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A Changed Man and Other Tales by Thomas Hardy

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A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES

Contents:

Prefatory Note
A Changed Man
The Waiting Supper
Alicia's Diary
The Grave by the Handpost
Enter a Dragoon
A Tryst at an Ancient Earthwork
What the Shepherd Saw
A Committee Man of 'The Terror'
Master John Horseleigh, Knight
The Duke's Reappearance
A Mere Interlude

PREFATORY NOTE

I reprint in this volume, for what they may be worth, a dozen minor
novels that have been published in the periodical press at various
dates in the past, in order to render them accessible to readers who
desire to have them in the complete series issued by my publishers.
For aid in reclaiming some of the narratives I express my thanks to
the proprietors and editors of the newspapers and magazines in whose
pages they first appeared.

T. H.
August 1913.

A CHANGED MAN

CHAPTER I

The person who, next to the actors themselves, chanced to know most
of their story, lived just below 'Top o' Town' (as the spot was
called) in an old substantially-built house, distinguished among its
neighbours by having an oriel window on the first floor, whence could
be obtained a raking view of the High Street, west and east, the
former including Laura's dwelling, the end of the Town Avenue hard by
(in which were played the odd pranks hereafter to be mentioned), the
Port-Bredy road rising westwards, and the turning that led to the
cavalry barracks where the Captain was quartered. Looking eastward
down the town from the same favoured gazebo, the long perspective of
houses declined and dwindled till they merged in the highway across
the moor. The white riband of road disappeared over Grey's Bridge a
quarter of a mile off, to plunge into innumerable rustic windings,
shy shades, and solitary undulations up hill and down dale for one
hundred and twenty miles till it exhibited itself at Hyde Park Corner
as a smooth bland surface in touch with a busy and fashionable world.

To the barracks aforesaid had recently arrived the --th Hussars, a
regiment new to the locality. Almost before any acquaintance with
its members had been made by the townspeople, a report spread that
they were a 'crack' body of men, and had brought a splendid band.
For some reason or other the town had not been used as the
headquarters of cavalry for many years, the various troops stationed
there having consisted of casual detachments only; so that it was
with a sense of honour that everybody--even the small furniture-
broker from whom the married troopers hired tables and chairs--
received the news of their crack quality.

In those days the Hussar regiments still wore over the left shoulder
that attractive attachment, or frilled half-coat, hanging loosely
behind like the wounded wing of a bird, which was called the pelisse,
though it was known among the troopers themselves as a 'sling-
jacket.' It added amazingly to their picturesqueness in women's
eyes, and, indeed, in the eyes of men also.

The burgher who lived in the house with the oriel window sat during a
great many hours of the day in that projection, for he was an
invalid, and time hung heavily on his hands unless he maintained a
constant interest in proceedings without. Not more than a week after
the arrival of the Hussars his ears were assailed by the shout of one
schoolboy to another in the street below.

'Have 'ee heard this about the Hussars? They are haunted! Yes--a
ghost troubles 'em; he has followed 'em about the world for years.'

A haunted regiment: that was a new idea for either invalid or
stalwart. The listener in the oriel came to the conclusion that
there were some lively characters among the --th Hussars.

He made Captain Maumbry's acquaintance in an informal manner at an
afternoon tea to which he went in a wheeled chair--one of the very
rare outings that the state of his health permitted. Maumbry showed
himself to be a handsome man of twenty-eight or thirty, with an
attractive hint of wickedness in his manner that was sure to make him
adorable with good young women. The large dark eyes that lit his
pale face expressed this wickedness strongly, though such was the
adaptability of their rays that one could think they might have
expressed sadness or seriousness just as readily, if he had had a
mind for such.

An old and deaf lady who was present asked Captain Maumbry bluntly:
'What's this we hear about you? They say your regiment is haunted.'

The Captain's face assumed an aspect of grave, even sad, concern.
'Yes,' he replied, 'it is too true.'

Some younger ladies smiled till they saw how serious he looked, when
they looked serious likewise.

'Really?' said the old lady.

'Yes. We naturally don't wish to say much about it.'

'No, no; of course not. But--how haunted?'

'Well; the--THING, as I'll call it, follows us. In country quarters
or town, abroad or at home, it's just the same.'

'How do you account for it?'

'H'm.' Maumbry lowered his voice. 'Some crime committed by certain
of our regiment in past years, we suppose.'

'Dear me . . . How very horrid, and singular!'

'But, as I said, we don't speak of it much.'

'No . . . no.'

When the Hussar was gone, a young lady, disclosing a long-suppressed
interest, asked if the ghost had been seen by any of the town.

The lawyer's son, who always had the latest borough news, said that,
though it was seldom seen by any one but the Hussars themselves, more
than one townsman and woman had already set eyes on it, to his or her
terror. The phantom mostly appeared very late at night, under the
dense trees of the town-avenue nearest the barracks. It was about
ten feet high; its teeth chattered with a dry naked sound, as if they
were those of a skeleton; and its hip-bones could be heard grating in
their sockets.

During the darkest weeks of winter several timid persons were
seriously frightened by the object answering to this cheerful
description, and the police began to look into the matter. Whereupon
the appearances grew less frequent, and some of the Boys of the
regiment thankfully stated that they had not been so free from
ghostly visitation for years as they had become since their arrival
in Casterbridge.

This playing at ghosts was the most innocent of the amusements
indulged in by the choice young spirits who inhabited the lichened,
red-brick building at the top of the town bearing 'W.D.' and a broad
arrow on its quoins. Far more serious escapades--levities relating
to love, wine, cards, betting--were talked of, with no doubt more or
less of exaggeration. That the Hussars, Captain Maumbry included,
were the cause of bitter tears to several young women of the town and
country is unquestionably true, despite the fact that the gaieties of
the young men wore a more staring colour in this old-fashioned place
than they would have done in a large and modern city.

CHAPTER II

Regularly once a week they rode out in marching order.

Returning up the town on one of these occasions, the romantic pelisse
flapping behind each horseman's shoulder in the soft south-west wind,
Captain Maumbry glanced up at the oriel. A mutual nod was exchanged
between him and the person who sat there reading. The reader and a
friend in the room with him followed the troop with their eyes all
the way up the street, till, when the soldiers were opposite the
house in which Laura lived, that young lady became discernible in the
balcony.

'They are engaged to be married, I hear,' said the friend.

'Who--Maumbry and Laura? Never--so soon?'

'Yes.'

'He'll never marry. Several girls have been mentioned in connection
with his name. I am sorry for Laura.'

'Oh, but you needn't be. They are excellently matched.'

'She's only one more.'

'She's one more, and more still. She has regularly caught him. She
is a born player of the game of hearts, and she knew how to beat him
in his own practices. If there is one woman in the town who has any
chance of holding her own and marrying him, she is that woman.'

This was true, as it turned out. By natural proclivity Laura had
from the first entered heart and soul into military romance as
exhibited in the plots and characters of those living exponents of it
who came under her notice. From her earliest young womanhood
civilians, however promising, had no chance of winning her interest
if the meanest warrior were within the horizon. It may be that the
position of her uncle's house (which was her home) at the corner of
West Street nearest the barracks, the daily passing of the troops,
the constant blowing of trumpet-calls a furlong from her windows,
coupled with the fact that she knew nothing of the inner realities of
military life, and hence idealized it, had also helped her mind's
original bias for thinking men-at-arms the only ones worthy of a
woman's heart.

Captain Maumbry was a typical prize; one whom all surrounding maidens
had coveted, ached for, angled for, wept for, had by her judicious
management become subdued to her purpose; and in addition to the
pleasure of marrying the man she loved, Laura had the joy of feeling
herself hated by the mothers of all the marriageable girls of the
neighbourhood.

The man in the oriel went to the wedding; not as a guest, for at this
time he was but slightly acquainted with the parties; but mainly
because the church was close to his house; partly, too, for a reason
which moved many others to be spectators of the ceremony; a
subconsciousness that, though the couple might be happy in their
experiences, there was sufficient possibility of their being
otherwise to colour the musings of an onlooker with a pleasing pathos
of conjecture. He could on occasion do a pretty stroke of rhyming in
those days, and he beguiled the time of waiting by pencilling on a
blank page of his prayer-book a few lines which, though kept private
then, may be given here:-

AT A HASTY WEDDING
(Triolet)

If hours be years the twain are blest,
For now they solace swift desire
By lifelong ties that tether zest
If hours be years. The twain are blest
Do eastern suns slope never west,
Nor pallid ashes follow fire.
If hours be years the twain are blest
For now they solace swift desire.

As if, however, to falsify all prophecies, the couple seemed to find
in marriage the secret of perpetuating the intoxication of a
courtship which, on Maumbry's side at least, had opened without
serious intent. During the winter following they were the most
popular pair in and about Casterbridge--nay in South Wessex itself.
No smart dinner in the country houses of the younger and gayer
families within driving distance of the borough was complete without
their lively presence; Mrs. Maumbry was the blithest of the whirling
figures at the county ball; and when followed that inevitable
incident of garrison-town life, an amateur dramatic entertainment, it
was just the same. The acting was for the benefit of such and such
an excellent charity--nobody cared what, provided the play were
played--and both Captain Maumbry and his wife were in the piece,
having been in fact, by mutual consent, the originators of the
performance. And so with laughter, and thoughtlessness, and
movement, all went merrily. There was a little backwardness in the
bill-paying of the couple; but in justice to them it must be added
that sooner or later all owings were paid.

