Part 4 out of 5
me out there, and went from bad to worse.'
'Then why didn't you let us know?--you've not writ a line for the
last two or three years.'
The son admitted sadly that he had not. He said that he had hoped
and thought he might fetch up again, and be able to send good news.
Then he had been obliged to abandon that hope, and had finally come
home from sheer necessity--previously to making a new start. 'Yes,
things are very bad with me,' he repeated, perceiving their
commiserating glances at his clothes.
They brought him nearer the fire, took his hat from his thin hand,
which was so small and smooth as to show that his attempts to fetch
up again had not been in a manual direction. His mother resumed her
inquiries, and dubiously asked if he had chosen to come that
particular night for any special reason.
For no reason, he told her. His arrival had been quite at random.
Then Philip Hall looked round the room, and saw for the first time
that the table was laid somewhat luxuriously, and for a larger
number than themselves; and that an air of festivity pervaded their
dress. He asked quickly what was going on.
'Sally is going to be married in a day or two,' replied the mother;
and she explained how Mr. Darton, Sally's intended husband, was
coming there that night with the groomsman, Mr. Johns, and other
details. 'We thought it must be their step when we heard you,' said
The needy wanderer looked again on the floor. 'I see--I see,' he
murmured. 'Why, indeed, should I have come to-night? Such folk as
I are not wanted here at these times, naturally. And I have no
business here--spoiling other people's happiness.'
'Phil,' said his mother, with a tear in her eye, but with a thinness
of lip and severity of manner which were presumably not more than
past events justified; 'since you speak like that to me, I'll speak
honestly to you. For these three years you have taken no thought
for us. You left home with a good supply of money, and strength and
education, and you ought to have made good use of it all. But you
come back like a beggar; and that you come in a very awkward time
for us cannot be denied. Your return to-night may do us much harm.
But mind--you are welcome to this home as long as it is mine. I
don't wish to turn you adrift. We will make the best of a bad job;
and I hope you are not seriously ill?'
'O no. I have only this infernal cough.'
She looked at him anxiously. 'I think you had better go to bed at
once,' she said.
'Well--I shall be out of the way there,' said the son wearily.
'Having ruined myself, don't let me ruin you by being seen in these
togs, for Heaven's sake. Who do you say Sally is going to be
married to--a Farmer Darton?'
'Yes--a gentleman-farmer--quite a wealthy man. Far better in
station than she could have expected. It is a good thing,
'Well done, little Sal!' said her brother, brightening and looking
up at her with a smile. 'I ought to have written; but perhaps I
have thought of you all the more. But let me get out of sight. I
would rather go and jump into the river than be seen here. But have
you anything I can drink? I am confoundedly thirsty with my long
'Yes, yes, we will bring something upstairs to you,' said Sally,
with grief in her face.
'Ay, that will do nicely. But, Sally and mother--' He stopped, and
they waited. 'Mother, I have not told you all,' he resumed slowly,
still looking on the floor between his knees. 'Sad as what you see
of me is, there's worse behind.'
His mother gazed upon him in grieved suspense, and Sally went and
leant upon the bureau, listening for every sound, and sighing.
Suddenly she turned round, saying, 'Let them come, I don't care!
Philip, tell the worst, and take your time.'
'Well, then,' said the unhappy Phil, 'I am not the only one in this
mess. Would to Heaven I were! But--'
'I have a wife as destitute as I.'
'A wife?' said his mother.
'A wife! Yes, that is the way with sons!'
'And besides--' said he.
'Besides! O, Philip, surely--'
'I have two little children.'
'Wife and children!' whispered Mrs. Hall, sinking down confounded.
'Poor little things!' said Sally involuntarily.
His mother turned again to him. 'I suppose these helpless beings
are left in Australia?'
'No. They are in England.'
'Well, I can only hope you've left them in a respectable place.'
'I have not left them at all. They are here--within a few yards of
us. In short, they are in the stable.'
'In the stable. I did not like to bring them indoors till I had
seen you, mother, and broken the bad news a bit to you. They were
very tired, and are resting out there on some straw.'
