A Changed Man and Other Tales
Part 3 out of 6
April 10.--To my alarm the letter I lately addressed to him at
Venice, where he is staying, as well as the last one she sent him,
have received no reply. She thinks he is ill. I do not quite think
that, but I wish we could hear from him. Perhaps the peremptoriness
of my words had offended him; it grieves me to think it possible.
_I_ offend him! But too much of this. I MUST tell her the truth, or
she may in her ignorance commit herself to some course or other that
may be ruinously compromising. She said plaintively just now that if
he could see her, and know how occupied with him and him alone is her
every waking hour, she is sure he would forgive her the wicked
presumption of becoming his wife. Very sweet all that, and touching.
I could not conceal my tears.
April 15.--The house is in confusion; my father is angry and
distressed, and I am distracted. Caroline has disappeared--gone away
secretly. I cannot help thinking that I know where she is gone to.
How guilty I seem, and how innocent she! O that I had told her
1 o'clock.--No trace of her as yet. We find also that the little
waiting-maid we have here in training has disappeared with Caroline,
and there is not much doubt that Caroline, fearing to travel alone,
has induced this girl to go with her as companion. I am almost sure
she has started in desperation to find him, and that Venice is her
goal. Why should she run away, if not to join her husband, as she
thinks him? Now that I consider, there have been indications of this
wish in her for days, as in birds of passage there lurk signs of
their incipient intention; and yet I did not think she would have
taken such an extreme step, unaided, and without consulting me. I
can only jot down the bare facts--I have no time for reflections.
But fancy Caroline travelling across the continent of Europe with a
chit of a girl, who will be more of a charge than an assistance!
They will be a mark for every marauder who encounters them.
Evening: 8 o'clock.--Yes, it is as I surmised. She has gone to join
him. A note posted by her in Budmouth Regis at daybreak has reached
me this afternoon--thanks to the fortunate chance of one of the
servants calling for letters in town to-day, or I should not have got
it until to-morrow. She merely asserts her determination of going to
him, and has started privately, that nothing may hinder her; stating
nothing about her route. That such a gentle thing should suddenly
become so calmly resolute quite surprises me. Alas, he may have left
Venice--she may not find him for weeks--may not at all.
My father, on learning the facts, bade me at once have everything
ready by nine this evening, in time to drive to the train that meets
the night steam-boat. This I have done, and there being an hour to
spare before we start, I relieve the suspense of waiting by taking up
my pen. He says overtake her we must, and calls Charles the hardest
of names. He believes, of course, that she is merely an infatuated
girl rushing off to meet her lover; and how can the wretched I tell
him that she is more, and in a sense better than that--yet not
sufficiently more and better to make this flight to Charles anything
but a still greater danger to her than a mere lover's impulse. We
shall go by way of Paris, and we think we may overtake her there. I
hear my father walking restlessly up and down the hall, and can write
CHAPTER VIII.--SHE TRAVELS IN PURSUIT
April 16. Evening, Paris, Hotel --.--There is no overtaking her at
this place; but she has been here, as I thought, no other hotel in
Paris being known to her. We go on to-morrow morning.
April 18. Venice.--A morning of adventures and emotions which leave
me sick and weary, and yet unable to sleep, though I have lain down
on the sofa of my room for more than an hour in the attempt. I
therefore make up my diary to date in a hurried fashion, for the sake
of the riddance it affords to ideas which otherwise remain suspended
hotly in the brain.
We arrived here this morning in broad sunlight, which lit up the sea-
girt buildings as we approached so that they seemed like a city of
cork floating raft-like on the smooth, blue deep. But I only glanced
from the carriage window at the lovely scene, and we were soon across
the intervening water and inside the railway station. When we got to
the front steps the row of black gondolas and the shouts of the
gondoliers so bewildered my father that he was understood to require
two gondolas instead of one with two oars, and so I found him in one
and myself in another. We got this righted after a while, and were
rowed at once to the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni where M. de la
Feste had been staying when we last heard from him, the way being
down the Grand Canal for some distance, under the Rialto, and then by
narrow canals which eventually brought us under the Bridge of Sighs--
harmonious to our moods!--and out again into open water. The scene
was purity itself as to colour, but it was cruel that I should behold
it for the first time under such circumstances.
As soon as I entered the hotel, which is an old-fashioned place, like
most places here, where people are taken en pension as well as the
ordinary way, I rushed to the framed list of visitors hanging in the
hall, and in a moment I saw Charles's name upon it among the rest.
But she was our chief thought. I turned to the hall porter, and--
knowing that she would have travelled as 'Madame de la Feste'--I
asked for her under that name, without my father hearing. (He, poor
soul, was making confused inquiries outside the door about 'an
English lady,' as if there were not a score of English ladies at
'She has just come,' said the porter. 'Madame came by the very early
train this morning, when Monsieur was asleep, and she requested us
not to disturb him. She is now in her room.'
Whether Caroline had seen us from the window, or overheard me, I do
not know, but at that moment I heard footsteps on the bare marble
stairs, and she appeared in person descending.
'Caroline!' I exclaimed, 'why have you done this?' and rushed up to
She did not answer; but looked down to hide her emotion, which she
conquered after the lapse of a few seconds, putting on a practical
tone that belied her.
'I am just going to my husband,' she said. 'I have not yet seen him.
I have not been here long.' She condescended to give no further
reason for her movements, and made as if to move on. I implored her
to come into a private room where I could speak to her in confidence,
but she objected. However, the dining-room, close at hand, was quite
empty at this hour, and I got her inside and closed the door. I do
not know how I began my explanation, or how I ended it, but I told
her briefly and brokenly enough that the marriage was not real.
'Not real?' she said vacantly.
'It is not,' said I. 'You will find that it is all as I say.'
She could not believe my meaning even then. 'Not his wife?' she
cried. 'It is impossible. What am I, then?'
I added more details, and reiterated the reason for my conduct as
well as I could; but Heaven knows how very difficult I found it to
feel a jot more justification for it in my own mind than she did in
The revulsion of feeling, as soon as she really comprehended all, was
most distressing. After her grief had in some measure spent itself
she turned against both him and me.
'Why should have I been deceived like this?' she demanded, with a
bitter haughtiness of which I had not deemed such a tractable
creature capable. 'Do you suppose that ANYTHING could justify such
an imposition? What, O what a snare you have spread for me!'
I murmured, 'Your life seemed to require it,' but she did not hear
me. She sank down in a chair, covered her face, and then my father
came in. 'O, here you are!' he said. 'I could not find you. And
'And were YOU, papa, a party to this strange deed of kindness?'
'To what?' said he.
Then out it all came, and for the first time he was made acquainted
with the fact that the scheme for soothing her illness, which I had
sounded him upon, had been really carried out. In a moment he sided
with Caroline. My repeated assurance that my motive was good availed
less than nothing. In a minute or two Caroline arose and went
abruptly out of the room, and my father followed her, leaving me
alone to my reflections.
I was so bent upon finding Charles immediately that I did not notice
whither they went. The servants told me that M. de la Feste was just
outside smoking, and one of them went to look for him, I following;
but before we had gone many steps he came out of the hotel behind me.
I expected him to be amazed; but he showed no surprise at seeing me,
though he showed another kind of feeling to an extent which dismayed
me. I may have revealed something similar; but I struggled hard
against all emotion, and as soon as I could I told him she had come.
He simply said 'Yes' in a low voice.
'You know it, Charles?' said I.
'I have just learnt it,' he said.
'O, Charles,' I went on, 'having delayed completing your marriage
with her till now, I fear--it has become a serious position for us.
Why did you not reply to our letters?'
'I was purposing to reply in person: I did not know how to address
her on the point--how to address you. But what has become of her?'
'She has gone off with my father,' said I; 'indignant with you, and
He was silent: and I suggested that we should follow them, pointing
out the direction which I fancied their gondola had taken. As the
one we got into was doubly manned we soon came in view of their two
figures ahead of us, while they were not likely to observe us, our
boat having the 'felze' on, while theirs was uncovered. They shot
into a narrow canal just beyond the Giardino Reale, and by the time
we were floating up between its slimy walls we saw them getting out
of their gondola at the steps which lead up near the end of the Via
22 Marzo. When we reached the same spot they were walking up and
down the Via in consultation. Getting out he stood on the lower
steps watching them. I watched him. He seemed to fall into a
'Will you not go and speak to her?' said I at length.
He assented, and went forward. Still he did not hasten to join them,
but, screened by a projecting window, observed their musing converse.
At last he looked back at me; whereupon I pointed forward, and he in
obedience stepped out, and met them face to face. Caroline flushed
hot, bowed haughtily to him, turned away, and taking my father's arm
violently, led him off before he had had time to use his own
judgment. They disappeared into a narrow calle, or alley, leading to
the back of the buildings on the Grand Canal.
M. de la Feste came slowly back; as he stepped in beside me I
realized my position so vividly that my heart might almost have been
heard to beat. The third condition had arisen--the least expected by
either of us. She had refused him; he was free to claim me.
We returned in the boat together. He seemed quite absorbed till we
had turned the angle into the Grand Canal, when he broke the silence.
'She spoke very bitterly to you in the salle-a-manger,' he said. 'I
do not think she was quite warranted in speaking so to you, who had
nursed her so tenderly.'
'O, but I think she was,' I answered. 'It was there I told her what
had been done; she did not know till then.'
'She was very dignified--very striking,' he murmured. 'You were
'But how do you know what passed between us,' said I. He then told
me that he had seen and heard all. The dining-room was divided by
folding-doors from an inner portion, and he had been sitting in the
latter part when we entered the outer, so that our words were
'But, dear Alicia,' he went on, 'I was more impressed by the
affection of your apology to her than by anything else. And do you
know that now the conditions have arisen which give me liberty to
consider you my affianced?' I had been expecting this, but yet was
not prepared. I stammered out that we would not discuss it then.
'Why not?' said he. 'Do you know that we may marry here and now?
She has cast off both you and me.'
