Part 1 out of 5
An Imaginative Woman
The Three Strangers
The Withered Arm
Interlopers at the Knap
The Distracted Preacher
An apology is perhaps needed for the neglect of contrast which is
shown by presenting two consecutive stories of hangmen in such a
small collection as the following. But in the neighbourhood of
county-towns tales of executions used to form a large proportion of
the local traditions; and though never personally acquainted with
any chief operator at such scenes, the writer of these pages had as
a boy the privilege of being on speaking terms with a man who
applied for the office, and who sank into an incurable melancholy
because he failed to get it, some slight mitigation of his grief
being to dwell upon striking episodes in the lives of those happier
ones who had held it with success and renown. His tale of
disappointment used to cause some wonder why his ambition should
have taken such an unfortunate form, but its nobleness was never
questioned. In those days, too, there was still living an old woman
who, for the cure of some eating disease, had been taken in her
youth to have her 'blood turned' by a convict's corpse, in the
manner described in 'The Withered Arm.'
Since writing this story some years ago I have been reminded by an
aged friend who knew 'Rhoda Brook' that, in relating her dream, my
forgetfulness has weakened the facts our of which the tale grew. In
reality it was while lying down on a hot afternoon that the incubus
oppressed her and she flung it off, with the results upon the body
of the original as described. To my mind the occurrence of such a
vision in the daytime is more impressive than if it had happened in
a midnight dream. Readers are therefore asked to correct the
misrelation, which affords an instance of how our imperfect memories
insensibly formalize the fresh originality of living fact--from
whose shape they slowly depart, as machine-made castings depart by
degrees from the sharp hand-work of the mould.
Among the many devices for concealing smuggled goods in caves and
pits of the earth, that of planting an apple-tree in a tray or box
which was placed over the mouth of the pit is, I believe, unique,
and it is detailed in one of the tales precisely as described by an
old carrier of 'tubs'--a man who was afterwards in my father's
employ for over thirty years. I never gathered from his
reminiscences what means were adopted for lifting the tree, which,
with its roots, earth, and receptacle, must have been of
considerable weight. There is no doubt, however, that the thing was
done through many years. My informant often spoke, too, of the
horribly suffocating sensation produced by the pair of spirit-tubs
slung upon the chest and back, after stumbling with the burden of
them for several miles inland over a rough country and in darkness.
He said that though years of his youth and young manhood were spent
in this irregular business, his profits from the same, taken all
together, did not average the wages he might have earned in a steady
employment, whilst the fatigues and risks were excessive.
I may add that the first story in the series turns upon a physical
possibility that may attach to women of imaginative temperament, and
that is well supported by the experiences of medical men and other
observers of such manifestations.
AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN
When William Marchmill had finished his inquiries for lodgings at a
well-known watering-place in Upper Wessex, he returned to the hotel
to find his wife. She, with the children, had rambled along the
shore, and Marchmill followed in the direction indicated by the
'By Jove, how far you've gone! I am quite out of breath,' Marchmill
said, rather impatiently, when he came up with his wife, who was
reading as she walked, the three children being considerably further
ahead with the nurse.
Mrs. Marchmill started out of the reverie into which the book had
thrown her. 'Yes,' she said, 'you've been such a long time. I was
tired of staying in that dreary hotel. But I am sorry if you have
wanted me, Will?'
'Well, I have had trouble to suit myself. When you see the airy and
comfortable rooms heard of, you find they are stuffy and
uncomfortable. Will you come and see if what I've fixed on will do?
There is not much room, I am afraid; hut I can light on nothing
better. The town is rather full.'
The pair left the children and nurse to continue their ramble, and
went back together.
In age well-balanced, in personal appearance fairly matched, and in
domestic requirements conformable, in temper this couple differed,
though even here they did not often clash, he being equable, if not
lymphatic, and she decidedly nervous and sanguine. It was to their
tastes and fancies, those smallest, greatest particulars, that no
common denominator could be applied. Marchmill considered his
wife's likes and inclinations somewhat silly; she considered his
sordid and material. The husband's business was that of a gunmaker
in a thriving city northwards, and his soul was in that business
always; the lady was best characterized by that superannuated phrase
of elegance 'a votary of the muse.' An impressionable, palpitating
creature was Ella, shrinking humanely from detailed knowledge of her
husband's trade whenever she reflected that everything he
manufactured had for its purpose the destruction of life. She could
only recover her equanimity by assuring herself that some, at least,
of his weapons were sooner or later used for the extermination of
horrid vermin and animals almost as cruel to their inferiors in
species as human beings were to theirs.
She had never antecedently regarded this occupation of his as any
objection to having him for a husband. Indeed, the necessity of
getting life-leased at all cost, a cardinal virtue which all good
mothers teach, kept her from thinking of it at all till she had
closed with William, had passed the honeymoon, and reached the
reflecting stage. Then, like a person who has stumbled upon some
object in the dark, she wondered what she had got; mentally walked
round it, estimated it; whether it were rare or common; contained
gold, silver, or lead; were a clog or a pedestal, everything to her
She came to some vague conclusions, and since then had kept her
heart alive by pitying her proprietor's obtuseness and want of
refinement, pitying herself, and letting off her delicate and
ethereal emotions in imaginative occupations, day-dreams, and night-
sighs, which perhaps would not much have disturbed William if he had
known of them.
Her figure was small, elegant, and slight in build, tripping, or
rather bounding, in movement. She was dark-eyed, and had that
marvellously bright and liquid sparkle in each pupil which
characterizes persons of Ella's cast of soul, and is too often a
cause of heartache to the possessor's male friends, ultimately
sometimes to herself. Her husband was a tall, long-featured man,
with a brown beard; he had a pondering regard; and was, it must be
added, usually kind and tolerant to her. He spoke in squarely
shaped sentences, and was supremely satisfied with a condition of
sublunary things which made weapons a necessity.
Husband and wife walked till they had reached the house they were in
search of, which stood in a terrace facing the sea, and was fronted
by a small garden of wind-proof and salt-proof evergreens, stone
steps leading up to the porch. It had its number in the row, but,
being rather larger than the rest, was in addition sedulously
distinguished as Coburg House by its landlady, though everybody else
called it 'Thirteen, New Parade.' The spot was bright and lively
now; but in winter it became necessary to place sandbags against the
door, and to stuff up the keyhole against the wind and rain, which
had worn the paint so thin that the priming and knotting showed
The householder, who bad been watching for the gentleman's return,
met them in the passage, and showed the rooms. She informed them
that she was a professional man's widow, left in needy circumstances
by the rather sudden death of her husband, and she spoke anxiously
of the conveniences of the establishment.
Mrs. Marchmill said that she liked the situation and the house; but,
it being small, there would not be accommodation enough, unless she
could have all the rooms.
The landlady mused with an air of disappointment. She wanted the
visitors to be her tenants very badly, she said, with obvious
honesty. But unfortunately two of the rooms were occupied
permanently by a bachelor gentleman. He did not pay season prices,
it was true; but as he kept on his apartments all the year round,
and was an extremely nice and interesting young man, who gave no
trouble, she did not like to turn him out for a month's 'let,' even
at a high figure. 'Perhaps, however,' she added, 'he might offer to
go for a time.'
They would not hear of this, and went back to the hotel, intending
to proceed to the agent's to inquire further. Hardly had they sat
down to tea when the landlady called. Her gentleman, she said, had
been so obliging as to offer to give up his rooms for three or four
weeks rather than drive the new-comers away.
'It is very kind, but we won't inconvenience him in that way,' said
'O, it won't inconvenience him, I assure you!' said the landlady
eloquently. 'You see, he's a different sort of young man from most-
-dreamy, solitary, rather melancholy--and he cares more to be here
when the south-westerly gales are beating against the door, and the
sea washes over the Parade, and there's not a soul in the place,
than he does now in the season. He'd just as soon be where, in
fact, he's going temporarily, to a little cottage on the Island
opposite, for a change.' She hoped therefore that they would come.
The Marchmill family accordingly took possession of the house next
day, and it seemed to suit them very well. After luncheon Mr.
Marchmill strolled out towards the pier, and Mrs. Marchmill, having
despatched the children to their outdoor amusements on the sands,
settled herself in more completely, examining this and that article,
and testing the reflecting powers of the mirror in the wardrobe
In the small back sitting-room, which had been the young bachelor's,
she found furniture of a more personal nature than in the rest.
Shabby books, of correct rather than rare editions, were piled up in
a queerly reserved manner in corners, as if the previous occupant
had not conceived the possibility that any incoming person of the
season's bringing could care to look inside them. The landlady
hovered on the threshold to rectify anything that Mrs. Marchmill
might not find to her satisfaction.
'I'll make this my own little room,' said the latter, 'because the
books are here. By the way, the person who has left seems to have a
good many. He won't mind my reading some of them, Mrs. Hooper, I
'O dear no, ma'am. Yes, he has a good many. You see, he is in the
literary line himself somewhat. He is a poet--yes, really a poet--
and he has a little income of his own, which is enough to write
verses on, but not enough for cutting a figure, even if he cared
'A poet! O, I did not know that.'
Mrs. Marchmill opened one of the books, and saw the owner's name
written on the title-page. 'Dear me!' she continued; 'I know his
name very well--Robert Trewe--of course I do; and his writings! And
it is HIS rooms we have taken, and HIM we have turned out of his
Ella Marchmill, sitting down alone a few minutes later, thought with
interested surprise of Robert Trewe. Her own latter history will
best explain that interest. Herself the only daughter of a
struggling man of letters, she had during the last year or two taken
to writing poems, in an endeavour to find a congenial channel in
which to let flow her painfully embayed emotions, whose former
limpidity and sparkle seemed departing in the stagnation caused by
the routine of a practical household and the gloom of bearing
children to a commonplace father. These poems, subscribed with a
masculine pseudonym, had appeared in various obscure magazines, and
in two cases in rather prominent ones. In the second of the latter
the page which bore her effusion at the bottom, in smallish print,
bore at the top, in large print, a few verses on the same subject by
this very man, Robert Trewe. Both of them had, in fact, been struck
by a tragic incident reported in the daily papers, and had used it
simultaneously as an inspiration, the editor remarking in a note
upon the coincidence, and that the excellence of both poems prompted
him to give them together.