Mrs. Hall's fortitude visibly broke down. She had been brought up
not without refinement, and was even more moved by such a collapse
of genteel aims as this than a substantial dairyman's widow would in
ordinary have been moved. 'Well, it must be borne,' she said, in a
low voice, with her hands tightly joined. 'A starving son, a
starving wife, starving children! Let it be. But why is this come
to us now, to-day, to-night? Could no other misfortune happen to
helpless women than this, which will quite upset my poor girl's
chance of a happy life? Why have you done us this wrong, Philip?
What respectable man will come here, and marry open-eyed into a
family of vagabonds?'
'Nonsense, mother!' said Sally vehemently, while her face flushed.
'Charley isn't the man to desert me. But if he should be, and won't
marry me because Phil's come, let him go and marry elsewhere. I
won't be ashamed of my own flesh and blood for any man in England--
not I!' And then Sally turned away and burst into tears.
'Wait till you are twenty years older and you will tell a different
tale,' replied her mother.
The son stood up. 'Mother,' he said bitterly, 'as I have come, so I
will go. All I ask of you is that you will allow me and mine to lie
in your stable to-night. I give you my word that we'll be gone by
break of day, and trouble you no further!'
Mrs. Hall, the mother, changed at that. 'O no,' she answered
hastily; 'never shall it be said that I sent any of my own family
from my door. Bring 'em in, Philip, or take me out to them.'
'We will put 'em all into the large bedroom,' said Sally,
brightening, 'and make up a large fire. Let's go and help them in,
and call Rebekah.' (Rebekah was the woman who assisted at the dairy
and housework; she lived in a cottage hard by with her husband, who
attended to the cows.)
Sally went to fetch a lantern from the back-kitchen, but her brother
said, 'You won't want a light. I lit the lantern that was hanging
'What must we call your wife?' asked Mrs. Hall.
'Helena,' said Philip.
With shawls over their heads they proceeded towards the back door.
'One minute before you go,' interrupted Philip. 'I--I haven't
'Then Heaven help us!' said Mrs. Hall, pushing to the door and
clasping her hands in calm despair.
'We passed through Evershead as we came,' he continued, 'and I just
looked in at the "Sow-and-Acorn" to see if old Mike still kept on
there as usual. The carrier had come in from Sherton Abbas at that
moment, and guessing that I was bound for this place--for I think he
knew me--he asked me to bring on a dressmaker's parcel for Sally
that was marked "immediate." My wife had walked on with the
children. 'Twas a flimsy parcel, and the paper was torn, and I
found on looking at it that it was a thick warm gown. I didn't wish
you to see poor Helena in a shabby state. I was ashamed that you
should--'twas not what she was born to. I untied the parcel in the
road, took it on to her where she was waiting in the Lower Barn, and
told her I had managed to get it for her, and that she was to ask no
question. She, poor thing, must have supposed I obtained it on
trust, through having reached a place where I was known, for she put
it on gladly enough. She has it on now. Sally has other gowns, I
Sally looked at her mother, speechless.
'You have others, I daresay!' repeated Phil, with a sick man's
impatience. 'I thought to myself, "Better Sally cry than Helena
freeze." Well, is the dress of great consequence? 'Twas nothing
very ornamental, as far as I could see.'
'No--no; not of consequence,' returned Sally sadly, adding in a
gentle voice, 'You will not mind if I lend her another instead of
that one, will you?'
Philip's agitation at the confession had brought on another attack
of the cough, which seemed to shake him to pieces. He was so
obviously unfit to sit in a chair that they helped him upstairs at
once; and having hastily given him a cordial and kindled the bedroom
fire, they descended to fetch their unhappy new relations.
It was with strange feelings that the girl and her mother, lately so
cheerful, passed out of the back door into the open air of the
barton, laden with hay scents and the herby breath of cows. A fine
sleet had begun to fall, and they trotted across the yard quickly.
The stable-door was open; a light shone from it--from the lantern
which always hung there, and which Philip had lighted, as he said.