'It cannot be,' said I, firmly. 'She has not been fairly asked to be
your wife in fact--to repeat the service lawfully; and until that has
been done it would be grievous sin in me to accept you.'
I had not noticed where the gondoliers were rowing us. I suppose he
had given them some direction unheard by me, for as I resigned myself
in despairing indolence to the motion of the gondola, I perceived
that it was taking us up the Canal, and, turning into a side opening
near the Palazzo Grimani, drew up at some steps near the end of a
'Where are we?' said I.
'It is the Church of the Frari,' he replied. 'We might be married
there. At any rate, let us go inside, and grow calm, and decide what
When we had entered I found that whether a place to marry in or not,
it was one to depress. The word which Venice speaks most constantly-
-decay--was in a sense accentuated here. The whole large fabric
itself seemed sinking into an earth which was not solid enough to
bear it. Cobwebbed cracks zigzagged the walls, and similar webs
clouded the window-panes. A sickly-sweet smell pervaded the aisles.
After walking about with him a little while in embarrassing silences,
divided only by his cursory explanations of the monuments and other
objects, and almost fearing he might produce a marriage licence, I
went to a door in the south transept which opened into the sacristy.
I glanced through it, towards the small altar at the upper end. The
place was empty save of one figure; and she was kneeling here in
front of the beautiful altarpiece by Bellini. Beautiful though it
was she seemed not to see it. She was weeping and praying as though
her heart was broken. She was my sister Caroline. I beckoned to
Charles, and he came to my side, and looked through the door with me.
'Speak to her,' said I. 'She will forgive you.'
I gently pushed him through the doorway, and went back into the
transept, down the nave, and onward to the west door. There I saw my
father, to whom I spoke. He answered severely that, having first
obtained comfortable quarters in a pension on the Grand Canal, he had
gone back to the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni to find me; but
that I was not there. He was now waiting for Caroline, to accompany
her back to the pension, at which she had requested to be left to
herself as much as possible till she could regain some composure.
I told him that it was useless to dwell on what was past, that I no
doubt had erred, that the remedy lay in the future and their
marriage. In this he quite agreed with me, and on my informing him
that M. de la Feste was at that moment with Caroline in the sacristy,
he assented to my proposal that we should leave them to themselves,
and return together to await them at the pension, where he had also
engaged a room for me. This we did, and going up to the chamber he
had chosen for me, which overlooked the Canal, I leant from the
window to watch for the gondola that should contain Charles and my
They were not long in coming. I recognized them by the colour of her
sunshade as soon as they turned the bend on my right hand. They were
side by side of necessity, but there was no conversation between
them, and I thought that she looked flushed and he pale. When they
were rowed in to the steps of our house he handed her up. I fancied
she might have refused his assistance, but she did not. Soon I heard
her pass my door, and wishing to know the result of their interview I
went downstairs, seeing that the gondola had not put off with him.
He was turning from the door, but not towards the water, intending
apparently to walk home by way of the calle which led into the Via 22
'Has she forgiven you?' said I.
'I have not asked her,' he said.
'But you are bound to do so,' I told him.
He paused, and then said, 'Alicia, let us understand each other. Do
you mean to tell me, once for all, that if your sister is willing to
become my wife you absolutely make way for her, and will not
entertain any thought of what I suggested to you any more?'
'I do tell you so,' said I with dry lips. 'You belong to her--how
can I do otherwise?'
'Yes; it is so; it is purely a question of honour,' he returned.
'Very well then, honour shall be my word, and not my love. I will
put the question to her frankly; if she says yes, the marriage shall
be. But not here. It shall be at your own house in England.'
'When?' said I.
'I will accompany her there,' he replied, 'and it shall be within a
week of her return. I have nothing to gain by delay. But I will not
answer for the consequences.'
'What do you mean?' said I. He made no reply, went away, and I came
back to my room.
CHAPTER IX.--SHE WITNESSES THE END
April 20. Milan, 10.30 p.m.--We are thus far on our way homeward.
I, being decidedly de trop, travel apart from the rest as much as I
can. Having dined at the hotel here, I went out by myself;
regardless of the proprieties, for I could not stay in. I walked at
a leisurely pace along the Via Allesandro Manzoni till my eye was
caught by the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and I entered under
the high glass arcades till I reached the central octagon, where I
sat down on one of a group of chairs placed there. Becoming
accustomed to the stream of promenaders, I soon observed, seated on
the chairs opposite, Caroline and Charles. This was the first
occasion on which I had seen them en tete-a-tete since my
conversation with him. She soon caught sight of me; averted her
eyes; then, apparently abandoning herself to an impulse, she jumped
up from her seat and came across to me. We had not spoken to each
other since the meeting in Venice.
'Alicia,' she said, sitting down by my side, 'Charles asks me to
forgive you, and I do forgive you.'
I pressed her hand, with tears in my eyes, and said, 'And do you
'Yes,' said she, shyly.
'And what's the result?' said I.
'We are to be married directly we reach home.'
This was almost the whole of our conversation; she walked home with
me, Charles following a little way behind, though she kept turning
her head, as if anxious that he should overtake us. 'Honour and not
love' seemed to ring in my ears. So matters stand. Caroline is
April 25.--We have reached home, Charles with us. Events are now
moving in silent speed, almost with velocity, indeed; and I sometimes
feel oppressed by the strange and preternatural ease which seems to
accompany their flow. Charles is staying at the neighbouring town;
he is only waiting for the marriage licence; when obtained he is to
come here, be quietly married to her, and carry her off. It is
rather resignation than content which sits on his face; but he has
not spoken a word more to me on the burning subject, or deviated one
hair's breadth from the course he laid down. They may be happy in
time to come: I hope so. But I cannot shake off depression.
May 6.--Eve of the wedding. Caroline is serenely happy, though not
blithe. But there is nothing to excite anxiety about her. I wish I
could say the same of him. He comes and goes like a ghost, and yet
nobody seems to observe this strangeness in his mien.
I could not help being here for the ceremony; but my absence would
have resulted in less disquiet on his part, I believe. However, I
may be wrong in attributing causes: my father simply says that
Charles and Caroline have as good a chance of being happy as other
people. Well, to-morrow settles all.
May 7.--They are married: we have just returned from church.
Charles looked so pale this morning that my father asked him if he
was ill. He said, 'No: only a slight headache;' and we started for
There was no hitch or hindrance; and the thing is done.
4 p.m.--They ought to have set out on their journey by this time; but
there is an unaccountable delay. Charles went out half-an-hour ago,
and has not yet returned. Caroline is waiting in the hall; but I am
dreadfully afraid they will miss the train. I suppose the trifling
hindrance is of no account; and yet I am full of misgivings . . .
Sept. 14.--Four months have passed; ONLY four months! It seems like
years. Can it be that only seventeen weeks ago I set on this paper
the fact of their marriage? I am now an aged woman by comparison!
On that never to be forgotten day we waited and waited, and Charles
did not return. At six o'clock, when poor little Caroline had gone
back to her room in a state of suspense impossible to describe, a man
who worked in the water-meadows came to the house and asked for my
father. He had an interview with him in the study. My father then
rang his bell, and sent for me. I went down; and I then learnt the
fatal news. Charles was no more. The waterman had been going to
shut down the hatches of a weir in the meads when he saw a hat on the
edge of the pool below, floating round and round in the eddy, and
looking into the pool saw something strange at the bottom. He knew
what it meant, and lowering the hatches so that the water was still,
could distinctly see the body. It is needless to write particulars
that were in the newspapers at the time. Charles was brought to the
house, but he was dead.
We all feared for Caroline; and she suffered much; but strange to
say, her suffering was purely of the nature of deep grief which found
relief in sobbing and tears. It came out at the inquest that Charles
had been accustomed to cross the meads to give an occasional half-
crown to an old man who lived on the opposite hill, who had once been
a landscape painter in an humble way till he lost his eyesight; and
it was assumed that he had gone thither for the same purpose to-day,
and to bid him farewell. On this information the coroner's jury
found that his death had been caused by misadventure; and everybody
believes to this hour that he was drowned while crossing the weir to
relieve the old man. Except one: she believes in no accident.
After the stunning effect of the first news, I thought it strange
that he should have chosen to go on such an errand at the last
moment, and to go personally, when there was so little time to spare,
since any gift could have been so easily sent by another hand.
Further reflection has convinced me that this step out of life was as
much a part of the day's plan as was the wedding in the church hard
by. They were the two halves of his complete intention when he gave
me on the Grand Canal that assurance which I shall never forget:
'Very well, then; honour shall be my word, not love. If she says
"Yes," the marriage shall be.'
I do not know why I should have made this entry at this particular
time; but it has occurred to me to do it--to complete, in a measure,
that part of my desultory chronicle which relates to the love-story
of my sister and Charles. She lives on meekly in her grief; and will
probably outlive it; while I--but never mind me.
CHAPTER X.--SHE ADDS A NOTE LONG AFTER
Five-years later.--I have lighted upon this old diary, which it has
interested me to look over, containing, as it does, records of the
time when life shone more warmly in my eye than it does now. I am
impelled to add one sentence to round off its record of the past.
About a year ago my sister Caroline, after a persistent wooing,
accepted the hand and heart of Theophilus Higham, once the blushing
young Scripture reader who assisted at the substitute for a marriage
I planned, and now the fully-ordained curate of the next parish. His
penitence for the part he played ended in love. We have all now made
atonement for our sins against her: may she be deceived no more.
THE GRAVE BY THE HANDPOST
I never pass through Chalk-Newton without turning to regard the
neighbouring upland, at a point where a lane crosses the lone
straight highway dividing this from the next parish; a sight which
does not fail to recall the event that once happened there; and,
though it may seem superfluous, at this date, to disinter more
memories of village history, the whispers of that spot may claim to
It was on a dark, yet mild and exceptionally dry evening at
Christmas-time (according to the testimony of William Dewy of
Mellstock, Michael Mail, and others), that the choir of Chalk-Newton-
-a large parish situate about half-way between the towns of Ivel and
Casterbridge, and now a railway station--left their homes just before
midnight to repeat their annual harmonies under the windows of the
local population. The band of instrumentalists and singers was one
of the largest in the county; and, unlike the smaller and finer
Mellstock string-band, which eschewed all but the catgut, it included
brass and reed performers at full Sunday services, and reached all
across the west gallery.