CHAPTER III

At the chapel-of-ease attended by the troops there arose above the
edge of the pulpit one Sunday an unknown face. This was the face of
a new curate. He placed upon the desk, not the familiar sermon book,
but merely a Bible. The person who tells these things was not
present at that service, but he soon learnt that the young curate was
nothing less than a great surprise to his congregation; a mixed one
always, for though the Hussars occupied the body of the building, its
nooks and corners were crammed with civilians, whom, up to the
present, even the least uncharitable would have described as being
attracted thither less by the services than by the soldiery.

Now there arose a second reason for squeezing into an already
overcrowded church. The persuasive and gentle eloquence of Mr.
Sainway operated like a charm upon those accustomed only to the
higher and dryer styles of preaching, and for a time the other
churches of the town were thinned of their sitters.

At this point in the nineteenth century the sermon was the sole
reason for churchgoing amongst a vast body of religious people. The
liturgy was a formal preliminary, which, like the Royal proclamation
in a court of assize, had to be got through before the real interest
began; and on reaching home the question was simply: Who preached,
and how did he handle his subject? Even had an archbishop officiated
in the service proper nobody would have cared much about what was
said or sung. People who had formerly attended in the morning only
began to go in the evening, and even to the special addresses in the
afternoon.

One day when Captain Maumbry entered his wife's drawing-room, filled
with hired furniture, she thought he was somebody else, for he had
not come upstairs humming the most catching air afloat in musical
circles or in his usual careless way.

'What's the matter, Jack?' she said without looking up from a note
she was writing.

'Well--not much, that I know.'

'O, but there is,' she murmured as she wrote.

'Why--this cursed new lath in a sheet--I mean the new parson! He
wants us to stop the band-playing on Sunday afternoons.'

Laura looked up aghast.

'Why, it is the one thing that enables the few rational beings
hereabouts to keep alive from Saturday to Monday!'

'He says all the town flock to the music and don't come to the
service, and that the pieces played are profane, or mundane, or
inane, or something--not what ought to be played on Sunday. Of
course 'tis Lautmann who settles those things.'

Lautmann was the bandmaster.

The barrack-green on Sunday afternoons had, indeed, become the
promenade of a great many townspeople cheerfully inclined, many even
of those who attended in the morning at Mr. Sainway's service; and
little boys who ought to have been listening to the curate's
afternoon lecture were too often seen rolling upon the grass and
making faces behind the more dignified listeners.

Laura heard no more about the matter, however, for two or three
weeks, when suddenly remembering it she asked her husband if any
further objections had been raised.

'O--Mr. Sainway. I forgot to tell you. I've made his acquaintance.
He is not a bad sort of man.'

Laura asked if either Maumbry or some others of the officers did not
give the presumptuous curate a good setting down for his
interference.

'O well--we've forgotten that. He's a stunning preacher, they tell
me.'

The acquaintance developed apparently, for the Captain said to her a
little later on, 'There's a good deal in Sainway's argument about
having no band on Sunday afternoons. After all, it is close to his
church. But he doesn't press his objections unduly.'

'I am surprised to hear you defend him!'

'It was only a passing thought of mine. We naturally don't wish to
offend the inhabitants of the town if they don't like it.'

'But they do.'

The invalid in the oriel never clearly gathered the details of
progress in this conflict of lay and clerical opinion; but so it was
that, to the disappointment of musicians, the grief of out-walking
lovers, and the regret of the junior population of the town and
country round, the band-playing on Sunday afternoons ceased in
Casterbridge barrack-square.

By this time the Maumbrys had frequently listened to the preaching of
the gentle if narrow-minded curate; for these light-natured, hit-or-
miss, rackety people went to church like others for respectability's
sake. None so orthodox as your unmitigated worldling. A more
remarkable event was the sight to the man in the window of Captain
Maumbry and Mr. Sainway walking down the High Street in earnest
conversation. On his mentioning this fact to a caller he was assured
that it was a matter of common talk that they were always together.

The observer would soon have learnt this with his own eyes if he had
not been told. They began to pass together nearly every day.
Hitherto Mrs. Maumbry, in fashionable walking clothes, had usually
been her husband's companion; but this was less frequent now. The
close and singular friendship between the two men went on for nearly
a year, when Mr. Sainway was presented to a living in a densely-
populated town in the midland counties. He bade the parishioners of
his old place a reluctant farewell and departed, the touching sermon
he preached on the occasion being published by the local printer.
Everybody was sorry to lose him; and it was with genuine grief that
his Casterbridge congregation learnt later on that soon after his
induction to his benefice, during some bitter weather, he had fallen
seriously ill of inflammation of the lungs, of which he eventually
died.

We now get below the surface of things. Of all who had known the
dead curate, none grieved for him like the man who on his first
arrival had called him a 'lath in a sheet.' Mrs. Maumbry had never
greatly sympathized with the impressive parson; indeed, she had been
secretly glad that he had gone away to better himself. He had
considerably diminished the pleasures of a woman by whom the joys of
earth and good company had been appreciated to the full. Sorry for
her husband in his loss of a friend who had been none of hers, she
was yet quite unprepared for the sequel.

'There is something that I have wanted to tell you lately, dear,' he
said one morning at breakfast with hesitation. 'Have you guessed
what it is?'

She had guessed nothing.

'That I think of retiring from the army.'

'What!'

'I have thought more and more of Sainway since his death, and of what
he used to say to me so earnestly. And I feel certain I shall be
right in obeying a call within me to give up this fighting trade and
enter the Church.'

'What--be a parson?'

'Yes.'

'But what should _I_ do?'

'Be a parson's wife.'

'Never!' she affirmed.

'But how can you help it?'

'I'll run away rather!' she said vehemently;

'No, you mustn't,' Maumbry replied, in the tone he used when his mind
was made up. 'You'll get accustomed to the idea, for I am
constrained to carry it out, though it is against my worldly
interests. I am forced on by a Hand outside me to tread in the steps
of Sainway.'

'Jack,' she asked, with calm pallor and round eyes; 'do you mean to
say seriously that you are arranging to be a curate instead of a
soldier?'

'I might say a curate IS a soldier--of the church militant; but I
don't want to offend you with doctrine. I distinctly say, yes.'

Late one evening, a little time onward, he caught her sitting by the
dim firelight in her room. She did not know he had entered; and he
found her weeping. 'What are you crying about, poor dearest?' he
said.

She started. 'Because of what you have told me!' The Captain grew
very unhappy; but he was undeterred.

In due time the town learnt, to its intense surprise, that Captain
Maumbry had retired from the --th Hussars and gone to Fountall
Theological College to prepare for the ministry.

CHAPTER IV

'O, the pity of it! Such a dashing soldier--so popular--such an
acquisition to the town--the soul of social life here! And now! . .
. One should not speak ill of the dead, but that dreadful Mr.
Sainway--it was too cruel of him!'

This is a summary of what was said when Captain, now the Reverend,
John Maumbry was enabled by circumstances to indulge his heart's
desire of returning to the scene of his former exploits in the
capacity of a minister of the Gospel. A low-lying district of the
town, which at that date was crowded with impoverished cottagers, was
crying for a curate, and Mr. Maumbry generously offered himself as
one willing to undertake labours that were certain to produce little
result, and no thanks, credit, or emolument.

Let the truth be told about him as a clergyman; he proved to be
anything but a brilliant success. Painstaking, single-minded, deeply
in earnest as all could see, his delivery was laboured, his sermons
were dull to listen to, and alas, too, too long. Even the
dispassionate judges who sat by the hour in the bar-parlour of the
White Hart--an inn standing at the dividing line between the poor
quarter aforesaid and the fashionable quarter of Maumbry's former
triumphs, and hence affording a position of strict impartiality--
agreed in substance with the young ladies to the westward, though
their views were somewhat more tersely expressed: 'Surely, God
A'mighty spwiled a good sojer to make a bad pa'son when He shifted
Cap'n Ma'mbry into a sarpless!'

The latter knew that such things were said, but he pursued his daily'
labours in and out of the hovels with serene unconcern.

It was about this time that the invalid in the oriel became more than
a mere bowing acquaintance of Mrs. Maumbry's. She had returned to
the town with her husband, and was living with him in a little house
in the centre of his circle of ministration, when by some means she
became one of the invalid's visitors. After a general conversation
while sitting in his room with a friend of both, an incident led up
to the matter that still rankled deeply in her soul. Her face was
now paler and thinner than it had been; even more attractive, her
disappointments having inscribed themselves as meek thoughtfulness on
a look that was once a little frivolous. The two ladies had called
to be allowed to use the window for observing the departure of the
Hussars, who were leaving for barracks much nearer to London.