After that event Ella, otherwise 'John Ivy,' had watched with much
attention the appearance anywhere in print of verse bearing the
signature of Robert Trewe, who, with a man's unsusceptibility on the
question of sex, had never once thought of passing himself off as a
woman. To be sure, Mrs. Marchmill had satisfied herself with a sort
of reason for doing the contrary in her case; that nobody might
believe in her inspiration if they found that the sentiments came
from a pushing tradesman's wife, from the mother of three children
by a matter-of-fact small-arms manufacturer.
Trewe's verse contrasted with that of the rank and file of recent
minor poets in being impassioned rather than ingenious, luxuriant
rather than finished. Neither symboliste nor decadent, he was a
pessimist in so far as that character applies to a man who looks at
the worst contingencies as well as the best in the human condition.
Being little attracted by excellences of form and rhythm apart from
content, he sometimes, when feeling outran his artistic speed,
perpetrated sonnets in the loosely rhymed Elizabethan fashion, which
every right-minded reviewer said he ought not to have done.
With sad and hopeless envy, Ella Marchmill had often and often
scanned the rival poet's work, so much stronger as it always was
than her own feeble lines. She had imitated him, and her inability
to touch his level would send her into fits of despondency. Months
passed away thus, till she observed from the publishers' list that
Trewe had collected his fugitive pieces into a volume, which was
duly issued, and was much or little praised according to chance, and
had a sale quite sufficient to pay for the printing.
This step onward had suggested to John Ivy the idea of collecting
her pieces also, or at any rate of making up a book of her rhymes by
adding many in manuscript to the few that had seen the light, for
she had been able to get no great number into print. A ruinous
charge was made for costs of publication; a few reviews noticed her
poor little volume; but nobody talked of it, nobody bought it, and
it fell dead in a fortnight--if it had ever been alive.
The author's thoughts were diverted to another groove just then by
the discovery that she was going to have a third child, and the
collapse of her poetical venture had perhaps less effect upon her
mind than it might have done if she had been domestically
unoccupied. Her husband had paid the publisher's bill with the
doctor's, and there it all had ended for the time. But, though less
than a poet of her century, Ella was more than a mere multiplier of
her kind, and latterly she had begun to feel the old afflatus once
more. And now by an odd conjunction she found herself in the rooms
of Robert Trewe.
She thoughtfully rose from her chair and searched the apartment with
the interest of a fellow-tradesman. Yes, the volume of his own
verse was among the rest. Though quite familiar with its contents,
she read it here as if it spoke aloud to her, then called up Mrs.
Hooper, the landlady, for some trivial service, and inquired again
about the young man.
'Well, I'm sure you'd be interested in him, ma'am, if you could see
him, only he's so shy that I don't suppose you will.' Mrs. Hooper
seemed nothing loth to minister to her tenant's curiosity about her
predecessor. 'Lived here long? Yes, nearly two years. He keeps on
his rooms even when he's not here: the soft air of this place suits
his chest, and he likes to be able to come back at any time. He is
mostly writing or reading, and doesn't see many people, though, for
the matter of that, he is such a good, kind young fellow that folks
would only be too glad to be friendly with him if they knew him.
You don't meet kind-hearted people every day.'
'Ah, he's kind-hearted . . . and good.'
'Yes; he'll oblige me in anything if I ask him. "Mr. Trewe," I say
to him sometimes, "you are rather out of spirits." "Well, I am,
Mrs. Hooper," he'll say, "though I don't know how you should find it
out." "Why not take a little change?" I ask. Then in a day or two
he'll say that he will take a trip to Paris, or Norway, or
somewhere; and I assure you he comes back all the better for it.'
'Ah, indeed! His is a sensitive nature, no doubt.'
'Yes. Still he's odd in some things. Once when he had finished a
poem of his composition late at night he walked up and down the room
rehearsing it; and the floors being so thin--jerry-built houses, you
know, though I say it myself--he kept me awake up above him till I
wished him further . . . But we get on very well.'
This was but the beginning of a series of conversations about the
rising poet as the days went on. On one of these occasions Mrs.
Hooper drew Ella's attention to what she had not noticed before:
minute scribblings in pencil on the wall-paper behind the curtains
at the head of the bed.
'O! let me look,' said Mrs. Marchmill, unable to conceal a rush of
tender curiosity as she bent her pretty face close to the wall.
'These,' said Mrs. Hooper, with the manner of a woman who knew
things, 'are the very beginnings and first thoughts of his verses.
He has tried to rub most of them out, but you can read them still.
My belief is that he wakes up in the night, you know, with some
rhyme in his head, and jots it down there on the wall lest he should
forget it by the morning. Some of these very lines you see here I
have seen afterwards in print in the magazines. Some are newer;
indeed, I have not seen that one before. It must have been done
only a few days ago.'
'O yes! . . . '
Ella Marchmill flushed without knowing why, and suddenly wished her
companion would go away, now that the information was imparted. An
indescribable consciousness of personal interest rather than
literary made her anxious to read the inscription alone; and she
accordingly waited till she could do so, with a sense that a great
store of emotion would be enjoyed in the act.
Perhaps because the sea was choppy outside the Island, Ella's
husband found it much pleasanter to go sailing and steaming about
without his wife, who was a bad sailor, than with her. He did not
disdain to go thus alone on board the steamboats of the cheap-
trippers, where there was dancing by moonlight, and where the
couples would come suddenly down with a lurch into each other's
arms; for, as he blandly told her, the company was too mixed for him
to take her amid such scenes. Thus, while this thriving
manufacturer got a great deal of change and sea-air out of his
sojourn here, the life, external at least, of Ella was monotonous
enough, and mainly consisted in passing a certain number of hours
each day in bathing and walking up and down a stretch of shore. But
the poetic impulse having again waxed strong, she was possessed by
an inner flame which left her hardly conscious of what was
proceeding around her.
She had read till she knew by heart Trewe's last little volume of
verses, and spent a great deal of time in vainly attempting to rival
some of them, till, in her failure, she burst into tears. The
personal element in the magnetic attraction exercised by this
circumambient, unapproachable master of hers was so much stronger
than the intellectual and abstract that she could not understand it.
To be sure, she was surrounded noon and night by his customary
environment, which literally whispered of him to her at every
moment; but he was a man she had never seen, and that all that moved
her was the instinct to specialize a waiting emotion on the first
fit thing that came to hand did not, of course, suggest itself to
In the natural way of passion under the too practical conditions
which civilization has devised for its fruition, her husband's love
for her had not survived, except in the form of fitful friendship,
any more than, or even so much as, her own for him; and, being a
woman of very living ardours, that required sustenance of some sort,
they were beginning to feed on this chancing material, which was,
indeed, of a quality far better than chance usually offers.
One day the children had been playing hide-and-seek in a closet,
whence, in their excitement, they pulled out some clothing. Mrs.
Hooper explained that it belonged to Mr. Trewe, and hung it up in
the closet again. Possessed of her fantasy, Ella went later in the
afternoon, when nobody was in that part of the house, opened the
closet, unhitched one of the articles, a mackintosh, and put it on,
with the waterproof cap belonging to it.
'The mantle of Elijah!' she said. 'Would it might inspire me to
rival him, glorious genius that he is!'
Her eyes always grew wet when she thought like that, and she turned
to look at herself in the glass. HIS heart had beat inside that
coat, and HIS brain had worked under that hat at levels of thought
she would never reach. The consciousness of her weakness beside him
made her feel quite sick. Before she had got the things off her the
door opened, and her husband entered the room.
'What the devil--'
She blushed, and removed them
'I found them in the closet here,' she said, 'and put them on in a
freak. What have I else to do? You are always away!'
'Always away? Well . . . '
That evening she had a further talk with the landlady, who might
herself have nourished a half-tender regard for the poet, so ready
was she to discourse ardently about him.
'You are interested in Mr. Trewe, I know, ma'am,' she said; 'and he
has just sent to say that he is going to call to-morrow afternoon to
look up some books of his that he wants, if I'll be in, and he may
select them from your room?'
'You could very well meet Mr Trewe then, if you'd like to be in the
She promised with secret delight, and went to bed musing of him.
Next morning her husband observed: 'I've been thinking of what you
said, Ell: that I have gone about a good deal and left you without
much to amuse you. Perhaps it's true. To-day, as there's not much
sea, I'll take you with me on board the yacht.'
For the first time in her experience of such an offer Ella was not
glad. But she accepted it for the moment. The time for setting out
drew near, and she went to get ready. She stood reflecting. The
longing to see the poet she was now distinctly in love with
overpowered all other considerations.
'I don't want to go,' she said to herself. 'I can't bear to be
away! And I won't go.'
She told her husband that she had changed her mind about wishing to
sail. He was indifferent, and went his way.
For the rest of the day the house was quiet, the children having
gone out upon the sands. The blinds waved in the sunshine to the
soft, steady stroke of the sea beyond the wall; and the notes of the
Green Silesian band, a troop of foreign gentlemen hired for the
season, had drawn almost all the residents and promenaders away from
the vicinity of Coburg House. A knock was audible at the door.
Mrs. Marchmill did not hear any servant go to answer it, and she
became impatient. The books were in the room where she sat; but
nobody came up. She rang the bell.
'There is some person waiting at the door,' she said.
'O no, ma'am! He's gone long ago. I answered it.'
Mrs. Hooper came in herself.
'So disappointing!' she said. 'Mr. Trewe not coming after all!'
'But I heard him knock, I fancy!'