On this night there were two or three violins, two 'cellos, a tenor
viol, double bass, hautboy, clarionets, serpent, and seven singers.
It was, however, not the choir's labours, but what its members
chanced to witness, that particularly marked the occasion.
They had pursued their rounds for many years without meeting with any
incident of an unusual kind, but to-night, according to the
assertions of several, there prevailed, to begin with, an
exceptionally solemn and thoughtful mood among two or three of the
oldest in the band, as if they were thinking they might be joined by
the phantoms of dead friends who had been of their number in earlier
years, and now were mute in the churchyard under flattening mounds--
friends who had shown greater zest for melody in their time than was
shown in this; or that some past voice of a semi-transparent figure
might quaver from some bedroom-window its acknowledgment of their
nocturnal greeting, instead of a familiar living neighbour. Whether
this were fact or fancy, the younger members of the choir met
together with their customary thoughtlessness and buoyancy. When
they had gathered by the stone stump of the cross in the middle of
the village, near the White Horse Inn, which they made their starting
point, some one observed that they were full early, that it was not
yet twelve o'clock. The local waits of those days mostly refrained
from sounding a note before Christmas morning had astronomically
arrived, and not caring to return to their beer, they decided to
begin with some outlying cottages in Sidlinch Lane, where the people
had no clocks, and would not know whether it were night or morning.
In that direction they accordingly went; and as they ascended to
higher ground their attention was attracted by a light beyond the
houses, quite at the top of the lane.
The road from Chalk-Newton to Broad Sidlinch is about two miles long
and in the middle of its course, where it passes over the ridge
dividing the two villages, it crosses at right angles, as has been
stated, the lonely monotonous old highway known as Long Ash Lane,
which runs, straight as a surveyor's line, many miles north and south
of this spot, on the foundation of a Roman road, and has often been
mentioned in these narratives. Though now quite deserted and grass-
grown, at the beginning of the century it was well kept and
frequented by traffic. The glimmering light appeared to come from
the precise point where the roads intersected.
'I think I know what that mid mean!' one of the group remarked.
They stood a few moments, discussing the probability of the light
having origin in an event of which rumours had reached them, and
resolved to go up the hill.
Approaching the high land their conjectures were strengthened. Long
Ash Lane cut athwart them, right and left; and they saw that at the
junction of the four ways, under the hand-post, a grave was dug, into
which, as the choir drew nigh, a corpse had just been thrown by the
four Sidlinch men employed for the purpose. The cart and horse which
had brought the body thither stood silently by.
The singers and musicians from Chalk-Newton halted, and looked on
while the gravediggers shovelled in and trod down the earth, till,
the hole being filled, the latter threw their spades into the cart,
and prepared to depart.
'Who mid ye be a-burying there?' asked Lot Swanhills in a raised
voice. 'Not the sergeant?'
The Sidlinch men had been so deeply engrossed in their task that they
had not noticed the lanterns of the Chalk-Newton choir till now.
'What--be you the Newton carol-singers?' returned the representatives
'Ay, sure. Can it be that it is old Sergeant Holway you've a-buried
''Tis so. You've heard about it, then?'
The choir knew no particulars--only that he had shot himself in his
apple-closet on the previous Sunday. 'Nobody seem'th to know what 'a
did it for, 'a b'lieve? Leastwise, we don't know at Chalk-Newton,'
'O yes. It all came out at the inquest.'
The singers drew close, and the Sidlinch men, pausing to rest after
their labours, told the story. 'It was all owing to that son of his,
poor old man. It broke his heart.'
'But the son is a soldier, surely; now with his regiment in the East
'Ay. And it have been rough with the army over there lately. 'Twas
a pity his father persuaded him to go. But Luke shouldn't have
twyted the sergeant o't, since 'a did it for the best.'
The circumstances, in brief, were these: The sergeant who had come
to this lamentable end, father of the young soldier who had gone with
his regiment to the East, had been singularly comfortable in his
military experiences, these having ended long before the outbreak of
the great war with France. On his discharge, after duly serving his
time, he had returned to his native village, and married, and taken
kindly to domestic life. But the war in which England next involved
herself had cost him many frettings that age and infirmity prevented
him from being ever again an active unit of the army. When his only
son grew to young manhood, and the question arose of his going out in
life, the lad expressed his wish to be a mechanic. But his father
advised enthusiastically for the army.
'Trade is coming to nothing in these days,' he said. 'And if the war
with the French lasts, as it will, trade will be still worse. The
army, Luke--that's the thing for 'ee. 'Twas the making of me, and
'twill be the making of you. I hadn't half such a chance as you'll
have in these splendid hotter times.'
Luke demurred, for he was a home-keeping, peace-loving youth. But,
putting respectful trust in his father's judgment, he at length gave
way, and enlisted in the --d Foot. In the course of a few weeks he
was sent out to India to his regiment, which had distinguished itself
in the East under General Wellesley.
But Luke was unlucky. News came home indirectly that he lay sick out
there; and then on one recent day when his father was out walking,
the old man had received tidings that a letter awaited him at
Casterbridge. The sergeant sent a special messenger the whole nine
miles, and the letter was paid for and brought home; but though, as
he had guessed, it came from Luke, its contents were of an unexpected
The letter had been written during a time of deep depression. Luke
said that his life was a burden and a slavery, and bitterly
reproached his father for advising him to embark on a career for
which he felt unsuited. He found himself suffering fatigues and
illnesses without gaining glory, and engaged in a cause which he did
not understand or appreciate. If it had not been for his father's
bad advice he, Luke, would now have been working comfortably at a
trade in the village that he had never wished to leave.
After reading the letter the sergeant advanced a few steps till he
was quite out of sight of everybody, and then sat down on the bank by
When he arose half-an-hour later he looked withered and broken, and
from that day his natural spirits left him. Wounded to the quick by
his son's sarcastic stings, he indulged in liquor more and more
frequently. His wife had died some years before this date, and the
sergeant lived alone in the house which had been hers. One morning
in the December under notice the report of a gun had been heard on
his premises, and on entering the neighbours found him in a dying
state. He had shot himself with an old firelock that he used for
scaring birds; and from what he had said the day before, and the
arrangements he had made for his decease, there was no doubt that his
end had been deliberately planned, as a consequence of the
despondency into which he had been thrown by his son's letter. The
coroner's jury returned a verdict of felo de se.
'Here's his son's letter,' said one of the Sidlinch men. ''Twas
found in his father's pocket. You can see by the state o't how many
times he read it over. Howsomever, the Lord's will be done, since it
must, whether or no.'
The grave was filled up and levelled, no mound being shaped over it.
The Sidlinch men then bade the Chalk-Newton choir good-night, and
departed with the cart in which they had brought the sergeant's body
to the hill. When their tread had died away from the ear, and the
wind swept over the isolated grave with its customary siffle of
indifference, Lot Swanhills turned and spoke to old Richard Toller,
the hautboy player.
''Tis hard upon a man, and he a wold sojer, to serve en so, Richard.
Not that the sergeant was ever in a battle bigger than would go into
a half-acre paddock, that's true. Still, his soul ought to hae as
good a chance as another man's, all the same, hey?'
Richard replied that he was quite of the same opinion. 'What d'ye
say to lifting up a carrel over his grave, as 'tis Christmas, and no
hurry to begin down in parish, and 'twouldn't take up ten minutes,
and not a soul up here to say us nay, or know anything about it?'
Lot nodded assent. 'The man ought to hae his chances,' he repeated.
'Ye may as well spet upon his grave, for all the good we shall do en
by what we lift up, now he's got so far,' said Notton, the clarionet
man and professed sceptic of the choir. 'But I'm agreed if the rest
They thereupon placed themselves in a semicircle by the newly stirred
earth, and roused the dull air with the well-known Number Sixteen of
their collection, which Lot gave out as being the one he thought best
suited to the occasion and the mood
He comes' the pri'-soners to' re-lease',
In Sa'-tan's bon'-dage held'.
'Jown it--we've never played to a dead man afore,' said Ezra
Cattstock, when, having concluded the last verse, they stood
reflecting for a breath or two. 'But it do seem more merciful than
to go away and leave en, as they t'other fellers have done.'
'Now backalong to Newton, and by the time we get overright the
pa'son's 'twill be half after twelve,' said the leader.
They had not, however, done more than gather up their instruments
when the wind brought to their notice the noise of a vehicle rapidly
driven up the same lane from Sidlinch which the gravediggers had
lately retraced. To avoid being run over when moving on, they waited
till the benighted traveller, whoever he might be, should pass them
where they stood in the wider area of the Cross.
In half a minute the light of the lanterns fell upon a hired fly,
drawn by a steaming and jaded horse. It reached the hand-post, when
a voice from the inside cried, 'Stop here!' The driver pulled rein.
The carriage door was opened from within, and there leapt out a
private soldier in the uniform of some line regiment. He looked
around, and was apparently surprised to see the musicians standing
'Have you buried a man here?' he asked.
'No. We bain't Sidlinch folk, thank God; we be Newton choir. Though
a man is just buried here, that's true; and we've raised a carrel
over the poor mortal's natomy. What--do my eyes see before me young
Luke Holway, that went wi' his regiment to the East Indies, or do I
see his spirit straight from the battlefield? Be you the son that
wrote the letter--'
'Don't--don't ask me. The funeral is over, then?'
'There wer no funeral, in a Christen manner of speaking. But's
buried, sure enough. You must have met the men going back in the
'Like a dog in a ditch, and all through me!'
He remained silent, looking at the grave, and they could not help
pitying him. 'My friends,' he said, 'I understand better now. You
have, I suppose, in neighbourly charity, sung peace to his soul? I
thank you, from my heart, for your kind pity. Yes; I am Sergeant
Holway's miserable son--I'm the son who has brought about his
father's death, as truly as if I had done it with my own hand!'