The troopers turned the corner of Barrack Road into the top of High
Street, headed by their band playing 'The girl I left behind me'
(which was formerly always the tune for such times, though it is now
nearly disused). They came and passed the oriel, where an officer or
two, looking up and discovering Mrs. Maumbry, saluted her, whose eyes
filled with tears as the notes of the band waned away. Before the
little group had recovered from that sense of the romantic which such
spectacles impart, Mr. Maumbry came along the pavement. He probably
had bidden his former brethren-in-arms a farewell at the top of the
street, for he walked from that direction in his rather shabby
clerical clothes, and with a basket on his arm which seemed to hold
some purchases he had been making for his poorer parishioners.
Unlike the soldiers he went along quite unconscious of his appearance
or of the scene around.

The contrast was too much for Laura. With lips that now quivered,
she asked the invalid what he thought of the change that had come to
her.

It was difficult to answer, and with a wilfulness that was too strong
in her she repeated the question.

'Do you think,' she added, 'that a woman's husband has a right to do
such a thing, even if he does feel a certain call to it?'

Her listener sympathized too largely with both of them to be anything
but unsatisfactory in his reply. Laura gazed longingly out of the
window towards the thin dusty line of Hussars, now smalling towards
the Mellstock Ridge. 'I,' she said, 'who should have been in their
van on the way to London, am doomed to fester in a hole in Durnover
Lane!'

Many events had passed and many rumours had been current concerning
her before the invalid saw her again after her leave-taking that day.

CHAPTER V

Casterbridge had known many military and civil episodes; many happy
times, and times less happy; and now came the time of her visitation.
The scourge of cholera had been laid on the suffering country, and
the low-lying purlieus of this ancient borough had more than their
share of the infliction. Mixen Lane, in the Durnover quarter, and in
Maumbry's parish, was where the blow fell most heavily. Yet there
was a certain mercy in its choice of a date, for Maumbry was the man
for such an hour.

The spread of the epidemic was so rapid that many left the town and
took lodgings in the villages and farms. Mr. Maumbry's house was
close to the most infected street, and he himself was occupied morn,
noon, and night in endeavours to stamp out the plague and in
alleviating the sufferings of the victims. So, as a matter of
ordinary precaution, he decided to isolate his wife somewhere away
from him for a while.

She suggested a village by the sea, near Budmouth Regis, and lodgings
were obtained for her at Creston, a spot divided from the
Casterbridge valley by a high ridge that gave it quite another
atmosphere, though it lay no more than six miles off.

Thither she went. While she was rusticating in this place of safety,
and her husband was slaving in the slums, she struck up an
acquaintance with a lieutenant in the -st Foot, a Mr. Vannicock, who
was stationed with his regiment at the Budmouth infantry barracks.
As Laura frequently sat on the shelving beach, watching each thin
wave slide up to her, and hearing, without heeding, its gnaw at the
pebbles in its retreat, he often took a walk that way.

The acquaintance grew and ripened. Her situation, her history, her
beauty, her age--a year or two above his own--all tended to make an
impression on the young man's heart, and a reckless flirtation was
soon in blithe progress upon that lonely shore.

It was said by her detractors afterwards that she had chosen her
lodging to be near this gentleman, but there is reason to believe
that she had never seen him till her arrival there. Just now
Casterbridge was so deeply occupied with its own sad affairs--a daily
burying of the dead and destruction of contaminated clothes and
bedding--that it had little inclination to promulgate such gossip as
may have reached its ears on the pair. Nobody long considered Laura
in the tragic cloud which overhung all.

Meanwhile, on the Budmouth side of the hill the very mood of men was
in contrast. The visitation there had been slight and much earlier,
and normal occupations and pastimes had been resumed. Mr. Maumbry
had arranged to see Laura twice a week in the open air, that she
might run no risk from him; and, having heard nothing of the faint
rumour, he met her as usual one dry and windy afternoon on the summit
of the dividing hill, near where the high road from town to town
crosses the old Ridge-way at right angles.

He waved his hand, and smiled as she approached, shouting to her:
'We will keep this wall between us, dear.' (Walls formed the field-
fences here.) 'You mustn't be endangered. It won't be for long,
with God's help!'

'I will do as you tell me, Jack. But you are running too much risk
yourself, aren't you? I get little news of you; but I fancy you
are.'

'Not more than others.'

Thus somewhat formally they talked, an insulating wind beating the
wall between them like a mill-weir.

'But you wanted to ask me something?' he added.

'Yes. You know we are trying in Budmouth to raise some money for
your sufferers; and the way we have thought of is by a dramatic
performance. They want me to take a part.'

His face saddened. 'I have known so much of that sort of thing, and
all that accompanies it! I wish you had thought of some other way.'

She said lightly that she was afraid it was all settled. 'You object
to my taking a part, then? Of course--'

He told her that he did not like to say he positively objected. He
wished they had chosen an oratorio, or lecture, or anything more in
keeping with the necessity it was to relieve.

'But,' said she impatiently, 'people won't come to oratorios or
lectures! They will crowd to comedies and farces.'

'Well, I cannot dictate to Budmouth how it shall earn the money it is
going to give us. Who is getting up this performance?'

'The boys of the -st.'

'Ah, yes; our old game!' replied Mr. Maumbry. 'The grief of
Casterbridge is the excuse for their frivolity. Candidly, dear
Laura, I wish you wouldn't play in it. But I don't forbid you to. I
leave the whole to your judgment.'

The interview ended, and they went their ways northward and
southward. Time disclosed to all concerned that Mrs. Maumbry played
in the comedy as the heroine, the lover's part being taken by Mr.
Vannicock.

CHAPTER VI

Thus was helped on an event which the conduct of the mutually-
attracted ones had been generating for some time.

It is unnecessary to give details. The --st Foot left for Bristol,
and this precipitated their action. After a week of hesitation she
agreed to leave her home at Creston and meet Vannicock on the ridge
hard by, and to accompany him to Bath, where he had secured lodgings
for her, so that she would be only about a dozen miles from his
quarters.

Accordingly, on the evening chosen, she laid on her dressing-table a
note for her husband, running thus:-

DEAR JACK--I am unable to endure this life any longer, and I have
resolved to put an end to it. I told you I should run away if you
persisted in being a clergyman, and now I am doing it. One cannot
help one's nature. I have resolved to throw in my lot with Mr.
Vannicock, and I hope rather than expect you will forgive me.--L.

Then, with hardly a scrap of luggage, she went, ascending to the
ridge in the dusk of early evening. Almost on the very spot where
her husband had stood at their last tryst she beheld the outline of
Vannicock, who had come all the way from Bristol to fetch her.

'I don't like meeting here--it is so unlucky!' she cried to him.
'For God's sake let us have a place of our own. Go back to the
milestone, and I'll come on.'

He went back to the milestone that stands on the north slope of the
ridge, where the old and new roads diverge, and she joined him there.

She was taciturn and sorrowful when he asked her why she would not
meet him on the top. At last she inquired how they were going to
travel.

He explained that he proposed to walk to Mellstock Hill, on the other
side of Casterbridge, where a fly was waiting to take them by a
cross-cut into the Ivell Road, and onward to that town. The Bristol
railway was open to Ivell.

This plan they followed, and walked briskly through the dull gloom
till they neared Casterbridge, which place they avoided by turning to
the right at the Roman Amphitheatre and bearing round to Durnover
Cross. Thence the way was solitary and open across the moor to the
hill whereon the Ivell fly awaited them.

'I have noticed for some time,' she said, 'a lurid glare over the
Durnover end of the town. It seems to come from somewhere about
Mixen Lane.'

'The lamps,' he suggested.

'There's not a lamp as big as a rushlight in the whole lane. It is
where the cholera is worst.'

By Standfast Corner, a little beyond the Cross, they suddenly
obtained an end view of the lane. Large bonfires were burning in the
middle of the way, with a view to purifying the air; and from the
wretched tenements with which the lane was lined in those days
persons were bringing out bedding and clothing. Some was thrown into
the fires, the rest placed in wheel-barrows and wheeled into the moor
directly in the track of the fugitives.

They followed on, and came up to where a vast copper was set in the
open air. Here the linen was boiled and disinfected. By the light
of the lanterns Laura discovered that her husband was standing by the
copper, and that it was he who unloaded the barrow and immersed its
contents. The night was so calm and muggy that the conversation by
the copper reached her ears.

'Are there many more loads to-night?'

'There's the clothes o' they that died this afternoon, sir. But that
might bide till to-morrow, for you must be tired out.'

'We'll do it at once, for I can't ask anybody else to undertake it.
Overturn that load on the grass and fetch the rest.'

The man did so and went off with the barrow. Maumbry paused for a
moment to wipe his face, and resumed his homely drudgery amid this
squalid and reeking scene, pressing down and stirring the contents of
the copper with what looked like an old rolling-pin. The steam
therefrom, laden with death, travelled in a low trail across the
meadow.

Laura spoke suddenly: 'I won't go to-night after all. He is so
tired, and I must help him. I didn't know things were so bad as
this!'

Vannicock's arm dropped from her waist, where it had been resting as
they walked. 'Will you leave?' she asked.

'I will if you say I must. But I'd rather help too.' There was no
expostulation in his tone.

Laura had gone forward. 'Jack,' she said, 'I am come to help!'

The weary curate turned and held up the lantern. 'O--what, is it
you, Laura?' he asked in surprise. 'Why did you come into this? You
had better go back--the risk is great.'

