of the heath at the corner of a plantation which was
visible from the spot where they now stood.
CHAPTER V--CONJUROR TRENDLE
By the next afternoon Rhoda would have done anything to escape this
inquiry. But she had promised to go. Moreover, there was a horrid
fascination at times in becoming instrumental in throwing such possible
light on her own character as would reveal her to be something greater in
the occult world than she had ever herself suspected.
She started just before the time of day mentioned between them, and half-
an-hour's brisk walking brought her to the south-eastern extension of the
Egdon tract of country, where the fir plantation was. A slight figure,
cloaked and veiled, was already there. Rhoda recognized, almost with a
shudder, that Mrs. Lodge bore her left arm in a sling.
They hardly spoke to each other, and immediately set out on their climb
into the interior of this solemn country, which stood high above the rich
alluvial soil they had left half-an-hour before. It was a long walk;
thick clouds made the atmosphere dark, though it was as yet only early
afternoon; and the wind howled dismally over the hills of the heath--not
improbably the same heath which had witnessed the agony of the Wessex
King Ina, presented to after-ages as Lear. Gertrude Lodge talked most,
Rhoda replying with monosyllabic preoccupation. She had a strange
dislike to walking on the side of her companion where hung the afflicted
arm, moving round to the other when inadvertently near it. Much heather
had been brushed by their feet when they descended upon a cart-track,
beside which stood the house of the man they sought.
He did not profess his remedial practices openly, or care anything about
their continuance, his direct interests being those of a dealer in furze,
turf, 'sharp sand,' and other local products. Indeed, he affected not to
believe largely in his own powers, and when warts that had been shown him
for cure miraculously disappeared--which it must be owned they infallibly
did--he would say lightly, 'O, I only drink a glass of grog upon
'em--perhaps it's all chance,' and immediately turn the subject.
He was at home when they arrived, having in fact seen them descending
into his valley. He was a gray-bearded man, with a reddish face, and he
looked singularly at Rhoda the first moment he beheld her. Mrs. Lodge
told him her errand; and then with words of self-disparagement he
examined her arm.
'Medicine can't cure it,' he said promptly. ''Tis the work of an enemy.'
Rhoda shrank into herself, and drew back.
'An enemy? What enemy?' asked Mrs. Lodge.
He shook his head. 'That's best known to yourself,' he said. 'If you
like, I can show the person to you, though I shall not myself know who it
is. I can do no more; and don't wish to do that.'
She pressed him; on which he told Rhoda to wait outside where she stood,
and took Mrs. Lodge into the room. It opened immediately from the door;
and, as the latter remained ajar, Rhoda Brook could see the proceedings
without taking part in them. He brought a tumbler from the dresser,
nearly filled it with water, and fetching an egg, prepared it in some
private way; after which he broke it on the edge of the glass, so that
the white went in and the yolk remained. As it was getting gloomy, he
took the glass and its contents to the window, and told Gertrude to watch
them closely. They leant over the table together, and the milkwoman
could see the opaline hue of the egg-fluid changing form as it sank in
the water, but she was not near enough to define the shape that it
'Do you catch the likeness of any face or figure as you look?' demanded
the conjuror of the young woman.
She murmured a reply, in tones so low as to be inaudible to Rhoda, and
continued to gaze intently into the glass. Rhoda turned, and walked a
few steps away.
When Mrs. Lodge came out, and her face was met by the light, it appeared
exceedingly pale--as pale as Rhoda's--against the sad dun shades of the
upland's garniture. Trendle shut the door behind her, and they at once
started homeward together. But Rhoda perceived that her companion had
'Did he charge much?' she asked tentatively.
'O no--nothing. He would not take a farthing,' said Gertrude.
'And what did you see?' inquired Rhoda.
'Nothing I--care to speak of.' The constraint in her manner was
remarkable; her face was so rigid as to wear an oldened aspect, faintly
suggestive of the face in Rhoda's bed-chamber.
'Was it you who first proposed coming here?' Mrs. Lodge suddenly
inquired, after a long pause. 'How very odd, if you did!'
'No. But I am not sorry we have come, all things considered,' she
replied. For the first time a sense of triumph possessed her, and she
did not altogether deplore that the young thing at her side should learn
that their lives had been antagonized by other influences than their own.
The subject was no more alluded to during the long and dreary walk home.
But in some way or other a story was whispered about the many-dairied
lowland that winter that Mrs. Lodge's gradual loss of the use of her left
arm was owing to her being 'overlooked' by Rhoda Brook. The latter kept
her own counsel about the incubus, but her face grew sadder and thinner;
and in the spring she and her boy disappeared from the neighbourhood of
CHAPTER VI--A SECOND ATTEMPT
Half-a-dozen years passed away, and Mr. and Mrs. Lodge's married
experience sank into prosiness, and worse. The farmer was usually gloomy
and silent: the woman whom he had wooed for her grace and beauty was
contorted and disfigured in the left limb; moreover, she had brought him
no child, which rendered it likely that he would be the last of a family
who had occupied that valley for some two hundred years. He thought of
Rhoda Brook and her son; and feared this might be a judgment from heaven
The once blithe-hearted and enlightened Gertrude was changing into an
irritable, superstitious woman, whose whole time was given to
experimenting upon her ailment with every quack remedy she came across.
She was honestly attached to her husband, and was ever secretly hoping
against hope to win back his heart again by regaining some at least of
her personal beauty. Hence it arose that her closet was lined with
bottles, packets, and ointment-pots of every description--nay, bunches of
mystic herbs, charms, and books of necromancy, which in her schoolgirl
time she would have ridiculed as folly.
'Damned if you won't poison yourself with these apothecary messes and
witch mixtures some time or other,' said her husband, when his eye
chanced to fall upon the multitudinous array.
She did not reply, but turned her sad, soft glance upon him in such heart-
swollen reproach that he looked sorry for his words, and added, 'I only
meant it for your good, you know, Gertrude.'
'I'll clear out the whole lot, and destroy them,' said she huskily, 'and
try such remedies no more!'
'You want somebody to cheer you,' he observed. 'I once thought of
adopting a boy; but he is too old now. And he is gone away I don't know
She guessed to whom he alluded; for Rhoda Brook's story had in the course
of years become known to her; though not a word had ever passed between
her husband and herself on the subject. Neither had she ever spoken to
him of her visit to Conjuror Trendle, and of what was revealed to her, or
she thought was revealed to her, by that solitary heath-man.
She was now five-and-twenty; but she seemed older.
'Six years of marriage, and only a few months of love,' she sometimes
whispered to herself. And then she thought of the apparent cause, and
said, with a tragic glance at her withering limb, 'If I could only again
be as I was when he first saw me!'
She obediently destroyed her nostrums and charms; but there remained a
hankering wish to try something else--some other sort of cure altogether.
She had never revisited Trendle since she had been conducted to the house
of the solitary by Rhoda against her will; but it now suddenly occurred
to Gertrude that she would, in a last desperate effort at deliverance
from this seeming curse, again seek out the man, if he yet lived. He was
entitled to a certain credence, for the indistinct form he had raised in
the glass had undoubtedly resembled the only woman in the world who--as
she now knew, though not then--could have a reason for bearing her ill-
will. The visit should be paid.
This time she went alone, though she nearly got lost on the heath, and
roamed a considerable distance out of her way. Trendle's house was
reached at last, however: he was not indoors, and instead of waiting at
the cottage, she went to where his bent figure was pointed out to her at
work a long way off. Trendle remembered her, and laying down the handful
of furze-roots which he was gathering and throwing into a heap, he
offered to accompany her in her homeward direction, as the distance was
considerable and the days were short. So they walked together, his head
bowed nearly to the earth, and his form of a colour with it.
'You can send away warts and other excrescences I know,' she said; 'why
can't you send away this?' And the arm was uncovered.
'You think too much of my powers!' said Trendle; 'and I am old and weak
now, too. No, no; it is too much for me to attempt in my own person.
What have ye tried?'
She named to him some of the hundred medicaments and counterspells which
she had adopted from time to time. He shook his head.
'Some were good enough,' he said approvingly; 'but not many of them for
such as this. This is of the nature of a blight, not of the nature of a
wound; and if you ever do throw it off; it will be all at once.'
'If I only could!'
'There is only one chance of doing it known to me. It has never failed
in kindred afflictions,--that I can declare. But it is hard to carry
out, and especially for a woman.'
'Tell me!' said she.
'You must touch with the limb the neck of a man who's been hanged.'
She started a little at the image he had raised.
'Before he's cold--just after he's cut down,' continued the conjuror
'How can that do good?'
'It will turn the blood and change the constitution. But, as I say, to
do it is hard. You must get into jail, and wait for him when he's
brought off the gallows. Lots have done it, though perhaps not such
pretty women as you. I used to send dozens for skin complaints. But
that was in former times. The last I sent was in '13--near twenty years
He had no more to tell her; and, when he had put her into a straight
track homeward, turned and left her, refusing all money as at first.
CHAPTER VII--A RIDE
The communication sank deep into Gertrude's mind. Her nature was rather
a timid one; and probably of all remedies that the white wizard could
have suggested there was not one which would have filled her with so much
aversion as this, not to speak of the immense obstacles in the way of its
Casterbridge, the county-town, was a dozen or fifteen miles off; and
though in those days, when men were executed for horse-stealing, arson,
and burglary, an assize seldom passed without a hanging, it was not
likely that she could get access to the body of the criminal unaided. And
the fear of her husband's anger made her reluctant to breathe a word of
Trendle's suggestion to him or to anybody about him.
She did nothing for months, and patiently bore her disfigurement as
before. But her woman's nature, craving for renewed love, through the
medium of renewed beauty (she was but twenty-five), was ever stimulating
her to try what, at any rate, could hardly do her any harm. 'What came
by a spell will go by a spell surely,' she would say. Whenever her
imagination pictured the act she shrank in terror from the possibility of
it: then the words of the conjuror, 'It will turn your blood,' were seen
to be capable of a scientific no less than a ghastly interpretation; the
mastering desire returned, and urged her on again.
There was at this time but one county paper, and that her husband only
occasionally borrowed. But old-fashioned days had old-fashioned means,
and news was extensively conveyed by word of mouth from market to market,
or from fair to fair, so that, whenever such an event as an execution was
about to take place, few within a radius of twenty miles were ignorant of
the coming sight; and, so far as Holmstoke was concerned, some
enthusiasts had been known to walk all the way to Casterbridge and back
in one day, solely to witness the spectacle. The next assizes were in
March; and when Gertrude Lodge heard that they had been held, she
inquired stealthily at the inn as to the result, as soon as she could
She was, however, too late. The time at which the sentences were to be
carried out had arrived, and to make the journey and obtain admission at
such short notice required at least her husband's assistance. She dared
not tell him, for she had found by delicate experiment that these
smouldering village beliefs made him furious if mentioned, partly because
he half entertained them himself. It was therefore necessary to wait for
Her determination received a fillip from learning that two epileptic
children had attended from this very village of Holmstoke many years
before with beneficial results, though the experiment had been strongly
condemned by the neighbouring clergy. April, May, June, passed; and it
is no overstatement to say that by the end of the last-named month
Gertrude well-nigh longed for the death of a fellow-creature. Instead of
her formal prayers each night, her unconscious prayer was, 'O Lord, hang
some guilty or innocent person soon!'
This time she made earlier inquiries, and was altogether more systematic
in her proceedings. Moreover, the season was summer, between the
haymaking and the harvest, and in the leisure thus afforded him her
husband had been holiday-taking away from home.
The assizes were in July, and she went to the inn as before. There was
to be one execution--only one--for arson.
Her greatest problem was not how to get to Casterbridge, but what means
she should adopt for obtaining admission to the jail. Though access for
such purposes had formerly never been denied, the custom had fallen into
desuetude; and in contemplating her possible difficulties, she was again
almost driven to fall back upon her husband. But, on sounding him about
the assizes, he was so uncommunicative, so more than usually cold, that
she did not proceed, and decided that whatever she did she would do
Fortune, obdurate hitherto, showed her unexpected favour. On the
Thursday before the Saturday fixed for the execution, Lodge remarked to
her that he was going away from home for another day or two on business
at a fair, and that he was sorry he could not take her with him.
She exhibited on this occasion so much readiness to stay at home that he
looked at her in surprise. Time had been when she would have shown deep
disappointment at the loss of such a jaunt. However, he lapsed into his
usual taciturnity, and on the day named left Holmstoke.
It was now her turn. She at first had thought of driving, but on
reflection held that driving would not do, since it would necessitate her
keeping to the turnpike-road, and so increase by tenfold the risk of her
ghastly errand being found out. She decided to ride, and avoid the
beaten track, notwithstanding that in her husband's stables there was no
animal just at present which by any stretch of imagination could be
considered a lady's mount, in spite of his promise before marriage to
always keep a mare for her. He had, however, many cart-horses, fine ones
of their kind; and among the rest was a serviceable creature, an equine
Amazon, with a back as broad as a sofa, on which Gertrude had
occasionally taken an airing when unwell. This horse she chose.
On Friday afternoon one of the men brought it round. She was dressed,
and before going down looked at her shrivelled arm. 'Ah!' she said to
it, 'if it had not been for you this terrible ordeal would have been
When strapping up the bundle in which she carried a few articles of
clothing, she took occasion to say to the servant, 'I take these in case
I should not get back to-night from the person I am going to visit. Don't
be alarmed if I am not in by ten, and close up the house as usual. I
shall be at home to-morrow for certain.' She meant then to privately
tell her husband: the deed accomplished was not like the deed projected.
He would almost certainly forgive her.
And then the pretty palpitating Gertrude Lodge went from her husband's
homestead; but though her goal was Casterbridge she did not take the
direct route thither through Stickleford. Her cunning course at first
was in precisely the opposite direction. As soon as she was out of
sight, however, she turned to the left, by a road which led into Egdon,
and on entering the heath wheeled round, and set out in the true course,
due westerly. A more private way down the county could not be imagined;
and as to direction, she had merely to keep her horse's head to a point a
little to the right of the sun. She knew that she would light upon a
furze-cutter or cottager of some sort from time to time, from whom she
might correct her bearing.
Though the date was comparatively recent, Egdon was much less fragmentary
in character than now. The attempts--successful and otherwise--at
cultivation on the lower slopes, which intrude and break up the original
heath into small detached heaths, had not been carried far; Enclosure
Acts had not taken effect, and the banks and fences which now exclude the
cattle of those villagers who formerly enjoyed rights of commonage
thereon, and the carts of those who had turbary privileges which kept
them in firing all the year round, were not erected. Gertrude,
therefore, rode along with no other obstacles than the prickly furze
bushes, the mats of heather, the white water-courses, and the natural
steeps and declivities of the ground.
Her horse was sure, if heavy-footed and slow, and though a draught
animal, was easy-paced; had it been otherwise, she was not a woman who
could have ventured to ride over such a bit of country with a half-dead
arm. It was therefore nearly eight o'clock when she drew rein to breathe
the mare on the last outlying high point of heath-land towards
Casterbridge, previous to leaving Egdon for the cultivated valleys.
She halted before a pool called Rushy-pond, flanked by the ends of two
hedges; a railing ran through the centre of the pond, dividing it in
half. Over the railing she saw the low green country; over the green
trees the roofs of the town; over the roofs a white flat facade, denoting
the entrance to the county jail. On the roof of this front specks were
moving about; they seemed to be workmen erecting something. Her flesh
crept. She descended slowly, and was soon amid corn-fields and pastures.
In another half-hour, when it was almost dusk, Gertrude reached the White
Hart, the first inn of the town on that side.
Little surprise was excited by her arrival; farmers' wives rode on
horseback then more than they do now; though, for that matter, Mrs. Lodge
was not imagined to be a wife at all; the innkeeper supposed her some
harum-skarum young woman who had come to attend 'hang-fair' next day.
Neither her husband nor herself ever dealt in Casterbridge market, so
that she was unknown. While dismounting she beheld a crowd of boys
standing at the door of a harness-maker's shop just above the inn,
looking inside it with deep interest.
'What is going on there?' she asked of the ostler.
'Making the rope for to-morrow.'
She throbbed responsively, and contracted her arm.
''Tis sold by the inch afterwards,' the man continued. 'I could get you
a bit, miss, for nothing, if you'd like?'
She hastily repudiated any such wish, all the more from a curious
creeping feeling that the condemned wretch's destiny was becoming
interwoven with her own; and having engaged a room for the night, sat
down to think.
Up to this time she had formed but the vaguest notions about her means of
obtaining access to the prison. The words of the cunning-man returned to
her mind. He had implied that she should use her beauty, impaired though
it was, as a pass-key. In her inexperience she knew little about jail
functionaries; she had heard of a high-sheriff and an under-sheriff; but
dimly only. She knew, however, that there must be a hangman, and to the
hangman she determined to apply.
CHAPTER VIII--A WATER-SIDE HERMIT
At this date, and for several years after, there was a hangman to almost
every jail. Gertrude found, on inquiry, that the Casterbridge official
dwelt in a lonely cottage by a deep slow river flowing under the cliff on
which the prison buildings were situate--the stream being the self-same
one, though she did not know it, which watered the Stickleford and
Holmstoke meads lower down in its course.
Having changed her dress, and before she had eaten or drunk--for she
could not take her ease till she had ascertained some
particulars--Gertrude pursued her way by a path along the water-side to
the cottage indicated. Passing thus the outskirts of the jail, she
discerned on the level roof over the gateway three rectangular lines
against the sky, where the specks had been moving in her distant view;
she recognized what the erection was, and passed quickly on. Another
hundred yards brought her to the executioner's house, which a boy pointed
out It stood close to the same stream, and was hard by a weir, the waters
of which emitted a steady roar.
While she stood hesitating the door opened, and an old man came forth
shading a candle with one hand. Locking the door on the outside, he
turned to a flight of wooden steps fixed against the end of the cottage,
and began to ascend them, this being evidently the staircase to his
bedroom. Gertrude hastened forward, but by the time she reached the foot
of the ladder he was at the top. She called to him loudly enough to be
heard above the roar of the weir; he looked down and said, 'What d'ye
'To speak to you a minute.'
The candle-light, such as it was, fell upon her imploring, pale, upturned
face, and Davies (as the hangman was called) backed down the ladder. 'I
was just going to bed,' he said; '"Early to bed and early to rise," but I
don't mind stopping a minute for such a one as you. Come into house.' He
reopened the door, and preceded her to the room within.
The implements of his daily work, which was that of a jobbing gardener,
stood in a corner, and seeing probably that she looked rural, he said,
'If you want me to undertake country work I can't come, for I never leave
Casterbridge for gentle nor simple--not I. My real calling is officer of
justice,' he added formally.
'Yes, yes! That's it. To-morrow!'
'Ah! I thought so. Well, what's the matter about that? 'Tis no use to
come here about the knot--folks do come continually, but I tell 'em one
knot is as merciful as another if ye keep it under the ear. Is the
unfortunate man a relation; or, I should say, perhaps' (looking at her
dress) 'a person who's been in your employ?'
'No. What time is the execution?'
'The same as usual--twelve o'clock, or as soon after as the London mail-
coach gets in. We always wait for that, in case of a reprieve.'
'O--a reprieve--I hope not!' she said involuntarily,
'Well,--hee, hee!--as a matter of business, so do I! But still, if ever
a young fellow deserved to be let off, this one does; only just turned
eighteen, and only present by chance when the rick was fired. Howsomever,
there's not much risk of it, as they are obliged to make an example of
him, there having been so much destruction of property that way lately.'
'I mean,' she explained, 'that I want to touch him for a charm, a cure of
an affliction, by the advice of a man who has proved the virtue of the
'O yes, miss! Now I understand. I've had such people come in past
years. But it didn't strike me that you looked of a sort to require
blood-turning. What's the complaint? The wrong kind for this, I'll be
'My arm.' She reluctantly showed the withered skin.
'Ah--'tis all a-scram!' said the hangman, examining it.
'Yes,' said she.
'Well,' he continued, with interest, 'that is the class o' subject, I'm
bound to admit! I like the look of the place; it is truly as suitable
for the cure as any I ever saw. 'Twas a knowing-man that sent 'ee,
whoever he was.'
'You can contrive for me all that's necessary?' she said breathlessly.
'You should really have gone to the governor of the jail, and your doctor
with 'ee, and given your name and address--that's how it used to be done,
if I recollect. Still, perhaps, I can manage it for a trifling fee.'
'O, thank you! I would rather do it this way, as I should like it kept
'Lover not to know, eh?'
'Aha! Very well. I'll get ee' a touch of the corpse.'
'Where is it now?' she said, shuddering.
'It?--he, you mean; he's living yet. Just inside that little small
winder up there in the glum.' He signified the jail on the cliff above.
She thought of her husband and her friends. 'Yes, of course,' she said;
'and how am I to proceed?'
He took her to the door. 'Now, do you be waiting at the little wicket in
the wall, that you'll find up there in the lane, not later than one
o'clock. I will open it from the inside, as I shan't come home to dinner
till he's cut down. Good-night. Be punctual; and if you don't want
anybody to know 'ee, wear a veil. Ah--once I had such a daughter as
She went away, and climbed the path above, to assure herself that she
would be able to find the wicket next day. Its outline was soon visible
to her--a narrow opening in the outer wall of the prison precincts. The
steep was so great that, having reached the wicket, she stopped a moment
to breathe; and, looking back upon the water-side cot, saw the hangman
again ascending his outdoor staircase. He entered the loft or chamber to
which it led, and in a few minutes extinguished his light.
The town clock struck ten, and she returned to the White Hart as she had
CHAPTER IX--A RENCOUNTER
It was one o'clock on Saturday. Gertrude Lodge, having been admitted to
the jail as above described, was sitting in a waiting-room within the
second gate, which stood under a classic archway of ashlar, then
comparatively modern, and bearing the inscription, 'COVNTY JAIL: 1793.'
This had been the facade she saw from the heath the day before. Near at
hand was a passage to the roof on which the gallows stood.
The town was thronged, and the market suspended; but Gertrude had seen
scarcely a soul. Having kept her room till the hour of the appointment,
she had proceeded to the spot by a way which avoided the open space below
the cliff where the spectators had gathered; but she could, even now,
hear the multitudinous babble of their voices, out of which rose at
intervals the hoarse croak of a single voice uttering the words, 'Last
dying speech and confession!' There had been no reprieve, and the
execution was over; but the crowd still waited to see the body taken
Soon the persistent girl heard a trampling overhead, then a hand beckoned
to her, and, following directions, she went out and crossed the inner
paved court beyond the gatehouse, her knees trembling so that she could
scarcely walk. One of her arms was out of its sleeve, and only covered
by her shawl.
On the spot at which she had now arrived were two trestles, and before
she could think of their purpose she heard heavy feet descending stairs
somewhere at her back. Turn her head she would not, or could not, and,
rigid in this position, she was conscious of a rough coffin passing her
shoulder, borne by four men. It was open, and in it lay the body of a
young man, wearing the smockfrock of a rustic, and fustian breeches. The
corpse had been thrown into the coffin so hastily that the skirt of the
smockfrock was hanging over. The burden was temporarily deposited on the
By this time the young woman's state was such that a gray mist seemed to
float before her eyes, on account of which, and the veil she wore, she
could scarcely discern anything: it was as though she had nearly died,
but was held up by a sort of galvanism.
'Now!' said a voice close at hand, and she was just conscious that the
word had been addressed to her.
By a last strenuous effort she advanced, at the same time hearing persons
approaching behind her. She bared her poor curst arm; and Davies,
uncovering the face of the corpse, took Gertrude's hand, and held it so
that her arm lay across the dead man's neck, upon a line the colour of an
unripe blackberry, which surrounded it.
Gertrude shrieked: 'the turn o' the blood,' predicted by the conjuror,
had taken place. But at that moment a second shriek rent the air of the
enclosure: it was not Gertrude's, and its effect upon her was to make her
Immediately behind her stood Rhoda Brook, her face drawn, and her eyes
red with weeping. Behind Rhoda stood Gertrude's own husband; his
countenance lined, his eyes dim, but without a tear.
'D-n you! what are you doing here?' he said hoarsely.
'Hussy--to come between us and our child now!' cried Rhoda. 'This is the
meaning of what Satan showed me in the vision! You are like her at
last!' And clutching the bare arm of the younger woman, she pulled her
unresistingly back against the wall. Immediately Brook had loosened her
hold the fragile young Gertrude slid down against the feet of her
husband. When he lifted her up she was unconscious.
The mere sight of the twain had been enough to suggest to her that the
dead young man was Rhoda's son. At that time the relatives of an
executed convict had the privilege of claiming the body for burial, if
they chose to do so; and it was for this purpose that Lodge was awaiting
the inquest with Rhoda. He had been summoned by her as soon as the young
man was taken in the crime, and at different times since; and he had
attended in court during the trial. This was the 'holiday' he had been
indulging in of late. The two wretched parents had wished to avoid
exposure; and hence had come themselves for the body, a waggon and sheet
for its conveyance and covering being in waiting outside.
Gertrude's case was so serious that it was deemed advisable to call to
her the surgeon who was at hand. She was taken out of the jail into the
town; but she never reached home alive. Her delicate vitality, sapped
perhaps by the paralyzed arm, collapsed under the double shock that
followed the severe strain, physical and mental, to which she had
subjected herself during the previous twenty-four hours. Her blood had
been 'turned' indeed--too far. Her death took place in the town three
Her husband was never seen in Casterbridge again; once only in the old
market-place at Anglebury, which he had so much frequented, and very
seldom in public anywhere. Burdened at first with moodiness and remorse,
he eventually changed for the better, and appeared as a chastened and
thoughtful man. Soon after attending the funeral of his poor young wife
he took steps towards giving up the farms in Holmstoke and the adjoining
parish, and, having sold every head of his stock, he went away to Port-
Bredy, at the other end of the county, living there in solitary lodgings
till his death two years later of a painless decline. It was then found
that he had bequeathed the whole of his not inconsiderable property to a
reformatory for boys, subject to the payment of a small annuity to Rhoda
Brook, if she could be found to claim it.
For some time she could not be found; but eventually she reappeared in
her old parish,--absolutely refusing, however, to have anything to do
with the provision made for her. Her monotonous milking at the dairy was
resumed, and followed for many long years, till her form became bent, and
her once abundant dark hair white and worn away at the forehead--perhaps
by long pressure against the cows. Here, sometimes, those who knew her
experiences would stand and observe her, and wonder what sombre thoughts
were beating inside that impassive, wrinkled brow, to the rhythm of the
('Blackwood's Magazine,' January 1888.)