'No; that was somebody inquiring for lodgings who came to the wrong
house. I forgot to tell you that Mr. Trewe sent a note just before
lunch to say I needn't get any tea for him, as he should not require
the books, and wouldn't come to select them.'
Ella was miserable, and for a long time could not even re-read his
mournful ballad on 'Severed Lives,' so aching was her erratic little
heart, and so tearful her eyes. When the children came in with wet
stockings, and ran up to her to tell her of their adventures, she
could not feel that she cared about them half as much as usual.
* * *
'Mrs. Hooper, have you a photograph of--the gentleman who lived
here?' She was getting to be curiously shy in mentioning his name.
'Why, yes. It's in the ornamental frame on the mantelpiece in your
own bedroom, ma'am.'
'No; the Royal Duke and Duchess are in that.'
'Yes, so they are; but he's behind them. He belongs rightly to that
frame, which I bought on purpose; but as he went away he said:
"Cover me up from those strangers that are coming, for God's sake.
I don't want them staring at me, and I am sure they won't want me
staring at them." So I slipped in the Duke and Duchess temporarily
in front of him, as they had no frame, and Royalties are more
suitable for letting furnished than a private young man. If you
take 'em out you'll see him under. Lord, ma'am, he wouldn't mind if
he knew it! He didn't think the next tenant would be such an
attractive lady as you, or he wouldn't have thought of hiding
'Is he handsome?' she asked timidly.
'_I_ call him so. Some, perhaps, wouldn't.'
'Should I?' she asked, with eagerness.
'I think you would, though some would say he's more striking than
handsome; a large-eyed thoughtful fellow, you know, with a very
electric flash in his eye when he looks round quickly, such as you'd
expect a poet to be who doesn't get his living by it.'
'How old is he?'
'Several years older than yourself, ma'am; about thirty-one or two,
Ella was, as a matter of fact, a few months over thirty herself; but
she did not look nearly so much. Though so immature in nature, she
was entering on that tract of life in which emotional women begin to
suspect that last love may be stronger than first love; and she
would soon, alas, enter on the still more melancholy tract when at
least the vainer ones of her sex shrink from receiving a male
visitor otherwise than with their backs to the window or the blinds
half down. She reflected on Mrs. Hooper's remark, and said no more
Just then a telegram was brought up. It came from her husband, who
had gone down the Channel as far as Budmouth with his friends in the
yacht, and would not be able to get back till next day.
After her light dinner Ella idled about the shore with the children
till dusk, thinking of the yet uncovered photograph in her room,
with a serene sense of something ecstatic to come. For, with the
subtle luxuriousness of fancy in which this young woman was an
adept, on learning that her husband was to be absent that night she
had refrained from incontinently rushing upstairs and opening the
picture-frame, preferring to reserve the inspection till she could
be alone, and a more romantic tinge be imparted to the occasion by
silence, candles, solemn sea and stars outside, than was afforded by
the garish afternoon sunlight.
The children had been sent to bed, and Ella soon followed, though it
was not yet ten o'clock. To gratify her passionate curiosity she
now made her preparations, first getting rid of superfluous garments
and putting on her dressing-gown, then arranging a chair in front of
the table and reading several pages of Trewe's tenderest utterances.
Then she fetched the portrait-frame to the light, opened the back,
took out the likeness, and set it up before her.
It was a striking countenance to look upon. The poet wore a
luxuriant black moustache and imperial, and a slouched hat which
shaded the forehead. The large dark eyes, described by the
landlady, showed an unlimited capacity for misery; they looked out
from beneath well-shaped brows as if they were reading the universe
in the microcosm of the confronter's face, and were not altogether
overjoyed at what the spectacle portended.
Ella murmured in her lowest, richest, tenderest tone: 'And it's YOU
who've so cruelly eclipsed me these many times!'
As she gazed long at the portrait she fell into thought, till her
eyes filled with tears, and she touched the cardboard with her lips.
Then she laughed with a nervous lightness, and wiped her eyes.
She thought how wicked she was, a woman having a husband and three
children, to let her mind stray to a stranger in this unconscionable
manner. No, he was not a stranger! She knew his thoughts and
feelings as well as she knew her own; they were, in fact, the self-
same thoughts and feelings as hers, which her husband distinctly
lacked; perhaps luckily for himself; considering that he had to
provide for family expenses.
'He's nearer my real self, he's more intimate with the real me than
Will is, after all, even though I've never seen him,' she said.
She laid his book and picture on the table at the bedside, and when
she was reclining on the pillow she re-read those of Robert Trewe's
verses which she had marked from time to time as most touching and
true. Putting these aside, she set up the photograph on its edge
upon the coverlet, and contemplated it as she lay. Then she scanned
again by the light of the candle the half-obliterated pencillings on
the wall-paper beside her head. There they were--phrases, couplets,
bouts-rimes, beginnings and middles of lines, ideas in the rough,
like Shelley's scraps, and the least of them so intense, so sweet,
so palpitating, that it seemed as if his very breath, warm and
loving, fanned her cheeks from those walls, walls that had
surrounded his head times and times as they surrounded her own now.
He must often have put up his hand so--with the pencil in it. Yes,
the writing was sideways, as it would be if executed by one who
extended his arm thus.
These inscribed shapes of the poet's world,
'Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of immortality,'
were, no doubt, the thoughts and spirit-strivings which had come to
him in the dead of night, when he could let himself go and have no
fear of the frost of criticism. No doubt they had often been
written up hastily by the light of the moon, the rays of the lamp,
in the blue-grey dawn, in full daylight perhaps never. And now her
hair was dragging where his arm had lain when he secured the
fugitive fancies; she was sleeping on a poet's lips, immersed in the
very essence of him, permeated by his spirit as by an ether.
While she was dreaming the minutes away thus, a footstep came upon
the stairs, and in a moment she heard her husband's heavy step on
the landing immediately without.
'Ell, where are you?'
What possessed her she could not have described, but, with an
instinctive objection to let her husband know what she had been
doing, she slipped the photograph under the pillow just as he flung
open the door, with the air of a man who had dined not badly.
'O, I beg pardon,' said William Marchmill. 'Have you a headache? I
am afraid I have disturbed you.'
'No, I've not got a headache,' said she. 'How is it you've come?'
'Well, we found we could get back in very good time after all, and I
didn't want to make another day of it, because of going somewhere
'Shall I come down again?'
'O no. I'm as tired as a dog. I've had a good feed, and I shall
turn in straight off. I want to get out at six o'clock to-morrow if
I can . . . I shan't disturb you by my getting up; it will be long
before you are awake.' And he came forward into the room.
While her eyes followed his movements, Ella softly pushed the
photograph further out of sight.
'Sure you're not ill?' he asked, bending over her.
'No, only wicked!'
'Never mind that.' And he stooped and kissed her.
Next morning Marchmill was called at six o'clock; and in waking and
yawning she heard him muttering to himself: 'What the deuce is this
that's been crackling under me so?' Imagining her asleep he
searched round him and withdrew something. Through her half-opened
eyes she perceived it to be Mr. Trewe.
'Well, I'm damned!' her husband exclaimed.
'What, dear?' said she.
'O, you are awake? Ha! ha!'
'What DO you mean?'
'Some bloke's photograph--a friend of our landlady's, I suppose. I
wonder how it came here; whisked off the table by accident perhaps
when they were making the bed.'
'I was looking at it yesterday, and it must have dropped in then.'
'O, he's a friend of yours? Bless his picturesque heart!'
Ella's loyalty to the object of her admiration could not endure to
hear him ridiculed. 'He's a clever man!' she said, with a tremor in
her gentle voice which she herself felt to be absurdly uncalled for.
'He is a rising poet--the gentleman who occupied two of these rooms
before we came, though I've never seen him.'
'How do you know, if you've never seen him?'
'Mrs. Hooper told me when she showed me the photograph.'
'O; well, I must up and be off. I shall be home rather early.
Sorry I can't take you to-day, dear. Mind the children don't go
That day Mrs. Marchmill inquired if Mr. Trewe were likely to call at
any other time.
'Yes,' said Mrs. Hooper. 'He's coming this day week to stay with a
friend near here till you leave. He'll be sure to call.'
Marchmill did return quite early in the afternoon; and, opening some
letters which had arrived in his absence, declared suddenly that he
and his family would have to leave a week earlier than they had
expected to do--in short, in three days.
'Surely we can stay a week longer?' she pleaded. 'I like it here.'
'I don't. It is getting rather slow.'
'Then you might leave me and the children!'
'How perverse you are, Ell! What's the use? And have to come to
fetch you! No: we'll all return together; and we'll make out our
time in North Wales or Brighton a little later on. Besides, you've
three days longer yet.'
It seemed to be her doom not to meet the man for whose rival talent
she had a despairing admiration, and to whose person she was now
absolutely attached. Yet she determined to make a last effort; and
having gathered from her landlady that Trewe was living in a lonely
spot not far from the fashionable town on the Island opposite, she
crossed over in the packet from the neighbouring pier the following
What a useless journey it was! Ella knew but vaguely where the
house stood, and when she fancied she had found it, and ventured to
inquire of a pedestrian if he lived there, the answer returned by
the man was that he did not know. And if he did live there, how
could she call upon him? Some women might have the assurance to do
it, but she had not. How crazy he would think her. She might have
asked him to call upon her, perhaps; but she had not the courage for
that, either. She lingered mournfully about the picturesque seaside
eminence till it was time to return to the town and enter the
steamer for recrossing, reaching home for dinner without having been
At the last moment, unexpectedly enough, her husband said that he
should have no objection to letting her and the children stay on
till the end of the week, since she wished to do so, if she felt
herself able to get home without him. She concealed the pleasure
this extension of time gave her; and Marchmill went off the next
But the week passed, and Trewe did not call.