Softly nearing the door, Mrs. Hall pronounced the name 'Helena!'
There was no answer for the moment. Looking in she was taken by
surprise. Two people appeared before her. For one, instead of the
drabbish woman she had expected, Mrs. Hall saw a pale, dark-eyed,
ladylike creature, whose personality ruled her attire rather than
was ruled by it. She was in a new and handsome gown, of course, and
an old bonnet. She was standing up, agitated; her hand was held by
her companion--none else than Sally's affianced, Farmer Charles
Darton, upon whose fine figure the pale stranger's eyes were fixed,
as his were fixed upon her. His other hand held the rein of his
horse, which was standing saddled as if just led in.
At sight of Mrs. Hall they both turned, looking at her in a way
neither quite conscious nor unconscious, and without seeming to
recollect that words were necessary as a solution to the scene. In
another moment Sally entered also, when Mr. Darton dropped his
companion's hand, led the horse aside, and came to greet his
betrothed and Mrs. Hall.
'Ah!' he said, smiling--with something like forced composure--'this
is a roundabout way of arriving, you will say, my dear Mrs. Hall.
But we lost our way, which made us late. I saw a light here, and
led in my horse at once--my friend Johns and my man have gone back
to the little inn with theirs, not to crowd you too much. No sooner
had I entered than I saw that this lady had taken temporary shelter
here--and found I was intruding.'
'She is my daughter-in-law,' said Mrs. Hall calmly. 'My son, too,
is in the house, but he has gone to bed unwell.'
Sally had stood staring wonderingly at the scene until this moment,
hardly recognizing Darton's shake of the hand. The spell that bound
her was broken by her perceiving the two little children seated on a
heap of hay. She suddenly went forward, spoke to them, and took one
on her arm and the other in her hand.
'And two children?' said Mr. Darton, showing thus that he had not
been there long enough as yet to understand the situation.
'My grandchildren,' said Mrs. Hall, with as much affected ease as
Philip Hall's wife, in spite of this interruption to her first
rencounter, seemed scarcely so much affected by it as to feel any
one's presence in addition to Mr. Darton's. However, arousing
herself by a quick reflection, she threw a sudden critical glance of
her sad eyes upon Mrs. Hall; and, apparently finding her
satisfactory, advanced to her in a meek initiative. Then Sally and
the stranger spoke some friendly words to each other, and Sally went
on with the children into the house. Mrs. Hall and Helena followed,
and Mr. Darton followed these, looking at Helena's dress and
outline, and listening to her voice like a man in a dream.
By the time the others reached the house Sally had already gone
upstairs with the tired children. She rapped against the wall for
Rebekah to come in and help to attend to them, Rebekah's house being
a little 'spit-and-dab' cabin leaning against the substantial stone-
work of Mrs. Hall's taller erection. When she came a bed was made
up for the little ones, and some supper given to them. On
descending the stairs after seeing this done Sally went to the
sitting-room. Young Mrs. Hall entered it just in advance of her,
having in the interim retired with her mother-in-law to take off her
bonnet, and otherwise make herself presentable. Hence it was
evident that no further communication could have passed between her
and Mr. Darton since their brief interview in the stable.
Mr. Japheth Johns now opportunely arrived, and broke up the
restraint of the company, after a few orthodox meteorological
commentaries had passed between him and Mrs. Hall by way of
introduction. They at once sat down to supper, the present of wine
and turkey not being produced for consumption to-night, lest the
premature display of those gifts should seem to throw doubt on Mrs.
Hall's capacities as a provider.
'Drink hearty, Mr. Johns--drink hearty,' said that matron
magnanimously. 'Such as it is there's plenty of. But perhaps
cider-wine is not to your taste?--though there's body in it.'