The shepherd on the east hill could shout out lambing intelligence to the
shepherd on the west hill, over the intervening town chimneys, without
great inconvenience to his voice, so nearly did the steep pastures
encroach upon the burghers' backyards. And at night it was possible to
stand in the very midst of the town and hear from their native paddocks
on the lower levels of greensward the mild lowing of the farmer's
heifers, and the profound, warm blowings of breath in which those
creatures indulge. But the community which had jammed itself in the
valley thus flanked formed a veritable town, with a real mayor and
corporation, and a staple manufacture.
During a certain damp evening five-and-thirty years ago, before the
twilight was far advanced, a pedestrian of professional appearance,
carrying a small bag in his hand and an elevated umbrella, was descending
one of these hills by the turnpike road when he was overtaken by a
'Hullo, Downe--is that you?' said the driver of the vehicle, a young man
of pale and refined appearance. 'Jump up here with me, and ride down to
The other turned a plump, cheery, rather self-indulgent face over his
shoulder towards the hailer.
'O, good evening, Mr. Barnet--thanks,' he said, and mounted beside his
They were fellow-burgesses of the town which lay beneath them, but though
old and very good friends, they were differently circumstanced. Barnet
was a richer man than the struggling young lawyer Downe, a fact which was
to some extent perceptible in Downe's manner towards his companion,
though nothing of it ever showed in Barnet's manner towards the
solicitor. Barnet's position in the town was none of his own making; his
father had been a very successful flax-merchant in the same place, where
the trade was still carried on as briskly as the small capacities of its
quarters would allow. Having acquired a fair fortune, old Mr. Barnet had
retired from business, bringing up his son as a gentleman-burgher, and,
it must be added, as a well-educated, liberal-minded young man.
'How is Mrs. Barnet?' asked Downe.
'Mrs. Barnet was very well when I left home,' the other answered
constrainedly, exchanging his meditative regard of the horse for one of
Mr. Downe seemed to regret his inquiry, and immediately took up another
thread of conversation. He congratulated his friend on his election as a
council-man; he thought he had not seen him since that event took place;
Mrs. Downe had meant to call and congratulate Mrs. Barnet, but he feared
that she had failed to do so as yet.
Barnet seemed hampered in his replies. 'We should have been glad to see
you. I--my wife would welcome Mrs. Downe at any time, as you know . . .
Yes, I am a member of the corporation--rather an inexperienced member,
some of them say. It is quite true; and I should have declined the
honour as premature--having other things on my hands just now, too--if it
had not been pressed upon me so very heartily.'
'There is one thing you have on your hands which I can never quite see
the necessity for,' said Downe, with good-humoured freedom. 'What the
deuce do you want to build that new mansion for, when you have already
got such an excellent house as the one you live in?'
Barnet's face acquired a warmer shade of colour; but as the question had
been idly asked by the solicitor while regarding the surrounding flocks
and fields, he answered after a moment with no apparent embarrassment -
'Well, we wanted to get out of the town, you know: the house I am living
in is rather old and inconvenient.' Mr. Downe declared that he had
chosen a pretty site for the new building. They would be able to see for
miles and miles from the windows. Was he going to give it a name? He
Barnet thought not. There was no other house near that was likely to be
mistaken for it. And he did not care for a name.
'But I think it has a name!' Downe observed: 'I went past--when was
it?--this morning; and I saw something,--"Chateau Ringdale," I think it
was, stuck up on a board!'
'It was an idea she--we had for a short time,' said Barnet hastily. 'But
we have decided finally to do without a name--at any rate such a name as
that. It must have been a week ago that you saw it. It was taken down
last Saturday . . . Upon that matter I am firm!' he added grimly.
Downe murmured in an unconvinced tone that he thought he had seen it
Talking thus they drove into the town. The street was unusually still
for the hour of seven in the evening; an increasing drizzle had prevailed
since the afternoon, and now formed a gauze across the yellow lamps, and
trickled with a gentle rattle down the heavy roofs of stone tile, that
bent the house-ridges hollow-backed with its weight, and in some
instances caused the walls to bulge outwards in the upper story. Their
route took them past the little town-hall, the Black-Bull Hotel, and
onward to the junction of a small street on the right, consisting of a
row of those two-and-two windowed brick residences of no particular age,
which are exactly alike wherever found, except in the people they
'Wait--I'll drive you up to your door,' said Barnet, when Downe prepared
to alight at the corner. He thereupon turned into the narrow street,
when the faces of three little girls could be discerned close to the
panes of a lighted window a few yards ahead, surmounted by that of a
young matron, the gaze of all four being directed eagerly up the empty
street. 'You are a fortunate fellow, Downe,' Barnet continued, as mother
and children disappeared from the window to run to the door. 'You must
be happy if any man is. I would give a hundred such houses as my new one
to have a home like yours.'
'Well--yes, we get along pretty comfortably,' replied Downe complacently.
'That house, Downe, is none of my ordering,' Barnet broke out, revealing
a bitterness hitherto suppressed, and checking the horse a moment to
finish his speech before delivering up his passenger. 'The house I have
already is good enough for me, as you supposed. It is my own freehold;
it was built by my grandfather, and is stout enough for a castle. My
father was born there, lived there, and died there. I was born there,
and have always lived there; yet I must needs build a new one.'
'Why do you?' said Downe.
'Why do I? To preserve peace in the household. I do anything for that;
but I don't succeed. I was firm in resisting "Chateau Ringdale,"
however; not that I would not have put up with the absurdity of the name,
but it was too much to have your house christened after Lord Ringdale,
because your wife once had a fancy for him. If you only knew everything,
you would think all attempt at reconciliation hopeless. In your happy
home you have had no such experiences; and God forbid that you ever
should. See, here they are all ready to receive you!'
'Of course! And so will your wife be waiting to receive you,' said
Downe. 'Take my word for it she will! And with a dinner prepared for
you far better than mine.'
'I hope so,' Barnet replied dubiously.
He moved on to Downe's door, which the solicitor's family had already
opened. Downe descended, but being encumbered with his bag and umbrella,
his foot slipped, and he fell upon his knees in the gutter.
'O, my dear Charles!' said his wife, running down the steps; and, quite
ignoring the presence of Barnet, she seized hold of her husband, pulled
him to his feet, and kissed him, exclaiming, 'I hope you are not hurt,
darling!' The children crowded round, chiming in piteously, 'Poor papa!'
'He's all right,' said Barnet, perceiving that Downe was only a little
muddy, and looking more at the wife than at the husband. Almost at any
other time--certainly during his fastidious bachelor years--he would have
thought her a too demonstrative woman; but those recent circumstances of
his own life to which he had just alluded made Mrs. Downe's solicitude so
affecting that his eye grew damp as he witnessed it. Bidding the lawyer
and his family good-night he left them, and drove slowly into the main
street towards his own house.
The heart of Barnet was sufficiently impressionable to be influenced by
Downe's parting prophecy that he might not be so unwelcome home as he
imagined: the dreary night might, at least on this one occasion, make
Downe's forecast true. Hence it was in a suspense that he could hardly
have believed possible that he halted at his door. On entering his wife
was nowhere to be seen, and he inquired for her. The servant informed
him that her mistress had the dressmaker with her, and would be engaged
for some time.
'Dressmaker at this time of day!'
'She dined early, sir, and hopes you will excuse her joining you this
'But she knew I was coming to-night?'
'O yes, sir.'
'Go up and tell her I am come.'
The servant did so; but the mistress of the house merely transmitted her
Barnet said nothing more, and presently sat down to his lonely meal,
which was eaten abstractedly, the domestic scene he had lately witnessed
still impressing him by its contrast with the situation here. His mind
fell back into past years upon a certain pleasing and gentle being whose
face would loom out of their shades at such times as these. Barnet
turned in his chair, and looked with unfocused eyes in a direction
southward from where he sat, as if he saw not the room but a long way
beyond. 'I wonder if she lives there still!' he said.
He rose with a sudden rebelliousness, put on his hat and coat, and went
out of the house, pursuing his way along the glistening pavement while
eight o'clock was striking from St. Mary's tower, and the apprentices and
shopmen were slamming up the shutters from end to end of the town. In
two minutes only those shops which could boast of no attendant save the
master or the mistress remained with open eyes. These were ever somewhat
less prompt to exclude customers than the others: for their owners' ears
the closing hour had scarcely the cheerfulness that it possessed for the
hired servants of the rest. Yet the night being dreary the delay was not
for long, and their windows, too, blinked together one by one.
During this time Barnet had proceeded with decided step in a direction at
right angles to the broad main thoroughfare of the town, by a long street
leading due southward. Here, though his family had no more to do with
the flax manufacture, his own name occasionally greeted him on gates and
warehouses, being used allusively by small rising tradesmen as a
recommendation, in such words as 'Smith, from Barnet & Co.'--'Robinson,
late manager at Barnet's.' The sight led him to reflect upon his
father's busy life, and he questioned if it had not been far happier than
The houses along the road became fewer, and presently open ground
appeared between them on either side, the track on the right hand rising
to a higher level till it merged in a knoll. On the summit a row of
builders' scaffold-poles probed the indistinct sky like spears, and at
their bases could be discerned the lower courses of a building lately
begun. Barnet slackened his pace and stood for a few moments without
leaving the centre of the road, apparently not much interested in the
sight, till suddenly his eye was caught by a post in the fore part of the
ground bearing a white board at the top. He went to the rails, vaulted
over, and walked in far enough to discern painted upon the board 'Chateau
A dismal irony seemed to lie in the words, and its effect was to irritate
him. Downe, then, had spoken truly. He stuck his umbrella into the sod,
and seized the post with both hands, as if intending to loosen and throw
it down. Then, like one bewildered by an opposition which would exist
none the less though its manifestations were removed, he allowed his arms
to sink to his side.
'Let it be,' he said to himself. 'I have declared there shall be
Taking up his umbrella he quietly left the enclosure, and went on his
way, still keeping his back to the town. He had advanced with more
decision since passing the new building, and soon a hoarse murmur rose
upon the gloom; it was the sound of the sea. The road led to the
harbour, at a distance of a mile from the town, from which the trade of
the district was fed. After seeing the obnoxious name-board Barnet had
forgotten to open his umbrella, and the rain tapped smartly on his hat,
and occasionally stroked his face as he went on.
Though the lamps were still continued at the roadside, they stood at
wider intervals than before, and the pavement had given place to common
road. Every time he came to a lamp an increasing shine made itself
visible upon his shoulders, till at last they quite glistened with wet.
The murmur from the shore grew stronger, but it was still some distance
off when he paused before one of the smallest of the detached houses by
the wayside, standing in its own garden, the latter being divided from
the road by a row of wooden palings. Scrutinizing the spot to ensure
that he was not mistaken, he opened the gate and gently knocked at the
When he had patiently waited minutes enough to lead any man in ordinary
cases to knock again, the door was heard to open, though it was
impossible to see by whose hand, there being no light in the passage.
Barnet said at random, 'Does Miss Savile live here?'
A youthful voice assured him that she did live there, and by a sudden
afterthought asked him to come in. It would soon get a light, it said:
but the night being wet, mother had not thought it worth while to trim
the passage lamp.
'Don't trouble yourself to get a light for me,' said Barnet hastily; 'it
is not necessary at all. Which is Miss Savile's sitting-room?'
The young person, whose white pinafore could just be discerned, signified
a door in the side of the passage, and Barnet went forward at the same
moment, so that no light should fall upon his face. On entering the room
he closed the door behind him, pausing till he heard the retreating
footsteps of the child.
He found himself in an apartment which was simply and neatly, though not
poorly furnished; everything, from the miniature chiffonnier to the
shining little daguerreotype which formed the central ornament of the
mantelpiece, being in scrupulous order. The picture was enclosed by a
frame of embroidered card-board--evidently the work of feminine hands--and
it was the portrait of a thin faced, elderly lieutenant in the navy. From
behind the lamp on the table a female form now rose into view, that of a
young girl, and a resemblance between her and the portrait was early
discoverable. She had been so absorbed in some occupation on the other
side of the lamp as to have barely found time to realize her visitor's
They both remained standing for a few seconds without speaking. The face
that confronted Barnet had a beautiful outline; the Raffaelesque oval of
its contour was remarkable for an English countenance, and that
countenance housed in a remote country-road to an unheard-of harbour. But
her features did not do justice to this splendid beginning: Nature had
recollected that she was not in Italy; and the young lady's lineaments,
though not so inconsistent as to make her plain, would have been accepted
rather as pleasing than as correct. The preoccupied expression which,
like images on the retina, remained with her for a moment after the state
that caused it had ceased, now changed into a reserved, half-proud, and
slightly indignant look, in which the blood diffused itself quickly
across her cheek, and additional brightness broke the shade of her rather
'I know I have no business here,' he said, answering the look. 'But I
had a great wish to see you, and inquire how you were. You can give your
hand to me, seeing how often I have held it in past days?'
'I would rather forget than remember all that, Mr. Barnet,' she answered,
as she coldly complied with the request. 'When I think of the
circumstances of our last meeting, I can hardly consider it kind of you
to allude to such a thing as our past--or, indeed, to come here at all.'
'There was no harm in it surely? I don't trouble you often, Lucy.'
'I have not had the honour of a visit from you for a very long time,
certainly, and I did not expect it now,' she said, with the same
stiffness in her air. 'I hope Mrs. Barnet is very well?'
'Yes, yes!' he impatiently returned. 'At least I suppose so--though I
only speak from inference!'
'But she is your wife, sir,' said the young girl tremulously.
The unwonted tones of a man's voice in that feminine chamber had startled
a canary that was roosting in its cage by the window; the bird awoke
hastily, and fluttered against the bars. She went and stilled it by
laying her face against the cage and murmuring a coaxing sound. It might
partly have been done to still herself.
'I didn't come to talk of Mrs. Barnet,' he pursued; 'I came to talk of
you, of yourself alone; to inquire how you are getting on since your
great loss.' And he turned towards the portrait of her father.
'I am getting on fairly well, thank you.'
The force of her utterance was scarcely borne out by her look; but Barnet
courteously reproached himself for not having guessed a thing so natural;
and to dissipate all embarrassment, added, as he bent over the table,
'What were you doing when I came?--painting flowers, and by candlelight?'
'O no,' she said, 'not painting them--only sketching the outlines. I do
that at night to save time--I have to get three dozen done by the end of
Barnet looked as if he regretted it deeply. 'You will wear your poor
eyes out,' he said, with more sentiment than he had hitherto shown. 'You
ought not to do it. There was a time when I should have said you must
not. Well--I almost wish I had never seen light with my own eyes when I
think of that!'
'Is this a time or place for recalling such matters?' she asked, with
dignity. 'You used to have a gentlemanly respect for me, and for
yourself. Don't speak any more as you have spoken, and don't come again.
I cannot think that this visit is serious, or was closely considered by
'Considered: well, I came to see you as an old and good friend--not to
mince matters, to visit a woman I loved. Don't be angry! I could not
help doing it, so many things brought you into my mind . . . This evening
I fell in with an acquaintance, and when I saw how happy he was with his
wife and family welcoming him home, though with only one-tenth of my
income and chances, and thought what might have been in my case, it
fairly broke down my discretion, and off I came here. Now I am here I
feel that I am wrong to some extent. But the feeling that I should like
to see you, and talk of those we used to know in common, was very
'Before that can be the case a little more time must pass,' said Miss
Savile quietly; 'a time long enough for me to regard with some calmness
what at present I remember far too impatiently--though it may be you
almost forget it. Indeed you must have forgotten it long before you
acted as you did.' Her voice grew stronger and more vivacious as she
added: 'But I am doing my best to forget it too, and I know I shall
succeed from the progress I have made already!'
She had remained standing till now, when she turned and sat down, facing
half away from him.
Barnet watched her moodily. 'Yes, it is only what I deserve,' he said.
'Ambition pricked me on--no, it was not ambition, it was wrongheadedness!
Had I but reflected . . . ' He broke out vehemently: 'But always
remember this, Lucy: if you had written to me only one little line after
that misunderstanding, I declare I should have come back to you. That
ruined me!' he slowly walked as far as the little room would allow him to
go, and remained with his eyes on the skirting.
'But, Mr. Barnet, how could I write to you? There was no opening for my
'Then there ought to have been,' said Barnet, turning. 'That was my
'Well, I don't know anything about that; but as there had been nothing
said by me which required any explanation by letter, I did not send one.
Everything was so indefinite, and feeling your position to be so much
wealthier than mine, I fancied I might have mistaken your meaning. And
when I heard of the other lady--a woman of whose family even you might be
proud--I thought how foolish I had been, and said nothing.'
'Then I suppose it was destiny--accident--I don't know what, that
separated us, dear Lucy. Anyhow you were the woman I ought to have made
my wife--and I let you slip, like the foolish man that I was!'
'O, Mr. Barnet,' she said, almost in tears, 'don't revive the subject to
me; I am the wrong one to console you--think, sir,--you should not be
here--it would be so bad for me if it were known!'
'It would--it would, indeed,' he said hastily. 'I am not right in doing
this, and I won't do it again.'
'It is a very common folly of human nature, you know, to think the course
you did not adopt must have been the best,' she continued, with gentle
solicitude, as she followed him to the door of the room. 'And you don't
know that I should have accepted you, even if you had asked me to be your
wife.' At this his eye met hers, and she dropped her gaze. She knew
that her voice belied her. There was a silence till she looked up to
add, in a voice of soothing playfulness, 'My family was so much poorer
than yours, even before I lost my dear father, that--perhaps your
companions would have made it unpleasant for us on account of my
'Your disposition would soon have won them round,' said Barnet.
She archly expostulated: 'Now, never mind my disposition; try to make it
up with your wife! Those are my commands to you. And now you are to
leave me at once.'
'I will. I must make the best of it all, I suppose,' he replied, more
cheerfully than he had as yet spoken. 'But I shall never again meet with
such a dear girl as you!' And he suddenly opened the door, and left her
alone. When his glance again fell on the lamps that were sparsely ranged
along the dreary level road, his eyes were in a state which showed straw-
like motes of light radiating from each flame into the surrounding air.
On the other side of the way Barnet observed a man under an umbrella,
walking parallel with himself. Presently this man left the footway, and
gradually converged on Barnet's course. The latter then saw that it was
Charlson, a surgeon of the town, who owed him money. Charlson was a man
not without ability; yet he did not prosper. Sundry circumstances stood
in his way as a medical practitioner: he was needy; he was not a coddle;
he gossiped with men instead of with women; he had married a stranger
instead of one of the town young ladies; and he was given to
conversational buffoonery. Moreover, his look was quite erroneous. Those
only proper features in the family doctor, the quiet eye, and the thin
straight passionless lips which never curl in public either for laughter
or for scorn, were not his; he had a full-curved mouth, and a bold black
eye that made timid people nervous. His companions were what in old
times would have been called boon companions--an expression which, though
of irreproachable root, suggests fraternization carried to the point of
unscrupulousness. All this was against him in the little town of his
Charlson had been in difficulties, and to oblige him Barnet had put his
name to a bill; and, as he had expected, was called upon to meet it when
it fell due. It had been only a matter of fifty pounds, which Barnet
could well afford to lose, and he bore no ill-will to the thriftless
surgeon on account of it. But Charlson had a little too much brazen
indifferentism in his composition to be altogether a desirable
'I hope to be able to make that little bill-business right with you in
the course of three weeks, Mr. Barnet,' said Charlson with hail-fellow
Barnet replied good-naturedly that there was no hurry.
This particular three weeks had moved on in advance of Charlson's present
with the precision of a shadow for some considerable time.
'I've had a dream,' Charlson continued. Barnet knew from his tone that
the surgeon was going to begin his characteristic nonsense, and did not
encourage him. 'I've had a dream,' repeated Charlson, who required no
encouragement. 'I dreamed that a gentleman, who has been very kind to
me, married a haughty lady in haste, before he had quite forgotten a nice
little girl he knew before, and that one wet evening, like the present,
as I was walking up the harbour-road, I saw him come out of that dear
little girl's present abode.'
Barnet glanced towards the speaker. The rays from a neighbouring lamp
struck through the drizzle under Charlson's umbrella, so as just to
illumine his face against the shade behind, and show that his eye was
turned up under the outer corner of its lid, whence it leered with impish
jocoseness as he thrust his tongue into his cheek.
'Come,' said Barnet gravely, 'we'll have no more of that.'
'No, no--of course not,' Charlson hastily answered, seeing that his
humour had carried him too far, as it had done many times before. He was
profuse in his apologies, but Barnet did not reply. Of one thing he was
certain--that scandal was a plant of quick root, and that he was bound to
obey Lucy's injunction for Lucy's own sake.
He did so, to the letter; and though, as the crocus followed the snowdrop
and the daffodil the crocus in Lucy's garden, the harbour-road was a not
unpleasant place to walk in, Barnet's feet never trod its stones, much
less approached her door. He avoided a saunter that way as he would have
avoided a dangerous dram, and took his airings a long distance northward,
among severely square and brown ploughed fields, where no other townsman
came. Sometimes he went round by the lower lanes of the borough, where
the rope-walks stretched in which his family formerly had share, and
looked at the rope-makers walking backwards, overhung by apple-trees and
bushes, and intruded on by cows and calves, as if trade had established
itself there at considerable inconvenience to Nature.
One morning, when the sun was so warm as to raise a steam from the south-
eastern slopes of those flanking hills that looked so lovely above the
old roofs, but made every low-chimneyed house in the town as smoky as
Tophet, Barnet glanced from the windows of the town-council room for lack
of interest in what was proceeding within. Several members of the
corporation were present, but there was not much business doing, and in a
few minutes Downe came leisurely across to him, saying that he seldom saw
Barnet owned that he was not often present.
Downe looked at the crimson curtain which hung down beside the panes,
reflecting its hot hues into their faces, and then out of the window. At
that moment there passed along the street a tall commanding lady, in whom
the solicitor recognized Barnet's wife. Barnet had done the same thing,
and turned away.
'It will be all right some day,' said Downe, with cheering sympathy.
'You have heard, then, of her last outbreak?'
Downe depressed his cheerfulness to its very reverse in a moment. 'No, I
have not heard of anything serious,' he said, with as long a face as one
naturally round could be turned into at short notice. 'I only hear vague
reports of such things.'
'You may think it will be all right,' said Barnet drily. 'But I have a
different opinion . . . No, Downe, we must look the thing in the face.
Not poppy nor mandragora--however, how are your wife and children?'
Downe said that they were all well, thanks; they were out that morning
somewhere; he was just looking to see if they were walking that way. Ah,
there they were, just coming down the street; and Downe pointed to the
figures of two children with a nursemaid, and a lady walking behind them.
'You will come out and speak to her?' he asked.
'Not this morning. The fact is I don't care to speak to anybody just
'You are too sensitive, Mr. Barnet. At school I remember you used to get
as red as a rose if anybody uttered a word that hurt your feelings.'
Barnet mused. 'Yes,' he admitted, 'there is a grain of truth in that. It
is because of that I often try to make peace at home. Life would be
tolerable then at any rate, even if not particularly bright.'
'I have thought more than once of proposing a little plan to you,' said
Downe with some hesitation. 'I don't know whether it will meet your
views, but take it or leave it, as you choose. In fact, it was my wife
who suggested it: that she would be very glad to call on Mrs. Barnet and
get into her confidence. She seems to think that Mrs. Barnet is rather
alone in the town, and without advisers. Her impression is that your
wife will listen to reason. Emily has a wonderful way of winning the
hearts of people of her own sex.'
'And of the other sex too, I think. She is a charming woman, and you
were a lucky fellow to find her.'
'Well, perhaps I was,' simpered Downe, trying to wear an aspect of being
the last man in the world to feel pride. 'However, she will be likely to
find out what ruffles Mrs. Barnet. Perhaps it is some misunderstanding,
you know--something that she is too proud to ask you to explain, or some
little thing in your conduct that irritates her because she does not
fully comprehend you. The truth is, Emily would have been more ready to
make advances if she had been quite sure of her fitness for Mrs. Barnet's
society, who has of course been accustomed to London people of good
position, which made Emily fearful of intruding.'
Barnet expressed his warmest thanks for the well-intentioned proposition.
There was reason in Mrs. Downe's fear--that he owned. 'But do let her
call,' he said. 'There is no woman in England I would so soon trust on
such an errand. I am afraid there will not be any brilliant result;
still I shall take it as the kindest and nicest thing if she will try it,
and not be frightened at a repulse.'
When Barnet and Downe had parted, the former went to the Town Savings-
Bank, of which he was a trustee, and endeavoured to forget his troubles
in the contemplation of low sums of money, and figures in a network of
red and blue lines. He sat and watched the working-people making their
deposits, to which at intervals he signed his name. Before he left in
the afternoon Downe put his head inside the door.
'Emily has seen Mrs. Barnet,' he said, in a low voice. 'She has got Mrs.
Barnet's promise to take her for a drive down to the shore to-morrow, if
it is fine. Good afternoon!'
Barnet shook Downe by the hand without speaking, and Downe went away.
The next day was as fine as the arrangement could possibly require. As
the sun passed the meridian and declined westward, the tall shadows from
the scaffold-poles of Barnet's rising residence streaked the ground as
far as to the middle of the highway. Barnet himself was there inspecting
the progress of the works for the first time during several weeks. A
building in an old-fashioned town five-and-thirty years ago did not, as
in the modern fashion, rise from the sod like a booth at a fair. The
foundations and lower courses were put in and allowed to settle for many
weeks before the superstructure was built up, and a whole summer of
drying was hardly sufficient to do justice to the important issues
involved. Barnet stood within a window-niche which had as yet received
no frame, and thence looked down a slope into the road. The wheels of a
chaise were heard, and then his handsome Xantippe, in the company of Mrs.
Downe, drove past on their way to the shore. They were driving slowly;
there was a pleasing light in Mrs. Downe's face, which seemed faintly to
reflect itself upon the countenance of her companion--that politesse du
coeur which was so natural to her having possibly begun already to work
results. But whatever the situation, Barnet resolved not to interfere,
or do anything to hazard the promise of the day. He might well afford to
trust the issue to another when he could never direct it but to ill
himself. His wife's clenched rein-hand in its lemon-coloured glove, her
stiff erect figure, clad in velvet and lace, and her boldly-outlined
face, passed on, exhibiting their owner as one fixed for ever above the
level of her companion--socially by her early breeding, and materially by
her higher cushion.