'No, no. Don't ye take on so, young man. He'd been naturally low
for a good while, off and on, so we hear.'
'We were out in the East when I wrote to him. Everything had seemed
to go wrong with me. Just after my letter had gone we were ordered
home. That's how it is you see me here. As soon as we got into
barracks at Casterbridge I heard o' this . . . Damn me! I'll dare to
follow my father, and make away with myself, too. It is the only
thing left to do!'
'Don't ye be rash, Luke Holway, I say again; but try to make amends
by your future life. And maybe your father will smile a smile down
from heaven upon 'ee for 't.'
He shook his head. 'I don't know about that!' he answered bitterly.
'Try and be worthy of your father at his best. 'Tis not too late.'
'D'ye think not? I fancy it is! . . . Well, I'll turn it over.
Thank you for your good counsel. I'll live for one thing, at any
rate. I'll move father's body to a decent Christian churchyard, if I
do it with my own hands. I can't save his life, but I can give him
an honourable grave. He shan't lie in this accursed place!'
'Ay, as our pa'son says, 'tis a barbarous custom they keep up at
Sidlinch, and ought to be done away wi'. The man a' old soldier,
too. You see, our pa'son is not like yours at Sidlinch.'
'He says it is barbarous, does he? So it is!' cried the soldier.
'Now hearken, my friends.' Then he proceeded to inquire if they
would increase his indebtedness to them by undertaking the removal,
privately, of the body of the suicide to the churchyard, not of
Sidlinch, a parish he now hated, but of Chalk-Newton. He would give
them all he possessed to do it.
Lot asked Ezra Cattstock what he thought of it.
Cattstock, the 'cello player, who was also the sexton, demurred, and
advised the young soldier to sound the rector about it first. 'Mid
be he would object, and yet 'a mid'nt. The pa'son o' Sidlinch is a
hard man, I own ye, and 'a said if folk will kill theirselves in hot
blood they must take the consequences. But ours don't think like
that at all, and might allow it.'
'What's his name?'
'The honourable and reverent Mr. Oldham, brother to Lord Wessex. But
you needn't be afeard o' en on that account. He'll talk to 'ee like
a common man, if so be you haven't had enough drink to gie 'ee bad
'O, the same as formerly. I'll ask him. Thank you. And that duty
'There's war in Spain. I hear our next move is there. I'll try to
show myself to be what my father wished me. I don't suppose I shall-
-but I'll try in my feeble way. That much I swear--here over his
body. So help me God.'
Luke smacked his palm against the white hand-post with such force
that it shook. 'Yes, there's war in Spain; and another chance for me
to be worthy of father.'
So the matter ended that night. That the private acted in one thing
as he had vowed to do soon became apparent, for during the Christmas
week the rector came into the churchyard when Cattstock was there,
and asked him to find a spot that would be suitable for the purpose
of such an interment, adding that he had slightly known the late
sergeant, and was not aware of any law which forbade him to assent to
the removal, the letter of the rule having been observed. But as he
did not wish to seem moved by opposition to his neighbour at
Sidlinch, he had stipulated that the act of charity should be carried
out at night, and as privately as possible, and that the grave should
be in an obscure part of the enclosure. 'You had better see the
young man about it at once,' added the rector.
But before Ezra had done anything Luke came down to his house. His
furlough had been cut short, owing to new developments of the war in
the Peninsula, and being obliged to go back to his regiment
immediately, he was compelled to leave the exhumation and reinterment
to his friends. Everything was paid for, and he implored them all to
see it carried out forthwith.
With this the soldier left. The next day Ezra, on thinking the
matter over, again went across to the rectory, struck with sudden
misgiving. He had remembered that the sergeant had been buried
without a coffin, and he was not sure that a stake had not been
driven through him. The business would be more troublesome than they
had at first supposed.
'Yes, indeed!' murmured the rector. 'I am afraid it is not feasible
The next event was the arrival of a headstone by carrier from the
nearest town; to be left at Mr. Ezra Cattstock's; all expenses paid.
The sexton and the carrier deposited the stone in the former's
outhouse; and Ezra, left alone, put on his spectacles and read the
brief and simple inscription:-
HERE LYETH THE BODY OF SAMUEL HOLWAY, LATE SERGEANT IN HIS MAJESTY'S
--D REGIMENT OF FOOT, WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE DECEMBER THE 20TH, 180-.
ERECTED BY L. H.
'I AM NOT WORTHY TO BE CALLED THY SON.'
Ezra again called at the riverside rectory. 'The stone is come, sir.
But I'm afeard we can't do it nohow.'
'I should like to oblige him,' said the gentlemanly old incumbent.
'And I would forego all fees willingly. Still, if you and the others
don't think you can carry it out, I am in doubt what to say.'
Well, sir; I've made inquiry of a Sidlinch woman as to his burial,
and what I thought seems true. They buried en wi' a new six-foot
hurdle-saul drough's body, from the sheep-pen up in North Ewelease
though they won't own to it now. And the question is, Is the moving
worth while, considering the awkwardness?'
'Have you heard anything more of the young man?'
Ezra had only heard that he had embarked that week for Spain with the
rest of the regiment. 'And if he's as desperate as 'a seemed, we
shall never see him here in England again.'
'It is an awkward case,' said the rector.
Ezra talked it over with the choir; one of whom suggested that the
stone might be erected at the crossroads. This was regarded as
impracticable. Another said that it might be set up in the
churchyard without removing the body; but this was seen to be
dishonest. So nothing was done.
The headstone remained in Ezra's outhouse till, growing tired of
seeing it there, he put it away among the bushes at the bottom of his
garden. The subject was sometimes revived among them, but it always
ended with: 'Considering how 'a was buried, we can hardly make a job
There was always the consciousness that Luke would never come back,
an impression strengthened by the disasters which were rumoured to
have befallen the army in Spain. This tended to make their inertness
permanent. The headstone grew green as it lay on its back under
Ezra's bushes; then a tree by the river was blown down, and, falling
across the stone, cracked it in three pieces. Ultimately the pieces
became buried in the leaves and mould.
Luke had not been born a Chalk-Newton man, and he had no relations
left in Sidlinch, so that no tidings of him reached either village
throughout the war. But after Waterloo and the fall of Napoleon
there arrived at Sidlinch one day an English sergeant-major covered
with stripes and, as it turned out, rich in glory. Foreign service
had so totally changed Luke Holway that it was not until he told his
name that the inhabitants recognized him as the sergeant's only son.
He had served with unswerving effectiveness through the Peninsular
campaigns under Wellington; had fought at Busaco, Fuentes d'Onore,
Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Quatre Bras, and
Waterloo; and had now returned to enjoy a more than earned pension
and repose in his native district.
He hardly stayed in Sidlinch longer than to take a meal on his
arrival. The same evening he started on foot over the hill to Chalk-
Newton, passing the hand-post, and saying as he glanced at the spot,
'Thank God: he's not there!' Nightfall was approaching when he
reached the latter village; but he made straight for the churchyard.
On his entering it there remained light enough to discern the
headstones by, and these he narrowly scanned. But though he searched
the front part by the road, and the back part by the river, what he
sought he could not find--the grave of Sergeant Holway, and a
memorial bearing the inscription: 'I AM NOT WORTHY TO BE CALLED THY
He left the churchyard and made inquiries. The honourable and
reverend old rector was dead, and so were many of the choir; but by
degrees the sergeant-major learnt that his father still lay at the
cross-roads in Long Ash Lane.
Luke pursued his way moodily homewards, to do which, in the natural
course, he would be compelled to repass the spot, there being no
other road between the two villages. But he could not now go by that
place, vociferous with reproaches in his father's tones; and he got
over the hedge and wandered deviously through the ploughed fields to
avoid the scene. Through many a fight and fatigue Luke had been
sustained by the thought that he was restoring the family honour and
making noble amends. Yet his father lay still in degradation. It
was rather a sentiment than a fact that his father's body had been
made to suffer for his own misdeeds; but to his super-sensitiveness
it seemed that his efforts to retrieve his character and to
propitiate the shade of the insulted one had ended in failure.
He endeavoured, however, to shake off his lethargy, and, not liking
the associations of Sidlinch, hired a small cottage at Chalk-Newton
which had long been empty. Here he lived alone, becoming quite a
hermit, and allowing no woman to enter the house.
The Christmas after taking up his abode herein he was sitting in the
chimney corner by himself, when he heard faint notes in the distance,
and soon a melody burst forth immediately outside his own window, it
came from the carol-singers, as usual; and though many of the old
hands, Ezra and Lot included, had gone to their rest, the same old
carols were still played out of the same old books. There resounded
through the sergeant-major's window-shutters the familiar lines that
the deceased choir had rendered over his father's grave:-
He comes' the pri'-soners to' re-lease',
In Sa'-tan's bon'-dage held'.
When they had finished they went on to another house, leaving him to
silence and loneliness as before.
The candle wanted snuffing, but he did not snuff it, and he sat on
till it had burnt down into the socket and made waves of shadow on
The Christmas cheerfulness of next morning was broken at breakfast-
time by tragic intelligence which went down the village like wind.
Sergeant-Major Holway had been found shot through the head by his own
hand at the cross-roads in Long Ash Lane where his father lay buried.
On the table in the cottage he had left a piece of paper, on which he
had written his wish that he might be buried at the Cross beside his
father. But the paper was accidentally swept to the floor, and
overlooked till after his funeral, which took place in the ordinary
way in the churchyard.
ENTER A DRAGOON
I lately had a melancholy experience (said the gentleman who is
answerable for the truth of this story). It was that of going over a
doomed house with whose outside aspect I had long been familiar--a
house, that is, which by reason of age and dilapidation was to be
pulled down during the following week. Some of the thatch, brown and
rotten as the gills of old mushrooms, had, indeed, been removed
before I walked over the building. Seeing that it was only a very
small house--which is usually called a 'cottage-residence'--situated
in a remote hamlet, and that it was not more than a hundred years
old, if so much, I was led to think in my progress through the hollow
rooms, with their cracked walls and sloping floors, what an
exceptional number of abrupt family incidents had taken place
therein--to reckon only those which had come to my own knowledge.