'But I want to help you, Jack. Please let me help! I didn't come by
myself--Mr. Vannicock kept me company. He will make himself useful
too, if he's not gone on. Mr. Vannicock!'

The young lieutenant came forward reluctantly. Mr. Maumbry spoke
formally to him, adding as he resumed his labour, 'I thought the --st
Foot had gone to Bristol.'

'We have. But I have run down again for a few things.'

The two newcomers began to assist, Vannicock placing on the ground
the small bag containing Laura's toilet articles that he had been
carrying. The barrowman soon returned with another load, and all
continued work for nearly a half-hour, when a coachman came out from
the shadows to the north.

'Beg pardon, sir,' he whispered to Vannicock, 'but I've waited so
long on Mellstock hill that at last I drove down to the turnpike; and
seeing the light here, I ran on to find out what had happened.'

Lieutenant Vannicock told him to wait a few minutes, and the last
barrow-load was got through. Mr. Maumbry stretched himself and
breathed heavily, saying, 'There; we can do no more.'

As if from the relaxation of effort he seemed to be seized with
violent pain. He pressed his hands to his sides and bent forward.

'Ah! I think it has got hold of me at last,' he said with
difficulty. 'I must try to get home. Let Mr. Vannicock take you
back, Laura.'

He walked a few steps, they helping him, but was obliged to sink down
on the grass.

'I am--afraid--you'll have to send for a hurdle, or shutter, or
something,' he went on feebly, 'or try to get me into the barrow.'

But Vannicock had called to the driver of the fly, and they waited
until it was brought on from the turnpike hard by. Mr. Maumbry was
placed therein. Laura entered with him, and they drove to his humble
residence near the Cross, where he was got upstairs.

Vannicock stood outside by the empty fly awhile, but Laura did not
reappear. He thereupon entered the fly and told the driver to take
him back to Ivell.

CHAPTER VII

Mr. Maumbry had over-exerted himself in the relief of the suffering
poor, and fell a victim--one of the last--to the pestilence which had
carried off so many. Two days later he lay in his coffin.

Laura was in the room below. A servant brought in some letters, and
she glanced them over. One was the note from herself to Maumbry,
informing him that she was unable to endure life with him any longer
and was about to elope with Vannicock. Having read the letter she
took it upstairs to where the dead man was, and slipped it into his
coffin. The next day she buried him.

She was now free.

She shut up his house at Durnover Cross and returned to her lodgings
at Creston. Soon she had a letter from Vannicock, and six weeks
after her husband's death her lover came to see her.

'I forgot to give you back this--that night,' he said presently,
handing her the little bag she had taken as her whole luggage when
leaving.

Laura received it and absently shook it out. There fell upon the
carpet her brush, comb, slippers, nightdress, and other simple
necessaries for a journey. They had an intolerably ghastly look now,
and she tried to cover them.

'I can now,' he said, 'ask you to belong to me legally--when a proper
interval has gone--instead of as we meant.'

There was languor in his utterance, hinting at a possibility that it
was perfunctorily made. Laura picked up her articles, answering that
he certainly could so ask her--she was free. Yet not her expression
either could be called an ardent response. Then she blinked more and
more quickly and put her handkerchief to her face. She was weeping
violently.

He did not move or try to comfort her in any way. What had come
between them? No living person. They had been lovers. There was
now no material obstacle whatever to their union. But there was the
insistent shadow of that unconscious one; the thin figure of him,
moving to and fro in front of the ghastly furnace in the gloom of
Durnover Moor.

Yet Vannicock called upon Laura when he was in the neighbourhood,
which was not often; but in two years, as if on purpose to further
the marriage which everybody was expecting, the -st Foot returned to
Budmouth Regis.

Thereupon the two could not help encountering each other at times.
But whether because the obstacle had been the source of the love, or
from a sense of error, and because Mrs. Maumbry bore a less
attractive look as a widow than before, their feelings seemed to
decline from their former incandescence to a mere tepid civility.
What domestic issues supervened in Vannicock's further story the man
in the oriel never knew; but Mrs. Maumbry lived and died a widow.

1900.

THE WAITING SUPPER

CHAPTER I

Whoever had perceived the yeoman standing on Squire Everard's lawn in
the dusk of that October evening fifty years ago, might have said at
first sight that he was loitering there from idle curiosity. For a
large five-light window of the manor-house in front of him was
unshuttered and uncurtained, so that the illuminated room within
could be scanned almost to its four corners. Obviously nobody was
ever expected to be in this part of the grounds after nightfall.

The apartment thus swept by an eye from without was occupied by two
persons; they were sitting over dessert, the tablecloth having been
removed in the old-fashioned way. The fruits were local, consisting
of apples, pears, nuts, and such other products of the summer as
might be presumed to grow on the estate. There was strong ale and
rum on the table, and but little wine. Moreover, the appointments of
the dining-room were simple and homely even for the date, betokening
a countrified household of the smaller gentry, without much wealth or
ambition--formerly a numerous class, but now in great part ousted by
the territorial landlords.

One of the two sitters was a young lady in white muslin, who listened
somewhat impatiently to the remarks of her companion, an elderly,
rubicund personage, whom the merest stranger could have pronounced to
be her father. The watcher evinced no signs of moving, and it became
evident that affairs were not so simple as they first had seemed.
The tall farmer was in fact no accidental spectator, and he stood by
premeditation close to the trunk of a tree, so that had any traveller
passed along the road without the park gate, or even round the lawn
to the door, that person would scarce have noticed the other,
notwithstanding that the gate was quite near at hand, and the park
little larger than a paddock. There was still light enough in the
western heaven to brighten faintly one side of the man's face, and to
show against the trunk of the tree behind the admirable cut of his
profile; also to reveal that the front of the manor-house, small
though it seemed, was solidly built of stone in that never-to-be-
surpassed style for the English country residence--the mullioned and
transomed Elizabethan.

The lawn, although neglected, was still as level as a bowling-green--
which indeed it might once have served for; and the blades of grass
before the window were raked by the candle-shine, which stretched
over them so far as to touch the yeoman's face in front.

Within the dining-room there were also, with one of the twain, the
same signs of a hidden purpose that marked the farmer. The young
lady's mind was straying as clearly into the shadows as that of the
loiterer was fixed upon the room--nay, it could be said that she was
quite conscious of his presence outside. Impatience caused her foot
to beat silently on the carpet, and she more than once rose to leave
the table. This proceeding was checked by her father, who would put
his hand upon her shoulder and unceremoniously press her down into
her chair, till he should have concluded his observations. Her
replies were brief enough, and there was factitiousness in her smiles
of assent to his views. A small iron casement between two of the
mullions was open, and some occasional words of the dialogue were
audible without.

'As for drains--how can I put in drains? The pipes don't cost much,
that's true; but the labour in sinking the trenches is ruination.
And then the gates--they should be hung to stone posts, otherwise
there's no keeping them up through harvest.' The Squire's voice was
strongly toned with the local accent, so that he said 'drains' and
'geats' like the rustics on his estate.

The landscape without grew darker, and the young man's figure seemed
to be absorbed into the trunk of the tree. The small stars filled in
between the larger, the nebulae between the small stars, the trees
quite lost their voice; and if there was still a sound, it was from
the cascade of a stream which stretched along under the trees that
bounded the lawn on its northern side.

At last the young girl did get to her feet and secure her retreat.
'I have something to do, papa,' she said. 'I shall not be in the
drawing-room just yet.'

'Very well,' replied he. 'Then I won't hurry.' And closing the door
behind her, he drew his decanters together and settled down in his
chair.

Three minutes after that a woman's shape emerged from the drawing-
room window, and passing through a wall-door to the entrance front,
came across the grass. She kept well clear of the dining-room
window, but enough of its light fell on her to show, escaping from
the dark-hooded cloak that she wore, stray verges of the same light
dress which had figured but recently at the dinner-table. The hood
was contracted tight about her face with a drawing-string, making her
countenance small and baby-like, and lovelier even than before.

Without hesitation she brushed across the grass to the tree under
which the young man stood concealed. The moment she had reached him
he enclosed her form with his arm. The meeting and embrace, though
by no means formal, were yet not passionate; the whole proceeding was
that of persons who had repeated the act so often as to be
unconscious of its performance. She turned within his arm, and faced
in the same direction with himself, which was towards the window; and
thus they stood without speaking, the back of her head leaning
against his shoulder. For a while each seemed to be thinking his and
her diverse thoughts.

'You have kept me waiting a long time, dear Christine,' he said at
last. 'I wanted to speak to you particularly, or I should not have
stayed. How came you to be dining at this time o' night?'

'Father has been out all day, and dinner was put back till six. I
know I have kept you; but Nicholas, how can I help it sometimes, if I
am not to run any risk? My poor father insists upon my listening to
all he has to say; since my brother left he has had nobody else to
listen to him; and to-night he was particularly tedious on his usual
topics--draining, and tenant-farmers, and the village people. I must
take daddy to London; he gets so narrow always staying here.'

'And what did you say to it all?'

'Well, I took the part of the tenant-farmers, of course, as the
beloved of one should in duty do.' There followed a little break or
gasp, implying a strangled sigh.

'You are sorry you have encouraged that beloving one?'