Barnet decided to allow them a proper time to themselves, and then stroll
down to the shore and drive them home. After lingering on at the house
for another hour he started with this intention. A few hundred yards
below 'Chateau Ringdale' stood the cottage in which the late lieutenant's
daughter had her lodging. Barnet had not been so far that way for a long
time, and as he approached the forbidden ground a curious warmth passed
into him, which led him to perceive that, unless he were careful, he
might have to fight the battle with himself about Lucy over again. A
tenth of his present excuse would, however, have justified him in
travelling by that road to-day.
He came opposite the dwelling, and turned his eyes for a momentary glance
into the little garden that stretched from the palings to the door. Lucy
was in the enclosure; she was walking and stooping to gather some
flowers, possibly for the purpose of painting them, for she moved about
quickly, as if anxious to save time. She did not see him; he might have
passed unnoticed; but a sensation which was not in strict unison with his
previous sentiments that day led him to pause in his walk and watch her.
She went nimbly round and round the beds of anemones, tulips, jonquils,
polyanthuses, and other old-fashioned flowers, looking a very charming
figure in her half-mourning bonnet, and with an incomplete nosegay in her
left hand. Raising herself to pull down a lilac blossom she observed
'Mr. Barnet!' she said, innocently smiling. 'Why, I have been thinking
of you many times since Mrs. Barnet went by in the pony-carriage, and now
here you are!'
'Yes, Lucy,' he said.
Then she seemed to recall particulars of their last meeting, and he
believed that she flushed, though it might have been only the fancy of
his own supersensitivenesss.
'I am going to the harbour,' he added.
'Are you?' Lucy remarked simply. 'A great many people begin to go there
now the summer is drawing on.'
Her face had come more into his view as she spoke, and he noticed how
much thinner and paler it was than when he had seen it last. 'Lucy, how
weary you look! tell me, can I help you?' he was going to cry out.--'If I
do,' he thought, 'it will be the ruin of us both!' He merely said that
the afternoon was fine, and went on his way.
As he went a sudden blast of air came over the hill as if in
contradiction to his words, and spoilt the previous quiet of the scene.
The wind had already shifted violently, and now smelt of the sea.
The harbour-road soon began to justify its name. A gap appeared in the
rampart of hills which shut out the sea, and on the left of the opening
rose a vertical cliff, coloured a burning orange by the sunlight, the
companion cliff on the right being livid in shade. Between these cliffs,
like the Libyan bay which sheltered the shipwrecked Trojans, was a little
haven, seemingly a beginning made by Nature herself of a perfect harbour,
which appealed to the passer-by as only requiring a little human industry
to finish it and make it famous, the ground on each side as far back as
the daisied slopes that bounded the interior valley being a mere layer of
blown sand. But the Port-Bredy burgesses a mile inland had, in the
course of ten centuries, responded many times to that mute appeal, with
the result that the tides had invariably choked up their works with sand
and shingle as soon as completed. There were but few houses here: a
rough pier, a few boats, some stores, an inn, a residence or two, a ketch
unloading in the harbour, were the chief features of the settlement. On
the open ground by the shore stood his wife's pony-carriage, empty, the
boy in attendance holding the horse.
When Barnet drew nearer, he saw an indigo-coloured spot moving swiftly
along beneath the radiant base of the eastern cliff, which proved to be a
man in a jersey, running with all his might. He held up his hand to
Barnet, as it seemed, and they approached each other. The man was local,
but a stranger to him.
'What is it, my man?' said Barnet.
'A terrible calamity!' the boatman hastily explained. Two ladies had
been capsized in a boat--they were Mrs. Downe and Mrs. Barnet of the old
town; they had driven down there that afternoon--they had alighted, and
it was so fine, that, after walking about a little while, they had been
tempted to go out for a short sail round the cliff. Just as they were
putting in to the shore, the wind shifted with a sudden gust, the boat
listed over, and it was thought they were both drowned. How it could
have happened was beyond his mind to fathom, for John Green knew how to
sail a boat as well as any man there.
'Which is the way to the place?' said Barnet.
It was just round the cliff.
'Run to the carriage and tell the boy to bring it to the place as soon as
you can. Then go to the Harbour Inn and tell them to ride to town for a
doctor. Have they been got out of the water?'
'One lady has.'
'Mrs. Barnet. Mrs. Downe, it is feared, has fleeted out to sea.'
Barnet ran on to that part of the shore which the cliff had hitherto
obscured from his view, and there discerned, a long way ahead, a group of
fishermen standing. As soon as he came up one or two recognized him,
and, not liking to meet his eye, turned aside with misgiving. He went
amidst them and saw a small sailing-boat lying draggled at the water's
edge; and, on the sloping shingle beside it, a soaked and sandy woman's
form in the velvet dress and yellow gloves of his wife.
All had been done that could be done. Mrs. Barnet was in her own house
under medical hands, but the result was still uncertain. Barnet had
acted as if devotion to his wife were the dominant passion of his
existence. There had been much to decide--whether to attempt restoration
of the apparently lifeless body as it lay on the shore--whether to carry
her to the Harbour Inn--whether to drive with her at once to his own
house. The first course, with no skilled help or appliances near at
hand, had seemed hopeless. The second course would have occupied nearly
as much time as a drive to the town, owing to the intervening ridges of
shingle, and the necessity of crossing the harbour by boat to get to the
house, added to which much time must have elapsed before a doctor could
have arrived down there. By bringing her home in the carriage some
precious moments had slipped by; but she had been laid in her own bed in
seven minutes, a doctor called to her side, and every possible
restorative brought to bear upon her.
At what a tearing pace he had driven up that road, through the yellow
evening sunlight, the shadows flapping irksomely into his eyes as each
wayside object rushed past between him and the west! Tired workmen with
their baskets at their backs had turned on their homeward journey to
wonder at his speed. Halfway between the shore and Port-Bredy town he
had met Charlson, who had been the first surgeon to hear of the accident.
He was accompanied by his assistant in a gig. Barnet had sent on the
latter to the coast in case that Downe's poor wife should by that time
have been reclaimed from the waves, and had brought Charlson back with
him to the house.
Barnet's presence was not needed here, and he felt it to be his next duty
to set off at once and find Downe, that no other than himself might break
the news to him.
He was quite sure that no chance had been lost for Mrs. Downe by his
leaving the shore. By the time that Mrs. Barnet had been laid in the
carriage, a much larger group had assembled to lend assistance in finding
her friend, rendering his own help superfluous. But the duty of breaking
the news was made doubly painful by the circumstance that the catastrophe
which had befallen Mrs. Downe was solely the result of her own and her
husband's loving-kindness towards himself.
He found Downe in his office. When the solicitor comprehended the
intelligence he turned pale, stood up, and remained for a moment
perfectly still, as if bereft of his faculties; then his shoulders
heaved, he pulled out his handkerchief and began to cry like a child. His
sobs might have been heard in the next room. He seemed to have no idea
of going to the shore, or of doing anything; but when Barnet took him
gently by the hand and proposed to start at once, he quietly acquiesced,
neither uttering any further word nor making any effort to repress his
Barnet accompanied him to the shore, where, finding that no trace had as
yet been seen of Mrs. Downe, and that his stay would be of no avail, he
left Downe with his friends and the young doctor, and once more hastened
back to his own house.
At the door he met Charlson. 'Well!' Barnet said.
'I have just come down,' said the doctor; 'we have done everything, but
without result. I sympathize with you in your bereavement.'
Barnet did not much appreciate Charlson's sympathy, which sounded to his
ears as something of a mockery from the lips of a man who knew what
Charlson knew about their domestic relations. Indeed there seemed an odd
spark in Charlson's full black eye as he said the words; but that might
have been imaginary.
'And, Mr. Barnet,' Charlson resumed, 'that little matter between us--I
hope to settle it finally in three weeks at least.'
'Never mind that now,' said Barnet abruptly. He directed the surgeon to
go to the harbour in case his services might even now be necessary there:
and himself entered the house.
The servants were coming from his wife's chamber, looking helplessly at
each other and at him. He passed them by and entered the room, where he
stood mutely regarding the bed for a few minutes, after which he walked
into his own dressing-room adjoining, and there paced up and down. In a
minute or two he noticed what a strange and total silence had come over
the upper part of the house; his own movements, muffled as they were by
the carpet, seemed noisy, and his thoughts to disturb the air like
articulate utterances. His eye glanced through the window. Far down the
road to the harbour a roof detained his gaze: out of it rose a red
chimney, and out of the red chimney a curl of smoke, as from a fire newly
kindled. He had often seen such a sight before. In that house lived
Lucy Savile; and the smoke was from the fire which was regularly lighted
at this time to make her tea.
After that he went back to the bedroom, and stood there some time
regarding his wife's silent form. She was a woman some years older than
himself, but had not by any means overpassed the maturity of good looks
and vigour. Her passionate features, well-defined, firm, and statuesque
in life, were doubly so now: her mouth and brow, beneath her purplish
black hair, showed only too clearly that the turbulency of character
which had made a bear-garden of his house had been no temporary phase of
her existence. While he reflected, he suddenly said to himself, I wonder
if all has been done?
The thought was led up to by his having fancied that his wife's features
lacked in its complete form the expression which he had been accustomed
to associate with the faces of those whose spirits have fled for ever.
The effacement of life was not so marked but that, entering uninformed,
he might have supposed her sleeping. Her complexion was that seen in the
numerous faded portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds; it was pallid in
comparison with life, but there was visible on a close inspection the
remnant of what had once been a flush; the keeping between the cheeks and
the hollows of the face being thus preserved, although positive colour
was gone. Long orange rays of evening sun stole in through chinks in the
blind, striking on the large mirror, and being thence reflected upon the
crimson hangings and woodwork of the heavy bedstead, so that the general
tone of light was remarkably warm; and it was probable that something
might be due to this circumstance. Still the fact impressed him as
strange. Charlson had been gone more than a quarter of an hour: could it
be possible that he had left too soon, and that his attempts to restore
her had operated so sluggishly as only now to have made themselves felt?
Barnet laid his hand upon her chest, and fancied that ever and anon a
faint flutter of palpitation, gentle as that of a butterfly's wing,
disturbed the stillness there--ceasing for a time, then struggling to go
on, then breaking down in weakness and ceasing again.
Barnet's mother had been an active practitioner of the healing art among
her poorer neighbours, and her inspirations had all been derived from an
octavo volume of Domestic Medicine, which at this moment was lying, as it
had lain for many years, on a shelf in Barnet's dressing-room. He
hastily fetched it, and there read under the head 'Drowning:'-
'Exertions for the recovery of any person who has not been immersed
for a longer period than half-an-hour should be continued for at least
four hours, as there have been many cases in which returning life has
made itself visible even after a longer interval.
'Should, however, a weak action of any of the organs show itself when
the case seems almost hopeless, our efforts must be redoubled; the
feeble spark in this case requires to be solicited; it will certainly
disappear under a relaxation of labour.'
Barnet looked at his watch; it was now barely two hours and a half from
the time when he had first heard of the accident. He threw aside the
book and turned quickly to reach a stimulant which had previously been
used. Pulling up the blind for more light, his eye glanced out of the
window. There he saw that red chimney still smoking cheerily, and that
roof, and through the roof that somebody. His mechanical movements
stopped, his hand remained on the blind-cord, and he seemed to become
breathless, as if he had suddenly found himself treading a high rope.
While he stood a sparrow lighted on the windowsill, saw him, and flew
away. Next a man and a dog walked over one of the green hills which
bulged above the roofs of the town. But Barnet took no notice.
We may wonder what were the exact images that passed through his mind
during those minutes of gazing upon Lucy Savile's house, the sparrow, the
man and the dog, and Lucy Savile's house again. There are honest men who
will not admit to their thoughts, even as idle hypotheses, views of the
future that assume as done a deed which they would recoil from doing; and
there are other honest men for whom morality ends at the surface of their
own heads, who will deliberate what the first will not so much as
suppose. Barnet had a wife whose pretence distracted his home; she now
lay as in death; by merely doing nothing--by letting the intelligence
which had gone forth to the world lie undisturbed--he would effect such a
deliverance for himself as he had never hoped for, and open up an
opportunity of which till now he had never dreamed. Whether the
conjuncture had arisen through any unscrupulous, ill-considered impulse
of Charlson to help out of a strait the friend who was so kind as never
to press him for what was due could not be told; there was nothing to
prove it; and it was a question which could never be asked. The
triangular situation--himself--his wife--Lucy Savile--was the one clear
From Barnet's actions we may infer that he supposed such and such a
result, for a moment, but did not deliberate. He withdrew his hazel eyes
from the scene without, calmly turned, rang the bell for assistance, and
vigorously exerted himself to learn if life still lingered in that
motionless frame. In a short time another surgeon was in attendance; and
then Barnet's surmise proved to be true. The slow life timidly heaved
again; but much care and patience were needed to catch and retain it, and
a considerable period elapsed before it could be said with certainty that
Mrs. Barnet lived. When this was the case, and there was no further room
for doubt, Barnet left the chamber. The blue evening smoke from Lucy's
chimney had died down to an imperceptible stream, and as he walked about
downstairs he murmured to himself, 'My wife was dead, and she is alive
It was not so with Downe. After three hours' immersion his wife's body
had been recovered, life, of course, being quite extinct. Barnet on
descending, went straight to his friend's house, and there learned the
result. Downe was helpless in his wild grief, occasionally even
hysterical. Barnet said little, but finding that some guiding hand was
necessary in the sorrow-stricken household, took upon him to supervise
and manage till Downe should be in a state of mind to do so for himself.
One September evening, four months later, when Mrs. Barnet was in perfect
health, and Mrs. Downe but a weakening memory, an errand-boy paused to
rest himself in front of Mr. Barnet's old house, depositing his basket on
one of the window-sills. The street was not yet lighted, but there were
lights in the house, and at intervals a flitting shadow fell upon the
blind at his elbow. Words also were audible from the same apartment, and
they seemed to be those of persons in violent altercation. But the boy
could not gather their purport, and he went on his way.
Ten minutes afterwards the door of Barnet's house opened, and a tall
closely-veiled lady in a travelling-dress came out and descended the
freestone steps. The servant stood in the doorway watching her as she
went with a measured tread down the street. When she had been out of
sight for some minutes Barnet appeared at the door from within.
'Did your mistress leave word where she was going?' he asked.
'Is the carriage ordered to meet her anywhere?'
'Did she take a latch-key?'
Barnet went in again, sat down in his chair, and leaned back. Then in
solitude and silence he brooded over the bitter emotions that filled his
heart. It was for this that he had gratuitously restored her to life,
and made his union with another impossible! The evening drew on, and
nobody came to disturb him. At bedtime he told the servants to retire,
that he would sit up for Mrs. Barnet himself; and when they were gone he
leaned his head upon his hand and mused for hours.
The clock struck one, two; still his wife came not, and, with impatience
added to depression, he went from room to room till another weary hour
had passed. This was not altogether a new experience for Barnet; but she
had never before so prolonged her absence. At last he sat down again and
He awoke at six o'clock to find that she had not returned. In searching
about the rooms he discovered that she had taken a case of jewels which
had been hers before her marriage. At eight a note was brought him; it
was from his wife, in which she stated that she had gone by the coach to
the house of a distant relative near London, and expressed a wish that
certain boxes, articles of clothing, and so on, might be sent to her
forthwith. The note was brought to him by a waiter at the Black-Bull
Hotel, and had been written by Mrs. Barnet immediately before she took
her place in the stage.
By the evening this order was carried out, and Barnet, with a sense of
relief, walked out into the town. A fair had been held during the day,
and the large clear moon which rose over the most prominent hill flung
its light upon the booths and standings that still remained in the
street, mixing its rays curiously with those from the flaring naphtha
lamps. The town was full of country-people who had come in to enjoy
themselves, and on this account Barnet strolled through the streets
unobserved. With a certain recklessness he made for the harbour-road,
and presently found himself by the shore, where he walked on till he came
to the spot near which his friend the kindly Mrs. Downe had lost her
life, and his own wife's life had been preserved. A tremulous pathway of
bright moonshine now stretched over the water which had engulfed them,
and not a living soul was near.
Here he ruminated on their characters, and next on the young girl in whom
he now took a more sensitive interest than at the time when he had been
free to marry her. Nothing, so far as he was aware, had ever appeared in
his own conduct to show that such an interest existed. He had made it a
point of the utmost strictness to hinder that feeling from influencing in
the faintest degree his attitude towards his wife; and this was made all
the more easy for him by the small demand Mrs. Barnet made upon his
attentions, for which she ever evinced the greatest contempt; thus
unwittingly giving him the satisfaction of knowing that their severance
owed nothing to jealousy, or, indeed, to any personal behaviour of his at
all. Her concern was not with him or his feelings, as she frequently
told him; but that she had, in a moment of weakness, thrown herself away
upon a common burgher when she might have aimed at, and possibly brought
down, a peer of the realm. Her frequent depreciation of Barnet in these
terms had at times been so intense that he was sorely tempted to
retaliate on her egotism by owning that he loved at the same low level on
which he lived; but prudence had prevailed, for which he was now
Something seemed to sound upon the shingle behind him over and above the
raking of the wave. He looked round, and a slight girlish shape appeared
quite close to him, He could not see her face because it was in the
direction of the moon.
'Mr. Barnet?' the rambler said, in timid surprise. The voice was the
voice of Lucy Savile.
'Yes,' said Barnet. 'How can I repay you for this pleasure?'
'I only came because the night was so clear. I am now on my way home.'
'I am glad we have met. I want to know if you will let me do something
for you, to give me an occupation, as an idle man? I am sure I ought to
help you, for I know you are almost without friends.'
She hesitated. 'Why should you tell me that?' she said.
'In the hope that you will be frank with me.'
'I am not altogether without friends here. But I am going to make a
little change in my life--to go out as a teacher of freehand drawing and
practical perspective, of course I mean on a comparatively humble scale,
because I have not been specially educated for that profession. But I am
sure I shall like it much.'
'You have an opening?'
'I have not exactly got it, but I have advertised for one.'
'Lucy, you must let me help you!'
'Not at all.'
'You need not think it would compromise you, or that I am indifferent to
delicacy. I bear in mind how we stand. It is very unlikely that you
will succeed as teacher of the class you mention, so let me do something
of a different kind for you. Say what you would like, and it shall be
'No; if I can't be a drawing-mistress or governess, or something of that
sort, I shall go to India and join my brother.'
'I wish I could go abroad, anywhere, everywhere with you, Lucy, and leave
this place and its associations for ever!'
She played with the end of her bonnet-string, and hastily turned aside.
'Don't ever touch upon that kind of topic again,' she said, with a quick
severity not free from anger. 'It simply makes it impossible for me to
see you, much less receive any guidance from you. No, thank you, Mr.
Barnet; you can do nothing for me at present; and as I suppose my
uncertainty will end in my leaving for India, I fear you never will. If
ever I think you can do anything, I will take the trouble to ask you.
Till then, good-bye.'
The tone of her latter words was equivocal, and while he remained in
doubt whether a gentle irony was or was not inwrought with their sound,
she swept lightly round and left him alone. He saw her form get smaller
and smaller along the damp belt of sea-sand between ebb and flood; and
when she had vanished round the cliff into the harbour-road, he himself
followed in the same direction.
That her hopes from an advertisement should be the single thread which
held Lucy Savile in England was too much for Barnet. On reaching the
town he went straight to the residence of Downe, now a widower with four
children. The young motherless brood had been sent to bed about a
quarter of an hour earlier, and when Barnet entered he found Downe
sitting alone. It was the same room as that from which the family had
been looking out for Downe at the beginning of the year, when Downe had
slipped into the gutter and his wife had been so enviably tender towards
him. The old neatness had gone from the house; articles lay in places
which could show no reason for their presence, as if momentarily
deposited there some months ago, and forgotten ever since; there were no
flowers; things were jumbled together on the furniture which should have
been in cupboards; and the place in general had that stagnant,
unrenovated air which usually pervades the maimed home of the widower.
Downe soon renewed his customary full-worded lament over his wife, and
even when he had worked himself up to tears, went on volubly, as if a
listener were a luxury to be enjoyed whenever he could be caught.
'She was a treasure beyond compare, Mr. Barnet! I shall never see such
another. Nobody now to nurse me--nobody to console me in those daily
troubles, you know, Barnet, which make consolation so necessary to a
nature like mine. It would be unbecoming to repine, for her spirit's
home was elsewhere--the tender light in her eyes always showed it; but it
is a long dreary time that I have before me, and nobody else can ever
fill the void left in my heart by her loss--nobody--nobody!' And Downe
wiped his eyes again.
'She was a good woman in the highest sense,' gravely answered Barnet,
who, though Downe's words drew genuine compassion from his heart, could
not help feeling that a tender reticence would have been a finer tribute
to Mrs. Downe's really sterling virtues than such a second-class lament
'I have something to show you,' Downe resumed, producing from a drawer a
sheet of paper on which was an elaborate design for a canopied tomb.
'This has been sent me by the architect, but it is not exactly what I
'You have got Jones to do it, I see, the man who is carrying out my
house,' said Barnet, as he glanced at the signature to the drawing.
'Yes, but it is not quite what I want. I want something more
striking--more like a tomb I have seen in St. Paul's Cathedral. Nothing
less will do justice to my feelings, and how far short of them that will
Barnet privately thought the design a sufficiently imposing one as it
stood, even extravagantly ornate; but, feeling that he had no right to
criticize, he said gently, 'Downe, should you not live more in your
children's lives at the present time, and soften the sharpness of regret
for your own past by thinking of their future?'
'Yes, yes; but what can I do more?' asked Downe, wrinkling his forehead
It was with anxious slowness that Barnet produced his reply--the secret
object of his visit to-night. 'Did you not say one day that you ought by
rights to get a governess for the children?'
Downe admitted that he had said so, but that he could not see his way to
it. 'The kind of woman I should like to have,' he said, 'would be rather
beyond my means. No; I think I shall send them to school in the town
when they are old enough to go out alone.'
'Now, I know of something better than that. The late Lieutenant Savile's
daughter, Lucy, wants to do something for herself in the way of teaching.
She would be inexpensive, and would answer your purpose as well as
anybody for six or twelve months. She would probably come daily if you
were to ask her, and so your housekeeping arrangements would not be much
'I thought she had gone away,' said the solicitor, musing. 'Where does
Barnet told him, and added that, if Downe should think of her as
suitable, he would do well to call as soon as possible, or she might be
on the wing. 'If you do see her,' he said, 'it would be advisable not to
mention my name. She is rather stiff in her ideas of me, and it might
prejudice her against a course if she knew that I recommended it.'
Downe promised to give the subject his consideration, and nothing more
was said about it just then. But when Barnet rose to go, which was not
till nearly bedtime, he reminded Downe of the suggestion and went up the
street to his own solitary home with a sense of satisfaction at his
promising diplomacy in a charitable cause.
The walls of his new house were carried up nearly to their full height.
By a curious though not infrequent reaction, Barnet's feelings about that
unnecessary structure had undergone a change; he took considerable
interest in its progress as a long-neglected thing, his wife before her
departure having grown quite weary of it as a hobby. Moreover, it was an
excellent distraction for a man in the unhappy position of having to live
in a provincial town with nothing to do. He was probably the first of
his line who had ever passed a day without toil, and perhaps something
like an inherited instinct disqualifies such men for a life of pleasant
inaction, such as lies in the power of those whose leisure is not a
personal accident, but a vast historical accretion which has become part
of their natures.
Thus Barnet got into a way of spending many of his leisure hours on the
site of the new building, and he might have been seen on most days at
this time trying the temper of the mortar by punching the joints with his
stick, looking at the grain of a floor-board, and meditating where it
grew, or picturing under what circumstances the last fire would be
kindled in the at present sootless chimneys. One day when thus occupied
he saw three children pass by in the company of a fair young woman, whose
sudden appearance caused him to flush perceptibly.
'Ah, she is there,' he thought. 'That's a blessed thing.'
Casting an interested glance over the rising building and the busy
workmen, Lucy Savile and the little Downes passed by; and after that time
it became a regular though almost unconscious custom of Barnet to stand
in the half-completed house and look from the ungarnished windows at the
governess as she tripped towards the sea-shore with her young charges,
which she was in the habit of doing on most fine afternoons. It was on
one of these occasions, when he had been loitering on the first-floor
landing, near the hole left for the staircase, not yet erected, that
there appeared above the edge of the floor a little hat, followed by a
Barnet withdrew through a doorway, and the child came to the top of the
ladder, stepping on to the floor and crying to her sisters and Miss
Savile to follow. Another head rose above the floor, and another, and
then Lucy herself came into view. The troop ran hither and thither
through the empty, shaving-strewn rooms, and Barnet came forward.
Lucy uttered a small exclamation: she was very sorry that she had
intruded; she had not the least idea that Mr. Barnet was there: the
children had come up, and she had followed.
Barnet replied that he was only too glad to see them there. 'And now,
let me show you the rooms,' he said.
She passively assented, and he took her round. There was not much to
show in such a bare skeleton of a house, but he made the most of it, and
explained the different ornamental fittings that were soon to be fixed
here and there. Lucy made but few remarks in reply, though she seemed
pleased with her visit, and stole away down the ladder, followed by her
After this the new residence became yet more of a hobby for Barnet.
Downe's children did not forget their first visit, and when the windows
were glazed, and the handsome staircase spread its broad low steps into
the hall, they came again, prancing in unwearied succession through every
room from ground-floor to attics, while Lucy stood waiting for them at
the door. Barnet, who rarely missed a day in coming to inspect progress,
stepped out from the drawing-room.
'I could not keep them out,' she said, with an apologetic blush. 'I
tried to do so very much: but they are rather wilful, and we are directed
to walk this way for the sea air.'
'Do let them make the house their regular playground, and you yours,'
said Barnet. 'There is no better place for children to romp and take
their exercise in than an empty house, particularly in muddy or damp
weather such as we shall get a good deal of now; and this place will not
be furnished for a long long time--perhaps never. I am not at all
decided about it.'
'O, but it must!' replied Lucy, looking round at the hall. 'The rooms
are excellent, twice as high as ours; and the views from the windows are
'I daresay, I daresay,' he said absently.
'Will all the furniture be new?' she asked.
'All the furniture be new--that's a thing I have not thought of. In fact
I only come here and look on. My father's house would have been large
enough for me, but another person had a voice in the matter, and it was
settled that we should build. However, the place grows upon me; its
recent associations are cheerful, and I am getting to like it fast.'