On Saturday morning the remaining members of the Marchmill family
departed from the place which had been productive of so much fervour
in her. The dreary, dreary train; the sun shining in moted beams
upon the hot cushions; the dusty permanent way; the mean rows of
wire--these things were her accompaniment: while out of the window
the deep blue sea-levels disappeared from her gaze, and with them
her poet's home. Heavy-hearted, she tried to read, and wept
Mr. Marchmill was in a thriving way of business, and he and his
family lived in a large new house, which stood in rather extensive
grounds a few miles outside the city wherein he carried on his
trade. Ella's life was lonely here, as the suburban life is apt to
be, particularly at certain seasons; and she had ample time to
indulge her taste for lyric and elegiac composition. She had hardly
got back when she encountered a piece by Robert Trewe in the new
number of her favourite magazine, which must have been written
almost immediately before her visit to Solentsea, for it contained
the very couplet she had seen pencilled on the wallpaper by the bed,
and Mrs. Hooper had declared to be recent. Ella could resist no
longer, but seizing a pen impulsively, wrote to him as a brother-
poet, using the name of John Ivy, congratulating him in her letter
on his triumphant executions in metre and rhythm of thoughts that
moved his soul, as compared with her own brow-beaten efforts in the
same pathetic trade.
To this address there came a response in a few days, little as she
had dared to hope for it--a civil and brief note, in which the young
poet stated that, though he was not well acquainted with Mr. Ivy's
verse, he recalled the name as being one he had seen attached to
some very promising pieces; that he was glad to gain Mr. Ivy's
acquaintance by letter, and should certainly look with much interest
for his productions in the future.
There must have been something juvenile or timid in her own epistle,
as one ostensibly coming from a man, she declared to herself; for
Trewe quite adopted the tone of an elder and superior in this reply.
But what did it matter? he had replied; he had written to her with
his own hand from that very room she knew so well, for he was now
back again in his quarters.
The correspondence thus begun was continued for two months or more,
Ella Marchmill sending him from time to time some that she
considered to be the best of her pieces, which he very kindly
accepted, though he did not say he sedulously read them, nor did he
send her any of his own in return. Ella would have been more hurt
at this than she was if she had not known that Trewe laboured under
the impression that she was one of his own sex.
Yet the situation was unsatisfactory. A flattering little voice
told her that, were he only to see her, matters would be otherwise.
No doubt she would have helped on this by making a frank confession
of womanhood, to begin with, if something had not happened, to her
delight, to render it unnecessary. A friend of her husband's, the
editor of the most important newspaper in the city and county, who
was dining with them one day, observed during their conversation
about the poet that his (the editor's) brother the landscape-painter
was a friend of Mr. Trewe's, and that the two men were at that very
moment in Wales together.
Ella was slightly acquainted with the editor's brother. The next
morning down she sat and wrote, inviting him to stay at her house
for a short time on his way back, and requesting him to bring with
him, if practicable, his companion Mr. Trewe, whose acquaintance she
was anxious to make. The answer arrived after some few days. Her
correspondent and his friend Trewe would have much satisfaction in
accepting her invitation on their way southward, which would be on
such and such a day in the following week.
Ella was blithe and buoyant. Her scheme had succeeded; her beloved
though as yet unseen one was coming. "Behold, he standeth behind
our wall; he looked forth at the windows, showing himself through
the lattice," she thought ecstatically. "And, lo, the winter is
past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth,
the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the
turtle is heard in our land."
But it was necessary to consider the details of lodging and feeding
him. This she did most solicitously, and awaited the pregnant day
It was about five in the afternoon when she heard a ring at the door
and the editor's brother's voice in the hall. Poetess as she was,
or as she thought herself, she had not been too sublime that day to
dress with infinite trouble in a fashionable robe of rich material,
having a faint resemblance to the chiton of the Greeks, a style just
then in vogue among ladies of an artistic and romantic turn, which
had been obtained by Ella of her Bond Street dressmaker when she was
last in London. Her visitor entered the drawing-room. She looked
towards his rear; nobody else came through the door. Where, in the
name of the God of Love, was Robert Trewe?
'O, I'm sorry,' said the painter, after their introductory words had
been spoken. 'Trewe is a curious fellow, you know, Mrs. Marchmill.
He said he'd come; then he said he couldn't. He's rather dusty.
We've been doing a few miles with knapsacks, you know; and he wanted
to get on home.'
'He--he's not coming?'
'He's not; and he asked me to make his apologies.'
'When did you p-p-part from him?' she asked, her nether lip starting
off quivering so much that it was like a tremolo-stop opened in her
speech. She longed to run away from this dreadful bore and cry her
'Just now, in the turnpike road yonder there.'
'What! he has actually gone past my gates?'
'Yes. When we got to them--handsome gates they are, too, the finest
bit of modern wrought-iron work I have seen--when we came to them we
stopped, talking there a little while, and then he wished me good-
bye and went on. The truth is, he's a little bit depressed just
now, and doesn't want to see anybody. He's a very good fellow, and
a warm friend, but a little uncertain and gloomy sometimes; he
thinks too much of things. His poetry is rather too erotic and
passionate, you know, for some tastes; and he has just come in for a
terrible slating from the -- Review that was published yesterday; he
saw a copy of it at the station by accident. Perhaps you've read
'So much the better. O, it is not worth thinking of; just one of
those articles written to order, to please the narrow-minded set of
subscribers upon whom the circulation depends. But he's upset by
it. He says it is the misrepresentation that hurts him so; that,
though he can stand a fair attack, he can't stand lies that he's
powerless to refute and stop from spreading. That's just Trewe's
weak point. He lives so much by himself that these things affect
him much more than they would if he were in the bustle of
fashionable or commercial life. So he wouldn't come here, making
the excuse that it all looked so new and monied--if you'll pardon--'
'But--he must have known--there was sympathy here! Has he never
said anything about getting letters from this address?'
'Yes, yes, he has, from John Ivy--perhaps a relative of yours, he
thought, visiting here at the time?'
'Did he--like Ivy, did he say?'
'Well, I don't know that he took any great interest in Ivy.'
'Or in his poems?'
'Or in his poems--so far as I know, that is.'
Robert Trewe took no interest in her house, in her poems, or in
their writer. As soon as she could get away she went into the
nursery and tried to let off her emotion by unnecessarily kissing
the children, till she had a sudden sense of disgust at being
reminded how plain-looking they were, like their father.
The obtuse and single-minded landscape-painter never once perceived
from her conversation that it was only Trewe she wanted, and not
himself. He made the best of his visit, seeming to enjoy the
society of Ella's husband, who also took a great fancy to him, and
showed him everywhere about the neighbourhood, neither of them
noticing Ella's mood.
The painter had been gone only a day or two when, while sitting
upstairs alone one morning, she glanced over the London paper just
arrived, and read the following paragraph:-
'SUICIDE OF A POET
'Mr. Robert Trewe, who has been favourably known for some years as
one of our rising lyrists, committed suicide at his lodgings at
Solentsea on Saturday evening last by shooting himself in the right
temple with a revolver. Readers hardly need to be reminded that Mr.
Trewe has recently attracted the attention of a much wider public
than had hitherto known him, by his new volume of verse, mostly of
an impassioned kind, entitled "Lyrics to a Woman Unknown," which has
been already favourably noticed in these pages for the extraordinary
gamut of feeling it traverses, and which has been made the subject
of a severe, if not ferocious, criticism in the -- Review. It is
supposed, though not certainly known, that the article may have
partially conduced to the sad act, as a copy of the review in
question was found on his writing-table; and he has been observed to
be in a somewhat depressed state of mind since the critique
Then came the report of the inquest, at which the following letter
was read, it having been addressed to a friend at a distance:-
'DEAR -,--Before these lines reach your hands I shall be delivered
from the inconveniences of seeing, hearing, and knowing more of the
things around me. I will not trouble you by giving my reasons for
the step I have taken, though I can assure you they were sound and
logical. Perhaps had I been blessed with a mother, or a sister, or
a female friend of another sort tenderly devoted to me, I might have
thought it worth while to continue my present existence. I have
long dreamt of such an unattainable creature, as you know, and she,
this undiscoverable, elusive one, inspired my last volume; the
imaginary woman alone, for, in spite of what has been said in some
quarters, there is no real woman behind the title. She has
continued to the last unrevealed, unmet, unwon. I think it
desirable to mention this in order that no blame may attach to any
real woman as having been the cause of my decease by cruel or
cavalier treatment of me. Tell my landlady that I am sorry to have
caused her this unpleasantness; but my occupancy of the rooms will
soon be forgotten. There are ample funds in my name at the bank to
pay all expenses. R. TREWE.'
Ella sat for a while as if stunned, then rushed into the adjoining
chamber and flung herself upon her face on the bed.
Her grief and distraction shook her to pieces; and she lay in this
frenzy of sorrow for more than an hour. Broken words came every now
and then from her quivering lips: 'O, if he had only known of me--
known of me--me! . . . O, if I had only once met him--only once; and
put my hand upon his hot forehead--kissed him--let him know how I
loved him--that I would have suffered shame and scorn, would have
lived and died, for him! Perhaps it would have saved his dear life!
. . . But no--it was not allowed! God is a jealous God; and that
happiness was not for him and me!'
All possibilities were over; the meeting was stultified. Yet it was
almost visible to her in her fantasy even now, though it could never
be substantiated -
'The hour which might have been, yet might not be,
Which man's and woman's heart conceived and bore,
Yet whereof life was barren.'
She wrote to the landlady at Solentsea in the third person, in as
subdued a style as she could command, enclosing a postal order for a
sovereign, and informing Mrs. Hooper that Mrs. Marchmill had seen in
the papers the sad account of the poet's death, and having been, as
Mrs. Hooper was aware, much interested in Mr. Trewe during her stay
at Coburg House, she would be obliged if Mrs. Hooper could obtain a
small portion of his hair before his coffin was closed down, and
send it her as a memorial of him, as also the photograph that was in
By the return-post a letter arrived containing what had been
requested. Ella wept over the portrait and secured it in her
private drawer; the lock of hair she tied with white ribbon and put
in her bosom, whence she drew it and kissed it every now and then in
some unobserved nook.