'O no, Nicholas . . . What is it you want to see me for
particularly?'

'I know you are sorry, as time goes on, and everything is at a dead-
lock, with no prospect of change, and your rural swain loses his
freshness! Only think, this secret understanding between us has
lasted near three year, ever since you was a little over sixteen.'

'Yes; it has been a long time.'

'And I an untamed, uncultivated man, who has never seen London, and
knows nothing about society at all.'

'Not uncultivated, dear Nicholas. Untravelled, socially unpractised,
if you will,' she said, smiling. 'Well, I did sigh; but not because
I regret being your promised one. What I do sometimes regret is that
the scheme, which my meetings with you are but a part of, has not
been carried out completely. You said, Nicholas, that if I consented
to swear to keep faith with you, you would go away and travel, and
see nations, and peoples, and cities, and take a professor with you,
and study books and art, simultaneously with your study of men and
manners; and then come back at the end of two years, when I should
find that my father would by no means be indisposed to accept you as
a son-in-law. You said your reason for wishing to get my promise
before starting was that your mind would then be more at rest when
you were far away, and so could give itself more completely to
knowledge than if you went as my unaccepted lover only, fuming with
anxiety as to how I should be when you came back. I saw how
reasonable that was; and solemnly swore myself to you in consequence.
But instead of going to see the world you stay on and on here to see
me.'

'And you don't want me to see you?'

'Yes--no--it is not that. It is that I have latterly felt frightened
at what I am doing when not in your actual presence. It seems so
wicked not to tell my father that I have a lover close at hand,
within touch and view of both of us; whereas if you were absent my
conduct would not seem quite so treacherous. The realities would not
stare at one so. You would be a pleasant dream to me, which I should
be free to indulge in without reproach of my conscience; I should
live in hopeful expectation of your returning fully qualified to
boldly claim me of my father. There, I have been terribly frank, I
know.'

He in his turn had lapsed into gloomy breathings now. 'I did plan it
as you state,' he answered. 'I did mean to go away the moment I had
your promise. But, dear Christine, I did not foresee two or three
things. I did not know what a lot of pain it would cost to tear
myself from you. And I did not know that my stingy uncle--heaven
forgive me calling him so!--would so flatly refuse to advance me
money for my purpose--the scheme of travelling with a first-rate
tutor costing a formidable sum o' money. You have no idea what it
would cost!'

'But I have said that I'll find the money.'

'Ah, there,' he returned, 'you have hit a sore place. To speak
truly, dear, I would rather stay unpolished a hundred years than take
your money.'

'But why? Men continually use the money of the women they marry.'

'Yes; but not till afterwards. No man would like to touch your money
at present, and I should feel very mean if I were to do so in present
circumstances. That brings me to what I was going to propose. But
no--upon the whole I will not propose it now.'

'Ah! I would guarantee expenses, and you won't let me! The money is
my personal possession: it comes to me from my late grandfather, and
not from my father at all.'

He laughed forcedly and pressed her hand. 'There are more reasons
why I cannot tear myself away,' he added. 'What would become of my
uncle's farming? Six hundred acres in this parish, and five hundred
in the next--a constant traipsing from one farm to the other; he
can't be in two places at once. Still, that might be got over if it
were not for the other matters. Besides, dear, I still should be a
little uneasy, even though I have your promise, lest somebody should
snap you up away from me.'

'Ah, you should have thought of that before. Otherwise I have
committed myself for nothing.'

'I should have thought of it,' he answered gravely. 'But I did not.
There lies my fault, I admit it freely. Ah, if you would only commit
yourself a little more, I might at least get over that difficulty!
But I won't ask you. You have no idea how much you are to me still;
you could not argue so coolly if you had. What property belongs to
you I hate the very sound of; it is you I care for. I wish you
hadn't a farthing in the world but what I could earn for you!'

'I don't altogether wish that,' she murmured.

'I wish it, because it would have made what I was going to propose
much easier to do than it is now. Indeed I will not propose it,
although I came on purpose, after what you have said in your
frankness.'

'Nonsense, Nic. Come, tell me. How can you be so touchy?'

'Look at this then, Christine dear.' He drew from his breast-pocket
a sheet of paper and unfolded it, when it was observable that a seal
dangled from the bottom.

'What is it?' She held the paper sideways, so that what there was of
window-light fell on its surface. 'I can only read the Old English
letters--why--our names! Surely it is not a marriage-licence?'

'It is.'

She trembled. 'O Nic! how could you do this--and without telling
me!'

'Why should I have thought I must tell you? You had not spoken
"frankly" then as you have now. We have been all to each other more
than these two years, and I thought I would propose that we marry
privately, and that I then leave you on the instant. I would have
taken my travelling-bag to church, and you would have gone home
alone. I should not have started on my adventures in the brilliant
manner of our original plan, but should have roughed it a little at
first; my great gain would have been that the absolute possession of
you would have enabled me to work with spirit and purpose, such as
nothing else could do. But I dare not ask you now--so frank as you
have been.'

She did not answer. The document he had produced gave such
unexpected substantiality to the venture with which she had so long
toyed as a vague dream merely, that she was, in truth, frightened a
little. 'I--don't know about it!' she said.

'Perhaps not. Ah, my little lady, you are wearying of me!'

'No, Nic,' responded she, creeping closer. 'I am not. Upon my word,
and truth, and honour, I am not, Nic.'

'A mere tiller of the soil, as I should be called,' he continued,
without heeding her. 'And you--well, a daughter of one of the--I
won't say oldest families, because that's absurd, all families are
the same age--one of the longest chronicled families about here,
whose name is actually the name of the place.'

'That's not much, I am sorry to say! My poor brother--but I won't
speak of that . . . Well,' she murmured mischievously, after a pause,
'you certainly would not need to be uneasy if I were to do this that
you want me to do. You would have me safe enough in your trap then;
I couldn't get away!'

'That's just it!' he said vehemently. 'It IS a trap--you feel it so,
and that though you wouldn't be able to get away from me you might
particularly wish to! Ah, if I had asked you two years ago you would
have agreed instantly. But I thought I was bound to wait for the
proposal to come from you as the superior!'

'Now you are angry, and take seriously what I meant purely in fun.
You don't know me even yet! To show you that you have not been
mistaken in me, I do propose to carry out this licence. I'll marry
you, dear Nicholas, to-morrow morning.'

'Ah, Christine! I am afraid I have stung you on to this, so that I
cannot--'

'No, no, no!' she hastily rejoined; and there was something in her
tone which suggested that she had been put upon her mettle and would
not flinch. 'Take me whilst I am in the humour. What church is the
licence for?'

'That I've not looked to see--why our parish church here, of course.
Ah, then we cannot use it! We dare not be married here.'

'We do dare,' said she. 'And we will too, if you'll be there.'

'IF I'll be there!'

They speedily came to an agreement that he should be in the church-
porch at ten minutes to eight on the following morning, awaiting her;
and that, immediately after the conclusion of the service which would
make them one, Nicholas should set out on his long-deferred
educational tour, towards the cost of which she was resolving to
bring a substantial subscription with her to church. Then, slipping
from him, she went indoors by the way she had come, and Nicholas bent
his steps homewards.

CHAPTER II

Instead of leaving the spot by the gate, he flung himself over the
fence, and pursued a direction towards the river under the trees.
And it was now, in his lonely progress, that he showed for the first
time outwardly that he was not altogether unworthy of her. He wore
long water-boots reaching above his knees, and, instead of making a
circuit to find a bridge by which he might cross the Froom--the river
aforesaid--he made straight for the point whence proceeded the low
roar that was at this hour the only evidence of the stream's
existence. He speedily stood on the verge of the waterfall which
caused the noise, and stepping into the water at the top of the fall,
waded through with the sure tread of one who knew every inch of his
footing, even though the canopy of trees rendered the darkness almost
absolute, and a false step would have precipitated him into the pool
beneath. Soon reaching the boundary of the grounds, he continued in
the same direct line to traverse the alluvial valley, full of brooks
and tributaries to the main stream--in former times quite impassable,
and impassable in winter now. Sometimes he would cross a deep gully
on a plank not wider than the hand; at another time he ploughed his
way through beds of spear-grass, where at a few feet to the right or
left he might have been sucked down into a morass. At last he
reached firm land on the other side of this watery tract, and came to
his house on the rise behind--Elsenford--an ordinary farmstead, from
the back of which rose indistinct breathings, belchings, and
snortings, the rattle of halters, and other familiar features of an
agriculturist's home.

While Nicholas Long was packing his bag in an upper room of this
dwelling, Miss Christine Everard sat at a desk in her own chamber at
Froom-Everard manor-house, looking with pale fixed countenance at the
candles.

'I ought--I must now!' she whispered to herself. 'I should not have
begun it if I had not meant to carry it through! It runs in the
blood of us, I suppose.' She alluded to a fact unknown to her lover,
the clandestine marriage of an aunt under circumstances somewhat
similar to the present. In a few minutes she had penned the
following note:-

October 13, 183--.

DEAR MR. BEALAND--Can you make it convenient to yourself to meet me
at the Church to-morrow morning at eight? I name the early hour
because it would suit me better than later on in the day. You will
find me in the chancel, if you can come. An answer yes or no by the
bearer of this will be sufficient.