A certain uneasiness in Lucy's manner showed that the conversation was
taking too personal a turn for her. 'Still, as modern tastes develop,
people require more room to gratify them in,' she said, withdrawing to
call the children; and serenely bidding him good afternoon she went on
Barnet's life at this period was singularly lonely, and yet he was
happier than he could have expected. His wife's estrangement and
absence, which promised to be permanent, left him free as a boy in his
movements, and the solitary walks that he took gave him ample opportunity
for chastened reflection on what might have been his lot if he had only
shown wisdom enough to claim Lucy Savile when there was no bar between
their lives, and she was to be had for the asking. He would occasionally
call at the house of his friend Downe; but there was scarcely enough in
common between their two natures to make them more than friends of that
excellent sort whose personal knowledge of each other's history and
character is always in excess of intimacy, whereby they are not so likely
to be severed by a clash of sentiment as in cases where intimacy springs
up in excess of knowledge. Lucy was never visible at these times, being
either engaged in the school-room, or in taking an airing out of doors;
but, knowing that she was now comfortable, and had given up the, to him,
depressing idea of going off to the other side of the globe, he was quite
The new house had so far progressed that the gardeners were beginning to
grass down the front. During an afternoon which he was passing in
marking the curve for the carriage-drive, he beheld her coming in boldly
towards him from the road. Hitherto Barnet had only caught her on the
premises by stealth; and this advance seemed to show that at last her
reserve had broken down.
A smile gained strength upon her face as she approached, and it was quite
radiant when she came up, and said, without a trace of embarrassment, 'I
find I owe you a hundred thanks--and it comes to me quite as a surprise!
It was through your kindness that I was engaged by Mr. Downe. Believe
me, Mr. Barnet, I did not know it until yesterday, or I should have
thanked you long and long ago!'
'I had offended you--just a trifle--at the time, I think?' said Barnet,
smiling, 'and it was best that you should not know.'
'Yes, yes,' she returned hastily. 'Don't allude to that; it is past and
over, and we will let it be. The house is finished almost, is it not?
How beautiful it will look when the evergreens are grown! Do you call
the style Palladian, Mr. Barnet?'
'I--really don't quite know what it is. Yes, it must be Palladian,
certainly. But I'll ask Jones, the architect; for, to tell the truth, I
had not thought much about the style: I had nothing to do with choosing
it, I am sorry to say.'
She would not let him harp on this gloomy refrain, and talked on bright
matters till she said, producing a small roll of paper which he had
noticed in her hand all the while, 'Mr. Downe wished me to bring you this
revised drawing of the late Mrs. Downe's tomb, which the architect has
just sent him. He would like you to look it over.'
The children came up with their hoops, and she went off with them down
the harbour-road as usual. Barnet had been glad to get those words of
thanks; he had been thinking for many months that he would like her to
know of his share in finding her a home such as it was; and what he could
not do for himself, Downe had now kindly done for him. He returned to
his desolate house with a lighter tread; though in reason he hardly knew
why his tread should be light.
On examining the drawing, Barnet found that, instead of the vast altar-
tomb and canopy Downe had determined on at their last meeting, it was to
be a more modest memorial even than had been suggested by the architect;
a coped tomb of good solid construction, with no useless elaboration at
all. Barnet was truly glad to see that Downe had come to reason of his
own accord; and he returned the drawing with a note of approval.
He followed up the house-work as before, and as he walked up and down the
rooms, occasionally gazing from the windows over the bulging green hills
and the quiet harbour that lay between them, he murmured words and
fragments of words, which, if listened to, would have revealed all the
secrets of his existence. Whatever his reason in going there, Lucy did
not call again: the walk to the shore seemed to be abandoned: he must
have thought it as well for both that it should be so, for he did not go
anywhere out of his accustomed ways to endeavour to discover her.
The winter and the spring had passed, and the house was complete. It was
a fine morning in the early part of June, and Barnet, though not in the
habit of rising early, had taken a long walk before breakfast; returning
by way of the new building. A sufficiently exciting cause of his
restlessness to-day might have been the intelligence which had reached
him the night before, that Lucy Savile was going to India after all, and
notwithstanding the representations of her friends that such a journey
was unadvisable in many ways for an unpractised girl, unless some more
definite advantage lay at the end of it than she could show to be the
case. Barnet's walk up the slope to the building betrayed that he was in
a dissatisfied mood. He hardly saw that the dewy time of day lent an
unusual freshness to the bushes and trees which had so recently put on
their summer habit of heavy leafage, and made his newly-laid lawn look as
well established as an old manorial meadow. The house had been so
adroitly placed between six tall elms which were growing on the site
beforehand, that they seemed like real ancestral trees; and the rooks,
young and old, cawed melodiously to their visitor.
The door was not locked, and he entered. No workmen appeared to be
present, and he walked from sunny window to sunny window of the empty
rooms, with a sense of seclusion which might have been very pleasant but
for the antecedent knowledge that his almost paternal care of Lucy Savile
was to be thrown away by her wilfulness. Footsteps echoed through an
adjoining room; and bending his eyes in that direction, he perceived Mr.
Jones, the architect. He had come to look over the building before
giving the contractor his final certificate. They walked over the house
together. Everything was finished except the papering: there were the
latest improvements of the period in bell-hanging, ventilating, smoke-
jacks, fire-grates, and French windows. The business was soon ended, and
Jones, having directed Barnet's attention to a roll of wall-paper
patterns which lay on a bench for his choice, was leaving to keep another
engagement, when Barnet said, 'Is the tomb finished yet for Mrs. Downe?'
'Well--yes: it is at last,' said the architect, coming back and speaking
as if he were in a mood to make a confidence. 'I have had no end of
trouble in the matter, and, to tell the truth, I am heartily glad it is
Barnet expressed his surprise. 'I thought poor Downe had given up those
extravagant notions of his? then he has gone back to the altar and canopy
after all? Well, he is to be excused, poor fellow!'
'O no--he has not at all gone back to them--quite the reverse,' Jones
hastened to say. 'He has so reduced design after design, that the whole
thing has been nothing but waste labour for me; till in the end it has
become a common headstone, which a mason put up in half a day.'
'A common headstone?' said Barnet.
'Yes. I held out for some time for the addition of a footstone at least.
But he said, "O no--he couldn't afford it."'
'Ah, well--his family is growing up, poor fellow, and his expenses are
'Yes, exactly,' said Jones, as if the subject were none of his. And
again directing Barnet's attention to the wall-papers, the bustling
architect left him to keep some other engagement.
'A common headstone,' murmured Barnet, left again to himself. He mused a
minute or two, and next began looking over and selecting from the
patterns; but had not long been engaged in the work when he heard another
footstep on the gravel without, and somebody enter the open porch.
Barnet went to the door--it was his manservant in search of him.
'I have been trying for some time to find you, sir,' he said. 'This
letter has come by the post, and it is marked immediate. And there's
this one from Mr. Downe, who called just now wanting to see you.' He
searched his pocket for the second.
Barnet took the first letter--it had a black border, and bore the London
postmark. It was not in his wife's handwriting, or in that of any person
he knew; but conjecture soon ceased as he read the page, wherein he was
briefly informed that Mrs. Barnet had died suddenly on the previous day,
at the furnished villa she had occupied near London.
Barnet looked vaguely round the empty hall, at the blank walls, out of
the doorway. Drawing a long palpitating breath, and with eyes downcast,
he turned and climbed the stairs slowly, like a man who doubted their
stability. The fact of his wife having, as it were, died once already,
and lived on again, had entirely dislodged the possibility of her actual
death from his conjecture. He went to the landing, leant over the
balusters, and after a reverie, of whose duration he had but the faintest
notion, turned to the window and stretched his gaze to the cottage
further down the road, which was visible from his landing, and from which
Lucy still walked to the solicitor's house by a cross path. The faint
words that came from his moving lips were simply, 'At last!'
Then, almost involuntarily, Barnet fell down on his knees and murmured
some incoherent words of thanksgiving. Surely his virtue in restoring
his wife to life had been rewarded! But, as if the impulse struck
uneasily on his conscience, he quickly rose, brushed the dust from his
trousers and set himself to think of his next movements. He could not
start for London for some hours; and as he had no preparations to make
that could not be made in half-an-hour, he mechanically descended and
resumed his occupation of turning over the wall-papers. They had all got
brighter for him, those papers. It was all changed--who would sit in the
rooms that they were to line? He went on to muse upon Lucy's conduct in
so frequently coming to the house with the children; her occasional blush
in speaking to him; her evident interest in him. What woman can in the
long run avoid being interested in a man whom she knows to be devoted to
her? If human solicitation could ever effect anything, there should be
no going to India for Lucy now. All the papers previously chosen seemed
wrong in their shades, and he began from the beginning to choose again.
While entering on the task he heard a forced 'Ahem!' from without the
porch, evidently uttered to attract his attention, and footsteps again
advancing to the door. His man, whom he had quite forgotten in his
mental turmoil, was still waiting there.
'I beg your pardon, sir,' the man said from round the doorway; 'but
here's the note from Mr. Downe that you didn't take. He called just
after you went out, and as he couldn't wait, he wrote this on your study-
He handed in the letter--no black-bordered one now, but a
practical-looking note in the well-known writing of the solicitor.
'DEAR BARNET'--it ran--'Perhaps you will be prepared for the
information I am about to give--that Lucy Savile and myself are going
to be married this morning. I have hitherto said nothing as to my
intention to any of my friends, for reasons which I am sure you will
fully appreciate. The crisis has been brought about by her expressing
her intention to join her brother in India. I then discovered that I
could not do without her.
'It is to be quite a private wedding; but it is my particular wish
that you come down here quietly at ten, and go to church with us; it
will add greatly to the pleasure I shall experience in the ceremony,
and, I believe, to Lucy's also. I have called on you very early to
make the request, in the belief that I should find you at home; but
you are beforehand with me in your early rising.--Yours sincerely, C.
'Need I wait, sir?' said the servant after a dead silence.
'That will do, William. No answer,' said Barnet calmly.
When the man had gone Barnet re-read the letter. Turning eventually to
the wall-papers, which he had been at such pains to select, he
deliberately tore them into halves and quarters, and threw them into the
empty fireplace. Then he went out of the house; locked the door, and
stood in the front awhile. Instead of returning into the town, he went
down the harbour-road and thoughtfully lingered about by the sea, near
the spot where the body of Downe's late wife had been found and brought
Barnet was a man with a rich capacity for misery, and there is no doubt
that he exercised it to its fullest extent now. The events that had, as
it were, dashed themselves together into one half-hour of this day showed
that curious refinement of cruelty in their arrangement which often
proceeds from the bosom of the whimsical god at other times known as
blind Circumstance. That his few minutes of hope, between the reading of
the first and second letters, had carried him to extraordinary heights of
rapture was proved by the immensity of his suffering now. The sun
blazing into his face would have shown a close watcher that a horizontal
line, which he had never noticed before, but which was never to be gone
thereafter, was somehow gradually forming itself in the smooth of his
forehead. His eyes, of a light hazel, had a curious look which can only
be described by the word bruised; the sorrow that looked from them being
largely mixed with the surprise of a man taken unawares.
The secondary particulars of his present position, too, were odd enough,
though for some time they appeared to engage little of his attention. Not
a soul in the town knew, as yet, of his wife's death; and he almost owed
Downe the kindness of not publishing it till the day was over: the
conjuncture, taken with that which had accompanied the death of Mrs.
Downe, being so singular as to be quite sufficient to darken the pleasure
of the impressionable solicitor to a cruel extent, if made known to him.
But as Barnet could not set out on his journey to London, where his wife
lay, for some hours (there being at this date no railway within a
distance of many miles), no great reason existed why he should leave the
Impulse in all its forms characterized Barnet, and when he heard the
distant clock strike the hour of ten his feet began to carry him up the
harbour-road with the manner of a man who must do something to bring
himself to life. He passed Lucy Savile's old house, his own new one, and
came in view of the church. Now he gave a perceptible start, and his
mechanical condition went away. Before the church-gate were a couple of
carriages, and Barnet then could perceive that the marriage between Downe
and Lucy was at that moment being solemnized within. A feeling of
sudden, proud self-confidence, an indocile wish to walk unmoved in spite
of grim environments, plainly possessed him, and when he reached the
wicket-gate he turned in without apparent effort. Pacing up the paved
footway he entered the church and stood for a while in the nave passage.
A group of people was standing round the vestry door; Barnet advanced
through these and stepped into the vestry.
There they were, busily signing their names. Seeing Downe about to look
round, Barnet averted his somewhat disturbed face for a second or two;
when he turned again front to front he was calm and quite smiling; it was
a creditable triumph over himself, and deserved to be remembered in his
native town. He greeted Downe heartily, offering his congratulations.
It seemed as if Barnet expected a half-guilty look upon Lucy's face; but
no, save the natural flush and flurry engendered by the service just
performed, there was nothing whatever in her bearing which showed a
disturbed mind: her gray-brown eyes carried in them now as at other times
the well-known expression of common-sensed rectitude which never went so
far as to touch on hardness. She shook hands with him, and Downe said
warmly, 'I wish you could have come sooner: I called on purpose to ask
you. You'll drive back with us now?'
'No, no,' said Barnet; 'I am not at all prepared; but I thought I would
look in upon you for a moment, even though I had not time to go home and
dress. I'll stand back and see you pass out, and observe the effect of
the spectacle upon myself as one of the public.'
Then Lucy and her husband laughed, and Barnet laughed and retired; and
the quiet little party went gliding down the nave and towards the porch,
Lucy's new silk dress sweeping with a smart rustle round the
base-mouldings of the ancient font, and Downe's little daughters
following in a state of round-eyed interest in their position, and that
of Lucy, their teacher and friend.
So Downe was comforted after his Emily's death, which had taken place
twelve months, two weeks, and three days before that time.
When the two flys had driven off and the spectators had vanished, Barnet
followed to the door, and went out into the sun. He took no more trouble
to preserve a spruce exterior; his step was unequal, hesitating, almost
convulsive; and the slight changes of colour which went on in his face
seemed refracted from some inward flame. In the churchyard he became
pale as a summer cloud, and finding it not easy to proceed he sat down on
one of the tombstones and supported his head with his hand.
Hard by was a sexton filling up a grave which he had not found time to
finish on the previous evening. Observing Barnet, he went up to him, and
recognizing him, said, 'Shall I help you home, sir?'
'O no, thank you,' said Barnet, rousing himself and standing up. The
sexton returned to his grave, followed by Barnet, who, after watching him
awhile, stepped into the grave, now nearly filled, and helped to tread in
The sexton apparently thought his conduct a little singular, but he made
no observation, and when the grave was full, Barnet suddenly stopped,
looked far away, and with a decided step proceeded to the gate and
vanished. The sexton rested on his shovel and looked after him for a few
moments, and then began banking up the mound.
In those short minutes of treading in the dead man Barnet had formed a
design, but what it was the inhabitants of that town did not for some
long time imagine. He went home, wrote several letters of business,
called on his lawyer, an old man of the same place who had been the legal
adviser of Barnet's father before him, and during the evening overhauled
a large quantity of letters and other documents in his possession. By
eleven o'clock the heap of papers in and before Barnet's grate had
reached formidable dimensions, and he began to burn them. This, owing to
their quantity, it was not so easy to do as he had expected, and he sat
long into the night to complete the task.
The next morning Barnet departed for London, leaving a note for Downe to
inform him of Mrs. Barnet's sudden death, and that he was gone to bury
her; but when a thrice-sufficient time for that purpose had elapsed, he
was not seen again in his accustomed walks, or in his new house, or in
his old one. He was gone for good, nobody knew whither. It was soon
discovered that he had empowered his lawyer to dispose of all his
property, real and personal, in the borough, and pay in the proceeds to
the account of an unknown person at one of the large London banks. The
person was by some supposed to be himself under an assumed name; but few,
if any, had certain knowledge of that fact.
The elegant new residence was sold with the rest of his possessions; and
its purchaser was no other than Downe, now a thriving man in the borough,
and one whose growing family and new wife required more roomy
accommodation than was afforded by the little house up the narrow side
street. Barnet's old habitation was bought by the trustees of the
Congregational Baptist body in that town, who pulled down the
time-honoured dwelling and built a new chapel on its site. By the time
the last hour of that, to Barnet, eventful year had chimed, every vestige
of him had disappeared from the precincts of his native place, and the
name became extinct in the borough of Port-Bredy, after having been a
living force therein for more than two hundred years.
Twenty-one years and six months do not pass without setting a mark even
upon durable stone and triple brass; upon humanity such a period works
nothing less than transformation. In Barnet's old birthplace vivacious
young children with bones like india-rubber had grown up to be stable men
and women, men and women had dried in the skin, stiffened, withered, and
sunk into decrepitude; while selections from every class had been
consigned to the outlying cemetery. Of inorganic differences the
greatest was that a railway had invaded the town, tying it on to a main
line at a junction a dozen miles off. Barnet's house on the
harbour-road, once so insistently new, had acquired a respectable
mellowness, with ivy, Virginia creepers, lichens, damp patches, and even
constitutional infirmities of its own like its elder fellows. Its
architecture, once so very improved and modern, had already become stale
in style, without having reached the dignity of being old-fashioned.
Trees about the harbour-road had increased in circumference or
disappeared under the saw; while the church had had such a tremendous
practical joke played upon it by some facetious restorer or other as to
be scarce recognizable by its dearest old friends.
During this long interval George Barnet had never once been seen or heard
of in the town of his fathers.
It was the evening of a market-day, and some half-dozen middle-aged
farmers and dairymen were lounging round the bar of the Black-Bull Hotel,
occasionally dropping a remark to each other, and less frequently to the
two barmaids who stood within the pewter-topped counter in a perfunctory
attitude of attention, these latter sighing and making a private
observation to one another at odd intervals, on more interesting
experiences than the present.
'Days get shorter,' said one of the dairymen, as he looked towards the
street, and noticed that the lamp-lighter was passing by.
The farmers merely acknowledged by their countenances the propriety of
this remark, and finding that nobody else spoke, one of the barmaids said
'yes,' in a tone of painful duty.
'Come fair-day we shall have to light up before we start for home-along.'
'That's true,' his neighbour conceded, with a gaze of blankness.
'And after that we shan't see much further difference all's winter.'
The rest were not unwilling to go even so far as this.
The barmaid sighed again, and raised one of her hands from the counter on
which they rested to scratch the smallest surface of her face with the
smallest of her fingers. She looked towards the door, and presently
remarked, 'I think I hear the 'bus coming in from station.'
The eyes of the dairymen and farmers turned to the glass door dividing
the hall from the porch, and in a minute or two the omnibus drew up
outside. Then there was a lumbering down of luggage, and then a man came
into the hall, followed by a porter with a portmanteau on his poll, which
he deposited on a bench.
The stranger was an elderly person, with curly ashen white hair, a deeply-
creviced outer corner to each eyelid, and a countenance baked by
innumerable suns to the colour of terra-cotta, its hue and that of his
hair contrasting like heat and cold respectively. He walked meditatively
and gently, like one who was fearful of disturbing his own mental
equilibrium. But whatever lay at the bottom of his breast had evidently
made him so accustomed to its situation there that it caused him little
He paused in silence while, with his dubious eyes fixed on the barmaids,
he seemed to consider himself. In a moment or two he addressed them, and
asked to be accommodated for the night. As he waited he looked curiously
round the hall, but said nothing. As soon as invited he disappeared up
the staircase, preceded by a chambermaid and candle, and followed by a
lad with his trunk. Not a soul had recognized him.
A quarter of an hour later, when the farmers and dairymen had driven off
to their homesteads in the country, he came downstairs, took a biscuit
and one glass of wine, and walked out into the town, where the radiance
from the shop-windows had grown so in volume of late years as to flood
with cheerfulness every standing cart, barrow, stall, and idler that
occupied the wayside, whether shabby or genteel. His chief interest at
present seemed to lie in the names painted over the shop-fronts and on
door-ways, as far as they were visible; these now differed to an ominous
extent from what they had been one-and-twenty years before.
The traveller passed on till he came to the bookseller's, where he looked
in through the glass door. A fresh-faced young man was standing behind
the counter, otherwise the shop was empty. The gray-haired observer
entered, asked for some periodical by way of paying for admission, and
with his elbow on the counter began to turn over the pages he had bought,
though that he read nothing was obvious.
At length he said, 'Is old Mr. Watkins still alive?' in a voice which had
a curious youthful cadence in it even now.
'My father is dead, sir,' said the young man.
'Ah, I am sorry to hear it,' said the stranger. 'But it is so many years
since I last visited this town that I could hardly expect it should be
otherwise.' After a short silence he continued--'And is the firm of
Barnet, Browse, and Company still in existence?--they used to be large
flax-merchants and twine-spinners here?'
'The firm is still going on, sir, but they have dropped the name of
Barnet. I believe that was a sort of fancy name--at least, I never knew
of any living Barnet. 'Tis now Browse and Co.'
'And does Andrew Jones still keep on as architect?'
'He's dead, sir.'
'And the Vicar of St. Mary's--Mr. Melrose?'
'He's been dead a great many years.'
'Dear me!' He paused yet longer, and cleared his voice. 'Is Mr. Downe,
the solicitor, still in practice?'
'No, sir, he's dead. He died about seven years ago.'
Here it was a longer silence still; and an attentive observer would have
noticed that the paper in the stranger's hand increased its imperceptible
tremor to a visible shake. That gray-haired gentleman noticed it
himself, and rested the paper on the counter. 'Is Mrs. Downe still
alive?' he asked, closing his lips firmly as soon as the words were out
of his mouth, and dropping his eyes.
'Yes, sir, she's alive and well. She's living at the old place.'
'In East Street?'
'O no; at Chateau Ringdale. I believe it has been in the family for some
'She lives with her children, perhaps?'
'No; she has no children of her own. There were some Miss Downes; I
think they were Mr. Downe's daughters by a former wife; but they are
married and living in other parts of the town. Mrs. Downe lives alone.'
'Yes, sir; quite alone.'
The newly-arrived gentleman went back to the hotel and dined; after which
he made some change in his dress, shaved back his beard to the fashion
that had prevailed twenty years earlier, when he was young and
interesting, and once more emerging, bent his steps in the direction of
the harbour-road. Just before getting to the point where the pavement
ceased and the houses isolated themselves, he overtook a shambling,
stooping, unshaven man, who at first sight appeared like a professional
tramp, his shoulders having a perceptible greasiness as they passed under
the gaslight. Each pedestrian momentarily turned and regarded the other,
and the tramp-like gentleman started back.
'Good--why--is that Mr. Barnet? 'Tis Mr. Barnet, surely!'
'Yes; and you are Charlson?'
'Yes--ah--you notice my appearance. The Fates have rather ill-used me.
By-the-bye, that fifty pounds. I never paid it, did I? . . . But I was
not ungrateful!' Here the stooping man laid one hand emphatically on the
palm of the other. 'I gave you a chance, Mr. George Barnet, which many
men would have thought full value received--the chance to marry your
Lucy. As far as the world was concerned, your wife was a drowned woman,
'Heaven forbid all that, Charlson!'
'Well, well, 'twas a wrong way of showing gratitude, I suppose. And now
a drop of something to drink for old acquaintance' sake! And Mr. Barnet,
she's again free--there's a chance now if you care for it--ha, ha!' And
the speaker pushed his tongue into his hollow cheek and slanted his eye
in the old fashion.
'I know all,' said Barnet quickly; and slipping a small present into the
hands of the needy, saddening man, he stepped ahead and was soon in the
outskirts of the town.
He reached the harbour-road, and paused before the entrance to a well-
known house. It was so highly bosomed in trees and shrubs planted since
the erection of the building that one would scarcely have recognized the
spot as that which had been a mere neglected slope till chosen as a site
for a dwelling. He opened the swing-gate, closed it noiselessly, and
gently moved into the semicircular drive, which remained exactly as it
had been marked out by Barnet on the morning when Lucy Savile ran in to
thank him for procuring her the post of governess to Downe's children.
But the growth of trees and bushes which revealed itself at every step
was beyond all expectation; sun-proof and moon-proof bowers vaulted the
walks, and the walls of the house were uniformly bearded with creeping
plants as high as the first-floor windows.
After lingering for a few minutes in the dusk of the bending boughs, the
visitor rang the door-bell, and on the servant appearing, he announced
himself as 'an old friend of Mrs. Downe's.'
The hall was lighted, but not brightly, the gas being turned low, as if
visitors were rare. There was a stagnation in the dwelling; it seemed to
be waiting. Could it really be waiting for him? The partitions which
had been probed by Barnet's walking-stick when the mortar was green, were
now quite brown with the antiquity of their varnish, and the ornamental
woodwork of the staircase, which had glistened with a pale yellow newness
when first erected, was now of a rich wine-colour. During the servant's
absence the following colloquy could be dimly heard through the nearly
closed door of the drawing-room.
'He didn't give his name?'
'He only said "an old friend," ma'am.'
'What kind of gentleman is he?'
'A staidish gentleman, with gray hair.'
The voice of the second speaker seemed to affect the listener greatly.
After a pause, the lady said, 'Very well, I will see him.'
And the stranger was shown in face to face with the Lucy who had once
been Lucy Savile. The round cheek of that formerly young lady had, of
course, alarmingly flattened its curve in her modern representative; a
pervasive grayness overspread her once dark brown hair, like morning rime
on heather. The parting down the middle was wide and jagged; once it had
been a thin white line, a narrow crevice between two high banks of shade.
But there was still enough left to form a handsome knob behind, and some
curls beneath inwrought with a few hairs like silver wires were very
becoming. In her eyes the only modification was that their originally
mild rectitude of expression had become a little more stringent than
heretofore. Yet she was still girlish--a girl who had been gratuitously
weighted by destiny with a burden of five-and-forty years instead of her
'Lucy, don't you know me?' he said, when the servant had closed the door.
'I knew you the instant I saw you!' she returned cheerfully. 'I don't
know why, but I always thought you would come back to your old town
She gave him her hand, and then they sat down. 'They said you were
dead,' continued Lucy, 'but I never thought so. We should have heard of
it for certain if you had been.'
'It is a very long time since we met.'
'Yes; what you must have seen, Mr. Barnet, in all these roving years, in
comparison with what I have seen in this quiet place!' Her face grew
more serious. 'You know my husband has been dead a long time? I am a
lonely old woman now, considering what I have been; though Mr. Downe's
daughters--all married--manage to keep me pretty cheerful.'