'Quite the contrairy, ma'am--quite the contrairy,' said the
dairyman. 'For though I inherit the malt-liquor principle from my
father, I am a cider-drinker on my mother's side. She came from
these parts, you know. And there's this to be said for't--'tis a
more peaceful liquor, and don't lie about a man like your hotter
drinks. With care, one may live on it a twelvemonth without
knocking down a neighbour, or getting a black eye from an old
The general conversation thus begun was continued briskly, though it
was in the main restricted to Mrs. Hall and Japheth, who in truth
required but little help from anybody. There being slight call upon
Sally's tongue, she had ample leisure to do what her heart most
desired, namely, watch her intended husband and her sister-in-law
with a view of elucidating the strange momentary scene in which her
mother and herself had surprised them in the stable. If that scene
meant anything, it meant, at least, that they had met before. That
there had been no time for explanations Sally could see, for their
manner was still one of suppressed amazement at each other's
presence there. Darton's eyes, too, fell continually on the gown
worn by Helena as if this were an added riddle to his perplexity;
though to Sally it was the one feature in the case which was no
mystery. He seemed to feel that fate had impishly changed his vis-
a-vis in the lover's jig he was about to foot; that while the gown
had been expected to enclose a Sally, a Helena's face looked out
from the bodice; that some long-lost hand met his own from the
Sally could see that whatever Helena might know of Darton, she knew
nothing of how the dress entered into his embarrassment. And at
moments the young girl would have persuaded herself that Darton's
looks at her sister-in-law were entirely the fruit of the clothes
query. But surely at other times a more extensive range of
speculation and sentiment was expressed by her lover's eye than that
which the changed dress would account for.
Sally's independence made her one of the least jealous of women.
But there was something in the relations of these two visitors which
ought to be explained.
Japheth Johns continued to converse in his well-known style,
interspersing his talk with some private reflections on the position
of Darton and Sally, which, though the sparkle in his eye showed
them to be highly entertaining to himself, were apparently not quite
communicable to the company. At last he withdrew for the night,
going off to the roadside inn half-a-mile back, whither Darton
promised to follow him in a few minutes.
Half-an-hour passed, and then Mr. Darton also rose to leave, Sally
and her sister-in-law simultaneously wishing him good-night as they
retired upstairs to their rooms. But on his arriving at the front
door with Mrs. Hall a sharp shower of rain began to come down, when
the widow suggested that he should return to the fire-side till the
Darton accepted her proposal, but insisted that, as it was getting
late, and she was obviously tired, she should not sit up on his
account, since he could let himself out of the house, and would
quite enjoy smoking a pipe by the hearth alone. Mrs. Hall assented;
and Darton was left by himself. He spread his knees to the brands,
lit up his tobacco as he had said, and sat gazing into the fire, and
at the notches of the chimney-crook which hung above.
An occasional drop of rain rolled down the chimney with a hiss, and
still he smoked on; but not like a man whose mind was at rest. In
the long run, however, despite his meditations, early hours afield
and a long ride in the open air produced their natural result. He
began to doze.
How long he remained in this half-unconscious state he did not know.
He suddenly opened his eyes. The back-brand had burnt itself in
two, and ceased to flame; the light which he had placed on the
mantelpiece had nearly gone out. But in spite of these deficiencies
there was a light in the apartment, and it came from elsewhere.
Turning his head he saw Philip Hall's wife standing at the entrance
of the room with a bed-candle in one hand, a small brass tea-kettle
in the other, and HIS gown, as it certainly seemed, still upon her.
'Helena!' said Darton, starting up.
Her countenance expressed dismay, and her first words were an
apology. 'I--did not know you were here, Mr. Darton,' she said,
while a blush flashed to her cheek. 'I thought every one had
retired--I was coming to make a little water boil; my husband seems
to be worse. But perhaps the kitchen fire can be lighted up again.'
'Don't go on my account. By all means put it on here as you
intended,' said Darton. 'Allow me to help you.' He went forward to
take the kettle from her hand, but she did not allow him, and placed
it on the fire herself.
They stood some way apart, one on each side of the fireplace,
waiting till the water should boil, the candle on the mantel between
them, and Helena with her eyes on the kettle. Darton was the first
to break the silence. 'Shall I call Sally?' he said.
'O no,' she quickly returned. 'We have given trouble enough
already. We have no right here. But we are the sport of fate, and
were obliged to come.'