'What's the matter?' said her husband, looking up from his newspaper
on one of these occasions. 'Crying over something? A lock of hair?
Whose is it?'
'He's dead!' she murmured.
'I don't want to tell you, Will, just now, unless you insist!' she
said, a sob hanging heavy in her voice.
'O, all right.'
'Do you mind my refusing? I will tell you some day.'
'It doesn't matter in the least, of course.'
He walked away whistling a few bars of no tune in particular; and
when he had got down to his factory in the city the subject came
into Marchmill's head again.
He, too, was aware that a suicide had taken place recently at the
house they had occupied at Solentsea. Having seen the volume of
poems in his wife's hand of late, and heard fragments of the
landlady's conversation about Trewe when they were her tenants, he
all at once said to himself; 'Why of course it's he! How the devil
did she get to know him? What sly animals women are!'
Then he placidly dismissed the matter, and went on with his daily
affairs. By this time Ella at home had come to a determination.
Mrs. Hooper, in sending the hair and photograph, had informed her of
the day of the funeral; and as the morning and noon wore on an
overpowering wish to know where they were laying him took possession
of the sympathetic woman. Caring very little now what her husband
or any one else might think of her eccentricities; she wrote
Marchmill a brief note, stating that she was called away for the
afternoon and evening, but would return on the following morning.
This she left on his desk, and having given the same information to
the servants, went out of the house on foot.
When Mr. Marchmill reached home early in the afternoon the servants
looked anxious. The nurse took him privately aside, and hinted that
her mistress's sadness during the past few days had been such that
she feared she had gone out to drown herself. Marchmill reflected.
Upon the whole he thought that she had not done that. Without
saying whither he was bound he also started off, telling them not to
sit up for him. He drove to the railway-station, and took a ticket
It was dark when he reached the place, though he had come by a fast
train, and he knew that if his wife had preceded him thither it
could only have been by a slower train, arriving not a great while
before his own. The season at Solentsea was now past: the parade
was gloomy, and the flys were few and cheap. He asked the way to
the Cemetery, and soon reached it. The gate was locked, but the
keeper let him in, declaring, however, that there was nobody within
the precincts. Although it was not late, the autumnal darkness had
now become intense; and he found some difficulty in keeping to the
serpentine path which led to the quarter where, as the man had told
him, the one or two interments for the day had taken place. He
stepped upon the grass, and, stumbling over some pegs, stooped now
and then to discern if possible a figure against the sky.
He could see none; but lighting on a spot where the soil was
trodden, beheld a crouching object beside a newly made grave. She
heard him, and sprang up.
'Ell, how silly this is!' he said indignantly. 'Running away from
home--I never heard such a thing! Of course I am not jealous of
this unfortunate man; but it is too ridiculous that you, a married
woman with three children and a fourth coming, should go losing your
head like this over a dead lover! . . . Do you know you were locked
in? You might not have been able to get out all night.'
She did not answer.
'I hope it didn't go far between you and him, for your own sake.'
'Don't insult me, Will.'
'Mind, I won't have any more of this sort of thing; do you hear?'
'Very well,' she said.
He drew her arm within his own, and conducted her out of the
Cemetery. It was impossible to get back that night; and not wishing
to be recognized in their present sorry condition, he took her to a
miserable little coffee-house close to the station, whence they
departed early in the morning, travelling almost without speaking,
under the sense that it was one of those dreary situations occurring
in married life which words could not mend, and reaching their own
door at noon.
The months passed, and neither of the twain ever ventured to start a
conversation upon this episode. Ella seemed to be only too
frequently in a sad and listless mood, which might almost have been
called pining. The time was approaching when she would have to
undergo the stress of childbirth for a fourth time, and that
apparently did not tend to raise her spirits.
'I don't think I shall get over it this time!' she said one day.
'Pooh! what childish foreboding! Why shouldn't it be as well now as
She shook her head. 'I feel almost sure I am going to die; and I
should be glad, if it were not for Nelly, and Frank, and Tiny.'
'You'll soon find somebody to fill my place,' she murmured, with a
sad smile. 'And you'll have a perfect right to; I assure you of
'Ell, you are not thinking still about that--poetical friend of
She neither admitted nor denied the charge. 'I am not going to get
over my illness this time,' she reiterated. 'Something tells me I
This view of things was rather a bad beginning, as it usually is;
and, in fact, six weeks later, in the month of May, she was lying in
her room, pulseless and bloodless, with hardly strength enough left
to follow up one feeble breath with another, the infant for whose
unnecessary life she was slowly parting with her own being fat and
well. Just before her death she spoke to Marchmill softly:-
'Will, I want to confess to you the entire circumstances of that--
about you know what--that time we visited Solentsea. I can't tell
what possessed me--how I could forget you so, my husband! But I had
got into a morbid state: I thought you had been unkind; that you
had neglected me; that you weren't up to my intellectual level,
while he was, and far above it. I wanted a fuller appreciator,
perhaps, rather than another lover--'
She could get no further then for very exhaustion; and she went off
in sudden collapse a few hours later, without having said anything
more to her husband on the subject of her love for the poet.
William Marchmill, in truth, like most husbands of several years'
standing, was little disturbed by retrospective jealousies, and had
not shown the least anxiety to press her for confessions concerning
a man dead and gone beyond any power of inconveniencing him more.
But when she had been buried a couple of years it chanced one day
that, in turning over some forgotten papers that he wished to
destroy before his second wife entered the house, he lighted on a
lock of hair in an envelope, with the photograph of the deceased
poet, a date being written on the back in his late wife's hand. It
was that of the time they spent at Solentsea.
Marchmill looked long and musingly at the hair and portrait, for
something struck him. Fetching the little boy who had been the
death of his mother, now a noisy toddler, he took him on his knee,
held the lock of hair against the child's head, and set up the
photograph on the table behind, so that he could closely compare the
features each countenance presented. There were undoubtedly strong
traces of resemblance; the dreamy and peculiar expression of the
poet's face sat, as the transmitted idea, upon the child's, and the
hair was of the same hue.
'I'm damned if I didn't think so!' murmured Marchmill. 'Then she
DID play me false with that fellow at the lodgings! Let me see:
the dates--the second week in August . . . the third week in May . .
. Yes . . . yes . . . Get away, you poor little brat! You are
nothing to me!'
THE THREE STRANGERS
Among the few features of agricultural England which retain an
appearance but little modified by the lapse of centuries, may be
reckoned the high, grassy and furzy downs, coombs, or ewe-leases, as
they are indifferently called, that fill a large area of certain
counties in the south and south-west. If any mark of human
occupation is met with hereon, it usually takes the form of the
solitary cottage of some shepherd.
Fifty years ago such a lonely cottage stood on such a down, and may
possibly be standing there now. In spite of its loneliness,
however, the spot, by actual measurement, was not more than five
miles from a county-town. Yet that affected it little. Five miles
of irregular upland, during the long inimical seasons, with their
sleets, snows, rains, and mists, afford withdrawing space enough to
isolate a Timon or a Nebuchadnezzar; much less, in fair weather, to
please that less repellent tribe, the poets, philosophers, artists,
and others who 'conceive and meditate of pleasant things.'
Some old earthen camp or barrow, some clump of trees, at least some
starved fragment of ancient hedge is usually taken advantage of in
the erection of these forlorn dwellings. But, in the present case,
such a kind of shelter had been disregarded. Higher Crowstairs, as
the house was called, stood quite detached and undefended. The only
reason for its precise situation seemed to be the crossing of two
footpaths at right angles hard by, which may have crossed there and
thus for a good five hundred years. Hence the house was exposed to
the elements on all sides. But, though the wind up here blew
unmistakably when it did blow, and the rain hit hard whenever it
fell, the various weathers of the winter season were not quite so
formidable on the coomb as they were imagined to be by dwellers on
low ground. The raw rimes were not so pernicious as in the hollows,
and the frosts were scarcely so severe. When the shepherd and his
family who tenanted the house were pitied for their sufferings from
the exposure, they said that upon the whole they were less
inconvenienced by 'wuzzes and flames' (hoarses and phlegms) than
when they had lived by the stream of a snug neighbouring valley.
The night of March 28, 182-, was precisely one of the nights that
were wont to call forth these expressions of commiseration. The
level rainstorm smote walls, slopes, and hedges like the clothyard
shafts of Senlac and Crecy. Such sheep and outdoor animals as had
no shelter stood with their buttocks to the winds; while the tails
of little birds trying to roost on some scraggy thorn were blown
inside-out like umbrellas. The gable-end of the cottage was stained
with wet, and the eavesdroppings flapped against the wall. Yet
never was commiseration for the shepherd more misplaced. For that
cheerful rustic was entertaining a large party in glorification of
the christening of his second girl.
The guests had arrived before the rain began to fall, and they were
all now assembled in the chief or living room of the dwelling. A
glance into the apartment at eight o'clock on this eventful evening
would have resulted in the opinion that it was as cosy and
comfortable a nook as could be wished for in boisterous weather.
The calling of its inhabitant was proclaimed by a number of highly-
polished sheep-crooks without stems that were hung ornamentally over
the fireplace, the curl of each shining crook varying from the
antiquated type engraved in the patriarchal pictures of old family
Bibles to the most approved fashion of the last local sheep-fair.
The room was lighted by half-a-dozen candles, having wicks only a
trifle smaller than the grease which enveloped them, in candlesticks
that were never used but at high-days, holy-days, and family feasts.
The lights were scattered about the room, two of them standing on
the chimney-piece. This position of candles was in itself
significant. Candles on the chimney-piece always meant a party.