'And I am a lonely old man, and have been any time these twenty years.'
'But where have you kept yourself? And why did you go off so
'Well, Lucy, I have kept myself a little in America, and a little in
Australia, a little in India, a little at the Cape, and so on; I have not
stayed in any place for a long time, as it seems to me, and yet more than
twenty years have flown. But when people get to my age two years go like
one!--Your second question, why did I go away so mysteriously, is surely
not necessary. You guessed why, didn't you?'
'No, I never once guessed,' she said simply; 'nor did Charles, nor did
anybody as far as I know.'
'Well, indeed! Now think it over again, and then look at me, and say if
you can't guess?'
She looked him in the face with an inquiring smile. 'Surely not because
of me?' she said, pausing at the commencement of surprise.
Barnet nodded, and smiled again; but his smile was sadder than hers.
'Because I married Charles?' she asked.
'Yes; solely because you married him on the day I was free to ask you to
marry me. My wife died four-and-twenty hours before you went to church
with Downe. The fixing of my journey at that particular moment was
because of her funeral; but once away I knew I should have no inducement
to come back, and took my steps accordingly.'
Her face assumed an aspect of gentle reflection, and she looked up and
down his form with great interest in her eyes. 'I never thought of it!'
she said. 'I knew, of course, that you had once implied some warmth of
feeling towards me, but I concluded that it passed off. And I have
always been under the impression that your wife was alive at the time of
my marriage. Was it not stupid of me!--But you will have some tea or
something? I have never dined late, you know, since my husband's death.
I have got into the way of making a regular meal of tea. You will have
some tea with me, will you not?'
The travelled man assented quite readily, and tea was brought in. They
sat and chatted over the meal, regardless of the flying hour. 'Well,
well!' said Barnet presently, as for the first time he leisurely surveyed
the room; 'how like it all is, and yet how different! Just where your
piano stands was a board on a couple of trestles, bearing the patterns of
wall-papers, when I was last here. I was choosing them--standing in this
way, as it might be. Then my servant came in at the door, and handed me
a note, so. It was from Downe, and announced that you were just going to
be married to him. I chose no more wall-papers--tore up all those I had
selected, and left the house. I never entered it again till now.'
'Ah, at last I understand it all,' she murmured.
They had both risen and gone to the fireplace. The mantel came almost on
a level with her shoulder, which gently rested against it, and Barnet
laid his hand upon the shelf close beside her shoulder. 'Lucy,' he said,
'better late than never. Will you marry me now?'
She started back, and the surprise which was so obvious in her wrought
even greater surprise in him that it should be so. It was difficult to
believe that she had been quite blind to the situation, and yet all
reason and common sense went to prove that she was not acting.
'You take me quite unawares by such a question!' she said, with a forced
laugh of uneasiness. It was the first time she had shown any
embarrassment at all. 'Why,' she added, 'I couldn't marry you for the
'Not after all this! Why not?'
'It is--I would--I really think I may say it--I would upon the whole
rather marry you, Mr. Barnet, than any other man I have ever met, if I
ever dreamed of marriage again. But I don't dream of it--it is quite out
of my thoughts; I have not the least intention of marrying again.'
'But--on my account--couldn't you alter your plans a little? Come!'
'Dear Mr. Barnet,' she said with a little flutter, 'I would on your
account if on anybody's in existence. But you don't know in the least
what it is you are asking--such an impracticable thing--I won't say
ridiculous, of course, because I see that you are really in earnest, and
earnestness is never ridiculous to my mind.'
'Well, yes,' said Barnet more slowly, dropping her hand, which he had
taken at the moment of pleading, 'I am in earnest. The resolve, two
months ago, at the Cape, to come back once more was, it is true, rather
sudden, and as I see now, not well considered. But I am in earnest in
'And I in declining. With all good feeling and all kindness, let me say
that I am quite opposed to the idea of marrying a second time.'
'Well, no harm has been done,' he answered, with the same subdued and
tender humorousness that he had shown on such occasions in early life.
'If you really won't accept me, I must put up with it, I suppose.' His
eye fell on the clock as he spoke. 'Had you any notion that it was so
late?' he asked. 'How absorbed I have been!'
She accompanied him to the hall, helped him to put on his overcoat, and
let him out of the house herself.
'Good-night,' said Barnet, on the doorstep, as the lamp shone in his
face. 'You are not offended with me?'
'Certainly not. Nor you with me?'
'I'll consider whether I am or not,' he pleasantly replied. 'Good-night.'
She watched him safely through the gate; and when his footsteps had died
away upon the road, closed the door softly and returned to the room. Here
the modest widow long pondered his speeches, with eyes dropped to an
unusually low level. Barnet's urbanity under the blow of her refusal
greatly impressed her. After having his long period of probation
rendered useless by her decision, he had shown no anger, and had
philosophically taken her words as if he deserved no better ones. It was
very gentlemanly of him, certainly; it was more than gentlemanly; it was
heroic and grand. The more she meditated, the more she questioned the
virtue of her conduct in checking him so peremptorily; and went to her
bedroom in a mood of dissatisfaction. On looking in the glass she was
reminded that there was not so much remaining of her former beauty as to
make his frank declaration an impulsive natural homage to her cheeks and
eyes; it must undoubtedly have arisen from an old staunch feeling of his,
deserving tenderest consideration. She recalled to her mind with much
pleasure that he had told her he was staying at the Black-Bull Hotel; so
that if, after waiting a day or two, he should not, in his modesty, call
again, she might then send him a nice little note. To alter her views
for the present was far from her intention; but she would allow herself
to be induced to reconsider the case, as any generous woman ought to do.
The morrow came and passed, and Mr. Barnet did not drop in. At every
knock, light youthful hues flew across her cheek; and she was abstracted
in the presence of her other visitors. In the evening she walked about
the house, not knowing what to do with herself; the conditions of
existence seemed totally different from those which ruled only four-and-
twenty short hours ago. What had been at first a tantalizing elusive
sentiment was getting acclimatized within her as a definite hope, and her
person was so informed by that emotion that she might almost have stood
as its emblematical representative by the time the clock struck ten. In
short, an interest in Barnet precisely resembling that of her early youth
led her present heart to belie her yesterday's words to him, and she
longed to see him again.
The next day she walked out early, thinking she might meet him in the
street. The growing beauty of her romance absorbed her, and she went
from the street to the fields, and from the fields to the shore, without
any consciousness of distance, till reminded by her weariness that she
could go no further. He had nowhere appeared. In the evening she took a
step which under the circumstances seemed justifiable; she wrote a note
to him at the hotel, inviting him to tea with her at six precisely, and
signing her note 'Lucy.'
In a quarter of an hour the messenger came back. Mr. Barnet had left the
hotel early in the morning of the day before, but he had stated that he
would probably return in the course of the week.
The note was sent back, to be given to him immediately on his arrival.
There was no sign from the inn that this desired event had occurred,
either on the next day or the day following. On both nights she had been
restless, and had scarcely slept half-an-hour.
On the Saturday, putting off all diffidence, Lucy went herself to the
Black-Bull, and questioned the staff closely.
Mr. Barnet had cursorily remarked when leaving that he might return on
the Thursday or Friday, but they were directed not to reserve a room for
him unless he should write.
He had left no address.
Lucy sorrowfully took back her note went home, and resolved to wait.
She did wait--years and years--but Barnet never reappeared.
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 before.
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
'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 me.'
'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 day.
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 winter weather.'
'Good,' said Johns. 'Serviceable is a wise word in a bridegroom. I
commend ye, Charles.'
'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 Columbus.'
'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
'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,
'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
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 shady evening-time.
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
'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 word.
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 Australia!'
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 three years.'
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
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 special reason.
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 going on.
'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 people's happiness.'
'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,'
'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
'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 her face.
'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 behind.'
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 Australia?'
'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 vagabonds?'
'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 her mother.
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 further!'
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
'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
'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
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 'Helena!'
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
'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
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 acquaintance.'
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 the sleeves.
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
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
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
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 above.
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
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
'No right here!' said he in surprise.
'None. I can't explain it now,' answered Helena. 'This kettle is very
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
'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
'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 the latter.
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 postponement.
'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
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
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
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
'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," I'll say.'
'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 red-herring doll-oll-oll.'
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
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
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 sentimental wound.
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
'Five years ago this very night, if I am not mistaken--' she said, laying
on an ember.
'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 none.'
'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 pleasantly.
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 her.'
'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 was Johns.
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 way for.
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 again.
'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
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 have me.'
Darton held his breath till he said with treacherous solicitude, 'Try
'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
'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,
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
'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 again.'
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
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
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 paused.
'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
THE DISTRACTED PREACHER
CHAPTER I--HOW HIS COLD WAS CURED
Something delayed the arrival of the Wesleyan minister, and a young man
came temporarily in his stead. It was on the thirteenth of January 183-
that Mr. Stockdale, the young man in question, made his humble entry into
the village, unknown, and almost unseen. But when those of the
inhabitants who styled themselves of his connection became acquainted
with him, they were rather pleased with the substitute than otherwise,
though he had scarcely as yet acquired ballast of character sufficient to
steady the consciences of the hundred-and-forty Methodists of pure blood
who, at this time, lived in Nether-Moynton, and to give in addition
supplementary support to the mixed race which went to church in the
morning and chapel in the evening, or when there was a tea--as many as a
hundred-and-ten people more, all told, and including the parish-clerk in
the winter-time, when it was too dark for the vicar to observe who passed
up the street at seven o'clock--which, to be just to him, he was never
anxious to do.
It was owing to this overlapping of creeds that the celebrated population-
puzzle arose among the denser gentry of the district around
Nether-Moynton: how could it be that a parish containing fifteen score of
strong full-grown Episcopalians, and nearly thirteen score of
well-matured Dissenters, numbered barely two-and-twenty score adults in
The young man being personally interesting, those with whom he came in
contact were content to waive for a while the graver question of his
sufficiency. It is said that at this time of his life his eyes were
affectionate, though without a ray of levity; that his hair was curly,
and his figure tall; that he was, in short, a very lovable youth, who won
upon his female hearers as soon as they saw and heard him, and caused
them to say, 'Why didn't we know of this before he came, that we might
have gied him a warmer welcome!'
The fact was that, knowing him to be only provisionally selected, and
expecting nothing remarkable in his person or doctrine, they and the rest
of his flock in Nether-Moynton had felt almost as indifferent about his
advent as if they had been the soundest church-going parishioners in the
country, and he their true and appointed parson. Thus when Stockdale set
foot in the place nobody had secured a lodging for him, and though his
journey had given him a bad cold in the head, he was forced to attend to
that business himself. On inquiry he learnt that the only possible
accommodation in the village would be found at the house of one Mrs.
Lizzy Newberry, at the upper end of the street.
It was a youth who gave this information, and Stockdale asked him who
Mrs. Newberry might be.
The boy said that she was a widow-woman, who had got no husband, because
he was dead. Mr. Newberry, he added, had been a well-to-do man enough,
as the saying was, and a farmer; but he had gone off in a decline. As
regarded Mrs. Newberry's serious side, Stockdale gathered that she was
one of the trimmers who went to church and chapel both.
'I'll go there,' said Stockdale, feeling that, in the absence of purely
sectarian lodgings, he could do no better.
'She's a little particular, and won't hae gover'ment folks, or curates,
or the pa'son's friends, or such like,' said the lad dubiously.
'Ah, that may be a promising sign: I'll call. Or no; just you go up and
ask first if she can find room for me. I have to see one or two persons
on another matter. You will find me down at the carrier's.'
In a quarter of an hour the lad came back, and said that Mrs. Newberry
would have no objection to accommodate him, whereupon Stockdale called at
It stood within a garden-hedge, and seemed to be roomy and comfortable.
He saw an elderly woman, with whom he made arrangements to come the same
night, since there was no inn in the place, and he wished to house
himself as soon as possible; the village being a local centre from which
he was to radiate at once to the different small chapels in the
neighbourhood. He forthwith sent his luggage to Mrs. Newberry's from the
carrier's, where he had taken shelter, and in the evening walked up to
his temporary home.
As he now lived there, Stockdale felt it unnecessary to knock at the
door; and entering quietly he had the pleasure of hearing footsteps
scudding away like mice into the back quarters. He advanced to the
parlour, as the front room was called, though its stone floor was
scarcely disguised by the carpet, which only over-laid the trodden areas,
leaving sandy deserts under the bulging mouldings of the table-legs,
playing with brass furniture. But the room looked snug and cheerful. The
firelight shone out brightly, trembling on the knobs and handles, and
lurking in great strength on the under surface of the chimney-piece. A
deep arm-chair, covered with horsehair, and studded with a countless
throng of brass nails, was pulled up on one side of the fireplace. The
tea-things were on the table, the teapot cover was open, and a little
hand-bell had been laid at that precise point towards which a person
seated in the great chair might be expected instinctively to stretch his
Stockdale sat down, not objecting to his experience of the room thus far,
and began his residence by tinkling the bell. A little girl crept in at
the summons, and made tea for him. Her name, she said, was Marther
Sarer, and she lived out there, nodding towards the road and village
generally. Before Stockdale had got far with his meal, a tap sounded on
the door behind him, and on his telling the inquirer to come in, a rustle
of garments caused him to turn his head. He saw before him a fine and
extremely well-made young woman, with dark hair, a wide, sensible,
beautiful forehead, eyes that warmed him before he knew it, and a mouth
that was in itself a picture to all appreciative souls.
'Can I get you anything else for tea?' she said, coming forward a step or
two, an expression of liveliness on her features, and her hand waving the
door by its edge.
'Nothing, thank you,' said Stockdale, thinking less of what he replied
than of what might be her relation to the household.
'You are quite sure?' said the young woman, apparently aware that he had
not considered his answer.
He conscientiously examined the tea-things, and found them all there.
'Quite sure, Miss Newberry,' he said.
'It is Mrs. Newberry,' she said. 'Lizzy Newberry, I used to be Lizzy
'O, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Newberry.' And before he had occasion to say
more she left the room.
Stockdale remained in some doubt till Martha Sarah came to clear the
table. 'Whose house is this, my little woman,' said he.
'Mrs. Lizzy Newberry's, sir.'
'Then Mrs. Newberry is not the old lady I saw this afternoon?'
'No. That's Mrs. Newberry's mother. It was Mrs. Newberry who comed in
to you just by now, because she wanted to see if you was good-looking.'
Later in the evening, when Stockdale was about to begin supper, she came
again. 'I have come myself, Mr. Stockdale,' she said. The minister
stood up in acknowledgment of the honour. 'I am afraid little Marther
might not make you understand. What will you have for supper?--there's
cold rabbit, and there's a ham uncut.'
Stockdale said he could get on nicely with those viands, and supper was
laid. He had no more than cut a slice when tap-tap came to the door
again. The minister had already learnt that this particular rhythm in
taps denoted the fingers of his enkindling landlady, and the doomed young
fellow buried his first mouthful under a look of receptive blandness.
'We have a chicken in the house, Mr. Stockdale--I quite forgot to mention
it just now. Perhaps you would like Marther Sarer to bring it up?'
Stockdale had advanced far enough in the art of being a young man to say
that he did not want the chicken, unless she brought it up herself; but
when it was uttered he blushed at the daring gallantry of the speech,
perhaps a shade too strong for a serious man and a minister. In three
minutes the chicken appeared, but, to his great surprise, only in the
hands of Martha Sarah. Stockdale was disappointed, which perhaps it was
intended that he should be.
He had finished supper, and was not in the least anticipating Mrs.
Newberry again that night, when she tapped and entered as before.
Stockdale's gratified look told that she had lost nothing by not
appearing when expected. It happened that the cold in the head from
which the young man suffered had increased with the approach of night,
and before she had spoken he was seized with a violent fit of sneezing
which he could not anyhow repress.
Mrs. Newberry looked full of pity. 'Your cold is very bad to-night, Mr.
Stockdale replied that it was rather troublesome.
'And I've a good mind'--she added archly, looking at the cheerless glass
of water on the table, which the abstemious minister was going to drink.
'Yes, Mrs. Newberry?'
'I've a good mind that you should have something more likely to cure it
than that cold stuff.'
'Well,' said Stockdale, looking down at the glass, 'as there is no inn
here, and nothing better to be got in the village, of course it will do.'
To this she replied, 'There is something better, not far off, though not
in the house. I really think you must try it, or you may be ill. Yes,
Mr. Stockdale, you shall.' She held up her finger, seeing that he was
about to speak. 'Don't ask what it is; wait, and you shall see.'
Lizzy went away, and Stockdale waited in a pleasant mood. Presently she
returned with her bonnet and cloak on, saying, 'I am so sorry, but you
must help me to get it. Mother has gone to bed. Will you wrap yourself
up, and come this way, and please bring that cup with you?'
Stockdale, a lonely young fellow, who had for weeks felt a great craving
for somebody on whom to throw away superfluous interest, and even
tenderness, was not sorry to join her; and followed his guide through the
back door, across the garden, to the bottom, where the boundary was a
wall. This wall was low, and beyond it Stockdale discerned in the night
shades several grey headstones, and the outlines of the church roof and
'It is easy to get up this way,' she said, stepping upon a bank which
abutted on the wall; then putting her foot on the top of the stonework,
and descending a spring inside, where the ground was much higher, as is
the manner of graveyards to be. Stockdale did the same, and followed her
in the dusk across the irregular ground till they came to the tower door,
which, when they had entered, she softly closed behind them.
'You can keep a secret?' she said, in a musical voice.
'Like an iron chest!' said he fervently.
Then from under her cloak she produced a small lighted lantern, which the
minister had not noticed that she carried at all. The light showed them
to be close to the singing-gallery stairs, under which lay a heap of
lumber of all sorts, but consisting mostly of decayed framework, pews,
panels, and pieces of flooring, that from time to time had been removed
from their original fixings in the body of the edifice and replaced by
'Perhaps you will drag some of those boards aside?' she said, holding the
lantern over her head to light him better. 'Or will you take the lantern
while I move them?'
'I can manage it,' said the young man, and acting as she ordered, he
uncovered, to his surprise, a row of little barrels bound with wood
hoops, each barrel being about as large as the nave of a heavy waggon-
When they were laid open Lizzy fixed her eyes on him, as if she wondered
what he would say.
'You know what they are?' she asked, finding that he did not speak.
'Yes, barrels,' said Stockdale simply. He was an inland man, the son of
highly respectable parents, and brought up with a single eye to the
ministry; and the sight suggested nothing beyond the fact that such
articles were there.
'You are quite right, they are barrels,' she said, in an emphatic tone of
candour that was not without a touch of irony.
Stockdale looked at her with an eye of sudden misgiving. 'Not smugglers'
liquor?' he said.
'Yes,' said she. 'They are tubs of spirit that have accidentally come
over in the dark from France.'
In Nether-Moynton and its vicinity at this date people always smiled at
the sort of sin called in the outside world illicit trading; and these
little kegs of gin and brandy were as well known to the inhabitants as
turnips. So that Stockdale's innocent ignorance, and his look of alarm
when he guessed the sinister mystery, seemed to strike Lizzy first as
ludicrous, and then as very awkward for the good impression that she
wished to produce upon him.
'Smuggling is carried on here by some of the people,' she said in a
gentle, apologetic voice. 'It has been their practice for generations,
and they think it no harm. Now, will you roll out one of the tubs?'
'What to do with it?' said the minister.
'To draw a little from it to cure your cold,' she answered. 'It is so
'nation strong that it drives away that sort of thing in a jiffy. O, it
is all right about our taking it. I may have what I like; the owner of
the tubs says so. I ought to have had some in the house, and then I
shouldn't ha' been put to this trouble; but I drink none myself, and so I
often forget to keep it indoors.'
'You are allowed to help yourself, I suppose, that you may not inform
where their hiding-place is?'
'Well, no; not that particularly; but I may take any if I want it. So
'I will, to oblige you, since you have a right to it,' murmured the
minister; and though he was not quite satisfied with his part in the
performance, he rolled one of the 'tubs' out from the corner into the
middle of the tower floor. 'How do you wish me to get it out--with a
gimlet, I suppose?'
'No, I'll show you,' said his interesting companion; and she held up with
her other hand a shoemaker's awl and a hammer. 'You must never do these
things with a gimlet, because the wood-dust gets in; and when the buyers
pour out the brandy that would tell them that the tub had been broached.
An awl makes no dust, and the hole nearly closes up again. Now tap one
of the hoops forward.'
Stockdale took the hammer and did so.
'Now make the hole in the part that was covered by the hoop.'
He made the hole as directed. 'It won't run out,' he said.
'O yes it will,' said she. 'Take the tub between your knees, and squeeze
the heads; and I'll hold the cup.'
Stockdale obeyed; and the pressure taking effect upon the tub, which
seemed, to be thin, the spirit spirted out in a stream. When the cup was
full he ceased pressing, and the flow immediately stopped. 'Now we must
fill up the keg with water,' said Lizzy, 'or it will cluck like forty
hens when it is handled, and show that 'tis not full.'
'But they tell you you may take it?'
'Yes, the smugglers: but the buyers must not know that the smugglers have
been kind to me at their expense.'
'I see,' said Stockdale doubtfully. 'I much question the honesty of this
By her direction he held the tub with the hole upwards, and while he went
through the process of alternately pressing and ceasing to press, she
produced a bottle of water, from which she took mouthfuls, conveying each
to the keg by putting her pretty lips to the hole, where it was sucked in
at each recovery of the cask from pressure. When it was again full he
plugged the hole, knocked the hoop down to its place, and buried the tub
in the lumber as before.
'Aren't the smugglers afraid that you will tell?' he asked, as they
recrossed the churchyard.
'O no; they are not afraid of that. I couldn't do such a thing.'
'They have put you into a very awkward corner,' said Stockdale
emphatically. 'You must, of course, as an honest person, sometimes feel
that it is your duty to inform--really you must.'
'Well, I have never particularly felt it as a duty; and, besides, my
first husband--' She stopped, and there was some confusion in her voice.
Stockdale was so honest and unsophisticated that he did not at once
discern why she paused: but at last he did perceive that the words were a
slip, and that no woman would have uttered 'first husband' by accident
unless she had thought pretty frequently of a second. He felt for her
confusion, and allowed her time to recover and proceed. 'My husband,'
she said, in a self-corrected tone, 'used to know of their doings, and so
did my father, and kept the secret. I cannot inform, in fact, against
'I see the hardness of it,' he continued, like a man who looked far into
the moral of things. 'And it is very cruel that you should be tossed and
tantalized between your memories and your conscience. I do hope, Mrs.
Newberry, that you will soon see your way out of this unpleasant
'Well, I don't just now,' she murmured.
By this time they had passed over the wall and entered the house, where
she brought him a glass and hot water, and left him to his own
reflections. He looked after her vanishing form, asking himself whether
he, as a respectable man, and a minister, and a shining light, even
though as yet only of the halfpenny-candle sort, were quite justified in
doing this thing. A sneeze settled the question; and he found that when
the fiery liquor was lowered by the addition of twice or thrice the
quantity of water, it was one of the prettiest cures for a cold in the
head that he had ever known, particularly at this chilly time of the
Stockdale sat in the deep chair about twenty minutes sipping and
meditating, till he at length took warmer views of things, and longed for
the morrow, when he would see Mrs. Newberry again. He then felt that,
though chronologically at a short distance, it would in an emotional
sense be very long before to-morrow came, and walked restlessly round the
room. His eye was attracted by a framed and glazed sampler in which a
running ornament of fir-trees and peacocks surrounded the following
pretty bit of sentiment:-
'Rose-leaves smell when roses thrive,
Here's my work while I'm alive;
Rose-leaves smell when shrunk and shed,
Here's my work when I am dead.
'Lizzy Simpkins. Fear God. Honour the King.
'Aged 11 years.
''Tis hers,' he said to himself. 'Heavens, how I like that name!'
Before he had done thinking that no other name from Abigail to Zenobia
would have suited his young landlady so well, tap-tap came again upon the
door; and the minister started as her face appeared yet another time,
looking so disinterested that the most ingenious would have refrained
from asserting that she had come to affect his feelings by her seductive
'Would you like a fire in your room, Mr. Stockdale, on account of your
The minister, being still a little pricked in the conscience for
countenancing her in watering the spirits, saw here a way to
self-chastisement. 'No, I thank you,' he said firmly; 'it is not
necessary. I have never been used to one in my life, and it would be
giving way to luxury too far.'
'Then I won't insist,' she said, and disconcerted him by vanishing
Wondering if she was vexed by his refusal, he wished that he had chosen
to have a fire, even though it should have scorched him out of bed and
endangered his self-discipline for a dozen days. However, he consoled
himself with what was in truth a rare consolation for a budding lover,
that he was under the same roof with Lizzy; her guest, in fact, to take a
poetical view of the term lodger; and that he would certainly see her on
The morrow came, and Stockdale rose early, his cold quite gone. He had
never in his life so longed for the breakfast hour as he did that day,
and punctually at eight o'clock, after a short walk, to reconnoitre the
premises, he re-entered the door of his dwelling. Breakfast passed, and
Martha Sarah attended, but nobody came voluntarily as on the night before
to inquire if there were other wants which he had not mentioned, and
which she would attempt to gratify. He was disappointed, and went out,
hoping to see her at dinner. Dinner time came; he sat down to the meal,
finished it, lingered on for a whole hour, although two new teachers were
at that moment waiting at the chapel-door to speak to him by appointment.
It was useless to wait longer, and he slowly went his way down the lane,
cheered by the thought that, after all, he would see her in the evening,
and perhaps engage again in the delightful tub-broaching in the
neighbouring church tower, which proceeding he resolved to render more
moral by steadfastly insisting that no water should be introduced to fill
up, though the tub should cluck like all the hens in Christendom. But
nothing could disguise the fact that it was a queer business; and his
countenance fell when he thought how much more his mind was interested in
that matter than in his serious duties.
However, compunction vanished with the decline of day. Night came, and
his tea and supper; but no Lizzy Newberry, and no sweet temptations. At
last the minister could bear it no longer, and said to his quaint little
attendant, 'Where is Mrs. Newberry to-day?' judiciously handing a penny
as he spoke.
'She's busy,' said Martha.
'Anything serious happened?' he asked, handing another penny, and
revealing yet additional pennies in the background.