And no doubt there were many more of which I had never heard.
It stood at the top of a garden stretching down to the lane or street
that ran through a hermit-group of dwellings in Mellstock parish.
From a green gate at the lower entrance, over which the thorn hedge
had been shaped to an arch by constant clippings, a gravel path
ascended between the box edges of once trim raspberry, strawberry,
and vegetable plots, towards the front door. This was in colour an
ancient and bleached green that could be rubbed off with the finger,
and it bore a small long-featured brass knocker covered with
verdigris in its crevices. For some years before this eve of
demolition the homestead had degenerated, and been divided into two
tenements to serve as cottages for farm labourers; but in its prime
it had indisputable claim to be considered neat, pretty, and genteel.
The variety of incidents above alluded to was mainly owing to the
nature of the tenure, whereby the place had been occupied by families
not quite of the kind customary in such spots--people whose
circumstances, position, or antecedents were more or less of a
critical happy-go-lucky cast. And of these residents the family
whose term comprised the story I wish to relate was that of Mr. Jacob
Paddock the market-gardener, who dwelt there for some years with his
wife and grown-up daughter.
An evident commotion was agitating the premises, which jerked busy
sounds across the front plot, resembling those of a disturbed hive.
If a member of the household appeared at the door it was with a
countenance of abstraction and concern.
Evening began to bend over the scene; and the other inhabitants of
the hamlet came out to draw water, their common well being in the
public road opposite the garden and house of the Paddocks. Having
wound up their bucketsfull respectively they lingered, and spoke
significantly together. From their words any casual listener might
have gathered information of what had occurred.
The woodman who lived nearest the site of the story told most of the
tale. Selina, the daughter of the Paddocks opposite, had been
surprised that afternoon by receiving a letter from her once intended
husband, then a corporal, but now a sergeant-major of dragoons, whom
she had hitherto supposed to be one of the slain in the Battle of the
Alma two or three years before.
'She picked up wi'en against her father's wish, as we know, and
before he got his stripes,' their informant continued. 'Not but that
the man was as hearty a feller as you'd meet this side o' London.
But Jacob, you see, wished her to do better, and one can understand
it. However, she was determined to stick to him at that time; and
for what happened she was not much to blame, so near as they were to
matrimony when the war broke out and spoiled all.'
'Even the very pig had been killed for the wedding,' said a woman,
'and the barrel o' beer ordered in. O, the man meant honourable
enough. But to be off in two days to fight in a foreign country--
'twas natural of her father to say they should wait till he got
'And he never came,' murmured one in the shade.
'The war ended but her man never turned up again. She was not sure
he was killed, but was too proud, or too timid, to go and hunt for
'One reason why her father forgave her when he found out how matters
stood was, as he said plain at the time, that he liked the man, and
could see that he meant to act straight. So the old folks made the
best of what they couldn't mend, and kept her there with 'em, when
some wouldn't. Time has proved seemingly that he did mean to act
straight, now that he has writ to her that he's coming. She'd have
stuck to him all through the time, 'tis my belief; if t'other hadn't
'At the time of the courtship,' resumed the woodman, 'the regiment
was quartered in Casterbridge Barracks, and he and she got acquainted
by his calling to buy a penn'orth of rathe-ripes off that tree yonder
in her father's orchard--though 'twas said he seed HER over hedge as
well as the apples. He declared 'twas a kind of apple he much
fancied; and he called for a penn'orth every day till the tree was
cleared. It ended in his calling for her.'
''Twas a thousand pities they didn't jine up at once and ha' done wi'
'Well; better late than never, if so be he'll have her now. But,
Lord, she'd that faith in 'en that she'd no more belief that he was
alive, when a' didn't come, than that the undermost man in our
churchyard was alive. She'd never have thought of another but for
''Tis awkward, altogether, for her now.'
'Still she hadn't married wi' the new man. Though to be sure she
would have committed it next week, even the licence being got, they
say, for she'd have no banns this time, the first being so
'Perhaps the sergeant-major will think he's released, and go as he
'O, not as I reckon. Soldiers bain't particular, and she's a tidy
piece o' furniture still. What will happen is that she'll have her
soldier, and break off with the master-wheelwright, licence or no--
daze me if she won't.'
In the progress of these desultory conjectures the form of another
neighbour arose in the gloom. She nodded to the people at the well,
who replied 'G'd night, Mrs. Stone,' as she passed through Mr.
Paddock's gate towards his door. She was an intimate friend of the
latter's household, and the group followed her with their eyes up the
path and past the windows, which were now lighted up by candles
Mrs. Stone paused at the door, knocked, and was admitted by Selina's
mother, who took her visitor at once into the parlour on the left
hand, where a table was partly spread for supper. On the 'beaufet'
against the wall stood probably the only object which would have
attracted the eye of a local stranger in an otherwise ordinarily
furnished room, a great plum-cake guarded as if it were a curiosity
by a glass shade of the kind seen in museums--square, with a wooden
back like those enclosing stuffed specimens of rare feather or fur.
This was the mummy of the cake intended in earlier days for the
wedding-feast of Selina and the soldier, which had been religiously
and lovingly preserved by the former as a testimony to her
intentional respectability in spite of an untoward subsequent
circumstance, which will be mentioned. This relic was now as dry as
a brick, and seemed to belong to a pre-existent civilization. Till
quite recently, Selina had been in the habit of pausing before it
daily, and recalling the accident whose consequences had thrown a
shadow over her life ever since--that of which the water-drawers had
spoken--the sudden news one morning that the Route had come for the -
-th Dragoons, two days only being the interval before departure; the
hurried consultation as to what should be done, the second time of
asking being past but not the third; and the decision that it would
be unwise to solemnize matrimony in such haphazard circumstances,
even if it were possible, which was doubtful.
Before the fire the young woman in question was now seated on a low
stool, in the stillness of reverie, and a toddling boy played about
the floor around her.
'Ah, Mrs. Stone!' said Selina, rising slowly. 'How kind of you to
come in. You'll bide to supper? Mother has told you the strange
news, of course?'
'No. But I heard it outside, that is, that you'd had a letter from
Mr. Clark--Sergeant-Major Clark, as they say he is now--and that he's
coming to make it up with 'ee.'
'Yes; coming to-night--all the way from the north of England where
he's quartered. I don't know whether I'm happy or--frightened at it.
Of course I always believed that if he was alive he'd come and keep
his solemn vow to me. But when it is printed that a man is killed--
what can you think?'
'It WAS printed?'
'Why, yes. After the Battle of the Alma the book of the names of the
killed and wounded was nailed up against Casterbridge Town Hall door.
'Twas on a Saturday, and I walked there o' purpose to read and see
for myself; for I'd heard that his name was down. There was a crowd
of people round the book, looking for the names of relations; and I
can mind that when they saw me they made way for me--knowing that
we'd been just going to be married--and that, as you may say, I
belonged to him. Well, I reached up my arm, and turned over the
farrels of the book, and under the "killed" I read his surname, but
instead of "John" they'd printed "James," and I thought 'twas a
mistake, and that it must be he. Who could have guessed there were
two nearly of one name in one regiment.'
'Well--he's coming to finish the wedding of 'ee as may be said; so
never mind, my dear. All's well that ends well.'
'That's what he seems to say. But then he has not heard yet about
Mr. Miller; and that's what rather terrifies me. Luckily my marriage
with him next week was to have been by licence, and not banns, as in
John's case; and it was not so well known on that account. Still, I
don't know what to think.'
'Everything seems to come just 'twixt cup and lip with 'ee, don't it
now, Miss Paddock. Two weddings broke off--'tis odd! How came you
to accept Mr. Miller, my dear?'
'He's been so good and faithful! Not minding about the child at all;
for he knew the rights of the story. He's dearly fond o' Johnny, you
know--just as if 'twere his own--isn't he, my duck? Do Mr. Miller
love you or don't he?'
'Iss! An' I love Mr. Miller,' said the toddler.
'Well, you see, Mrs. Stone, he said he'd make me a comfortable home;
and thinking 'twould be a good thing for Johnny, Mr. Miller being so
much better off than me, I agreed at last, just as a widow might--
which is what I have always felt myself; ever since I saw what I
thought was John's name printed there. I hope John will forgive me!'
'So he will forgive 'ee, since 'twas no manner of wrong to him. He
ought to have sent 'ee a line, saying 'twas another man.'
Selina's mother entered. 'We've not known of this an hour, Mrs.
Stone,' she said. 'The letter was brought up from Lower Mellstock
Post-office by one of the school children, only this afternoon. Mr.
Miller was coming here this very night to settle about the wedding
doings. Hark! Is that your father? Or is it Mr. Miller already
The footsteps entered the porch; there was a brushing on the mat, and
the door of the room sprung back to disclose a rubicund man about
thirty years of age, of thriving master-mechanic appearance and
obviously comfortable temper. On seeing the child, and before taking
any notice whatever of the elders, the comer made a noise like the
crowing of a cock and flapped his arms as if they were wings, a
method of entry which had the unqualified admiration of Johnny.
'Yes--it is he,' said Selina constrainedly advancing.
'What--were you all talking about me, my dear?' said the genial young
man when he had finished his crowing and resumed human manners. 'Why
what's the matter,' he went on. 'You look struck all of a heap.'
Mr. Miller spread an aspect of concern over his own face, and drew a
chair up to the fire.
'O mother, would you tell Mr. Miller, if he don't know?'
'MISTER Miller! and going to be married in six days!' he interposed.
'Ah--he don't know it yet!' murmured Mrs. Paddock.
'Well--John Clark--now Sergeant-Major Clark--wasn't shot at Alma
after all. 'Twas another of almost the same name.'
'Now that's interesting! There were several cases like that.'
'And he's home again; and he's coming here to-night to see her.'
'Whatever shall I say, that he may not be offended with what I've
done?' interposed Selina.