On the hearth, in front of a back-brand to give substance, blazed a
fire of thorns, that crackled 'like the laughter of the fool.'
Nineteen persons were gathered here. Of these, five women, wearing
gowns of various bright hues, sat in chairs along the wall; girls
shy and not shy filled the window-bench; four men, including Charley
Jake the hedge-carpenter, Elijah New the parish-clerk, and John
Pitcher, a neighbouring dairyman, the shepherd's father-in-law,
lolled in the settle; a young man and maid, who were blushing over
tentative pourparlers on a life-companionship, sat beneath the
corner-cupboard; and an elderly engaged man of fifty or upward moved
restlessly about from spots where his betrothed was not to the spot
where she was. Enjoyment was pretty general, and so much the more
prevailed in being unhampered by conventional restrictions.
Absolute confidence in each other's good opinion begat perfect ease,
while the finishing stroke of manner, amounting to a truly princely
serenity, was lent to the majority by the absence of any expression
or trait denoting that they wished to get on in the world, enlarge
their minds, or do any eclipsing thing whatever--which nowadays so
generally nips the bloom and bonhomie of all except the two extremes
of the social scale.
Shepherd Fennel had married well, his wife being a dairyman's
daughter from a vale at a distance, who brought fifty guineas in her
pocket--and kept them there, till they should be required for
ministering to the needs of a coming family. This frugal woman had
been somewhat exercised as to the character that should be given to
the gathering. A sit-still party had its advantages; but an
undisturbed position of ease in chairs and settles was apt to lead
on the men to such an unconscionable deal of toping that they would
sometimes fairly drink the house dry. A dancing-party was the
alternative; but this, while avoiding the foregoing objection on the
score of good drink, had a counterbalancing disadvantage in the
matter of good victuals, the ravenous appetites engendered by the
exercise causing immense havoc in the buttery. Shepherdess Fennel
fell back upon the intermediate plan of mingling short dances with
short periods of talk and singing, so as to hinder any ungovernable
rage in either. But this scheme was entirely confined to her own
gentle mind: the shepherd himself was in the mood to exhibit the
most reckless phases of hospitality.
The fiddler was a boy of those parts, about twelve years of age, who
had a wonderful dexterity in jigs and reels, though his fingers were
so small and short as to necessitate a constant shifting for the
high notes, from which he scrambled back to the first position with
sounds not of unmixed purity of tone. At seven the shrill tweedle-
dee of this youngster had begun, accompanied by a booming ground-
bass from Elijah New, the parish-clerk, who had thoughtfully brought
with him his favourite musical instrument, the serpent. Dancing was
instantaneous, Mrs. Fennel privately enjoining the players on no
account to let the dance exceed the length of a quarter of an hour.
But Elijah and the boy, in the excitement of their position, quite
forgot the injunction. Moreover, Oliver Giles, a man of seventeen,
one of the dancers, who was enamoured of his partner, a fair girl of
thirty-three rolling years, had recklessly handed a new crown-piece
to the musicians, as a bribe to keep going as long as they had
muscle and wind. Mrs. Fennel, seeing the steam begin to generate on
the countenances of her guests, crossed over and touched the
fiddler's elbow and put her hand on the serpent's mouth. But they
took no notice, and fearing she might lose her character of genial
hostess if she were to interfere too markedly, she retired and sat
down helpless. And so the dance whizzed on with cumulative fury,
the performers moving in their planet-like courses, direct and
retrograde, from apogee to perigee, till the hand of the well-kicked
clock at the bottom of the room had travelled over the circumference
of an hour.
While these cheerful events were in course of enactment within
Fennel's pastoral dwelling, an incident having considerable bearing
on the party had occurred in the gloomy night without. Mrs.
Fennel's concern about the growing fierceness of the dance
corresponded in point of time with the ascent of a human figure to
the solitary hill of Higher Crowstairs from the direction of the
distant town. This personage strode on through the rain without a
pause, following the little-worn path which, further on in its
course, skirted the shepherd's cottage.
It was nearly the time of full moon, and on this account, though the
sky was lined with a uniform sheet of dripping cloud, ordinary
objects out of doors were readily visible. The sad wan light
revealed the lonely pedestrian to be a man of supple frame; his gait
suggested that he had somewhat passed the period of perfect and
instinctive agility, though not so far as to be otherwise than rapid
of motion when occasion required. At a rough guess, he might have
been about forty years of age. He appeared tall, but a recruiting
sergeant, or other person accustomed to the judging of men's heights
by the eye, would have discerned that this was chiefly owing to his
gauntness, and that he was not more than five-feet-eight or nine.
Notwithstanding the regularity of his tread, there was caution in
it, as in that of one who mentally feels his way; and despite the
fact that it was not a black coat nor a dark garment of any sort
that he wore, there was something about him which suggested that he
naturally belonged to the black-coated tribes of men. His clothes
were of fustian, and his boots hobnailed, yet in his progress he
showed not the mud-accustomed bearing of hobnailed and fustianed
By the time that he had arrived abreast of the shepherd's premises
the rain came down, or rather came along, with yet more determined
violence. The outskirts of the little settlement partially broke
the force of wind and rain, and this induced him to stand still.
The most salient of the shepherd's domestic erections was an empty
sty at the forward corner of his hedgeless garden, for in these
latitudes the principle of masking the homelier features of your
establishment by a conventional frontage was unknown. The
traveller's eye was attracted to this small building by the pallid
shine of the wet slates that covered it. He turned aside, and,
finding it empty, stood under the pent-roof for shelter.
While he stood, the boom of the serpent within the adjacent house,
and the lesser strains of the fiddler, reached the spot as an
accompaniment to the surging hiss of the flying rain on the sod, its
louder beating on the cabbage-leaves of the garden, on the eight or
ten beehives just discernible by the path, and its dripping from the
eaves into a row of buckets and pans that had been placed under the
walls of the cottage. For at Higher Crowstairs, as at all such
elevated domiciles, the grand difficulty of housekeeping was an
insufficiency of water; and a casual rainfall was utilized by
turning out, as catchers, every utensil that the house contained.
Some queer stories might be told of the contrivances for economy in
suds and dish-waters that are absolutely necessitated in upland
habitations during the droughts of summer. But at this season there
were no such exigencies; a mere acceptance of what the skies
bestowed was sufficient for an abundant store.
At last the notes of the serpent ceased and the house was silent.
This cessation of activity aroused the solitary pedestrian from the
reverie into which he had lapsed, and, emerging from the shed, with
an apparently new intention, he walked up the path to the house-
door. Arrived here, his first act was to kneel down on a large
stone beside the row of vessels, and to drink a copious draught from
one of them. Having quenched his thirst he rose and lifted his hand
to knock, but paused with his eye upon the panel. Since the dark
surface of the wood revealed absolutely nothing, it was evident that
he must be mentally looking through the door, as if he wished to
measure thereby all the possibilities that a house of this sort
might include, and how they might bear upon the question of his
In his indecision he turned and surveyed the scene around. Not a
soul was anywhere visible. The garden-path stretched downward from
his feet, gleaming like the track of a snail; the roof of the little
well (mostly dry), the well-cover, the top rail of the garden-gate,
were varnished with the same dull liquid glaze; while, far away in
the vale, a faint whiteness of more than usual extent showed that
the rivers were high in the meads. Beyond all this winked a few
bleared lamplights through the beating drops--lights that denoted
the situation of the county-town from which he had appeared to come.
The absence of all notes of life in that direction seemed to clinch
his intentions, and he knocked at the door.
Within, a desultory chat had taken the place of movement and musical
sound. The hedge-carpenter was suggesting a song to the company,
which nobody just then was inclined to undertake, so that the knock
afforded a not unwelcome diversion.
'Walk in!' said the shepherd promptly.
The latch clicked upward, and out of the night our pedestrian
appeared upon the door-mat. The shepherd arose, snuffed two of the
nearest candles, and turned to look at him.
Their light disclosed that the stranger was dark in complexion and
not unprepossessing as to feature. His hat, which for a moment he
did not remove, hung low over his eyes, without concealing that they
were large, open, and determined, moving with a flash rather than a
glance round the room. He seemed pleased with his survey, and,
baring his shaggy head, said, in a rich deep voice, 'The rain is so
heavy, friends, that I ask leave to come in and rest awhile.'
'To be sure, stranger,' said the shepherd. 'And faith, you've been
lucky in choosing your time, for we are having a bit of a fling for
a glad cause--though, to be sure, a man could hardly wish that glad
cause to happen more than once a year.'
'Nor less,' spoke up a woman. 'For 'tis best to get your family
over and done with, as soon as you can, so as to be all the earlier
out of the fag o't.'
'And what may be this glad cause?' asked the stranger.
'A birth and christening,' said the shepherd.
The stranger hoped his host might not be made unhappy either by too
many or too few of such episodes, and being invited by a gesture to
a pull at the mug, he readily acquiesced. His manner, which, before
entering, had been so dubious, was now altogether that of a careless
and candid man.
'Late to be traipsing athwart this coomb--hey?' said the engaged man
'Late it is, master, as you say.--I'll take a seat in the chimney-
corner, if you have nothing to urge against it, ma'am; for I am a
little moist on the side that was next the rain.'
Mrs. Shepherd Fennel assented, and made room for the self-invited
comer, who, having got completely inside the chimney-corner,
stretched out his legs and his arms with the expansiveness of a
person quite at home.
'Yes, I am rather cracked in the vamp,' he said freely, seeing that
the eyes of the shepherd's wife fell upon his boots, 'and I am not
well fitted either. I have had some rough times lately, and have
been forced to pick up what I can get in the way of wearing, but I
must find a suit better fit for working-days when I reach home.'
'One of hereabouts?' she inquired.
'Not quite that--further up the country.'
'I thought so. And so be I; and by your tongue you come from my
'But you would hardly have heard of me,' he said quickly. 'My time
would be long before yours, ma'am, you see.'