'O no--nothing at all!' said she, with breathless confidence. 'Nothing
ever happens to her. She's only biding upstairs in bed because 'tis her
Being a young man of some honour, he would not question further, and
assuming that Lizzy must have a bad headache, or other slight ailment, in
spite of what the girl had said, he went to bed dissatisfied, not even
setting eyes on old Mrs. Simpkins. 'I said last night that I should see
her to-morrow,' he reflected; 'but that was not to be!'
Next day he had better fortune, or worse, meeting her at the foot of the
stairs in the morning, and being favoured by a visit or two from her
during the day--once for the purpose of making kindly inquiries about his
comfort, as on the first evening, and at another time to place a bunch of
winter-violets on his table, with a promise to renew them when they
drooped. On these occasions there was something in her smile which
showed how conscious she was of the effect she produced, though it must
be said that it was rather a humorous than a designing consciousness, and
savoured more of pride than of vanity.
As for Stockdale, he clearly perceived that he possessed unlimited
capacity for backsliding, and wished that tutelary saints were not denied
to Dissenters. He set a watch upon his tongue and eyes for the space of
one hour and a half, after which he found it was useless to struggle
further, and gave himself up to the situation. 'The other minister will
be here in a month,' he said to himself when sitting over the fire. 'Then
I shall be off, and she will distract my mind no more! . . . And then,
shall I go on living by myself for ever? No; when my two years of
probation are finished, I shall have a furnished house to live in, with a
varnished door and a brass knocker; and I'll march straight back to her,
and ask her flat, as soon as the last plate is on the dresser!
Thus a titillating fortnight was passed by young Stockdale, during which
time things proceeded much as such matters have done ever since the
beginning of history. He saw the object of attachment several times one
day, did not see her at all the next, met her when he least expected to
do so, missed her when hints and signs as to where she should be at a
given hour almost amounted to an appointment. This mild coquetry was
perhaps fair enough under the circumstances of their being so closely
lodged, and Stockdale put up with it as philosophically as he was able.
Being in her own house, she could, after vexing him or disappointing him
of her presence, easily win him back by suddenly surrounding him with
those little attentions which her position as his landlady put it in her
power to bestow. When he had waited indoors half the day to see her, and
on finding that she would not be seen, had gone off in a huff to the
dreariest and dampest walk he could discover, she would restore
equilibrium in the evening with 'Mr. Stockdale, I have fancied you must
feel draught o' nights from your bedroom window, and so I have been
putting up thicker curtains this afternoon while you were out;' or, 'I
noticed that you sneezed twice again this morning, Mr. Stockdale. Depend
upon it that cold is hanging about you yet; I am sure it is--I have
thought of it continually; and you must let me make a posset for you.'
Sometimes in coming home he found his sitting-room rearranged, chairs
placed where the table had stood, and the table ornamented with the few
fresh flowers and leaves that could be obtained at this season, so as to
add a novelty to the room. At times she would be standing on a chair
outside the house, trying to nail up a branch of the monthly rose which
the winter wind had blown down; and of course he stepped forward to
assist her, when their hands got mixed in passing the shreds and nails.
Thus they became friends again after a disagreement. She would utter on
these occasions some pretty and deprecatory remark on the necessity of
her troubling him anew; and he would straightway say that he would do a
hundred times as much for her if she should so require.
CHAPTER II--HOW HE SAW TWO OTHER MEN
Matters being in this advancing state, Stockdale was rather surprised one
cloudy evening, while sitting in his room, at hearing her speak in low
tones of expostulation to some one at the door. It was nearly dark, but
the shutters were not yet closed, nor the candles lighted; and Stockdale
was tempted to stretch his head towards the window. He saw outside the
door a young man in clothes of a whitish colour, and upon reflection
judged their wearer to be the well-built and rather handsome miller who
lived below. The miller's voice was alternately low and firm, and
sometimes it reached the level of positive entreaty; but what the words
were Stockdale could in no way hear.
Before the colloquy had ended, the minister's attention was attracted by
a second incident. Opposite Lizzy's home grew a clump of laurels,
forming a thick and permanent shade. One of the laurel boughs now
quivered against the light background of sky, and in a moment the head of
a man peered out, and remained still. He seemed to be also much
interested in the conversation at the door, and was plainly lingering
there to watch and listen. Had Stockdale stood in any other relation to
Lizzy than that of a lover, he might have gone out and investigated the
meaning of this: but being as yet but an unprivileged ally, he did
nothing more than stand up and show himself against the firelight,
whereupon the listener disappeared, and Lizzy and the miller spoke in
Stockdale was made so uneasy by the circumstance, that as soon as the
miller was gone, he said, 'Mrs. Newberry, are you aware that you were
watched just now, and your conversation heard?'
'When?' she said.
'When you were talking to that miller. A man was looking from the laurel-
tree as jealously as if he could have eaten you.'
She showed more concern than the trifling event seemed to demand, and he
added, 'Perhaps you were talking of things you did not wish to be
'I was talking only on business,' she said.
'Lizzy, be frank!' said the young man. 'If it was only on business, why
should anybody wish to listen to you?'
She looked curiously at him. 'What else do you think it could be, then?'
'Well--the only talk between a young woman and man that is likely to
amuse an eavesdropper.'
'Ah yes,' she said, smiling in spite of her preoccupation. 'Well, my
cousin Owlett has spoken to me about matrimony, every now and then,
that's true; but he was not speaking of it then. I wish he had been
speaking of it, with all my heart. It would have been much less serious
'O Mrs. Newberry!'
'It would. Not that I should ha' chimed in with him, of course. I wish
it for other reasons. I am glad, Mr. Stockdale, that you have told me of
that listener. It is a timely warning, and I must see my cousin again.'
'But don't go away till I have spoken,' said the minister. 'I'll out
with it at once, and make no more ado. Let it be Yes or No between us,
Lizzy; please do!' And he held out his hand, in which she freely allowed
her own to rest, but without speaking.
'You mean Yes by that?' he asked, after waiting a while.
'You may be my sweetheart, if you will.'
'Why not say at once you will wait for me until I have a house and can
come back to marry you.'
'Because I am thinking--thinking of something else,' she said with
embarrassment. 'It all comes upon me at once, and I must settle one
thing at a time.'
'At any rate, dear Lizzy, you can assure me that the miller shall not be
allowed to speak to you except on business? You have never directly
She parried the question by saying, 'You see, he and his party have been
in the habit of leaving things on my premises sometimes, and as I have
not denied him, it makes him rather forward.'
'Tubs--they are called Things here.'
'But why don't you deny him, my dear Lizzy?'
'I cannot well.'
'You are too timid. It is unfair of him to impose so upon you, and get
your good name into danger by his smuggling tricks. Promise me that the
next time he wants to leave his tubs here you will let me roll them into
She shook her head. 'I would not venture to offend the neighbours so
much as that,' said she, 'or do anything that would be so likely to put
poor Owlett into the hands of the excisemen.'
Stockdale sighed, and said that he thought hers a mistaken generosity
when it extended to assisting those who cheated the king of his dues. 'At
any rate, you will let me make him keep his distance as your lover, and
tell him flatly that you are not for him?'
'Please not, at present,' she said. 'I don't wish to offend my old
neighbours. It is not only Owlett who is concerned.'
'This is too bad,' said Stockdale impatiently.
'On my honour, I won't encourage him as my lover,' Lizzy answered
earnestly. 'A reasonable man will be satisfied with that.'
'Well, so I am,' said Stockdale, his countenance clearing.
CHAPTER III--THE MYSTERIOUS GREATCOAT
Stockdale now began to notice more particularly a feature in the life of
his fair landlady, which he had casually observed but scarcely ever
thought of before. It was that she was markedly irregular in her hours
of rising. For a week or two she would be tolerably punctual, reaching
the ground-floor within a few minutes of half-past seven. Then suddenly
she would not be visible till twelve at noon, perhaps for three or four
days in succession; and twice he had certain proof that she did not leave
her room till half-past three in the afternoon. The second time that
this extreme lateness came under his notice was on a day when he had
particularly wished to consult with her about his future movements; and
he concluded, as he always had done, that she had a cold, headache, or
other ailment, unless she had kept herself invisible to avoid meeting and
talking to him, which he could hardly believe. The former supposition
was disproved, however, by her innocently saying, some days later, when
they were speaking on a question of health, that she had never had a
moment's heaviness, headache, or illness of any kind since the previous
'I am glad to hear it,' said he. 'I thought quite otherwise.'
'What, do I look sickly?' she asked, turning up her face to show the
impossibility of his gazing on it and holding such a belief for a moment.
'Not at all; I merely thought so from your being sometimes obliged to
keep your room through the best part of the day.'
'O, as for that--it means nothing,' she murmured, with a look which some
might have called cold, and which was the worst look that he liked to see
upon her. 'It is pure sleepiness, Mr. Stockdale.'
'It is, I tell you. When I stay in my room till half-past three in the
afternoon, you may always be sure that I slept soundly till three, or I
shouldn't have stayed there.'
'It is dreadful,' said Stockdale, thinking of the disastrous effects of
such indulgence upon the household of a minister, should it become a
habit of everyday occurrence.
'But then,' she said, divining his good and prescient thoughts, 'it only
happens when I stay awake all night. I don't go to sleep till five or
six in the morning sometimes.'
'Ah, that's another matter,' said Stockdale. 'Sleeplessness to such an
alarming extent is real illness. Have you spoken to a doctor?'
'O no--there is no need for doing that--it is all natural to me.' And
she went away without further remark.
Stockdale might have waited a long time to know the real cause of her
sleeplessness, had it not happened that one dark night he was sitting in
his bedroom jotting down notes for a sermon, which occupied him
perfunctorily for a considerable time after the other members of the
household had retired. He did not get to bed till one o'clock. Before
he had fallen asleep he heard a knocking at the front door, first rather
timidly performed, and then louder. Nobody answered it, and the person
knocked again. As the house still remained undisturbed, Stockdale got
out of bed, went to his window, which overlooked the door, and opening
it, asked who was there.
A young woman's voice replied that Susan Wallis was there, and that she
had come to ask if Mrs. Newberry could give her some mustard to make a
plaster with, as her father was taken very ill on the chest.
The minister, having neither bell nor servant, was compelled to act in
person. 'I will call Mrs. Newberry,' he said. Partly dressing himself;
he went along the passage and tapped at Lizzy's door. She did not
answer, and, thinking of her erratic habits in the matter of sleep, he
thumped the door persistently, when he discovered, by its moving ajar
under his knocking, that it had only been gently pushed to. As there was
now a sufficient entry for the voice, he knocked no longer, but said in
firm tones, 'Mrs. Newberry, you are wanted.'
The room was quite silent; not a breathing, not a rustle, came from any
part of it. Stockdale now sent a positive shout through the open space
of the door: 'Mrs. Newberry!'--still no answer, or movement of any kind
within. Then he heard sounds from the opposite room, that of Lizzy's
mother, as if she had been aroused by his uproar though Lizzy had not,
and was dressing herself hastily. Stockdale softly closed the younger
woman's door and went on to the other, which was opened by Mrs. Simpkins
before he could reach it. She was in her ordinary clothes, and had a
light in her hand.
'What's the person calling about?' she said in alarm.
Stockdale told the girl's errand, adding seriously, 'I cannot wake Mrs.
'It is no matter,' said her mother. 'I can let the girl have what she
wants as well as my daughter.' And she came out of the room and went
Stockdale retired towards his own apartment, saying, however, to Mrs.
Simpkins from the landing, as if on second thoughts, 'I suppose there is
nothing the matter with Mrs. Newberry, that I could not wake her?'
'O no,' said the old lady hastily. 'Nothing at all.'
Still the minister was not satisfied. 'Will you go in and see?' he said.
'I should be much more at ease.'
Mrs. Simpkins returned up the staircase, went to her daughter's room, and
came out again almost instantly. 'There is nothing at all the matter
with Lizzy,' she said; and descended again to attend to the applicant,
who, having seen the light, had remained quiet during this interval.
Stockdale went into his room and lay down as before. He heard Lizzy's
mother open the front door, admit the girl, and then the murmured
discourse of both as they went to the store-cupboard for the medicament
required. The girl departed, the door was fastened, Mrs. Simpkins came
upstairs, and the house was again in silence. Still the minister did not
fall asleep. He could not get rid of a singular suspicion, which was all
the more harassing in being, if true, the most unaccountable thing within
his experience. That Lizzy Newberry was in her bedroom when he made such
a clamour at the door he could not possibly convince himself;
notwithstanding that he had heard her come upstairs at the usual time, go
into her chamber, and shut herself up in the usual way. Yet all reason
was so much against her being elsewhere, that he was constrained to go
back again to the unlikely theory of a heavy sleep, though he had heard
neither breath nor movement during a shouting and knocking loud enough to
rouse the Seven Sleepers.
Before coming to any positive conclusion he fell asleep himself, and did
not awake till day. He saw nothing of Mrs. Newberry in the morning,
before he went out to meet the rising sun, as he liked to do when the
weather was fine; but as this was by no means unusual, he took no notice
of it. At breakfast-time he knew that she was not far off by hearing her
in the kitchen, and though he saw nothing of her person, that back
apartment being rigorously closed against his eyes, she seemed to be
talking, ordering, and bustling about among the pots and skimmers in so
ordinary a manner, that there was no reason for his wasting more time in
The minister suffered from these distractions, and his extemporized
sermons were not improved thereby. Already he often said Romans for
Corinthians in the pulpit, and gave out hymns in strange cramped metres,
that hitherto had always been skipped, because the congregation could not
raise a tune to fit them. He fully resolved that as soon as his few
weeks of stay approached their end he would cut the matter short, and
commit himself by proposing a definite engagement, repenting at leisure
With this end in view, he suggested to her on the evening after her
mysterious sleep that they should take a walk together just before dark,
the latter part of the proposition being introduced that they might
return home unseen. She consented to go; and away they went over a
stile, to a shrouded footpath suited for the occasion. But, in spite of
attempts on both sides, they were unable to infuse much spirit into the
ramble. She looked rather paler than usual, and sometimes turned her
'Lizzy,' said Stockdale reproachfully, when they had walked in silence a
'Yes,' said she.
'You yawned--much my company is to you!' He put it in that way, but he
was really wondering whether her yawn could possibly have more to do with
physical weariness from the night before than mental weariness of that
present moment. Lizzy apologized, and owned that she was rather tired,
which gave him an opening for a direct question on the point; but his
modesty would not allow him to put it to her; and he uncomfortably
resolved to wait.
The month of February passed with alternations of mud and frost, rain and
sleet, east winds and north-westerly gales. The hollow places in the
ploughed fields showed themselves as pools of water, which had settled
there from the higher levels, and had not yet found time to soak away.
The birds began to get lively, and a single thrush came just before
sunset each evening, and sang hopefully on the large elm-tree which stood
nearest to Mrs. Newberry's house. Cold blasts and brittle earth had
given place to an oozing dampness more unpleasant in itself than frost;
but it suggested coming spring, and its unpleasantness was of a bearable
Stockdale had been going to bring about a practical understanding with
Lizzy at least half-a-dozen times; but, what with the mystery of her
apparent absence on the night of the neighbour's call, and her curious
way of lying in bed at unaccountable times, he felt a check within him
whenever he wanted to speak out. Thus they still lived on as
indefinitely affianced lovers, each of whom hardly acknowledged the
other's claim to the name of chosen one. Stockdale persuaded himself
that his hesitation was owing to the postponement of the ordained
minister's arrival, and the consequent delay in his own departure, which
did away with all necessity for haste in his courtship; but perhaps it
was only that his discretion was reasserting itself, and telling him that
he had better get clearer ideas of Lizzy before arranging for the grand
contract of his life with her. She, on her part, always seemed ready to
be urged further on that question than he had hitherto attempted to go;
but she was none the less independent, and to a degree which would have
kept from flagging the passion of a far more mutable man.
On the evening of the first of March he went casually into his bedroom
about dusk, and noticed lying on a chair a greatcoat, hat, and breeches.
Having no recollection of leaving any clothes of his own in that spot, he
went and examined them as well as he could in the twilight, and found
that they did not belong to him. He paused for a moment to consider how
they might have got there. He was the only man living in the house; and
yet these were not his garments, unless he had made a mistake. No, they
were not his. He called up Martha Sarah.
'How did these things come in my room?' he said, flinging the
objectionable articles to the floor.
Martha said that Mrs. Newberry had given them to her to brush, and that
she had brought them up there thinking they must be Mr. Stockdale's, as
there was no other gentleman a-lodging there.
'Of course you did,' said Stockdale. 'Now take them down to your
mis'ess, and say they are some clothes I have found here and know nothing
As the door was left open he heard the conversation downstairs. 'How
stupid!' said Mrs. Newberry, in a tone of confusion. 'Why, Marther
Sarer, I did not tell you to take 'em to Mr. Stockdale's room?'
'I thought they must be his as they was so muddy,' said Martha humbly.
'You should have left 'em on the clothes-horse,' said the young mistress
severely; and she came upstairs with the garments on her arm, quickly
passed Stockdale's room, and threw them forcibly into a closet at the end
of a passage. With this the incident ended, and the house was silent
There would have been nothing remarkable in finding such clothes in a
widow's house had they been clean; or moth-eaten, or creased, or mouldy
from long lying by; but that they should be splashed with recent mud
bothered Stockdale a good deal. When a young pastor is in the aspen
stage of attachment, and open to agitation at the merest trifles, a
really substantial incongruity of this complexion is a disturbing thing.
However, nothing further occurred at that time; but he became watchful,
and given to conjecture, and was unable to forget the circumstance.
One morning, on looking from his window, he saw Mrs. Newberry herself
brushing the tails of a long drab greatcoat, which, if he mistook not,
was the very same garment as the one that had adorned the chair of his
room. It was densely splashed up to the hollow of the back with
neighbouring Nether-Moynton mud, to judge by its colour, the spots being
distinctly visible to him in the sunlight. The previous day or two
having been wet, the inference was irresistible that the wearer had quite
recently been walking some considerable distance about the lanes and
fields. Stockdale opened the window and looked out, and Mrs. Newberry
turned her head. Her face became slowly red; she never had looked
prettier, or more incomprehensible, he waved his hand affectionately, and
said good-morning; she answered with embarrassment, having ceased her
occupation on the instant that she saw him, and rolled up the coat half-
Stockdale shut the window. Some simple explanation of her proceeding was
doubtless within the bounds of possibility; but he himself could not
think of one; and he wished that she had placed the matter beyond
conjecture by voluntarily saying something about it there and then.
But, though Lizzy had not offered an explanation at the moment, the
subject was brought forward by her at the next time of their meeting. She
was chatting to him concerning some other event, and remarked that it
happened about the time when she was dusting some old clothes that had
belonged to her poor husband.
'You keep them clean out of respect to his memory?' said Stockdale
'I air and dust them sometimes,' she said, with the most charming
innocence in the world.
'Do dead men come out of their graves and walk in mud?' murmured the
minister, in a cold sweat at the deception that she was practising.
'What did you say?' asked Lizzy.
'Nothing, nothing,' said he mournfully. 'Mere words--a phrase that will
do for my sermon next Sunday.' It was too plain that Lizzy was unaware
that he had seen actual pedestrian splashes upon the skirts of the tell-
tale overcoat, and that she imagined him to believe it had come direct
from some chest or drawer.
The aspect of the case was now considerably darker. Stockdale was so
much depressed by it that he did not challenge her explanation, or
threaten to go off as a missionary to benighted islanders, or reproach
her in any way whatever. He simply parted from her when she had done
talking, and lived on in perplexity, till by degrees his natural manner
became sad and constrained.
CHAPTER IV--AT THE TIME OF THE NEW MOON
The following Thursday was changeable, damp, and gloomy; and the night
threatened to be windy and unpleasant. Stockdale had gone away to
Knollsea in the morning, to be present at some commemoration service
there, and on his return he was met by the attractive Lizzy in the
passage. Whether influenced by the tide of cheerfulness which had
attended him that day, or by the drive through the open air, or whether
from a natural disposition to let bygones alone, he allowed himself to be
fascinated into forgetfulness of the greatcoat incident, and upon the
whole passed a pleasant evening; not so much in her society as within
sound of her voice, as she sat talking in the back parlour to her mother,
till the latter went to bed. Shortly after this Mrs. Newberry retired,
and then Stockdale prepared to go upstairs himself. But before he left
the room he remained standing by the dying embers awhile, thinking long
of one thing and another; and was only aroused by the flickering of his
candle in the socket as it suddenly declined and went out. Knowing that
there were a tinder-box, matches, and another candle in his bedroom, he
felt his way upstairs without a light. On reaching his chamber he laid
his hand on every possible ledge and corner for the tinderbox, but for a
long time in vain. Discovering it at length, Stockdale produced a spark,
and was kindling the brimstone, when he fancied that he heard a movement
in the passage. He blew harder at the lint, the match flared up, and
looking by aid of the blue light through the door, which had been
standing open all this time, he was surprised to see a male figure
vanishing round the top of the staircase with the evident intention of
escaping unobserved. The personage wore the clothes which Lizzy had been
brushing, and something in the outline and gait suggested to the minister
that the wearer was Lizzy herself.
But he was not sure of this; and, greatly excited, Stockdale determined
to investigate the mystery, and to adopt his own way for doing it. He
blew out the match without lighting the candle, went into the passage,
and proceeded on tiptoe towards Lizzy's room. A faint grey square of
light in the direction of the chamber-window as he approached told him
that the door was open, and at once suggested that the occupant was gone.
He turned and brought down his fist upon the handrail of the staircase:
'It was she; in her late husband's coat and hat!'
Somewhat relieved to find that there was no intruder in the case, yet
none the less surprised, the minister crept down the stairs, softly put
on his boots, overcoat, and hat, and tried the front door. It was
fastened as usual: he went to the back door, found this unlocked, and
emerged into the garden. The night was mild and moonless, and rain had
lately been falling, though for the present it had ceased. There was a
sudden dropping from the trees and bushes every now and then, as each
passing wind shook their boughs. Among these sounds Stockdale heard the
faint fall of feet upon the road outside, and he guessed from the step
that it was Lizzy's. He followed the sound, and, helped by the
circumstance of the wind blowing from the direction in which the
pedestrian moved, he got nearly close to her, and kept there, without
risk of being overheard. While he thus followed her up the street or
lane, as it might indifferently be called, there being more hedge than
houses on either side, a figure came forward to her from one of the
cottage doors. Lizzy stopped; the minister stepped upon the grass and
'Is that Mrs. Newberry?' said the man who had come out, whose voice
Stockdale recognized as that of one of the most devout members of his
'It is,' said Lizzy.
'I be quite ready--I've been here this quarter-hour.'
'Ah, John,' said she, 'I have bad news; there is danger to-night for our
'And d'ye tell o't! I dreamed there might be.'
'Yes,' she said hurriedly; 'and you must go at once round to where the
chaps are waiting, and tell them they will not be wanted till to-morrow
night at the same time. I go to burn the lugger off.'
'I will,' he said; and instantly went off through a gate, Lizzy
continuing her way.
On she tripped at a quickening pace till the lane turned into the
turnpike-road, which she crossed, and got into the track for Ringsworth.
Here she ascended the hill without the least hesitation, passed the
lonely hamlet of Holworth, and went down the vale on the other side.
Stockdale had never taken any extensive walks in this direction, but he
was aware that if she persisted in her course much longer she would draw
near to the coast, which was here between two and three miles distant
from Nether-Moynton; and as it had been about a quarter-past eleven
o'clock when they set out, her intention seemed to be to reach the shore
Lizzy soon ascended a small mound, which Stockdale at the same time
adroitly skirted on the left; and a dull monotonous roar burst upon his
ear. The hillock was about fifty yards from the top of the cliffs, and
by day it apparently commanded a full view of the bay. There was light
enough in the sky to show her disguised figure against it when she
reached the top, where she paused, and afterwards sat down. Stockdale,
not wishing on any account to alarm her at this moment, yet desirous of
being near her, sank upon his hands and knees, crept a little higher up,
and there stayed still.
The wind was chilly, the ground damp, and his position one in which he
did not care to remain long. However, before he had decided to leave it,
the young man heard voices behind him. What they signified he did not
know; but, fearing that Lizzy was in danger, he was about to run forward
and warn her that she might be seen, when she crept to the shelter of a
little bush which maintained a precarious existence in that exposed spot;
and her form was absorbed in its dark and stunted outline as if she had
become part of it. She had evidently heard the men as well as he. They
passed near him, talking in loud and careless tones, which could be heard
above the uninterrupted washings of the sea, and which suggested that
they were not engaged in any business at their own risk. This proved to
be the fact: some of their words floated across to him, and caused him to
forget at once the coldness of his situation.
'What's the vessel?'
'A lugger, about fifty tons.'
'From Cherbourg, I suppose?'
'Yes, 'a b'lieve.'
'But it don't all belong to Owlett?'
'O no. He's only got a share. There's another or two in it--a farmer
and such like, but the names I don't know.'
The voices died away, and the heads and shoulders of the men diminished
towards the cliff, and dropped out of sight.
'My darling has been tempted to buy a share by that unbeliever Owlett,'
groaned the minister, his honest affection for Lizzy having quickened to
its intensest point during these moments of risk to her person and name.
'That's why she's here,' he said to himself. 'O, it will be the ruin of
His perturbation was interrupted by the sudden bursting out of a bright
and increasing light from the spot where Lizzy was in hiding. A few
seconds later, and before it had reached the height of a blaze, he heard
her rush past him down the hollow like a stone from a sling, in the
direction of home. The light now flared high and wide, and showed its
position clearly. She had kindled a bough of furze and stuck it into the
bush under which she had been crouching; the wind fanned the flame, which
crackled fiercely, and threatened to consume the bush as well as the
bough. Stockdale paused just long enough to notice thus much, and then
followed rapidly the route taken by the young woman. His intention was
to overtake her, and reveal himself as a friend; but run as he would he
could see nothing of her. Thus he flew across the open country about
Holworth, twisting his legs and ankles in unexpected fissures and
descents, till, on coming to the gate between the downs and the road, he
was forced to pause to get breath. There was no audible movement either
in front or behind him, and he now concluded that she had not outrun him,
but that, hearing him at her heels, and believing him one of the excise
party, she had hidden herself somewhere on the way, and let him pass by.
He went on at a more leisurely pace towards the village. On reaching the
house he found his surmise to be correct, for the gate was on the latch,
and the door unfastened, just as he had left them. Stockdale closed the
door behind him, and waited silently in the passage. In about ten
minutes he heard the same light footstep that he had heard in going out;
it paused at the gate, which opened and shut softly, and then the door-
latch was lifted, and Lizzy came in.