CHRISTINE EVERARD.

She sent the note to the rector immediately, waiting at a small side-
door of the house till she heard the servant's footsteps returning
along the lane, when she went round and met him in the passage. The
rector had taken the trouble to write a line, and answered that he
would meet her with pleasure.

A dripping fog which ushered in the next morning was highly
favourable to the scheme of the pair. At that time of the century
Froom-Everard House had not been altered and enlarged; the public
lane passed close under its walls; and there was a door opening
directly from one of the old parlours--the south parlour, as it was
called--into the lane which led to the village. Christine came out
this way, and after following the lane for a short distance entered
upon a path within a belt of plantation, by which the church could be
reached privately. She even avoided the churchyard gate, walking
along to a place where the turf without the low wall rose into a
mound, enabling her to mount upon the coping and spring down inside.
She crossed the wet graves, and so glided round to the door. He was
there, with his bag in his hand. He kissed her with a sort of
surprise, as if he had expected that at the last moment her heart
would fail her.

Though it had not failed her, there was, nevertheless, no great
ardour in Christine's bearing--merely the momentum of an antecedent
impulse. They went up the aisle together, the bottle-green glass of
the old lead quarries admitting but little light at that hour, and
under such an atmosphere. They stood by the altar-rail in silence,
Christine's skirt visibly quivering at each beat of her heart.

Presently a quick step ground upon the gravel, and Mr. Bealand came
round by the front. He was a quiet bachelor, courteous towards
Christine, and not at first recognizing in Nicholas a neighbouring
yeoman (for he lived aloofly in the next parish), advanced to her
without revealing any surprise at her unusual request. But in truth
he was surprised, the keen interest taken by many country young women
at the present day in church decoration and festivals being then
unknown.

'Good morning,' he said; and repeated the same words to Nicholas more
mechanically.

'Good morning,' she replied gravely. 'Mr. Bealand, I have a serious
reason for asking you to meet me--us, I may say. We wish you to
marry us.'

The rector's gaze hardened to fixity, rather between than upon either
of them, and he neither moved nor replied for some time.

'Ah!' he said at last.

'And we are quite ready.'

'I had no idea--'

'It has been kept rather private,' she said calmly.

'Where are your witnesses?'

'They are outside in the meadow, sir. I can call them in a moment,'
said Nicholas.

'Oh--I see it is--Mr. Nicholas Long,' said Mr. Bealand, and turning
again to Christine, 'Does your father know of this?'

'Is it necessary that I should answer that question, Mr. Bealand?'

'I am afraid it is--highly necessary.'

Christine began to look concerned.

'Where is the licence?' the rector asked; 'since there have been no
banns.'

Nicholas produced it, Mr. Bealand read it, an operation which
occupied him several minutes--or at least he made it appear so; till
Christine said impatiently, 'We are quite ready, Mr. Bealand. Will
you proceed? Mr. Long has to take a journey of a great many miles
to-day.'

'And you?'

'No. I remain.'

Mr. Bealand assumed firmness. 'There is something wrong in this,' he
said. 'I cannot marry you without your father's presence.'

'But have you a right to refuse us?' interposed Nicholas. 'I believe
we are in a position to demand your fulfilment of our request.'

'No, you are not! Is Miss Everard of age? I think not. I think she
is months from being so. Eh, Miss Everard?'

'Am I bound to tell that?'

'Certainly. At any rate you are bound to write it. Meanwhile I
refuse to solemnize the service. And let me entreat you two young
people to do nothing so rash as this, even if by going to some
strange church, you may do so without discovery. The tragedy of
marriage--'

'Tragedy?'

'Certainly. It is full of crises and catastrophes, and ends with the
death of one of the actors. The tragedy of marriage, as I was
saying, is one I shall not be a party to your beginning with such
light hearts, and I shall feel bound to put your father on his guard,
Miss Everard. Think better of it, I entreat you! Remember the
proverb, "Marry in haste and repent at leisure."'

Christine, spurred by opposition, almost stormed at him. Nicholas
implored; but nothing would turn that obstinate rector. She sat down
and reflected. By-and-by she confronted Mr. Bealand.

'Our marriage is not to be this morning, I see,' she said. 'Now
grant me one favour, and in return I'll promise you to do nothing
rashly. Do not tell my father a word of what has happened here.'

'I agree--if you undertake not to elope.'

She looked at Nicholas, and he looked at her. 'Do you wish me to
elope, Nic?' she asked.

'No,' he said.

So the compact was made, and they left the church singly, Nicholas
remaining till the last, and closing the door. On his way home,
carrying the well-packed bag which was just now to go no further, the
two men who were mending water-carriers in the meadows approached the
hedge, as if they had been on the alert all the time.

'You said you mid want us for zummat, sir?'

'All right--never mind,' he answered through the hedge. 'I did not
require you after all.'

CHAPTER III

At a manor not far away there lived a queer and primitive couple who
had lately been blessed with a son and heir. The christening took
place during the week under notice, and this had been followed by a
feast to the parishioners. Christine's father, one of the same
generation and kind, had been asked to drive over and assist in the
entertainment, and Christine, as a matter of course, accompanied him.

When they reached Athelhall, as the house was called, they found the
usually quiet nook a lively spectacle. Tables had been spread in the
apartment which lent its name to the whole building--the hall proper-
-covered with a fine open-timbered roof, whose braces, purlins, and
rafters made a brown thicket of oak overhead. Here tenantry of all
ages sat with their wives and families, and the servants were
assisted in their ministrations by the sons and daughters of the
owner's friends and neighbours. Christine lent a hand among the
rest.

She was holding a plate in each hand towards a huge brown platter of
baked rice-pudding, from which a footman was scooping a large
spoonful, when a voice reached her ear over her shoulder: 'Allow me
to hold them for you.'

Christine turned, and recognized in the speaker the nephew of the
entertainer, a young man from London, whom she had already met on two
or three occasions.

She accepted the proffered help, and from that moment, whenever he
passed her in their marchings to and fro during the remainder of the
serving, he smiled acquaintance. When their work was done, he
improved the few words into a conversation. He plainly had been
attracted by her fairness.

Bellston was a self-assured young man, not particularly good-looking,
with more colour in his skin than even Nicholas had. He had flushed
a little in attracting her notice, though the flush had nothing of
nervousness in it--the air with which it was accompanied making it
curiously suggestive of a flush of anger; and even when he laughed it
was difficult to banish that fancy.

The late autumn sunlight streamed in through the window panes upon
the heads and shoulders of the venerable patriarchs of the hamlet,
and upon the middle-aged, and upon the young; upon men and women who
had played out, or were to play, tragedies or tragi-comedies in that
nook of civilization not less great, essentially, than those which,
enacted on more central arenas, fix the attention of the world. One
of the party was a cousin of Nicholas Long's, who sat with her
husband and children.

To make himself as locally harmonious as possible, Mr. Bellston
remarked to his companion on the scene--'It does one's heart good,'
he said, 'to see these simple peasants enjoying themselves.'

'O Mr. Bellston!' exclaimed Christine; 'don't be too sure about that
word "simple"! You little think what they see and meditate! Their
reasonings and emotions are as complicated as ours.'

She spoke with a vehemence which would have been hardly present in
her words but for her own relation to Nicholas. The sense of that
produced in her a nameless depression thenceforward. The young man,
however, still followed her up.

'I am glad to hear you say it,' he returned warmly. 'I was merely
attuning myself to your mood, as I thought. The real truth is that I
know more of the Parthians, and Medes, and dwellers in Mesopotamia--
almost of any people, indeed--than of the English rustics. Travel
and exploration are my profession, not the study of the British
peasantry.'

Travel. There was sufficient coincidence between his declaration and
the course she had urged upon her lover, to lend Bellston's account
of himself a certain interest in Christine's ears. He might perhaps
be able to tell her something that would be useful to Nicholas, if
their dream were carried out. A door opened from the hall into the
garden, and she somehow found herself outside, chatting with Mr.
Bellston on this topic, till she thought that upon the whole she
liked the young man. The garden being his uncle's, he took her round
it with an air of proprietorship; and they went on amongst the
Michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemums, and through a door to the
fruit-garden. A green-house was open, and he went in and cut her a
bunch of grapes.

'How daring of you! They are your uncle's.'

'O, he don't mind--I do anything here. A rough old buffer, isn't
he?'

She was thinking of her Nic, and felt that, by comparison with her
present acquaintance, the farmer more than held his own as a fine and
intelligent fellow; but the harmony with her own existence in little
things, which she found here, imparted an alien tinge to Nicholas
just now. The latter, idealized by moonlight, or a thousand miles of
distance, was altogether a more romantic object for a woman's dream
than this smart new-lacquered man; but in the sun of afternoon, and
amid a surrounding company, Mr. Bellston was a very tolerable
companion.

When they re-entered the hall, Bellston entreated her to come with
him up a spiral stair in the thickness of the wall, leading to a
passage and gallery whence they could look down upon the scene below.
The people had finished their feast, the newly-christened baby had
been exhibited, and a few words having been spoken to them they
began, amid a racketing of forms, to make for the greensward without,
Nicholas's cousin and cousin's wife and cousin's children among the
rest. While they were filing out, a voice was heard calling--
'Hullo!--here, Jim; where are you?' said Bellston's uncle. The young
man descended, Christine following at leisure.