This testimony to the youthfulness of his hostess had the effect of
stopping her cross-examination.
'There is only one thing more wanted to make me happy,' continued
the new-comer. 'And that is a little baccy, which I am sorry to say
I am out of.'
'I'll fill your pipe,' said the shepherd.
'I must ask you to lend me a pipe likewise.'
'A smoker, and no pipe about 'ee?'
'I have dropped it somewhere on the road.'
The shepherd filled and handed him a new clay pipe, saying, as he
did so, 'Hand me your baccy-box--I'll fill that too, now I am about
The man went through the movement of searching his pockets.
'Lost that too?' said his entertainer, with some surprise.
'I am afraid so,' said the man with some confusion. 'Give it to me
in a screw of paper.' Lighting his pipe at the candle with a
suction that drew the whole flame into the bowl, he resettled
himself in the corner and bent his looks upon the faint steam from
his damp legs, as if he wished to say no more.
Meanwhile the general body of guests had been taking little notice
of this visitor by reason of an absorbing discussion in which they
were engaged with the band about a tune for the next dance. The
matter being settled, they were about to stand up when an
interruption came in the shape of another knock at the door.
At sound of the same the man in the chimney-corner took up the poker
and began stirring the brands as if doing it thoroughly were the one
aim of his existence; and a second time the shepherd said, 'Walk
in!' In a moment another man stood upon the straw-woven door-mat.
He too was a stranger.
This individual was one of a type radically different from the
first. There was more of the commonplace in his manner, and a
certain jovial cosmopolitanism sat upon his features. He was
several years older than the first arrival, his hair being slightly
frosted, his eyebrows bristly, and his whiskers cut back from his
cheeks. His face was rather full and flabby, and yet it was not
altogether a face without power. A few grog-blossoms marked the
neighbourhood of his nose. He flung back his long drab greatcoat,
revealing that beneath it he wore a suit of cinder-gray shade
throughout, large heavy seals, of some metal or other that would
take a polish, dangling from his fob as his only personal ornament.
Shaking the water-drops from his low-crowned glazed hat, he said, 'I
must ask for a few minutes' shelter, comrades, or I shall be wetted
to my skin before I get to Casterbridge.'
'Make yourself at home, master,' said the shepherd, perhaps a trifle
less heartily than on the first occasion. Not that Fennel had the
least tinge of niggardliness in his composition; but the room was
far from large, spare chairs were not numerous, and damp companions
were not altogether desirable at close quarters for the women and
girls in their bright-coloured gowns.
However, the second comer, after taking off his greatcoat, and
hanging his hat on a nail in one of the ceiling-beams as if he had
been specially invited to put it there, advanced and sat down at the
table. This had been pushed so closely into the chimney-corner, to
give all available room to the dancers, that its inner edge grazed
the elbow of the man who had ensconced himself by the fire; and thus
the two strangers were brought into close companionship. They
nodded to each other by way of breaking the ice of unacquaintance,
and the first stranger handed his neighbour the family mug--a huge
vessel of brown ware, having its upper edge worn away like a
threshold by the rub of whole generations of thirsty lips that had
gone the way of all flesh, and bearing the following inscription
burnt upon its rotund side in yellow letters
THERE IS NO FUN
UNTiLL i CUM.
The other man, nothing loth, raised the mug to his lips, and drank
on, and on, and on--till a curious blueness overspread the
countenance of the shepherd's wife, who had regarded with no little
surprise the first stranger's free offer to the second of what did
not belong to him to dispense.
'I knew it!' said the toper to the shepherd with much satisfaction.
'When I walked up your garden before coming in, and saw the hives
all of a row, I said to myself; "Where there's bees there's honey,
and where there's honey there's mead." But mead of such a truly
comfortable sort as this I really didn't expect to meet in my older
days.' He took yet another pull at the mug, till it assumed an
'Glad you enjoy it!' said the shepherd warmly.
'It is goodish mead,' assented Mrs. Fennel, with an absence of
enthusiasm which seemed to say that it was possible to buy praise
for one's cellar at too heavy a price. 'It is trouble enough to
make--and really I hardly think we shall make any more. For honey
sells well, and we ourselves can make shift with a drop o' small
mead and metheglin for common use from the comb-washings."
'O, but you'll never have the heart!' reproachfully cried the
stranger in cinder-gray, after taking up the mug a third time and
setting it down empty. 'I love mead, when 'tis old like this, as I
love to go to church o' Sundays, or to relieve the needy any day of
'Ha, ha, ha!' said the man in the chimney-corner, who, in spite of
the taciturnity induced by the pipe of tobacco, could not or would
not refrain from this slight testimony to his comrade's humour.
Now the old mead of those days, brewed of the purest first-year or
maiden honey, four pounds to the gallon--with its due complement of
white of eggs, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, rosemary, yeast, and
processes of working, bottling, and cellaring--tasted remarkably
strong; but it did not taste so strong as it actually was. Hence,
presently, the stranger in cinder-gray at the table, moved by its
creeping influence, unbuttoned his waistcoat, threw himself back in
his chair, spread his legs, and made his presence felt in various
'Well, well, as I say,' he resumed, 'I am going to Casterbridge, and
to Casterbridge I must go. I should have been almost there by this
time; but the rain drove me into your dwelling, and I'm not sorry
'You don't live in Casterbridge?' said the shepherd.
'Not as yet; though I shortly mean to move there.'
'Going to set up in trade, perhaps?'
'No, no,' said the shepherd's wife. 'It is easy to see that the
gentleman is rich, and don't want to work at anything.'
The cinder-gray stranger paused, as if to consider whether he would
accept that definition of himself. He presently rejected it by
answering, 'Rich is not quite the word for me, dame. I do work, and
I must work. And even if I only get to Casterbridge by midnight I
must begin work there at eight to-morrow morning. Yes, het or wet,
blow or snow, famine or sword, my day's work to-morrow must be
'Poor man! Then, in spite o' seeming, you be worse off than we?'
replied the shepherd's wife.
''Tis the nature of my trade, men and maidens. 'Tis the nature of
my trade more than my poverty . . . But really and truly I must up
and off, or I shan't get a lodging in the town.' However, the
speaker did not move, and directly added, 'There's time for one more
draught of friendship before I go; and I'd perform it at once if the
mug were not dry.'
'Here's a mug o' small,' said Mrs. Fennel. 'Small, we call it,
though to be sure 'tis only the first wash o' the combs.'
'No,' said the stranger disdainfully. 'I won't spoil your first
kindness by partaking o' your second.'
'Certainly not,' broke in Fennel. 'We don't increase and multiply
every day, and I'll fill the mug again.' He went away to the dark
place under the stairs where the barrel stood. The shepherdess
'Why should you do this?' she said reproachfully, as soon as they
were alone. 'He's emptied it once, though it held enough for ten
people; and now he's not contented wi' the small, but must needs
call for more o' the strong! And a stranger unbeknown to any of us.
For my part, I don't like the look o' the man at all.'
'But he's in the house, my honey; and 'tis a wet night, and a
christening. Daze it, what's a cup of mead more or less? There'll
be plenty more next bee-burning.'
'Very well--this time, then,' she answered, looking wistfully at the
barrel. 'But what is the man's calling, and where is he one of;
that he should come in and join us like this?'
'I don't know. I'll ask him again.'
The catastrophe of having the mug drained dry at one pull by the
stranger in cinder-gray was effectually guarded against this time by
Mrs. Fennel. She poured out his allowance in a small cup, keeping
the large one at a discreet distance from him. When he had tossed
off his portion the shepherd renewed his inquiry about the
The latter did not immediately reply, and the man in the chimney-
corner, with sudden demonstrativeness, said, 'Anybody may know my
trade--I'm a wheelwright.'
'A very good trade for these parts,' said the shepherd.
'And anybody may know mine--if they've the sense to find it out,'
said the stranger in cinder-gray.
'You may generally tell what a man is by his claws,' observed the
hedge-carpenter, looking at his own hands. 'My fingers be as full
of thorns as an old pin-cushion is of pins.'
The hands of the man in the chimney-corner instinctively sought the
shade, and he gazed into the fire as he resumed his pipe. The man
at the table took up the hedge-carpenter's remark, and added
smartly, 'True; but the oddity of my trade is that, instead of
setting a mark upon me, it sets a mark upon my customers.'
No observation being offered by anybody in elucidation of this
enigma, the shepherd's wife once more called for a song. The same
obstacles presented themselves as at the former time--one had no
voice, another had forgotten the first verse. The stranger at the
table, whose soul had now risen to a good working temperature,
relieved the difficulty by exclaiming that, to start the company, he
would sing himself. Thrusting one thumb into the arm-hole of his
waistcoat, he waved the other hand in the air, and, with an
extemporizing gaze at the shining sheep-crooks above the
'O my trade it is the rarest one,
Simple shepherds all -
My trade is a sight to see;
For my customers I tie, and take them up on high,
And waft 'em to a far countree!'
The room was silent when he had finished the verse--with one
exception, that of the man in the chimney-corner, who, at the
singer's word, 'Chorus! 'joined him in a deep bass voice of musical
'And waft 'em to a far countree!'
Oliver Giles, John Pitcher the dairyman, the parish-clerk, the
engaged man of fifty, the row of young women against the wall,
seemed lost in thought not of the gayest kind. The shepherd looked
meditatively on the ground, the shepherdess gazed keenly at the
singer, and with some suspicion; she was doubting whether this
stranger were merely singing an old song from recollection, or was
composing one there and then for the occasion. All were as
perplexed at the obscure revelation as the guests at Belshazzar's
Feast, except the man in the chimney-corner, who quietly said,
'Second verse, stranger,' and smoked on.
The singer thoroughly moistened himself from his lips inwards, and
went on with the next stanza as requested:-
'My tools are but common ones,
Simple shepherds all -
My tools are no sight to see:
A little hempen string, and a post whereon to swing,
Are implements enough for me!'