Stockdale went forward and said at once, 'Lizzy, don't be frightened. I
have been waiting up for you.'
She started, though she had recognized the voice. 'It is Mr. Stockdale,
isn't it?' she said.
'Yes,' he answered, becoming angry now that she was safe indoors, and not
alarmed. 'And a nice game I've found you out in to-night. You are in
man's clothes, and I am ashamed of you!'
Lizzy could hardly find a voice to answer this unexpected reproach.
'I am only partly in man's clothes,' she faltered, shrinking back to the
wall. 'It is only his greatcoat and hat and breeches that I've got on,
which is no harm, as he was my own husband; and I do it only because a
cloak blows about so, and you can't use your arms. I have got my own
dress under just the same--it is only tucked in! Will you go away
upstairs and let me pass? I didn't want you to see me at such a time as
'But I have a right to see you! How do you think there can be anything
between us now?' Lizzy was silent. 'You are a smuggler,' he continued
'I have only a share in the run,' she said.
'That makes no difference. Whatever did you engage in such a trade as
that for, and keep it such a secret from me all this time?'
'I don't do it always. I only do it in winter-time when 'tis new moon.'
'Well, I suppose that's because it can't be done anywhen else . . . You
have regularly upset me, Lizzy.'
'I am sorry for that,' Lizzy meekly replied.
'Well now,' said he more tenderly, 'no harm is done as yet. Won't you
for the sake of me give up this blamable and dangerous practice
'I must do my best to save this run,' said she, getting rather husky in
the throat. 'I don't want to give you up--you know that; but I don't
want to lose my venture. I don't know what to do now! Why I have kept
it so secret from you is that I was afraid you would be angry if you
'I should think so! I suppose if I had married you without finding this
out you'd have gone on with it just the same?'
'I don't know. I did not think so far ahead. I only went to-night to
burn the folks off, because we found that the excisemen knew where the
tubs were to be landed.'
'It is a pretty mess to be in altogether, is this,' said the distracted
young minister. 'Well, what will you do now?'
Lizzy slowly murmured the particulars of their plan, the chief of which
were that they meant to try their luck at some other point of the shore
the next night; that three landing-places were always agreed upon before
the run was attempted, with the understanding that, if the vessel was
'burnt off' from the first point, which was Ringsworth, as it had been by
her to-night, the crew should attempt to make the second, which was
Lulstead Cove, on the second night; and if there, too, danger threatened,
they should on the third night try the third place, which was behind a
headland further west.
'Suppose the officers hinder them landing there too?' he said, his
attention to this interesting programme displacing for a moment his
concern at her share in it.
'Then we shan't try anywhere else all this dark--that's what we call the
time between moon and moon--and perhaps they'll string the tubs to a
stray-line, and sink 'em a little-ways from shore, and take the bearings;
and then when they have a chance they'll go to creep for 'em.'
'O, they'll go out in a boat and drag a creeper--that's a grapnel--along
the bottom till it catch hold of the stray-line.'
The minister stood thinking; and there was no sound within doors but the
tick of the clock on the stairs, and the quick breathing of Lizzy, partly
from her walk and partly from agitation, as she stood close to the wall,
not in such complete darkness but that he could discern against its
whitewashed surface the greatcoat and broad hat which covered her.
'Lizzy, all this is very wrong,' he said. 'Don't you remember the lesson
of the tribute-money? "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's."
Surely you have heard that read times enough in your growing up?'
'He's dead,' she pouted.
'But the spirit of the text is in force just the same.'
'My father did it, and so did my grandfather, and almost everybody in
Nether-Moynton lives by it, and life would be so dull if it wasn't for
that, that I should not care to live at all.'
'I am nothing to live for, of course,' he replied bitterly. 'You would
not think it worth while to give up this wild business and live for me
'I have never looked at it like that.'
'And you won't promise and wait till I am ready?'
'I cannot give you my word to-night.' And, looking thoughtfully down,
she gradually moved and moved away, going into the adjoining room, and
closing the door between them. She remained there in the dark till he
was tired of waiting, and had gone up to his own chamber.
Poor Stockdale was dreadfully depressed all the next day by the
discoveries of the night before. Lizzy was unmistakably a fascinating
young woman, but as a minister's wife she was hardly to be contemplated.
'If I had only stuck to father's little grocery business, instead of
going in for the ministry, she would have suited me beautifully!' he said
sadly, until he remembered that in that case he would never have come
from his distant home to Nether-Moynton, and never have known her.
The estrangement between them was not complete, but it was sufficient to
keep them out of each other's company. Once during the day he met her in
the garden-path, and said, turning a reproachful eye upon her, 'Do you
promise, Lizzy?' But she did not reply. The evening drew on, and he
knew well enough that Lizzy would repeat her excursion at night--her half-
offended manner had shown that she had not the slightest intention of
altering her plans at present. He did not wish to repeat his own share
of the adventure; but, act as he would, his uneasiness on her account
increased with the decline of day. Supposing that an accident should
befall her, he would never forgive himself for not being there to help,
much as he disliked the idea of seeming to countenance such unlawful
CHAPTER V--HOW THEY WENT TO LULSTEAD COVE
As he had expected, she left the house at the same hour at night, this
time passing his door without stealth, as if she knew very well that he
would be watching, and were resolved to brave his displeasure. He was
quite ready, opened the door quickly, and reached the back door almost as
soon as she.
'Then you will go, Lizzy?' he said as he stood on the step beside her,
who now again appeared as a little man with a face altogether unsuited to
'I must,' she said, repressed by his stern manner.
'Then I shall go too,' said he.
'And I am sure you will enjoy it!' she exclaimed in more buoyant tones.
'Everybody does who tries it.'
'God forbid that I should!' he said. 'But I must look after you.'
They opened the wicket and went up the road abreast of each other, but at
some distance apart, scarcely a word passing between them. The evening
was rather less favourable to smuggling enterprise than the last had
been, the wind being lower, and the sky somewhat clear towards the north.
'It is rather lighter,' said Stockdale.
''Tis, unfortunately,' said she. 'But it is only from those few stars
over there. The moon was new to-day at four o'clock, and I expected
clouds. I hope we shall be able to do it this dark, for when we have to
sink 'em for long it makes the stuff taste bleachy, and folks don't like
it so well.'
Her course was different from that of the preceding night, branching off
to the left over Lord's Barrow as soon as they had got out of the lane
and crossed the highway. By the time they reached Chaldon Down,
Stockdale, who had been in perplexed thought as to what he should say to
her, decided that he would not attempt expostulation now, while she was
excited by the adventure, but wait till it was over, and endeavour to
keep her from such practices in future. It occurred to him once or
twice, as they rambled on, that should they be surprised by the
excisemen, his situation would be more awkward than hers, for it would be
difficult to prove his true motive in coming to the spot; but the risk
was a slight consideration beside his wish to be with her.
They now arrived at a ravine which lay on the outskirts of Chaldon, a
village two miles on their way towards the point of the shore they
sought. Lizzy broke the silence this time: 'I have to wait here to meet
the carriers. I don't know if they have come yet. As I told you, we go
to Lulstead Cove to-night, and it is two miles further than Ringsworth.'
It turned out that the men had already come; for while she spoke two or
three dozen heads broke the line of the slope, and a company of them at
once descended from the bushes where they had been lying in wait. These
carriers were men whom Lizzy and other proprietors regularly employed to
bring the tubs from the boat to a hiding-place inland. They were all
young fellows of Nether-Moynton, Chaldon, and the neighbourhood, quiet
and inoffensive persons, who simply engaged to carry the cargo for Lizzy
and her cousin Owlett, as they would have engaged in any other labour for
which they were fairly well paid.
At a word from her they closed in together. 'You had better take it
now,' she said to them; and handed to each a packet. It contained six
shillings, their remuneration for the night's undertaking, which was paid
beforehand without reference to success or failure; but, besides this,
they had the privilege of selling as agents when the run was successfully
made. As soon as it was done, she said to them, 'The place is the old
one near Lulstead Cove;' the men till that moment not having been told
whither they were bound, for obvious reasons. 'Owlett will meet you
there,' added Lizzy. 'I shall follow behind, to see that we are not
The carriers went on, and Stockdale and Mrs. Newberry followed at a
distance of a stone's throw. 'What do these men do by day?' he said.
'Twelve or fourteen of them are labouring men. Some are brickmakers,
some carpenters, some shoe-makers, some thatchers. They are all known to
me very well. Nine of 'em are of your own congregation.'
'I can't help that,' said Stockdale.
'O, I know you can't. I only told you. The others are more
church-inclined, because they supply the pa'son with all the spirits he
requires, and they don't wish to show unfriendliness to a customer.'
'How do you choose 'em?' said Stockdale.
'We choose 'em for their closeness, and because they are strong and
surefooted, and able to carry a heavy load a long way without being
Stockdale sighed as she enumerated each particular, for it proved how far
involved in the business a woman must be who was so well acquainted with
its conditions and needs. And yet he felt more tenderly towards her at
this moment than he had felt all the foregoing day. Perhaps it was that
her experienced manner and hold indifference stirred his admiration in
spite of himself.
'Take my arm, Lizzy,' he murmured.
'I don't want it,' she said. 'Besides, we may never be to each other
again what we once have been.'
'That depends upon you,' said he, and they went on again as before.
The hired carriers paced along over Chaldon Down with as little
hesitation as if it had been day, avoiding the cart-way, and leaving the
village of East Chaldon on the left, so as to reach the crest of the hill
at a lonely trackless place not far from the ancient earthwork called
Round Pound. An hour's brisk walking brought them within sound of the
sea, not many hundred yards from Lulstead Cove. Here they paused, and
Lizzy and Stockdale came up with them, when they went on together to the
verge of the cliff. One of the men now produced an iron bar, which he
drove firmly into the soil a yard from the edge, and attached to it a
rope that he had uncoiled from his body. They all began to descend,
partly stepping, partly sliding down the incline, as the rope slipped
through their hands.
'You will not go to the bottom, Lizzy?' said Stockdale anxiously.
'No. I stay here to watch,' she said. 'Owlett is down there.'
The men remained quite silent when they reached the shore; and the next
thing audible to the two at the top was the dip of heavy oars, and the
dashing of waves against a boat's bow. In a moment the keel gently
touched the shingle, and Stockdale heard the footsteps of the thirty-six
carriers running forwards over the pebbles towards the point of landing.
There was a sousing in the water as of a brood of ducks plunging in,
showing that the men had not been particular about keeping their legs, or
even their waists, dry from the brine: but it was impossible to see what
they were doing, and in a few minutes the shingle was trampled again. The
iron bar sustaining the rope, on which Stockdale's hand rested, began to
swerve a little, and the carriers one by one appeared climbing up the
sloping cliff; dripping audibly as they came, and sustaining themselves
by the guide-rope. Each man on reaching the top was seen to be carrying
a pair of tubs, one on his back and one on his chest, the two being slung
together by cords passing round the chine hoops, and resting on the
carrier's shoulders. Some of the stronger men carried three by putting
an extra one on the top behind, but the customary load was a pair, these
being quite weighty enough to give their bearer the sensation of having
chest and backbone in contact after a walk of four or five miles.
'Where is Owlett?' said Lizzy to one of them.
'He will not come up this way,' said the carrier. 'He's to bide on shore
till we be safe off.' Then, without waiting for the rest, the foremost
men plunged across the down; and, when the last had ascended, Lizzy
pulled up the rope, wound it round her arm, wriggled the bar from the
sod, and turned to follow the carriers.
'You are very anxious about Owlett's safety,' said the minister.
'Was there ever such a man!' said Lizzy. 'Why, isn't he my cousin?'
'Yes. Well, it is a bad night's work,' said Stockdale heavily. 'But
I'll carry the bar and rope for you.'
'Thank God, the tubs have got so far all right,' said she.
Stockdale shook his head, and, taking the bar, walked by her side towards
the downs; and the moan of the sea was heard no more.
'Is this what you meant the other day when you spoke of having business
with Owlett?' the young man asked.
'This is it,' she replied. 'I never see him on any other matter.'
'A partnership of that kind with a young man is very odd.'
'It was begun by my father and his, who were brother-laws.'
Her companion could not blind himself to the fact that where tastes and
pursuits were so akin as Lizzy's and Owlett's, and where risks were
shared, as with them, in every undertaking, there would be a peculiar
appropriateness in her answering Owlett's standing question on matrimony
in the affirmative. This did not soothe Stockdale, its tendency being
rather to stimulate in him an effort to make the pair as inappropriate as
possible, and win her away from this nocturnal crew to correctness of
conduct and a minister's parlour in some far-removed inland county.
They had been walking near enough to the file of carriers for Stockdale
to perceive that, when they got into the road to the village, they split
up into two companies of unequal size, each of which made off in a
direction of its own. One company, the smaller of the two, went towards
the church, and by the time that Lizzy and Stockdale reached their own
house these men had scaled the churchyard wall, and were proceeding
noiselessly over the grass within.
'I see that Owlett has arranged for one batch to be put in the church
again,' observed Lizzy. 'Do you remember my taking you there the first
night you came?'
'Yes, of course,' said Stockdale. 'No wonder you had permission to
broach the tubs--they were his, I suppose?'
'No, they were not--they were mine; I had permission from myself. The
day after that they went several miles inland in a waggon-load of manure,
and sold very well.'
At this moment the group of men who had made off to the left some time
before began leaping one by one from the hedge opposite Lizzy's house,
and the first man, who had no tubs upon his shoulders, came forward.
'Mrs. Newberry, isn't it?' he said hastily.
'Yes, Jim,' said she. 'What's the matter?'
'I find that we can't put any in Badger's Clump to-night, Lizzy,' said
Owlett. 'The place is watched. We must sling the apple-tree in the
orchet if there's time. We can't put any more under the church lumber
than I have sent on there, and my mixen hev already more in en than is
'Very well,' she said. 'Be quick about it--that's all. What can I do?'
'Nothing at all, please. Ah, it is the minister!--you two that can't do
anything had better get indoors and not be zeed.'
While Owlett thus conversed, in a tone so full of contraband anxiety and
so free from lover's jealousy, the men who followed him had been
descending one by one from the hedge; and it unfortunately happened that
when the hindmost took his leap, the cord slipped which sustained his
tubs: the result was that both the kegs fell into the road, one of them
being stove in by the blow.
''Od drown it all!' said Owlett, rushing back.
'It is worth a good deal, I suppose?' said Stockdale.
'O no--about two guineas and half to us now,' said Lizzy excitedly. 'It
isn't that--it is the smell! It is so blazing strong before it has been
lowered by water, that it smells dreadfully when spilt in the road like
that! I do hope Latimer won't pass by till it is gone off.'
Owlett and one or two others picked up the burst tub and began to scrape
and trample over the spot, to disperse the liquor as much as possible;
and then they all entered the gate of Owlett's orchard, which adjoined
Lizzy's garden on the right. Stockdale did not care to follow them, for
several on recognizing him had looked wonderingly at his presence, though
they said nothing. Lizzy left his side and went to the bottom of the
garden, looking over the hedge into the orchard, where the men could be
dimly seen bustling about, and apparently hiding the tubs. All was done
noiselessly, and without a light; and when it was over they dispersed in
different directions, those who had taken their cargoes to the church
having already gone off to their homes.
Lizzy returned to the garden-gate, over which Stockdale was still
abstractedly leaning. 'It is all finished: I am going indoors now,' she
said gently. 'I will leave the door ajar for you.'
'O no--you needn't,' said Stockdale; 'I am coming too.'
But before either of them had moved, the faint clatter of horses' hoofs
broke upon the ear, and it seemed to come from the point where the track
across the down joined the hard road.
'They are just too late!' cried Lizzy exultingly.
'Who?' said Stockdale.
'Latimer, the riding-officer, and some assistant of his. We had better
They entered the house, and Lizzy bolted the door. 'Please don't get a
light, Mr. Stockdale,' she said.
'Of course I will not,' said he.
'I thought you might be on the side of the king,' said Lizzy, with
'I am,' said Stockdale. 'But, Lizzy Newberry, I love you, and you know
it perfectly well; and you ought to know, if you do not, what I have
suffered in my conscience on your account these last few days!'
'I guess very well,' she said hurriedly. 'Yet I don't see why. Ah, you
are better than I!'
The trotting of the horses seemed to have again died away, and the pair
of listeners touched each other's fingers in the cold 'Good-night' of
those whom something seriously divided. They were on the landing, but
before they had taken three steps apart, the tramp of the horsemen
suddenly revived, almost close to the house. Lizzy turned to the
staircase window, opened the casement about an inch, and put her face
close to the aperture. 'Yes, one of 'em is Latimer,' she whispered. 'He
always rides a white horse. One would think it was the last colour for a
man in that line.'
Stockdale looked, and saw the white shape of the animal as it passed by;
but before the riders had gone another ten yards, Latimer reined in his
horse, and said something to his companion which neither Stockdale nor
Lizzy could hear. Its drift was, however, soon made evident, for the
other man stopped also; and sharply turning the horses' heads they
cautiously retraced their steps. When they were again opposite Mrs.
Newberry's garden, Latimer dismounted, and the man on the dark horse did
Lizzy and Stockdale, intently listening and observing the proceedings,
naturally put their heads as close as possible to the slit formed by the
slightly opened casement; and thus it occurred that at last their cheeks
came positively into contact. They went on listening, as if they did not
know of the singular incident which had happened to their faces, and the
pressure of each to each rather increased than lessened with the lapse of
They could hear the excisemen sniffing the air like hounds as they paced
slowly along. When they reached the spot where the tub had burst, both
stopped on the instant.
'Ay, ay, 'tis quite strong here,' said the second officer. 'Shall we
knock at the door?'
'Well, no,' said Latimer. 'Maybe this is only a trick to put us off the
scent. They wouldn't kick up this stink anywhere near their
hiding-place. I have known such things before.'
'Anyhow, the things, or some of 'em, must have been brought this way,'
said the other.
'Yes,' said Latimer musingly. 'Unless 'tis all done to tole us the wrong
way. I have a mind that we go home for to-night without saying a word,
and come the first thing in the morning with more hands. I know they
have storages about here, but we can do nothing by this owl's light. We
will look round the parish and see if everybody is in bed, John; and if
all is quiet, we will do as I say.'
They went on, and the two inside the window could hear them passing
leisurely through the whole village, the street of which curved round at
the bottom and entered the turnpike road at another junction. This way
the excisemen followed, and the amble of their horses died quite away.
'What will you do?' said Stockdale, withdrawing from his position.
She knew that he alluded to the coming search by the officers, to divert
her attention from their own tender incident by the casement, which he
wished to be passed over as a thing rather dreamt of than done. 'O,
nothing,' she replied, with as much coolness as she could command under
her disappointment at his manner. 'We often have such storms as this.
You would not be frightened if you knew what fools they are. Fancy
riding o' horseback through the place: of course they will hear and see
nobody while they make that noise; but they are always afraid to get off,
in case some of our fellows should burst out upon 'em, and tie them up to
the gate-post, as they have done before now. Good-night, Mr. Stockdale.'
She closed the window and went to her room, where a tear fell from her
eyes; and that not because of the alertness of the riding-officers.
CHAPTER VI--THE GREAT SEARCH AT NETHER-MOYNTON
Stockdale was so excited by the events of the evening, and the dilemma
that he was placed in between conscience and love, that he did not sleep,
or even doze, but remained as broadly awake as at noonday. As soon as
the grey light began to touch ever so faintly the whiter objects in his
bedroom he arose, dressed himself, and went downstairs into the road.
The village was already astir. Several of the carriers had heard the
well-known tramp of Latimer's horse while they were undressing in the
dark that night, and had already communicated with each other and Owlett
on the subject. The only doubt seemed to be about the safety of those
tubs which had been left under the church gallery-stairs, and after a
short discussion at the corner of the mill, it was agreed that these
should be removed before it got lighter, and hidden in the middle of a
double hedge bordering the adjoining field. However, before anything
could be carried into effect, the footsteps of many men were heard coming
down the lane from the highway.
'Damn it, here they be,' said Owlett, who, having already drawn the hatch
and started his mill for the day, stood stolidly at the mill-door covered
with flour, as if the interest of his whole soul was bound up in the
shaking walls around him.
The two or three with whom he had been talking dispersed to their usual
work, and when the excise officers, and the formidable body of men they
had hired, reached the village cross, between the mill and Mrs.
Newberry's house, the village wore the natural aspect of a place
beginning its morning labours.
'Now,' said Latimer to his associates, who numbered thirteen men in all,
'what I know is that the things are somewhere in this here place. We
have got the day before us, and 'tis hard if we can't light upon 'em and
get 'em to Budmouth Custom-house before night. First we will try the
fuel-houses, and then we'll work our way into the chimmers, and then to
the ricks and stables, and so creep round. You have nothing but your
noses to guide ye, mind, so use 'em to-day if you never did in your lives
Then the search began. Owlett, during the early part, watched from his
mill-window, Lizzy from the door of her house, with the greatest self-
possession. A farmer down below, who also had a share in the run, rode
about with one eye on his fields and the other on Latimer and his
myrmidons, prepared to put them off the scent if he should be asked a
question. Stockdale, who was no smuggler at all, felt more anxiety than
the worst of them, and went about his studies with a heavy heart, coming
frequently to the door to ask Lizzy some question or other on the
consequences to her of the tubs being found.
'The consequences,' she said quietly, 'are simply that I shall lose 'em.
As I have none in the house or garden, they can't touch me personally.'
'But you have some in the orchard?'
'Owlett rents that of me, and he lends it to others. So it will be hard
to say who put any tubs there if they should be found.'
There was never such a tremendous sniffing known as that which took place
in Nether-Moynton parish and its vicinity this day. All was done
methodically, and mostly on hands and knees. At different hours of the
day they had different plans. From daybreak to breakfast-time the
officers used their sense of smell in a direct and straightforward manner
only, pausing nowhere but at such places as the tubs might be supposed to
be secreted in at that very moment, pending their removal on the
following night. Among the places tested and examined were
Hollow trees Cupboards Culverts
Potato-graves Clock-cases Hedgerows
Fuel-houses Chimney-flues Faggot-ricks
Bedrooms Rainwater-butts Haystacks
Apple-lofts Pigsties Coppers and ovens.
After breakfast they recommenced with renewed vigour, taking a new line;
that is to say, directing their attention to clothes that might be
supposed to have come in contact with the tubs in their removal from the
shore, such garments being usually tainted with the spirit, owing to its
oozing between the staves. They now sniffed at -
Smock-frocks Smiths' and shoemakers' aprons
Old shirts and waistcoats Knee-naps and hedging-gloves
Coats and hats Tarpaulins
Breeches and leggings Market-cloaks
Women's shawls and gowns Scarecrows
And as soon as the mid-day meal was over, they pushed their search into
places where the spirits might have been thrown away in alarm:-
Horse-ponds Mixens Sinks in yards
Stable-drains Wet ditches Road-scrapings, and
Cinder-heaps Cesspools Back-door gutters.
But still these indefatigable excisemen discovered nothing more than the
original tell-tale smell in the road opposite Lizzy's house, which even
yet had not passed off.
'I'll tell ye what it is, men,' said Latimer, about three o'clock in the
afternoon, 'we must begin over again. Find them tubs I will.'
The men, who had been hired for the day, looked at their hands and knees,
muddy with creeping on all fours so frequently, and rubbed their noses,
as if they had almost had enough of it; for the quantity of bad air which
had passed into each one's nostril had rendered it nearly as insensible
as a flue. However, after a moment's hesitation, they prepared to start
anew, except three, whose power of smell had quite succumbed under the
excessive wear and tear of the day.
By this time not a male villager was to be seen in the parish. Owlett
was not at his mill, the farmers were not in their fields, the parson was
not in his garden, the smith had left his forge, and the wheelwright's
shop was silent.
'Where the divil are the folk gone?' said Latimer, waking up to the fact
of their absence, and looking round. 'I'll have 'em up for this! Why
don't they come and help us? There's not a man about the place but the
Methodist parson, and he's an old woman. I demand assistance in the
'We must find the jineral public afore we can demand that,' said his
'Well, well, we shall do better without 'em,' said Latimer, who changed
his moods at a moment's notice. 'But there's great cause of suspicion in
this silence and this keeping out of sight, and I'll bear it in mind. Now
we will go across to Owlett's orchard, and see what we can find there.'
Stockdale, who heard this discussion from the garden-gate, over which he
had been leaning, was rather alarmed, and thought it a mistake of the
villagers to keep so completely out of the way. He himself, like the
excisemen, had been wondering for the last half-hour what could have
become of them. Some labourers were of necessity engaged in distant
fields, but the master-workmen should have been at home; though one and
all, after just showing themselves at their shops, had apparently gone
off for the day. He went in to Lizzy, who sat at a back window sewing,
and said, 'Lizzy, where are the men?'
Lizzy laughed. 'Where they mostly are when they're run so hard as this.'
She cast her eyes to heaven. 'Up there,' she said.
Stockdale looked up. 'What--on the top of the church tower?' he asked,
seeing the direction of her glance.
'Well, I expect they will soon have to come down,' said he gravely. 'I
have been listening to the officers, and they are going to search the
orchard over again, and then every nook in the church.'
Lizzy looked alarmed for the first time. 'Will you go and tell our
folk?' she said. 'They ought to be let know.' Seeing his conscience
struggling within him like a boiling pot, she added, 'No, never mind,
I'll go myself.'
She went out, descended the garden, and climbed over the churchyard wall
at the same time that the preventive-men were ascending the road to the
orchard. Stockdale could do no less than follow her. By the time that
she reached the tower entrance he was at her side, and they entered
Nether-Moynton church-tower was, as in many villages, without a turret,
and the only way to the top was by going up to the singers' gallery, and
thence ascending by a ladder to a square trap-door in the floor of the
bell-loft, above which a permanent ladder was fixed, passing through the
bells to a hole in the roof. When Lizzy and Stockdale reached the
gallery and looked up, nothing but the trap-door and the five holes for
the bell-ropes appeared. The ladder was gone.
'There's no getting up,' said Stockdale.
'O yes, there is,' said she. 'There's an eye looking at us at this
moment through a knot-hole in that trap-door.'