'Now will ye be a good fellow,' the Squire continued, 'and set them
going outside in some dance or other that they know? I'm dog-tired,
and I want to have a yew words with Mr. Everard before we join 'em--
hey, Everard? They are shy till somebody starts 'em; afterwards
they'll keep gwine brisk enough.'

'Ay, that they wool,' said Squire Everard.

They followed to the lawn; and here it proved that James Bellston was
as shy, or rather as averse, as any of the tenantry themselves, to
acting the part of fugleman. Only the parish people had been at the
feast, but outlying neighbours had now strolled in for a dance.

'They want "Speed the Plough,"' said Bellston, coming up breathless.
'It must be a country dance, I suppose? Now, Miss Everard, do have
pity upon me. I am supposed to lead off; but really I know no more
about speeding the plough than a child just born! Would you take one
of the villagers?--just to start them, my uncle says. Suppose you
take that handsome young farmer over there--I don't know his name,
but I dare say you do--and I'll come on with one of the dairyman's
daughters as a second couple.'

Christine turned in the direction signified, and changed colour--
though in the shade nobody noticed it, 'Oh, yes--I know him,' she
said coolly. 'He is from near our own place--Mr. Nicholas Long.'

'That's capital--then you can easily make him stand as first couple
with you. Now I must pick up mine.'

'I--I think I'll dance with you, Mr. Bellston,' she said with some
trepidation. 'Because, you see,' she explained eagerly, 'I know the
figure and you don't--so that I can help you; while Nicholas Long, I
know, is familiar with the figure, and that will make two couples who
know it--which is necessary, at least.'

Bellston showed his gratification by one of his angry-pleasant
flushes--he had hardly dared to ask for what she proffered freely;
and having requested Nicholas to take the dairyman's daughter, led
Christine to her place, Long promptly stepping up second with his
charge. There were grim silent depths in Nic's character; a small
deedy spark in his eye, as it caught Christine's, was all that showed
his consciousness of her. Then the fiddlers began--the celebrated
Mellstock fiddlers who, given free stripping, could play from sunset
to dawn without turning a hair. The couples wheeled and swung,
Nicholas taking Christine's hand in the course of business with the
figure, when she waited for him to give it a little squeeze; but he
did not.

Christine had the greatest difficulty in steering her partner through
the maze, on account of his self-will, and when at last they reached
the bottom of the long line, she was breathless with her hard
labour.. Resting here, she watched Nic and his lady; and, though she
had decidedly cooled off in these later months, began to admire him
anew. Nobody knew these dances like him, after all, or could do
anything of this sort so well. His performance with the dairyman's
daughter so won upon her, that when 'Speed the Plough' was over she
contrived to speak to him.

'Nic, you are to dance with me next time.'

He said he would, and presently asked her in a formal public manner,
lifting his hat gallantly. She showed a little backwardness, which
he quite understood, and allowed him to lead her to the top, a row of
enormous length appearing below them as if by magic as soon as they
had taken their places. Truly the Squire was right when he said that
they only wanted starting.

'What is it to be?' whispered Nicholas.

She turned to the band. 'The Honeymoon,' she said.

And then they trod the delightful last-century measure of that name,
which if it had been ever danced better, was never danced with more
zest. The perfect responsiveness which their tender acquaintance
threw into the motions of Nicholas and his partner lent to their
gyrations the fine adjustment of two interacting parts of a single
machine. The excitement of the movement carried Christine back to
the time--the unreflecting passionate time, about two years before--
when she and Nic had been incipient lovers only; and it made her
forget the carking anxieties, the vision of social breakers ahead,
that had begun to take the gilding off her position now. Nicholas,
on his part, had never ceased to be a lover; no personal worries had
as yet made him conscious of any staleness, flatness, or
unprofitableness in his admiration of Christine.

'Not quite so wildly, Nic,' she whispered. 'I don't object
personally; but they'll notice us. How came you here?'

'I heard that you had driven over; and I set out--on purpose for
this.'

'What--you have walked?'

'Yes. If I had waited for one of uncle's horses I should have been
too late.'

'Five miles here and five back--ten miles on foot--merely to dance!'

'With you. What made you think of this old "Honeymoon" thing?'

'O! it came into my head when I saw you, as what would have been a
reality with us if you had not been stupid about that licence, and
had got it for a distant church.'

'Shall we try again?'

'No--I don't know. I'll think it over.'

The villagers admired their grace and skill, as the dancers
themselves perceived; but they did not know what accompanied that
admiration in one spot, at least.

'People who wonder they can foot it so featly together should know
what some others think,' a waterman was saying to his neighbour.
'Then their wonder would be less.'

His comrade asked for information.

'Well--really I hardly believe it--but 'tis said they be man and
wife. Yes, sure--went to church and did the job a'most afore 'twas
light one morning. But mind, not a word of this; for 'twould be the
loss of a winter's work to me if I had spread such a report and it
were not true.'

When the dance had ended she rejoined her own section of the company.
Her father and Mr. Bellston the elder had now come out from the
house, and were smoking in the background. Presently she found that
her father was at her elbow.

'Christine, don't dance too often with young Long--as a mere matter
of prudence, I mean, as volk might think it odd, he being one of our
own neighbouring farmers. I should not mention this to 'ee if he
were an ordinary young fellow; but being superior to the rest it
behoves you to be careful.'

'Exactly, papa,' said Christine.

But the revived sense that she was deceiving him threw a damp over
her spirits. 'But, after all,' she said to herself, 'he is a young
man of Elsenford, handsome, able, and the soul of honour; and I am a
young woman of the adjoining parish, who have been constantly thrown
into communication with him. Is it not, by nature's rule, the most
proper thing in the world that I should marry him, and is it not an
absurd conventional regulation which says that such a union would be
wrong?'

It may be concluded that the strength of Christine's large-minded
argument was rather an evidence of weakness than of strength in the
passion it concerned, which had required neither argument nor
reasoning of any kind for its maintenance when full and flush in its
early days.

When driving home in the dark with her father she sank into pensive
silence. She was thinking of Nicholas having to trudge on foot all
those miles back after his exertions on the sward. Mr. Everard,
arousing himself from a nap, said suddenly, 'I have something to
mention to 'ee, by George--so I have, Chris! You probably know what
it is?'

She expressed ignorance, wondering if her father had discovered
anything of her secret.

'Well, according to HIM you know it. But I will tell 'ee. Perhaps
you noticed young Jim Bellston walking me off down the lawn with
him?--whether or no, we walked together a good while; and he informed
me that he wanted to pay his addresses to 'ee. I naturally said that
it depended upon yourself; and he replied that you were willing
enough; you had given him particular encouragement--showing your
preference for him by specially choosing him for your partner--hey?
"In that case," says I, "go on and conquer--settle it with her--I
have no objection." The poor fellow was very grateful, and in short,
there we left the matter. He'll propose to-morrow.'

She saw now to her dismay what James Bellston had read as
encouragement. 'He has mistaken me altogether,' she said. 'I had no
idea of such a thing.'

'What, you won't have him?'

'Indeed, I cannot!'

'Chrissy,' said Mr. Everard with emphasis, 'there's NOObody whom I
should so like you to marry as that young man. He's a thoroughly
clever fellow, and fairly well provided for. He's travelled all over
the temperate zone; but he says that directly he marries he's going
to give up all that, and be a regular stay-at-home. You would be
nowhere safer than in his hands.'

'It is true,' she answered. 'He IS a highly desirable match, and I
SHOULD be well provided for, and probably very safe in his hands.'

'Then don't be skittish, and stand-to.'

She had spoken from her conscience and understanding, and not to
please her father. As a reflecting woman she believed that such a
marriage would be a wise one. In great things Nicholas was closest
to her nature; in little things Bellston seemed immeasurably nearer
than Nic; and life was made up of little things.

Altogether the firmament looked black for Nicholas Long,
notwithstanding her half-hour's ardour for him when she saw him
dancing with the dairyman's daughter. Most great passions,
movements, and beliefs--individual and national--burst during their
decline into a temporary irradiation, which rivals their original
splendour; and then they speedily become extinct. Perhaps the dance
had given the last flare-up to Christine's love. It seemed to have
improvidently consumed for its immediate purpose all her ardour
forwards, so that for the future there was nothing left but
frigidity.

Nicholas had certainly been very foolish about that licence!

CHAPTER IV

This laxity of emotional tone was further increased by an incident,
when, two days later, she kept an appointment with Nicholas in the
Sallows. The Sallows was an extension of shrubberies and plantations
along the banks of the Froom, accessible from the lawn of Froom-
Everard House only, except by wading through the river at the
waterfall or elsewhere. Near the brink was a thicket of box in which
a trunk lay prostrate; this had been once or twice their trysting-
place, though it was by no means a safe one; and it was here she sat
awaiting him now.

The noise of the stream muffled any sound of footsteps, and it was
before she was aware of his approach that she looked up and saw him
wading across at the top of the waterfall.