'But why should it matter if he be?'
'O! I must agree to be his wife if he forgives me--of course I
'Must! But why not say nay, Selina, even if he do forgive 'ee?'
'O no! How can I without being wicked? You were very very kind, Mr.
Miller, to ask me to have you; no other man would have done it after
what had happened; and I agreed, even though I did not feel half so
warm as I ought. Yet it was entirely owing to my believing him in
the grave, as I knew that if he were not he would carry out his
promise; and this shows that I was right in trusting him.'
'Yes . . . He must be a goodish sort of fellow,' said Mr. Miller, for
a moment so impressed with the excellently faithful conduct of the
sergeant-major of dragoons that he disregarded its effect upon his
own position. He sighed slowly and added, 'Well, Selina, 'tis for
you to say. I love you, and I love the boy; and there's my chimney-
corner and sticks o' furniture ready for 'ee both.'
'Yes, I know! But I mustn't hear it any more now,' murmured Selina
quickly. 'John will be here soon. I hope he'll see how it all was
when I tell him. If so be I could have written it to him it would
have been better.'
'You think he doesn't know a single word about our having been on the
brink o't. But perhaps it's the other way--he's heard of it and that
may have brought him.
'Ah--perhaps he has!' she said brightening. 'And already forgives
'If not, speak out straight and fair, and tell him exactly how it
fell out. If he's a man he'll see it.'
'O he's a man true enough. But I really do think I shan't have to
tell him at all, since you've put it to me that way!'
As it was now Johnny's bedtime he was carried upstairs, and when
Selina came down again her mother observed with some anxiety, 'I
fancy Mr. Clark must be here soon if he's coming; and that being so,
perhaps Mr. Miller wouldn't mind--wishing us good-night! since you
are so determined to stick to your sergeant-major.' A little
bitterness bubbled amid the closing words. 'It would be less
awkward, Mr. Miller not being here--if he will allow me to say it.'
'To be sure; to be sure,' the master-wheelwright exclaimed with
instant conviction, rising alertly from his chair. 'Lord bless my
soul,' he said, taking up his hat and stick, 'and we to have been
married in six days! But Selina--you're right. You do belong to the
child's father since he's alive. I'll try to make the best of it.'
Before the generous Miller had got further there came a knock to the
door accompanied by the noise of wheels.
'I thought I heard something driving up!' said Mrs Paddock.
They heard Mr. Paddock, who had been smoking in the room opposite,
rise and go to the door, and in a moment a voice familiar enough to
Selina was audibly saying, 'At last I am here again--not without many
interruptions! How is it with 'ee, Mr. Paddock? And how is she?
Thought never to see me again, I suppose?'
A step with a clink of spurs in it struck upon the entry floor.
'Danged if I bain't catched!' murmured Mr. Miller, forgetting
company-speech. 'Never mind--I may as well meet him here as
elsewhere; and I should like to see the chap, and make friends with
en, as he seems one o' the right sort.' He returned to the fireplace
just as the sergeant-major was ushered in.
He was a good specimen of the long-service soldier of those days; a
not unhandsome man, with a certain undemonstrative dignity, which
some might have said to be partly owing to the stiffness of his
uniform about his neck, the high stock being still worn. He was much
stouter than when Selina had parted from him. Although she had not
meant to be demonstrative she ran across to him directly she saw him,
and he held her in his arms and kissed her.
Then in much agitation she whispered something to him, at which he
seemed to be much surprised.
'He's just put to bed,' she continued. 'You can go up and see him.
I knew you'd come if you were alive! But I had quite gi'd you up for
dead. You've been home in England ever since the war ended?'
'Why didn't you come sooner?'
'That's just what I ask myself! Why was I such a sappy as not to
hurry here the first day I set foot on shore! Well, who'd have
thought it--you are as pretty as ever!'
He relinquished her to peep upstairs a little way, where, by looking
through the ballusters, he could see Johnny's cot just within an open
door. On his stepping down again Mr. Miller was preparing to depart.
'Now, what's this? I am sorry to see anybody going the moment I've
come,' expostulated the sergeant-major. 'I thought we might make an
evening of it. There's a nine gallon cask o' "Phoenix" beer outside
in the trap, and a ham, and half a rawmil' cheese; for I thought you
might be short o' forage in a lonely place like this; and it struck
me we might like to ask in a neighbour or two. But perhaps it would
be taking a liberty?'
'O no, not at all,' said Mr. Paddock, who was now in the room, in a
judicial measured manner. 'Very thoughtful of 'ee, only 'twas not
necessary, for we had just laid in an extry stock of eatables and
drinkables in preparation for the coming event.'
''Twas very kind, upon my heart,' said the soldier, 'to think me
worth such a jocund preparation, since you could only have got my
letter this morning.'
Selina gazed at her father to stop him, and exchanged embarrassed
glances with Miller. Contrary to her hopes Sergeant-Major Clark
plainly did not know that the preparations referred to were for
something quite other than his own visit.
The movement of the horse outside, and the impatient tapping of a
whip-handle upon the vehicle reminded them that Clark's driver was
still in waiting. The provisions were brought into the house, and
the cart dismissed. Miller, with very little pressure indeed,
accepted an invitation to supper, and a few neighbours were induced
to come in to make up a cheerful party.
During the laying of the meal, and throughout its continuance,
Selina, who sat beside her first intended husband, tried frequently
to break the news to him of her engagement to the other--now
terminated so suddenly, and so happily for her heart, and her sense
of womanly virtue. But the talk ran entirely upon the late war; and
though fortified by half a horn of the strong ale brought by the
sergeant-major she decided that she might have a better opportunity
when supper was over of revealing the situation to him in private.
Having supped, Clark leaned back at ease in his chair and looked
around. 'We used sometimes to have a dance in that other room after
supper, Selina dear, I recollect. We used to clear out all the
furniture into this room before beginning. Have you kept up such
'No, not at all!' said his sweetheart, sadly.
'We were not unlikely to revive it in a few days,' said Mr. Paddock.
'But, howsomever, there's seemingly many a slip, as the saying is.'
'Yes, I'll tell John all about that by and by!' interposed Selina; at
which, perceiving that the secret which he did not like keeping was
to be kept even yet, her father held his tongue with some show of
The subject of a dance having been broached, to put the thought in
practice was the feeling of all. Soon after the tables and chairs
were borne from the opposite room to this by zealous hands, and two
of the villagers sent home for a fiddle and tambourine, when the
majority began to tread a measure well known in that secluded vale.
Selina naturally danced with the sergeant-major, not altogether to
her father's satisfaction, and to the real uneasiness of her mother,
both of whom would have preferred a postponement of festivities till
the rashly anticipated relationship between their daughter and Clark
in the past had been made fact by the church's ordinances. They did
not, however, express a positive objection, Mr. Paddock remembering,
with self-reproach, that it was owing to his original strongly
expressed disapproval of Selina's being a soldier's wife that the
wedding had been delayed, and finally hindered--with worse
consequences than were expected; and ever since the misadventure
brought about by his government he had allowed events to steer their
'My tails will surely catch in your spurs, John!' murmured the
daughter of the house, as she whirled around upon his arm with the
rapt soul and look of a somnambulist. 'I didn't know we should
dance, or I would have put on my other frock.'
'I'll take care, my love. We've danced here before. Do you think
your father objects to me now? I've risen in rank. I fancy he's
still a little against me.'
'He has repented, times enough.'
'And so have I! If I had married you then 'twould have saved many a
misfortune. I have sometimes thought it might have been possible to
rush the ceremony through somehow before I left; though we were only
in the second asking, were we? And even if I had come back straight
here when we returned from the Crimea, and married you then, how much
happier I should have been!'
'Dear John, to say that! Why didn't you?'
'O--dilatoriness and want of thought, and a fear of facing your
father after so long. I was in hospital a great while, you know.
But how familiar the place seems again! What's that I saw on the
beaufet in the other room? It never used to be there. A sort of
withered corpse of a cake--not an old bride-cake surely?'
'Yes, John, ours. 'Tis the very one that was made for our wedding
three years ago.'
'Sakes alive! Why, time shuts up together, and all between then and
now seems not to have been! What became of that wedding-gown that
they were making in this room, I remember--a bluish, whitish, frothy
'I have that too.'
'Really! . . . Why, Selina--'
'Why not put it on now?'
'Wouldn't it seem--. And yet, O how I should like to! It would
remind them all, if we told them what it was, how we really meant to
be married on that bygone day!' Her eyes were again laden with wet.
'Yes . . . The pity that we didn't--the pity!' Moody mournfulness
seemed to hold silent awhile one not naturally taciturn. 'Well--will
you?' he said.
'I will--the next dance, if mother don't mind.'
Accordingly, just before the next figure was formed, Selina
disappeared, and speedily came downstairs in a creased and box-worn,
but still airy and pretty, muslin gown, which was indeed the very one
that had been meant to grace her as a bride three years before.
'It is dreadfully old-fashioned,' she apologized.
'Not at all. What a grand thought of mine! Now, let's to't again.'
She explained to some of them, as he led her to the second dance,
what the frock had been meant for, and that she had put it on at his
request. And again athwart and around the room they went.
'You seem the bride!' he said.
'But I couldn't wear this gown to be married in now!' she replied,
ecstatically, 'or I shouldn't have put it on and made it dusty. It
is really too old-fashioned, and so folded and fretted out, you can't
think. That was with my taking it out so many times to look at. I
have never put it on--never--till now!'
'Selina, I am thinking of giving up the army. Will you emigrate with
me to New Zealand? I've an uncle out there doing well, and he'd soon
help me to making a larger income. The English army is glorious, but
it ain't altogether enriching.'
'Of course, anywhere that you decide upon. Is it healthy there for
'A lovely climate. And I shall never be happy in England . . . Aha!'
he concluded again, with a bitterness of unexpected strength, 'would
to Heaven I had come straight back here!'