'No right here!' said he in surprise.
'None. I can't explain it now,' answered Helena. 'This kettle is
There was another pause; the proverbial dilatoriness of watched pots
was never more clearly exemplified.
Helena's face was of that sort which seems to ask for assistance
without the owner's knowledge--the very antipodes of Sally's, which
was self-reliance expressed. Darton's eyes travelled from the
kettle to Helena's face, then back to the kettle, then to the face
for rather a longer time. 'So I am not to know anything of the
mystery that has distracted me all the evening?' he said. 'How is
it that a woman, who refused me because (as I supposed) my position
was not good enough for her taste, is found to be the wife of a man
who certainly seems to be worse off than I?'
'He had the prior claim,' said she.
'What! you knew him at that time?'
'Yes, yes! Please say no more,' she implored.
'Whatever my errors, I have paid for them during the last five
The heart of Darton was subject to sudden overflowings. He was kind
to a fault. 'I am sorry from my soul,' he said, involuntarily
approaching her. Helena withdrew a step or two, at which he became
conscious of his movement, and quickly took his former place. Here
he stood without speaking, and the little kettle began to sing.
'Well, you might have been my wife if you had chosen,' he said at
last. 'But that's all past and gone. However, if you are in any
trouble or poverty I shall be glad to be of service, and as your
relation by marriage I shall have a right to be. Does your uncle
know of your distress?'
'My uncle is dead. He left me without a farthing. And now we have
two children to maintain.'
'What, left you nothing? How could he be so cruel as that?'
'I disgraced myself in his eyes.'
'Now,' said Darton earnestly, 'let me take care of the children, at
least while you are so unsettled. YOU belong to another, so I
cannot take care of you.'
'Yes you can,' said a voice; and suddenly a third figure stood
beside them. It was Sally. 'You can, since you seem to wish to?'
she repeated. 'She no longer belongs to another . . . My poor
brother is dead!'
Her face was red, her eyes sparkled, and all the woman came to the
front. 'I have heard it!' she went on to him passionately. 'You
can protect her now as well as the children!' She turned then to
her agitated sister-in-law. 'I heard something,' said Sally (in a
gentle murmur, differing much from her previous passionate words),
'and I went into his room. It must have been the moment you left.
He went off so quickly, and weakly, and it was so unexpected, that I
couldn't leave even to call you.'
Darton was just able to gather from the confused discourse which
followed that, during his sleep by the fire, this brother whom he
had never seen had become worse; and that during Helena's absence
for water the end had unexpectedly come. The two young women
hastened upstairs, and he was again left alone.
After standing there a short time he went to the front door and
looked out; till, softly closing it behind him, he advanced and
stood under the large sycamore-tree. The stars were flickering
coldly, and the dampness which had just descended upon the earth in
rain now sent up a chill from it. Darton was in a strange position,
and he felt it. The unexpected appearance, in deep poverty, of
Helena--a young lady, daughter of a deceased naval officer, who had
been brought up by her uncle, a solicitor, and had refused Darton in
marriage years ago--the passionate, almost angry demeanour of Sally
at discovering them, the abrupt announcement that Helena was a
widow; all this coming together was a conjuncture difficult to cope
with in a moment, and made him question whether he ought to leave
the house or offer assistance. But for Sally's manner he would
unhesitatingly have done the latter.
He was still standing under the tree when the door in front of him
opened, and Mrs. Hall came out. She went round to the garden-gate
at the side without seeing him. Darton followed her, intending to
Pausing outside, as if in thought, she proceeded to a spot where the
sun came earliest in spring-time, and where the north wind never
blew; it was where the row of beehives stood under the wall.
Discerning her object, he waited till she had accomplished it.
It was the universal custom thereabout to wake the bees by tapping
at their hives whenever a death occurred in the household, under the
belief that if this were not done the bees themselves would pine
away and perish during the ensuing year. As soon as an interior
buzzing responded to her tap at the first hive Mrs. Hall went on to
the second, and thus passed down the row. As soon as she came back
he met her.