And as she spoke the trap opened, and the dark line of the ladder was
seen descending against the white-washed wall. When it touched the
bottom Lizzy dragged it to its place, and said, 'If you'll go up, I'll
The young man ascended, and presently found himself among consecrated
bells for the first time in his life, nonconformity having been in the
Stockdale blood for some generations. He eyed them uneasily, and looked
round for Lizzy. Owlett stood here, holding the top of the ladder.
'What, be you really one of us?' said the miller.
'It seems so,' said Stockdale sadly.
'He's not,' said Lizzy, who overheard. 'He's neither for nor against us.
He'll do us no harm.'
She stepped up beside them, and then they went on to the next stage,
which, when they had clambered over the dusty bell-carriages, was of easy
ascent, leading towards the hole through which the pale sky appeared, and
into the open air. Owlett remained behind for a moment, to pull up the
'Keep down your heads,' said a voice, as soon as they set foot on the
Stockdale here beheld all the missing parishioners, lying on their
stomachs on the tower roof, except a few who, elevated on their hands and
knees, were peeping through the embrasures of the parapet. Stockdale did
the same, and saw the village lying like a map below him, over which
moved the figures of the excisemen, each foreshortened to a crablike
object, the crown of his hat forming a circular disc in the centre of
him. Some of the men had turned their heads when the young preacher's
figure arose among them.
'What, Mr. Stockdale?' said Matt Grey, in a tone of surprise.
'I'd as lief that it hadn't been,' said Jim Clarke. 'If the pa'son
should see him a trespassing here in his tower, 'twould be none the
better for we, seeing how 'a do hate chapel-members. He'd never buy a
tub of us again, and he's as good a customer as we have got this side o'
'Where is the pa'son?' said Lizzy.
'In his house, to be sure, that he mid see nothing of what's going
on--where all good folks ought to be, and this young man likewise.'
'Well, he has brought some news,' said Lizzy. 'They are going to search
the orchet and church; can we do anything if they should find?'
'Yes,' said her cousin Owlett. 'That's what we've been talking o', and
we have settled our line. Well, be dazed!'
The exclamation was caused by his perceiving that some of the searchers,
having got into the orchard, and begun stooping and creeping hither and
thither, were pausing in the middle, where a tree smaller than the rest
was growing. They drew closer, and bent lower than ever upon the ground.
'O, my tubs!' said Lizzy faintly, as she peered through the parapet at
'They have got 'em, 'a b'lieve,' said Owlett.
The interest in the movements of the officers was so keen that not a
single eye was looking in any other direction; but at that moment a shout
from the church beneath them attracted the attention of the smugglers, as
it did also of the party in the orchard, who sprang to their feet and
went towards the churchyard wall. At the same time those of the
Government men who had entered the church unperceived by the smugglers
cried aloud, 'Here be some of 'em at last.'
The smugglers remained in a blank silence, uncertain whether 'some of
'em' meant tubs or men; but again peeping cautiously over the edge of the
tower they learnt that tubs were the things descried; and soon these
fated articles were brought one by one into the middle of the churchyard
from their hiding-place under the gallery-stairs.
'They are going to put 'em on Hinton's vault till they find the rest!'
said Lizzy hopelessly. The excisemen had, in fact, begun to pile up the
tubs on a large stone slab which was fixed there; and when all were
brought out from the tower, two or three of the men were left standing by
them, the rest of the party again proceeding to the orchard.
The interest of the smugglers in the next manoeuvres of their enemies
became painfully intense. Only about thirty tubs had been secreted in
the lumber of the tower, but seventy were hidden in the orchard, making
up all that they had brought ashore as yet, the remainder of the cargo
having been tied to a sinker and dropped overboard for another night's
operations. The excisemen, having re-entered the orchard, acted as if
they were positive that here lay hidden the rest of the tubs, which they
were determined to find before nightfall. They spread themselves out
round the field, and advancing on all fours as before, went anew round
every apple-tree in the enclosure. The young tree in the middle again
led them to pause, and at length the whole company gathered there in a
way which signified that a second chain of reasoning had led to the same
results as the first.
When they had examined the sod hereabouts for some minutes, one of the
men rose, ran to a disused porch of the church where tools were kept, and
returned with the sexton's pickaxe and shovel, with which they set to
'Are they really buried there?' said the minister, for the grass was so
green and uninjured that it was difficult to believe it had been
disturbed. The smugglers were too interested to reply, and presently
they saw, to their chagrin, the officers stand several on each side of
the tree; and, stooping and applying their hands to the soil, they bodily
lifted the tree and the turf around it. The apple-tree now showed itself
to be growing in a shallow box, with handles for lifting at each of the
four sides. Under the site of the tree a square hole was revealed, and
an exciseman went and looked down.
'It is all up now,' said Owlett quietly. 'And now all of ye get down
before they notice we are here; and be ready for our next move. I had
better bide here till dark, or they may take me on suspicion, as 'tis on
my ground. I'll be with ye as soon as daylight begins to pink in.'
'And I?' said Lizzy.
'You please look to the linch-pins and screws; then go indoors and know
nothing at all. The chaps will do the rest.'
The ladder was replaced, and all but Owlett descended, the men passing
off one by one at the back of the church, and vanishing on their
Lizzy walked boldly along the street, followed closely by the minister.
'You are going indoors, Mrs. Newberry?' he said.
She knew from the words 'Mrs. Newberry' that the division between them
had widened yet another degree.
'I am not going home,' she said. 'I have a little thing to do before I
go in. Martha Sarah will get your tea.'
'O, I don't mean on that account,' said Stockdale. 'What can you have to
do further in this unhallowed affair?'
'Only a little,' she said.
'What is that? I'll go with you.'
'No, I shall go by myself. Will you please go indoors? I shall be there
in less than an hour.'
'You are not going to run any danger, Lizzy?' said the young man, his
tenderness reasserting itself.
'None whatever--worth mentioning,' answered she, and went down towards
Stockdale entered the garden gate, and stood behind it looking on. The
excisemen were still busy in the orchard, and at last he was tempted to
enter, and watch their proceedings. When he came closer he found that
the secret cellar, of whose existence he had been totally unaware, was
formed by timbers placed across from side to side about a foot under the
ground, and grassed over.
The excisemen looked up at Stockdale's fair and downy countenance, and
evidently thinking him above suspicion, went on with their work again. As
soon as all the tubs were taken out, they began tearing up the turf;
pulling out the timbers, and breaking in the sides, till the cellar was
wholly dismantled and shapeless, the apple-tree lying with its roots high
to the air. But the hole which had in its time held so much contraband
merchandize was never completely filled up, either then or afterwards, a
depression in the greensward marking the spot to this day.
CHAPTER VII--THE WALK TO WARM'ELL CROSS AND AFTERWARDS
As the goods had all to be carried to Budmouth that night, the
excisemen's next object was to find horses and carts for the journey, and
they went about the village for that purpose. Latimer strode hither and
thither with a lump of chalk in his hand, marking broad-arrows so
vigorously on every vehicle and set of harness that he came across, that
it seemed as if he would chalk broad-arrows on the very hedges and roads.
The owner of every conveyance so marked was bound to give it up for
Government purposes. Stockdale, who had had enough of the scene, turned
indoors thoughtful and depressed. Lizzy was already there, having come
in at the back, though she had not yet taken off her bonnet. She looked
tired, and her mood was not much brighter than his own. They had but
little to say to each other; and the minister went away and attempted to
read; but at this he could not succeed, and he shook the little bell for
Lizzy herself brought in the tray, the girl having run off into the
village during the afternoon, too full of excitement at the proceedings
to remember her state of life. However, almost before the sad lovers had
said anything to each other, Martha came in in a steaming state.
'O, there's such a stoor, Mrs. Newberry and Mr. Stockdale! The king's
excisemen can't get the carts ready nohow at all! They pulled Thomas
Ballam's, and William Rogers's, and Stephen Sprake's carts into the road,
and off came the wheels, and down fell the carts; and they found there
was no linch-pins in the arms; and then they tried Samuel Shane's waggon,
and found that the screws were gone from he, and at last they looked at
the dairyman's cart, and he's got none neither! They have gone now to
the blacksmith's to get some made, but he's nowhere to be found!'
Stockdale looked at Lizzy, who blushed very slightly, and went out of the
room, followed by Martha Sarah. But before they had got through the
passage there was a rap at the front door, and Stockdale recognized
Latimer's voice addressing Mrs. Newberry, who had turned back.
'For God's sake, Mrs. Newberry, have you seen Hardman the blacksmith up
this way? If we could get hold of him, we'd e'en a'most drag him by the
hair of his head to his anvil, where he ought to be.'
'He's an idle man, Mr. Latimer,' said Lizzy archly. 'What do you want
'Why, there isn't a horse in the place that has got more than three shoes
on, and some have only two. The waggon-wheels be without strakes, and
there's no linch-pins to the carts. What with that, and the bother about
every set of harness being out of order, we shan't be off before
nightfall--upon my soul we shan't. 'Tis a rough lot, Mrs. Newberry, that
you've got about you here; but they'll play at this game once too often,
mark my words they will! There's not a man in the parish that don't
deserve to be whipped.'
It happened that Hardman was at that moment a little further up the lane,
smoking his pipe behind a holly-bush. When Latimer had done speaking he
went on in this direction, and Hardman, hearing the exciseman's steps,
found curiosity too strong for prudence. He peeped out from the bush at
the very moment that Latimer's glance was on it. There was nothing left
for him to do but to come forward with unconcern.
'I've been looking for you for the last hour!' said Latimer with a glare
in his eye.
'Sorry to hear that,' said Hardman. 'I've been out for a stroll, to look
for more hid tubs, to deliver 'em up to Gover'ment.'
'O yes, Hardman, we know it,' said Latimer, with withering sarcasm. 'We
know that you'll deliver 'em up to Gover'ment. We know that all the
parish is helping us, and have been all day! Now you please walk along
with me down to your shop, and kindly let me hire ye in the king's name.'
They went down the lane together; and presently there resounded from the
smithy the ring of a hammer not very briskly swung. However, the carts
and horses were got into some sort of travelling condition, but it was
not until after the clock had struck six, when the muddy roads were
glistening under the horizontal light of the fading day. The smuggled
tubs were soon packed into the vehicles, and Latimer, with three of his
assistants, drove slowly out of the village in the direction of the port
of Budmouth, some considerable number of miles distant, the other
excisemen being left to watch for the remainder of the cargo, which they
knew to have been sunk somewhere between Ringsworth and Lulstead Cove,
and to unearth Owlett, the only person clearly implicated by the
discovery of the cave.
Women and children stood at the doors as the carts, each chalked with the
Government pitchfork, passed in the increasing twilight; and as they
stood they looked at the confiscated property with a melancholy
expression that told only too plainly the relation which they bore to the
'Well, Lizzy,' said Stockdale, when the crackle of the wheels had nearly
died away. 'This is a fit finish to your adventure. I am truly thankful
that you have got off without suspicion, and the loss only of the liquor.
Will you sit down and let me talk to you?'
'By and by,' she said. 'But I must go out now.'
'Not to that horrid shore again?' he said blankly.
'No, not there. I am only going to see the end of this day's business.'
He did not answer to this, and she moved towards the door slowly, as if
waiting for him to say something more.
'You don't offer to come with me,' she added at last. 'I suppose that's
because you hate me after all this?'
'Can you say it, Lizzy, when you know I only want to save you from such
practices? Come with you of course I will, if it is only to take care of
you. But why will you go out again?'
'Because I cannot rest indoors. Something is happening, and I must know
what. Now, come!' And they went into the dusk together.
When they reached the turnpike-road she turned to the right, and he soon
perceived that they were following the direction of the excisemen and
their load. He had given her his arm, and every now and then she
suddenly pulled it back, to signify that he was to halt a moment and
listen. They had walked rather quickly along the first quarter of a
mile, and on the second or third time of standing still she said, 'I hear
them ahead--don't you?'
'Yes,' he said; 'I hear the wheels. But what of that?'
'I only want to know if they get clear away from the neighbourhood.'
'Ah,' said he, a light breaking upon him. 'Something desperate is to be
attempted!--and now I remember there was not a man about the village when
'Hark!' she murmured. The noise of the cartwheels had stopped, and given
place to another sort of sound.
''Tis a scuffle!' said Stockdale. 'There'll be murder! Lizzy, let go my
arm; I am going on. On my conscience, I must not stay here and do
'There'll be no murder, and not even a broken head,' she said. 'Our men
are thirty to four of them: no harm will be done at all.'
'Then there is an attack!' exclaimed Stockdale; 'and you knew it was to
be. Why should you side with men who break the laws like this?'
'Why should you side with men who take from country traders what they
have honestly bought wi' their own money in France?' said she firmly.
'They are not honestly bought,' said he.
'They are,' she contradicted. 'I and Owlett and the others paid thirty
shillings for every one of the tubs before they were put on board at
Cherbourg, and if a king who is nothing to us sends his people to steal
our property, we have a right to steal it back again.'
Stockdale did not stop to argue the matter, but went quickly in the
direction of the noise, Lizzy keeping at his side. 'Don't you interfere,
will you, dear Richard?' she said anxiously, as they drew near. 'Don't
let us go any closer: 'tis at Warm'ell Cross where they are seizing 'em.
You can do no good, and you may meet with a hard blow!'
'Let us see first what is going on,' he said. But before they had got
much further the noise of the cartwheels began again; and Stockdale soon
found that they were coming towards him. In another minute the three
carts came up, and Stockdale and Lizzy stood in the ditch to let them
Instead of being conducted by four men, as had happened when they went
out of the village, the horses and carts were now accompanied by a body
of from twenty to thirty, all of whom, as Stockdale perceived to his
astonishment, had blackened faces. Among them walked six or eight huge
female figures, whom, from their wide strides, Stockdale guessed to be
men in disguise. As soon as the party discerned Lizzy and her companion
four or five fell back, and when the carts had passed, came close to the
'There is no walking up this way for the present,' said one of the gaunt
women, who wore curls a foot long, dangling down the sides of her face,
in the fashion of the time. Stockdale recognized this lady's voice as
'Why not?' said Stockdale. 'This is the public highway.'
'Now look here, youngster,' said Owlett. 'O, 'tis the Methodist
parson!--what, and Mrs. Newberry! Well, you'd better not go up that way,
Lizzy. They've all run off, and folks have got their own again.'
The miller then hastened on and joined his comrades. Stockdale and Lizzy
also turned back. 'I wish all this hadn't been forced upon us,' she said
regretfully. 'But if those excisemen had got off with the tubs, half the
people in the parish would have been in want for the next month or two.'
Stockdale was not paying much attention to her words, and he said, 'I
don't think I can go back like this. Those four poor excisemen may be
murdered for all I know.'
'Murdered!' said Lizzy impatiently. 'We don't do murder here.'
'Well, I shall go as far as Warm'ell Cross to see,' said Stockdale
decisively; and, without wishing her safe home or anything else, the
minister turned back. Lizzy stood looking at him till his form was
absorbed in the shades; and then, with sadness, she went in the direction
The road was lonely, and after nightfall at this time of the year there
was often not a passer for hours. Stockdale pursued his way without
hearing a sound beyond that of his own footsteps; and in due time he
passed beneath the trees of the plantation which surrounded the Warm'ell
Cross-road. Before he had reached the point of intersection he heard
voices from the thicket.
'Hoi-hoi-hoi! Help, help!'
The voices were not at all feeble or despairing, but they were
unmistakably anxious. Stockdale had no weapon, and before plunging into
the pitchy darkness of the plantation he pulled a stake from the hedge,
to use in case of need. When he got among the trees he shouted--'What's
the matter--where are you?'
'Here,' answered the voices; and, pushing through the brambles in that
direction, he came near the objects of his search.
'Why don't you come forward?' said Stockdale.
'We be tied to the trees!'
'Who are you?'
'Poor Will Latimer the exciseman!' said one plaintively. 'Just come and
cut these cords, there's a good man. We were afraid nobody would pass by
Stockdale soon loosened them, upon which they stretched their limbs and
stood at their ease.
'The rascals!' said Latimer, getting now into a rage, though he had
seemed quite meek when Stockdale first came up. ''Tis the same set of
fellows. I know they were Moynton chaps to a man.'
'But we can't swear to 'em,' said another. 'Not one of 'em spoke.'
'What are you going to do?' said Stockdale.
'I'd fain go back to Moynton, and have at 'em again!' said Latimer.
'So would we!' said his comrades.
'Fight till we die!' said Latimer.
'We will, we will!' said his men.
'But,' said Latimer, more frigidly, as they came out of the plantation,
'we don't know that these chaps with black faces were Moynton men? And
proof is a hard thing.'
'So it is,' said the rest.
'And therefore we won't do nothing at all,' said Latimer, with complete
dispassionateness. 'For my part, I'd sooner be them than we. The
clitches of my arms are burning like fire from the cords those two
strapping women tied round 'em. My opinion is, now I have had time to
think o't, that you may serve your Gover'ment at too high a price. For
these two nights and days I have not had an hour's rest; and, please God,
here's for home-along.'
The other officers agreed heartily to this course; and, thanking
Stockdale for his timely assistance, they parted from him at the Cross,
taking themselves the western road, and Stockdale going back to Nether-
During that walk the minister was lost in reverie of the most painful
kind. As soon as he got into the house, and before entering his own
rooms, he advanced to the door of the little back parlour in which Lizzy
usually sat with her mother. He found her there alone. Stockdale went
forward, and, like a man in a dream, looked down upon the table that
stood between him and the young woman, who had her bonnet and cloak still
on. As he did not speak, she looked up from her chair at him, with
misgiving in her eye.
'Where are they gone?' he then said listlessly.
'Who?--I don't know. I have seen nothing of them since. I came straight
'If your men can manage to get off with those tubs, it will be a great
profit to you, I suppose?'
'A share will be mine, a share my cousin Owlett's, a share to each of the
two farmers, and a share divided amongst the men who helped us.'
'And you still think,' he went on slowly, 'that you will not give this
Lizzy rose, and put her hand upon his shoulder. 'Don't ask that,' she
whispered. 'You don't know what you are asking. I must tell you, though
I meant not to do it. What I make by that trade is all I have to keep my
mother and myself with.'
He was astonished. 'I did not dream of such a thing,' he said. 'I would
rather have swept the streets, had I been you. What is money compared
with a clear conscience?'
'My conscience is clear. I know my mother, but the king I have never
seen. His dues are nothing to me. But it is a great deal to me that my
mother and I should live.'
'Marry me, and promise to give it up. I will keep your mother.'
'It is good of you,' she said, trembling a little. 'Let me think of it
by myself. I would rather not answer now.'
She reserved her answer till the next day, and came into his room with a
solemn face. 'I cannot do what you wished!' she said passionately. 'It
is too much to ask. My whole life ha' been passed in this way.' Her
words and manner showed that before entering she had been struggling with
herself in private, and that the contention had been strong.
Stockdale turned pale, but he spoke quietly. 'Then, Lizzy, we must part.
I cannot go against my principles in this matter, and I cannot make my
profession a mockery. You know how I love you, and what I would do for
you; but this one thing I cannot do.'
'But why should you belong to that profession?' she burst out. 'I have
got this large house; why can't you marry me, and live here with us, and
not be a Methodist preacher any more? I assure you, Richard, it is no
harm, and I wish you could only see it as I do! We only carry it on in
winter: in summer it is never done at all. It stirs up one's dull life
at this time o' the year, and gives excitement, which I have got so used
to now that I should hardly know how to do 'ithout it. At nights, when
the wind blows, instead of being dull and stupid, and not noticing
whether it do blow or not, your mind is afield, even if you are not
afield yourself; and you are wondering how the chaps are getting on; and
you walk up and down the room, and look out o' window, and then you go
out yourself, and know your way about as well by night as by day, and
have hairbreadth escapes from old Latimer and his fellows, who are too
stupid ever to really frighten us, and only make us a bit nimble.'
'He frightened you a little last night, anyhow: and I would advise you to
drop it before it is worse.'
She shook her head. 'No, I must go on as I have begun. I was born to
it. It is in my blood, and I can't be cured. O, Richard, you cannot
think what a hard thing you have asked, and how sharp you try me when you
put me between this and my love for 'ee!'
Stockdale was leaning with his elbow on the mantelpiece, his hands over
his eyes. 'We ought never to have met, Lizzy,' he said. 'It was an ill
day for us! I little thought there was anything so hopeless and
impossible in our engagement as this. Well, it is too late now to regret
consequences in this way. I have had the happiness of seeing you and
knowing you at least.'
'You dissent from Church, and I dissent from State,' she said. 'And I
don't see why we are not well matched.'
He smiled sadly, while Lizzy remained looking down, her eyes beginning to
That was an unhappy evening for both of them, and the days that followed
were unhappy days. Both she and he went mechanically about their
employments, and his depression was marked in the village by more than
one of his denomination with whom he came in contact. But Lizzy, who
passed her days indoors, was unsuspected of being the cause: for it was
generally understood that a quiet engagement to marry existed between her
and her cousin Owlett, and had existed for some time.
Thus uncertainly the week passed on; till one morning Stockdale said to
her: 'I have had a letter, Lizzy. I must call you that till I am gone.'
'Gone?' said she blankly.
'Yes,' he said. 'I am going from this place. I felt it would be better
for us both that I should not stay after what has happened. In fact, I
couldn't stay here, and look on you from day to day, without becoming
weak and faltering in my course. I have just heard of an arrangement by
which the other minister can arrive here in about a week; and let me go
That he had all this time continued so firmly fixed in his resolution
came upon her as a grievous surprise. 'You never loved me!' she said
'I might say the same,' he returned; 'but I will not. Grant me one
favour. Come and hear my last sermon on the day before I go.'
Lizzy, who was a church-goer on Sunday mornings, frequently attended
Stockdale's chapel in the evening with the rest of the double-minded; and
It became known that Stockdale was going to leave, and a good many people
outside his own sect were sorry to hear it. The intervening days flew
rapidly away, and on the evening of the Sunday which preceded the morning
of his departure Lizzy sat in the chapel to hear him for the last time.
The little building was full to overflowing, and he took up the subject
which all had expected, that of the contraband trade so extensively
practised among them. His hearers, in laying his words to their own
hearts, did not perceive that they were most particularly directed
against Lizzy, till the sermon waxed warm, and Stockdale nearly broke
down with emotion. In truth his own earnestness, and her sad eyes
looking up at him, were too much for the young man's equanimity. He
hardly knew how he ended. He saw Lizzy, as through a mist, turn and go
away with the rest of the congregation; and shortly afterwards followed
She invited him to supper, and they sat down alone, her mother having, as
was usual with her on Sunday nights, gone to bed early.
'We will part friends, won't we?' said Lizzy, with forced gaiety, and
never alluding to the sermon: a reticence which rather disappointed him.
'We will,' he said, with a forced smile on his part; and they sat down.
It was the first meal that they had ever shared together in their lives,
and probably the last that they would so share. When it was over, and
the indifferent conversation could no longer be continued, he arose and
took her hand. 'Lizzy,' he said, 'do you say we must part--do you?'
'You do,' she said solemnly. 'I can say no more.'
'Nor I,' said he. 'If that is your answer, good-bye!'
Stockdale bent over her and kissed her, and she involuntarily returned
his kiss. 'I shall go early,' he said hurriedly. 'I shall not see you
And he did leave early. He fancied, when stepping forth into the grey
morning light, to mount the van which was to carry him away, that he saw
a face between the parted curtains of Lizzy's window, but the light was
faint, and the panes glistened with wet; so he could not be sure.
Stockdale mounted the vehicle, and was gone; and on the following Sunday
the new minister preached in the chapel of the Moynton Wesleyans.
One day, two years after the parting, Stockdale, now settled in a midland
town, came into Nether-Moynton by carrier in the original way. Jogging
along in the van that afternoon he had put questions to the driver, and
the answers that he received interested the minister deeply. The result
of them was that he went without the least hesitation to the door of his
former lodging. It was about six o'clock in the evening, and the same
time of year as when he had left; now, too, the ground was damp and
glistening, the west was bright, and Lizzy's snowdrops were raising their
heads in the border under the wall.
Lizzy must have caught sight of him from the window, for by the time that
he reached the door she was there holding it open: and then, as if she
had not sufficiently considered her act of coming out, she drew herself
back, saying with some constraint, 'Mr. Stockdale!'
'You knew it was,' said Stockdale, taking her hand. 'I wrote to say I
'Yes, but you did not say when,' she answered.
'I did not. I was not quite sure when my business would lead me to these
'You only came because business brought you near?'
'Well, that is the fact; but I have often thought I should like to come
on purpose to see you . . . But what's all this that has happened? I
told you how it would be, Lizzy, and you would not listen to me.'
'I would not,' she said sadly. 'But I had been brought up to that life;
and it was second nature to me. However, it is all over now. The
officers have blood-money for taking a man dead or alive, and the trade
is going to nothing. We were hunted down like rats.'
'Owlett is quite gone, I hear.'
'Yes. He is in America. We had a dreadful struggle that last time, when
they tried to take him. It is a perfect miracle that he lived through
it; and it is a wonder that I was not killed. I was shot in the hand. It
was not by aim; the shot was really meant for my cousin; but I was
behind, looking on as usual, and the bullet came to me. It bled
terribly, but I got home without fainting; and it healed after a time.
You know how he suffered?'
'No,' said Stockdale. 'I only heard that he just escaped with his life.'
'He was shot in the back; but a rib turned the ball. He was badly hurt.
We would not let him be took. The men carried him all night across the
meads to Kingsbere, and hid him in a barn, dressing his wound as well as
they could, till he was so far recovered as to be able to get about. He
had gied up his mill for some time; and at last he got to Bristol, and
took a passage to America, and he's settled in Wisconsin.'
'What do you think of smuggling now?' said the minister gravely.
'I own that we were wrong,' said she. 'But I have suffered for it. I am
very poor now, and my mother has been dead these twelve months . . . But
won't you come in, Mr. Stockdale?'
Stockdale went in; and it is to be supposed that they came to an
understanding; for a fortnight later there was a sale of Lizzy's
furniture, and after that a wedding at a chapel in a neighbouring town.
He took her away from her old haunts to the home that he had made for
himself in his native county, where she studied her duties as a
minister's wife with praiseworthy assiduity. It is said that in after
years she wrote an excellent tract called Render unto Caesar; or, The
Repentant Villagers, in which her own experience was anonymously used as
the introductory story. Stockdale got it printed, after making some
corrections, and putting in a few powerful sentences of his own; and many
hundreds of copies were distributed by the couple in the course of their