As the dance brought round one neighbour after another the re-united
pair were thrown into juxtaposition with Bob Heartall among the rest
who had been called in; one whose chronic expression was that he
carried inside him a joke on the point of bursting with its own
vastness. He took occasion now to let out a little of its quality,
shaking his head at Selina as he addressed her in an undertone -
'This is a bit of a topper to the bridegroom, ho ho! 'Twill teach en
the liberty you'll expect when you've married en!'
'What does he mean by a "topper,"' the sergeant-major asked, who, not
being of local extraction, despised the venerable local language, and
also seemed to suppose 'bridegroom' to be an anticipatory name for
himself. 'I only hope I shall never be worse treated than you've
treated me to-night!'
Selina looked frightened. 'He didn't mean you, dear,' she said as
they moved on. 'We thought perhaps you knew what had happened, owing
to your coming just at this time. Had you--heard anything about--
what I intended?'
'Not a breath--how should I--away up in Yorkshire? It was by the
merest accident that I came just at this date to make peace with you
for my delay.'
'I was engaged to be married to Mr. Bartholomew Miller. That's what
it is! I would have let 'ee know by letter, but there was no time,
only hearing from 'ee this afternoon . . . You won't desert me for
it, will you, John? Because, as you know, I quite supposed you dead,
and--and--' Her eyes were full of tears of trepidation, and he might
have felt a sob heaving within her.
The soldier was silent during two or three double bars of the tune.
'When were you to have been married to the said Mr. Bartholomew
Miller?' he inquired.
'Next week--O yes--just the same as it was with you and me. There's
a strange fate of interruption hanging over me, I sometimes think!
He had bought the licence, which I preferred so that it mightn't be
like--ours. But it made no difference to the fate of it.'
'Had bought the licence! The devil!'
'Don't be angry, dear John. I didn't know!'
'No, no, I'm not angry.'
'It was so kind of him, considering!'
'Yes . . . I see, of course, how natural your action was--never
thinking of seeing me any more! Is it the Mr. Miller who is in this
Clark glanced round upon Bartholomew and was silent again, for some
little while, and she stole a look at him, to find that he seemed
changed. 'John, you look ill!' she almost sobbed. ''Tisn't me, is
'O dear, no. Though I hadn't, somehow, expected it. I can't find
fault with you for a moment--and I don't . . . This is a deuce of a
long dance, don't you think? We've been at it twenty minutes if a
second, and the figure doesn't allow one much rest. I'm quite out of
'They like them so dreadfully long here. Shall we drop out? Or I'll
stop the fiddler.'
'O no, no, I think I can finish. But although I look healthy enough
I have never been so strong as I formerly was, since that long
illness I had in the hospital at Scutari.'
'And I knew nothing about it!'
'You couldn't, dear, as I didn't write. What a fool I have been
altogether!' He gave a twitch, as of one in pain. 'I won't dance
again when this one is over. The fact is I have travelled a long way
to-day, and it seems to have knocked me up a bit.'
There could be no doubt that the sergeant-major was unwell, and
Selina made herself miserable by still believing that her story was
the cause of his ailment. Suddenly he said in a changed voice, and
she perceived that he was paler than ever: 'I must sit down.'
Letting go her waist he went quickly to the other room. She
followed, and found him in the nearest chair, his face bent down upon
his hands and arms, which were resting on the table.
'What's the matter?' said her father, who sat there dozing by the
'John isn't well . . . We are going to New Zealand when we are
married, father. A lovely country! John, would you like something
'A drop o' that Schiedam of old Owlett's, that's under stairs,
perhaps,' suggested her father. 'Not that nowadays 'tis much better
than licensed liquor.'
'John,' she said, putting her face close to his and pressing his arm.
'Will you have a drop of spirits or something?'
He did not reply, and Selina observed that his ear and the side of
his face were quite white. Convinced that his illness was serious, a
growing dismay seized hold of her. The dance ended; her mother came
in, and learning what had happened, looked narrowly at the sergeant-
'We must not let him lie like that, lift him up,' she said. 'Let him
rest in the window-bench on some cushions.'
They unfolded his arms and hands as they lay clasped upon the table,
and on lifting his head found his features to bear the very impress
of death itself. Bartholomew Miller, who had now come in, assisted
Mr. Paddock to make a comfortable couch in the window-seat, where
they stretched out Clark upon his back.
Still he seemed unconscious. 'We must get a doctor,' said Selina.
'O, my dear John, how is it you be taken like this?'
'My impression is that he's dead!' murmured Mr. Paddock. 'He don't
breathe enough to move a tomtit's feather.'
There were plenty to volunteer to go for a doctor, but as it would be
at least an hour before he could get there the case seemed somewhat
hopeless. The dancing-party ended as unceremoniously as it had
begun; but the guests lingered round the premises till the doctor
should arrive. When he did come the sergeant-major's extremities
were already cold, and there was no doubt that death had overtaken
him almost at the moment that he had sat down.
The medical practitioner quite refused to accept the unhappy Selina's
theory that her revelation had in any way induced Clark's sudden
collapse. Both he and the coroner afterwards, who found the
immediate cause to be heart-failure, held that such a supposition was
unwarranted by facts. They asserted that a long day's journey, a
hurried drive, and then an exhausting dance, were sufficient for such
a result upon a heart enfeebled by fatty degeneration after the
privations of a Crimean winter and other trying experiences, the
coincidence of the sad event with any disclosure of hers being a pure
This conclusion, however, did not dislodge Selina's opinion that the
shock of her statement had been the immediate stroke which had felled
a constitution so undermined.
At this date the Casterbridge Barracks were cavalry quarters, their
adaptation to artillery having been effected some years later. It
had been owing to the fact that the --th Dragoons, in which John
Clark had served, happened to be lying there that Selina made his
acquaintance. At the time of his death the barracks were occupied by
the Scots Greys, but when the pathetic circumstances of the sergeant-
major's end became known in the town the officers of the Greys
offered the services of their fine reed and brass band, that he might
have a funeral marked by due military honours. His body was
accordingly removed to the barracks, and carried thence to the
churchyard in the Durnover quarter on the following afternoon, one of
the Greys' most ancient and docile chargers being blacked up to
represent Clark's horse on the occasion.
Everybody pitied Selina, whose story was well known. She followed
the corpse as the only mourner, Clark having been without relations
in this part of the country, and a communication with his regiment
having brought none from a distance. She sat in a little shabby
brown-black mourning carriage, squeezing herself up in a corner to be
as much as possible out of sight during the slow and dramatic march
through the town to the tune from Saul. When the interment had taken
place, the volleys been fired, and the return journey begun, it was
with something like a shock that she found the military escort to be
moving at a quick march to the lively strains of 'Off she goes!' as
if all care for the sergeant-major was expected to be ended with the
late discharge of the carbines. It was, by chance, the very tune to
which they had been footing when he died, and unable to bear its
notes, she hastily told her driver to drop behind. The band and
military party diminished up the High Street, and Selina turned over
Swan bridge and homeward to Mellstock.
Then recommenced for her a life whose incidents were precisely of a
suit with those which had preceded the soldier's return; but how
different in her appreciation of them! Her narrow miss of the
recovered respectability they had hoped for from that tardy event
worked upon her parents as an irritant, and after the first week or
two of her mourning her life with them grew almost insupportable.
She had impulsively taken to herself the weeds of a widow, for such
she seemed to herself to be, and clothed little Johnny in sables
likewise. This assumption of a moral relationship to the deceased,
which she asserted to be only not a legal one by two most unexpected
accidents, led the old people to indulge in sarcasm at her expense
whenever they beheld her attire, though all the while it cost them
more pain to utter than it gave her to hear it. Having become
accustomed by her residence at home to the business carried on by her
father, she surprised them one day by going off with the child to
Chalk-Newton, in the direction of the town of Ivell, and opening a
miniature fruit and vegetable shop, attending Ivell market with her
produce. Her business grew somewhat larger, and it was soon
sufficient to enable her to support herself and the boy in comfort.
She called herself 'Mrs. John Clark' from the day of leaving home,
and painted the name on her signboard--no man forbidding her.
By degrees the pain of her state was forgotten in her new
circumstances, and getting to be generally accepted as the widow of a
sergeant-major of dragoons--an assumption which her modest and
mournful demeanour seemed to substantiate--her life became a placid
one, her mind being nourished by the melancholy luxury of dreaming
what might have been her future in New Zealand with John, if he had
only lived to take her there. Her only travels now were a journey to
Ivell on market-days, and once a fortnight to the churchyard in which
Clark lay, there to tend, with Johnny's assistance, as widows are
wont to do, the flowers she had planted upon his grave.
On a day about eighteen months after his unexpected decease, Selina
was surprised in her lodging over her little shop by a visit from
Bartholomew Miller. He had called on her once or twice before, on
which occasions he had used without a word of comment the name by
which she was known.
'I've come this time,' he said, 'less because I was in this direction
than to ask you, Mrs. Clark, what you mid well guess. I've come o'
purpose, in short.'
''Tis to ask me again to marry you?'
'Yes, of course. You see, his coming back for 'ee proved what I
always believed of 'ee, though others didn't. There's nobody but
would be glad to welcome you to our parish again, now you've showed
your independence and acted up to your trust in his promise. Well,
my dear, will you come?'
'I'd rather bide as Mrs. Clark, I think,' she answered. 'I am not
ashamed of my position at all; for I am John's widow in the eyes of
'I quite agree--that's why I've come. Still, you won't like to be
always straining at this shop-keeping and market-standing; and
'twould be better for Johnny if you had nothing to do but tend him.'
He here touched the only weak spot in Selina's resistance to his
proposal--the good of the boy. To promote that there were other men
she might have married offhand without loving them if they had asked
her to; but though she had known the worthy speaker from her youth,
she could not for the moment fancy herself happy as Mrs. Miller.
He paused awhile. 'I ought to tell 'ee, Mrs. Clark,' he said by and
by, 'that marrying is getting to be a pressing question with me. Not
on my own account at all. The truth is, that mother is growing old,
and I am away from home a good deal, so that it is almost necessary
there should be another person in the house with her besides me.