Shepherd Fennel glanced round. There was no longer any doubt that
the stranger was answering his question rhythmically. The guests
one and all started back with suppressed exclamations. The young
woman engaged to the man of fifty fainted half-way, and would have
proceeded, but finding him wanting in alacrity for catching her she
sat down trembling.
'O, he's the--!' whispered the people in the background, mentioning
the name of an ominous public officer. 'He's come to do it! 'Tis
to be at Casterbridge jail to-morrow--the man for sheep-stealing--
the poor clock-maker we heard of; who used to live away at
Shottsford and had no work to do--Timothy Summers, whose family were
a-starving, and so he went out of Shottsford by the high-road, and
took a sheep in open daylight, defying the farmer and the farmer's
wife and the farmer's lad, and every man jack among 'em. He' (and
they nodded towards the stranger of the deadly trade) 'is come from
up the country to do it because there's not enough to do in his own
county-town, and he's got the place here now our own county man's
dead; he's going to live in the same cottage under the prison wall.'
The stranger in cinder-gray took no notice of this whispered string
of observations, but again wetted his lips. Seeing that his friend
in the chimney-corner was the only one who reciprocated his
joviality in any way, he held out his cup towards that appreciative
comrade, who also held out his own. They clinked together, the eyes
of the rest of the room hanging upon the singer's actions. He
parted his lips for the third verse; but at that moment another
knock was audible upon the door. This time the knock was faint and
The company seemed scared; the shepherd looked with consternation
towards the entrance, and it was with some effort that he resisted
his alarmed wife's deprecatory glance, and uttered for the third
time the welcoming words, 'Walk in!'
The door was gently opened, and another man stood upon the mat. He,
like those who had preceded him, was a stranger. This time it was a
short, small personage, of fair complexion, and dressed in a decent
suit of dark clothes.
'Can you tell me the way to--?' he began: when, gazing round the
room to observe the nature of the company amongst whom he had
fallen, his eyes lighted on the stranger in cinder-gray. It was
just at the instant when the latter, who had thrown his mind into
his song with such a will that he scarcely heeded the interruption,
silenced all whispers and inquiries by bursting into his third
'To-morrow is my working day,
Simple shepherds all -
To-morrow is a working day for me:
For the farmer's sheep is slain, and the lad who did it ta'en,
And on his soul may God ha' merc-y!'
The stranger in the chimney-corner, waving cups with the singer so
heartily that his mead splashed over on the hearth, repeated in his
bass voice as before:-
'And on his soul may God ha' merc-y!'
All this time the third stranger had been standing in the doorway.
Finding now that he did not come forward or go on speaking, the
guests particularly regarded him. They noticed to their surprise
that he stood before them the picture of abject terror--his knees
trembling, his hand shaking so violently that the door-latch by
which he supported himself rattled audibly: his white lips were
parted, and his eyes fixed on the merry officer of justice in the
middle of the room. A moment more and he had turned, closed the
door, and fled.
'What a man can it be?' said the shepherd.
The rest, between the awfulness of their late discovery and the odd
conduct of this third visitor, looked as if they knew not what to
think, and said nothing. Instinctively they withdrew further and
further from the grim gentleman in their midst, whom some of them
seemed to take for the Prince of Darkness himself; till they formed
a remote circle, an empty space of floor being left between them and
' . . . circulus, cujus centrum diabolus.'
The room was so silent--though there were more than twenty people in
it--that nothing could be heard but the patter of the rain against
the window-shutters, accompanied by the occasional hiss of a stray
drop that fell down the chimney into the fire, and the steady
puffing of the man in the corner, who had now resumed his pipe of
The stillness was unexpectedly broken. The distant sound of a gun
reverberated through the air--apparently from the direction of the
'Be jiggered!' cried the stranger who had sung the song, jumping up.
'What does that mean?' asked several.
'A prisoner escaped from the jail--that's what it means.'
All listened. The sound was repeated, and none of them spoke but
the man in the chimney-corner, who said quietly, 'I've often been
told that in this county they fire a gun at such times; but I never
heard it till now.'
'I wonder if it is MY man?' murmured the personage in cinder-gray.
'Surely it is!' said the shepherd involuntarily. 'And surely we've
zeed him! That little man who looked in at the door by now, and
quivered like a leaf when he zeed ye and heard your song!'
'His teeth chattered, and the breath went out of his body,' said the
'And his heart seemed to sink within him like a stone,' said Oliver
'And he bolted as if he'd been shot at,' said the hedge-carpenter.
'True--his teeth chattered, and his heart seemed to sink; and he
bolted as if he'd been shot at,' slowly summed up the man in the
'I didn't notice it,' remarked the hangman.
'We were all a-wondering what made him run off in such a fright,'
faltered one of the women against the wall, 'and now 'tis
The firing of the alarm-gun went on at intervals, low and sullenly,
and their suspicions became a certainty. The sinister gentleman in
cinder-gray roused himself. 'Is there a constable here?' he asked,
in thick tones. 'If so, let him step forward.'
The engaged man of fifty stepped quavering out from the wall, his
betrothed beginning to sob on the back of the chair.
'You are a sworn constable?'
'I be, sir.'
'Then pursue the criminal at once, with assistance, and bring him
back here. He can't have gone far.'
'I will, sir, I will--when I've got my staff. I'll go home and get
it, and come sharp here, and start in a body.'
'Staff!--never mind your staff; the man'll be gone!'
'But I can't do nothing without my staff--can I, William, and John,
and Charles Jake? No; for there's the king's royal crown a painted
on en in yaller and gold, and the lion and the unicorn, so as when I
raise en up and hit my prisoner, 'tis made a lawful blow thereby. I
wouldn't 'tempt to take up a man without my staff--no, not I. If I
hadn't the law to gie me courage, why, instead o' my taking up him
he might take up me!'
'Now, I'm a king's man myself; and can give you authority enough for
this,' said the formidable officer in gray. 'Now then, all of ye,
be ready. Have ye any lanterns?'
'Yes--have ye any lanterns?--I demand it!' said the constable.
'And the rest of you able-bodied--'
'Able-bodied men--yes--the rest of ye!' said the constable.
'Have you some good stout staves and pitch-forks--'
'Staves and pitchforks--in the name o' the law! And take 'em in yer
hands and go in quest, and do as we in authority tell ye!'
Thus aroused, the men prepared to give chase. The evidence was,
indeed, though circumstantial, so convincing, that but little
argument was needed to show the shepherd's guests that after what
they had seen it would look very much like connivance if they did
not instantly pursue the unhappy third stranger, who could not as
yet have gone more than a few hundred yards over such uneven
A shepherd is always well provided with lanterns; and, lighting
these hastily, and with hurdle-staves in their hands, they poured
out of the door, taking a direction along the crest of the hill,
away from the town, the rain having fortunately a little abated.
Disturbed by the noise, or possibly by unpleasant dreams of her
baptism, the child who had been christened began to cry heart-
brokenly in the room overhead. These notes of grief came down
through the chinks of the floor to the ears of the women below, who
jumped up one by one, and seemed glad of the excuse to ascend and
comfort the baby, for the incidents of the last half-hour greatly
oppressed them. Thus in the space of two or three minutes the room
on the ground-floor was deserted quite.
But it was not for long. Hardly had the sound of footsteps died
away when a man returned round the corner of the house from the
direction the pursuers had taken. Peeping in at the door, and
seeing nobody there, he entered leisurely. It was the stranger of
the chimney-corner, who had gone out with the rest. The motive of
his return was shown by his helping himself to a cut piece of
skimmer-cake that lay on a ledge beside where he had sat, and which
he had apparently forgotten to take with him. He also poured out
half a cup more mead from the quantity that remained, ravenously
eating and drinking these as he stood. He had not finished when
another figure came in just as quietly--his friend in cinder-gray.
'O--you here?' said the latter, smiling. 'I thought you had gone to
help in the capture.' And this speaker also revealed the object of
his return by looking solicitously round for the fascinating mug of
'And I thought you had gone,' said the other, continuing his
skimmer-cake with some effort.
'Well, on second thoughts, I felt there were enough without me,'
said the first confidentially, 'and such a night as it is, too.
Besides, 'tis the business o' the Government to take care of its
'True; so it is. And I felt as you did, that there were enough
'I don't want to break my limbs running over the humps and hollows
of this wild country.'
'Nor I neither, between you and me.'
'These shepherd-people are used to it--simple-minded souls, you
know, stirred up to anything in a moment. They'll have him ready
for me before the morning, and no trouble to me at all.'
'They'll have him, and we shall have saved ourselves all labour in
'True, true. Well, my way is to Casterbridge; and 'tis as much as
my legs will do to take me that far. Going the same way?'
'No, I am sorry to say! I have to get home over there' (he nodded
indefinitely to the right), 'and I feel as you do, that it is quite
enough for my legs to do before bedtime.'
The other had by this time finished the mead in the mug, after
which, shaking hands heartily at the door, and wishing each other
well, they went their several ways.
In the meantime the company of pursuers had reached the end of the
hog's-back elevation which dominated this part of the down. They
had decided on no particular plan of action; and, finding that the
man of the baleful trade was no longer in their company, they seemed
quite unable to form any such plan now. They descended in all
directions down the hill, and straightway several of the party fell
into the snare set by Nature for all misguided midnight ramblers
over this part of the cretaceous formation. The 'lanchets,' or
flint slopes, which belted the escarpment at intervals of a dozen
yards, took the less cautious ones unawares, and losing their
footing on the rubbly steep they slid sharply downwards, the
lanterns rolling from their hands to the bottom, and there lying on
their sides till the horn was scorched through.
When they had again gathered themselves together, the shepherd, as
the man who knew the country best, took the lead, and guided them
round these treacherous inclines. The lanterns, which seemed rather
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