Noontide lights and dwarfed shadows always banished the romantic
aspect of her love for Nicholas. Moreover, something new had
occurred to disturb her; and if ever she had regretted giving way to
a tenderness for him--which perhaps she had not done with any
distinctness--she regretted it now. Yet in the bottom of their
hearts those two were excellently paired, the very twin halves of a
perfect whole; and their love was pure. But at this hour surfaces
showed garishly, and obscured the depths. Probably her regret
appeared in her face.

He walked up to her without speaking, the water running from his
boots; and, taking one of her hands in each of his own, looked
narrowly into her eyes.

'Have you thought it over?'

'WHAT?'

'Whether we shall try again; you remember saying you would at the
dance?'

'Oh, I had forgotten that!'

'You are sorry we tried at all!' he said accusingly.

'I am not so sorry for the fact as for the rumours,' she said.

'Ah! rumours?'

'They say we are already married.'

'Who?'

'I cannot tell exactly. I heard some whispering to that effect.
Somebody in the village told one of the servants, I believe. This
man said that he was crossing the churchyard early on that
unfortunate foggy morning, and heard voices in the chancel, and
peeped through the window as well as the dim panes would let him; and
there he saw you and me and Mr. Bealand, and so on; but thinking his
surmises would be dangerous knowledge, he hastened on. And so the
story got afloat. Then your aunt, too--'

'Good Lord!--what has she done?'

The story was, told her, and she said proudly, "O yes, it is true
enough. I have seen the licence. But it is not to be known yet."'

'Seen the licence? How the--'

'Accidentally, I believe, when your coat was hanging somewhere.'

The information, coupled with the infelicitous word 'proudly,' caused
Nicholas to flush with mortification. He knew that it was in his
aunt's nature to make a brag of that sort; but worse than the brag
was the fact that this was the first occasion on which Christine had
deigned to show her consciousness that such a marriage would be a
source of pride to his relatives--the only two he had in the world.

'You are sorry, then, even to be thought my wife, much less to be
it.' He dropped her hand, which fell lifelessly.

'It is not sorry exactly, dear Nic. But I feel uncomfortable and
vexed, that after screwing up my courage, my fidelity, to the point
of going to church, you should have so muddled--managed the matter
that it has ended in neither one thing nor the other. How can I meet
acquaintances, when I don't know what they are thinking of me?'

'Then, dear Christine, let us mend the muddle. I'll go away for a
few days and get another licence, and you can come to me.'

She shrank from this perceptibly. 'I cannot screw myself up to it a
second time,' she said. 'I am sure I cannot! Besides, I promised
Mr. Bealand. And yet how can I continue to see you after such a
rumour? We shall be watched now, for certain.'

'Then don't see me.'

'I fear I must not for the present. Altogether--'

'What?'

'I am very depressed.'

These views were not very inspiriting to Nicholas, as he construed
them. It may indeed have been possible that he construed them
wrongly, and should have insisted upon her making the rumour true.
Unfortunately, too, he had come to her in a hurry through brambles
and briars, water and weed, and the shaggy wildness which hung about
his appearance at this fine and correct time of day lent an
impracticability to the look of him.

'You blame me--you repent your courses--you repent that you ever,
ever owned anything to me!'

'No, Nicholas, I do not repent that,' she returned gently, though
with firmness. 'But I think that you ought not to have got that
licence without asking me first; and I also think that you ought to
have known how it would be if you lived on here in your present
position, and made no effort to better it. I can bear whatever
comes, for social ruin is not personal ruin or even personal
disgrace. But as a sensible, new-risen poet says, whom I have been
reading this morning:-

The world and its ways have a certain worth:
And to press a point while these oppose
Were simple policy. Better wait.

As soon as you had got my promise, Nic, you should have gone away--
yes--and made a name, and come back to claim me. That was my silly
girlish dream about my hero.'

'Perhaps I can do as much yet! And would you have indeed liked
better to live away from me for family reasons, than to run a risk in
seeing me for affection's sake? O what a cold heart it has grown!
If I had been a prince, and you a dairymaid, I'd have stood by you in
the face of the world!'

She shook her head. 'Ah--you don't know what society is--you don't
know.'

'Perhaps not. Who was that strange gentleman of about seven-and-
twenty I saw at Mr. Bellston's christening feast?'

'Oh--that was his nephew James. Now he is a man who has seen an
unusual extent of the world for his age. He is a great traveller,
you know.'

'Indeed.'

'In fact an explorer. He is very entertaining.'

'No doubt.'

Nicholas received no shock of jealousy from her announcement. He
knew her so well that he could see she was not in the least in love
with Bellston. But he asked if Bellston were going to continue his
explorations.

'Not if he settles in life. Otherwise he will, I suppose.'

'Perhaps I could be a great explorer, too, if I tried.'

'You could, I am sure.'

They sat apart, and not together; each looking afar off at vague
objects, and not in each other's eyes. Thus the sad autumn afternoon
waned, while the waterfall hissed sarcastically of the inevitableness
of the unpleasant. Very different this from the time when they had
first met there.

The nook was most picturesque; but it looked horridly common and
stupid now. Their sentiment had set a colour hardly less visible
than a material one on surrounding objects, as sentiment must where
life is but thought. Nicholas was as devoted as ever to the fair
Christine; but unhappily he too had moods and humours, and the
division between them was not closed.

She had no sooner got indoors and sat down to her work-table than her
father entered the drawing-room.

She handed him his newspaper; he took it without a word, went and
stood on the hearthrug, and flung the paper on the floor.

'Christine, what's the meaning of this terrible story? I was just on
my way to look at the register.'

She looked at him without speech.

'You have married--Nicholas Long?'

'No, father.'

'No? Can you say no in the face of such facts as I have been put in
possession of?'

'Yes.'

'But--the note you wrote to the rector--and the going to church?'

She briefly explained that their attempt had failed.

'Ah! Then this is what that dancing meant, was it? By -, it makes
me -. How long has this been going on, may I ask?'

'This what?'

'What, indeed! Why, making him your beau. Now listen to me. All's
well that ends well; from this day, madam, this moment, he is to be
nothing more to you. You are not to see him. Cut him adrift
instantly! I only wish his volk were on my farm--out they should go,
or I would know the reason why. However, you are to write him a
letter to this effect at once.'

'How can I cut him adrift?'

'Why not? You must, my good maid!'

'Well, though I have not actually married him, I have solemnly sworn
to be his wife when he comes home from abroad to claim me. It would
be gross perjury not to fulfil my promise. Besides, no woman can go
to church with a man to deliberately solemnize matrimony, and refuse
him afterwards, if he does nothing wrong meanwhile.'

The uttered sound of her strong conviction seemed to kindle in
Christine a livelier perception of all its bearings than she had
known while it had lain unformulated in her mind. For when she had
done speaking she fell down on her knees before her father, covered
her face, and said, 'Please, please forgive me, papa! How could I do
it without letting you know! I don't know, I don't know!'

When she looked up she found that, in the turmoil of his mind, her
father was moving about the room. 'You are within an ace of ruining
yourself, ruining me, ruining us all!' he said. 'You are nearly as
bad as your brother, begad!'

'Perhaps I am--yes--perhaps I am!'

'That I should father such a harum-scarum brood!'

'It is very bad; but Nicholas--'

'He's a scoundrel!'

'He is NOT a scoundrel!' cried she, turning quickly. 'He's as good
and worthy as you or I, or anybody bearing our name, or any nobleman
in the kingdom, if you come to that! Only--only'--she could not
continue the argument on those lines. 'Now, father, listen!' she
sobbed; 'if you taunt me I'll go off and join him at his farm this
very day, and marry him to-morrow, that's what I'll do!'

'I don't taant ye!'

'I wish to avoid unseemliness as much as you.'

She went away. When she came back a quarter of an hour later,
thinking to find the room empty, he was standing there as before,
never having apparently moved. His manner had quite changed. He
seemed to take a resigned and entirely different view of
circumstances.

'Christine, here's a paragraph in the paper hinting at a secret
wedding, and I'm blazed if it don't point to you. Well, since this
was to happen, I'll bear it, and not complain. All volk have
crosses, and this is one of mine. Now, this is what I've got to say-
-I feel that you must carry out this attempt at marrying Nicholas
Long. Faith, you must! The rumour will become a scandal if you
don't--that's my view. I have tried to look at the brightest side of
the case. Nicholas Long is a young man superior to most of his
class, and fairly presentable. And he's not poor--at least his uncle
is not. I believe the old muddler could buy me up any day. However,
a farmer's wife you must be, as far as I can see. As you've made
your bed, so ye must lie. Parents propose, and ungrateful children
dispose. You shall marry him, and immediately.'

Christine hardly knew what to make of this. 'He is quite willing to
wait, and so am I. We can wait for two or three years, and then he
will be as worthy as--'

'You must marry him. And the sooner the better, if 'tis to be done
at all . . . And yet I did wish you could have been Jim Bellston's
wife. I did wish it! But no.'

'I, too, wished it and do still, in one sense,' she returned gently.
His moderation had won her out of her defiant mood, and she was
willing to reason with him.

'You do?' he said surprised.

'I see that in a worldly sense my conduct with Mr. Long may be
considered a mistake.'

'H'm--I am glad to hear that--after my death you may see it more
clearly still; and you won't have long to wait, to my reckoning.'

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