That's the practical consideration which forces me to think of taking
a wife, apart from my wish to take you; and you know there's nobody
in the world I care for so much.'
She said something about there being far better women than she, and
other natural commonplaces; but assured him she was most grateful to
him for feeling what he felt, as indeed she sincerely was. However,
Selina would not consent to be the useful third person in his
comfortable home--at any rate just then. He went away, after taking
tea with her, without discerning much hope for him in her good-bye.
After that evening she saw and heard nothing of him for a great
while. Her fortnightly journeys to the sergeant-major's grave were
continued, whenever weather did not hinder them; and Mr. Miller must
have known, she thought, of this custom of hers. But though the
churchyard was not nearly so far from his homestead as was her shop
at Chalk-Newton, he never appeared in the accidental way that lovers
An explanation was forthcoming in the shape of a letter from her
mother, who casually mentioned that Mr. Bartholomew Miller had gone
away to the other side of Shottsford-Forum to be married to a
thriving dairyman's daughter that he knew there. His chief motive,
it was reported, had been less one of love than a wish to provide a
companion for his aged mother.
Selina was practical enough to know that she had lost a good and
possibly the only opportunity of settling in life after what had
happened, and for a moment she regretted her independence. But she
became calm on reflection, and to fortify herself in her course
started that afternoon to tend the sergeant-major's grave, in which
she took the same sober pleasure as at first.
On reaching the churchyard and turning the corner towards the spot as
usual, she was surprised to perceive another woman, also apparently a
respectable widow, and with a tiny boy by her side, bending over
Clark's turf, and spudding up with the point of her umbrella some
ivy-roots that Selina had reverently planted there to form an
evergreen mantle over the mound.
'What are you digging up my ivy for!' cried Selina, rushing forward
so excitedly that Johnny tumbled over a grave with the force of the
tug she gave his hand in her sudden start.
'Your ivy?' said the respectable woman.
'Why yes! I planted it there--on my husband's grave.'
'Yes. The late Sergeant-Major Clark. Anyhow, as good as my husband,
for he was just going to be.'
'Indeed. But who may be my husband, if not he? I am the only Mrs.
John Clark, widow of the late Sergeant-Major of Dragoons, and this is
his only son and heir.'
'How can that be?' faltered Selina, her throat seeming to stick
together as she just began to perceive its possibility. 'He had
been--going to marry me twice--and we were going to New Zealand.'
'Ah!--I remember about you,' returned the legitimate widow calmly and
not unkindly. 'You must be Selina; he spoke of you now and then, and
said that his relations with you would always be a weight on his
conscience. Well; the history of my life with him is soon told.
When he came back from the Crimea he became acquainted with me at my
home in the north, and we were married within a month of first
knowing each other. Unfortunately, after living together a few
months, we could not agree; and after a particularly sharp quarrel,
in which, perhaps, I was most in the wrong--as I don't mind owning
here by his graveside--he went away from me, declaring he would buy
his discharge and emigrate to New Zealand, and never come back to me
any more. The next thing I heard was that he had died suddenly at
Mellstock at some low carouse; and as he had left me in such anger to
live no more with me, I wouldn't come down to his funeral, or do
anything in relation to him. 'Twas temper, I know, but that was the
fact. Even if we had parted friends it would have been a serious
expense to travel three hundred miles to get there, for one who
wasn't left so very well off . . . I am sorry I pulled up your ivy-
roots; but that common sort of ivy is considered a weed in my part of
A TRYST AT AN ANCIENT EARTH WORK
At one's every step forward it rises higher against the south sky,
with an obtrusive personality that compels the senses to regard it
and consider. The eyes may bend in another direction, but never
without the consciousness of its heavy, high-shouldered presence at
its point of vantage. Across the intervening levels the gale races
in a straight line from the fort, as if breathed out of it
hitherward. With the shifting of the clouds the faces of the steeps
vary in colour and in shade, broad lights appearing where mist and
vagueness had prevailed, dissolving in their turn into melancholy
gray, which spreads over and eclipses the luminous bluffs. In this
so-thought immutable spectacle all is change.
Out of the invisible marine region on the other side birds soar
suddenly into the air, and hang over the summits of the heights with
the indifference of long familiarity. Their forms are white against
the tawny concave of cloud, and the curves they exhibit in their
floating signify that they are sea-gulls which have journeyed inland
from expected stress of weather. As the birds rise behind the fort,
so do the clouds rise behind the birds, almost as it seems, stroking
with their bagging bosoms the uppermost flyers.
The profile of the whole stupendous ruin, as seen at a distance of a
mile eastward, is cleanly cut as that of a marble inlay. It is
varied with protuberances, which from hereabouts have the animal
aspect of warts, wens, knuckles, and hips. It may indeed be likened
to an enormous many-limbed organism of an antediluvian time--
partaking of the cephalopod in shape--lying lifeless, and covered
with a thin green cloth, which hides its substance, while revealing
its contour. This dull green mantle of herbage stretches down
towards the levels, where the ploughs have essayed for centuries to
creep up near and yet nearer to the base of the castle, but have
always stopped short before reaching it. The furrows of these
environing attempts show themselves distinctly, bending to the
incline as they trench upon it; mounting in steeper curves, till the
steepness baffles them, and their parallel threads show like the
striae of waves pausing on the curl. The peculiar place of which
these are some of the features is 'Mai-Dun,' 'The Castle of the Great
Hill,' said to be the Dunium of Ptolemy, the capital of the
Durotriges, which eventually came into Roman occupation, and was
finally deserted on their withdrawal from the island.
The evening is followed by a night on which an invisible moon bestows
a subdued, yet pervasive light--without radiance, as without
blackness. From the spot whereon I am ensconced in a cottage, a mile
away, the fort has now ceased to be visible; yet, as by day, to
anybody whose thoughts have been engaged with it and its barbarous
grandeurs of past time the form asserts its existence behind the
night gauzes as persistently as if it had a voice. Moreover, the
south-west wind continues to feed the intervening arable flats with
vapours brought directly from its sides.
The midnight hour for which there has been occasion to wait at length
arrives, and I journey towards the stronghold in obedience to a
request urged earlier in the day. It concerns an appointment, which
I rather regret my decision to keep now that night is come. The
route thither is hedgeless and treeless--I need not add deserted.
The moonlight is sufficient to disclose the pale riband-like surface
of the way as it trails along between the expanses of darker fallow.
Though the road passes near the fortress it does not conduct directly
to its fronts. As the place is without an inhabitant, so it is
without a trackway. So presently leaving the macadamized road to
pursue its course elsewhither, I step off upon the fallow, and plod
stumblingly across it. The castle looms out off the shade by
degrees, like a thing waking up and asking what I want there. It is
now so enlarged by nearness that its whole shape cannot be taken in
at one view. The ploughed ground ends as the rise sharpens, the
sloping basement of grass begins, and I climb upward to invade Mai-
Impressive by day as this largest Ancient-British work in the kingdom
undoubtedly is, its impressiveness is increased now. After standing
still and spending a few minutes in adding its age to its size, and
its size to its solitude, it becomes appallingly mournful in its
growing closeness. A squally wind blows in the face with an impact
which proclaims that the vapours of the air sail low to-night. The
slope that I so laboriously clamber up the wind skips sportively
down. Its track can be discerned even in this light by the
undulations of the withered grass-bents--the only produce of this
upland summit except moss. Four minutes of ascent, and a vantage-
ground of some sort is gained. It is only the crest of the outer
rampart. Immediately within this a chasm gapes; its bottom is
imperceptible, but the counterscarp slopes not too steeply to admit
of a sliding descent if cautiously performed. The shady bottom, dank
and chilly, is thus gained, and reveals itself as a kind of winding
lane, wide enough for a waggon to pass along, floored with rank
herbage, and trending away, right and left, into obscurity, between
the concentric walls of earth. The towering closeness of these on
each hand, their impenetrability, and their ponderousness, are felt
as a physical pressure. The way is now up the second of them, which
stands steeper and higher than the first. To turn aside, as did
Christian's companion, from such a Hill Difficulty, is the more
natural tendency; but the way to the interior is upward. There is,
of course, an entrance to the fortress; but that lies far off on the
other side. It might possibly have been the wiser course to seek for
easier ingress there.
However, being here, I ascend the second acclivity. The grass stems-
-the grey beard of the hill--sway in a mass close to my stooping
face. The dead heads of these various grasses--fescues, fox-tails,
and ryes--bob and twitch as if pulled by a string underground. From
a few thistles a whistling proceeds; and even the moss speaks, in its
humble way, under the stress of the blast.
That the summit of the second line of defence has been gained is
suddenly made known by a contrasting wind from a new quarter, coming
over with the curve of a cascade. These novel gusts raise a sound
from the whole camp or castle, playing upon it bodily as upon a harp.
It is with some difficulty that a foothold can be preserved under
their sweep. Looking aloft for a moment I perceive that the sky is
much more overcast than it has been hitherto, and in a few instants a
dead lull in what is now a gale ensues with almost preternatural
abruptness. I take advantage of this to sidle down the second
counterscarp, but by the time the ditch is reached the lull reveals
itself to be but the precursor of a storm. It begins with a heave of
the whole atmosphere, like the sigh of a weary strong man on turning
to re-commence unusual exertion, just as I stand here in the second
fosse. That which now radiates from the sky upon the scene is not so
much light as vaporous phosphorescence.
The wind, quickening, abandons the natural direction it has pursued
on the open upland, and takes the course of the gorge's length,
rushing along therein helter-skelter, and carrying thick rain upon
its back. The rain is followed by hailstones which fly through the
defile in battalions--rolling, hopping, ricochetting, snapping,
clattering down the shelving banks in an undefinable haze of
confusion. The earthen sides of the fosse seem to quiver under the
drenching onset, though it is practically no more to them than the
blows of Thor upon the giant of Jotun-land. It is impossible to
proceed further till the storm somewhat abates, and I draw up behind
a spur of the inner scarp, where possibly a barricade stood two
thousand years ago; and thus await events.
The roar of the storm can be heard travelling the complete circuit of
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