'What can I do in this trouble, Mrs. Hall?' he said.
'O--nothing, thank you, nothing,' she said in a tearful voice, now
just perceiving him. 'We have called Rebekah and her husband, and
they will do everything necessary.' She told him in a few words the
particulars of her son's arrival, broken in health--indeed, at
death's very door, though they did not suspect it--and suggested, as
the result of a conversation between her and her daughter, that the
wedding should be postponed.
'Yes, of course,' said Darton. 'I think now to go straight to the
inn and tell Johns what has happened.' It was not till after he had
shaken hands with her that he turned hesitatingly and added, 'Will
you tell the mother of his children that, as they are now left
fatherless, I shall be glad to take the eldest of them, if it would
be any convenience to her and to you?'
Mrs. Hall promised that her son's widow should he told of the offer,
and they parted. He retired down the rooty slope and disappeared in
the direction of the inn, where he informed Johns of the
circumstances. Meanwhile Mrs. Hall had entered the house, Sally was
downstairs in the sitting-room alone, and her mother explained to
her that Darton had readily assented to the postponement.
'No doubt he has,' said Sally, with sad emphasis. 'It is not put
off for a week, or a month, or a year. I shall never marry him, and
Time passed, and the household on the Knap became again serene under
the composing influences of daily routine. A desultory, very
desultory correspondence, dragged on between Sally Hall and Darton,
who, not quite knowing how to take her petulant words on the night
of her brother's death, had continued passive thus long. Helena and
her children remained at the dairy-house, almost of necessity, and
Darton therefore deemed it advisable to stay away.
One day, seven months later on, when Mr. Darton was as usual at his
farm, twenty miles from Hintock, a note reached him from Helena.
She thanked him for his kind offer about her children, which her
mother-in-law had duly communicated, and stated that she would be
glad to accept it as regarded the eldest, the boy. Helena had, in
truth, good need to do so, for her uncle had left her penniless, and
all application to some relatives in the north had failed. There
was, besides, as she said, no good school near Hintock to which she
could send the child.
On a fine summer day the boy came. He was accompanied half-way by
Sally and his mother--to the 'White Horse,' at Chalk Newton--where
he was handed over to Darton's bailiff in a shining spring-cart, who
met them there.
He was entered as a day-scholar at a popular school at Casterbridge,
three or four miles from Darton's, having first been taught by
Darton to ride a forest-pony, on which he cantered to and from the
aforesaid fount of knowledge, and (as Darton hoped) brought away a
promising headful of the same at each diurnal expedition. The
thoughtful taciturnity into which Darton had latterly fallen was
quite dissipated by the presence of this boy.
When the Christmas holidays came it was arranged that he should
spend them with his mother. The journey was, for some reason or
other, performed in two stages, as at his coming, except that Darton
in person took the place of the bailiff, and that the boy and
himself rode on horseback.
Reaching the renowned 'White Horse,' Darton inquired if Miss and
young Mrs. Hall were there to meet little Philip (as they had agreed
to be). He was answered by the appearance of Helena alone at the
'At the last moment Sally would not come,' she faltered.
That meeting practically settled the point towards which these long-
severed persons were converging. But nothing was broached about it
for some time yet. Sally Hall had, in fact, imparted the first
decisive motion to events by refusing to accompany Helena. She soon
gave them a second move by writing the following note
'DEAR CHARLES,--Living here so long and intimately with Helena, I
have naturally learnt her history, especially that of it which
refers to you. I am sure she would accept you as a husband at the
proper time, and I think you ought to give her the opportunity. You
inquire in an old note if I am sorry that I showed temper (which it
WASN'T) that night when I heard you talking to her. No, Charles, I
am not sorry at all for what I said then.--Yours sincerely, SALLY
Thus set in train, the transfer of Darton's heart back to its
original quarters proceeded by mere lapse of time. In the following
July, Darton went to his friend Japheth to ask him at last to fulfil
the bridal office which had been in abeyance since the previous
'With all my heart, man o' constancy!' said Dairyman Johns warmly.
'I've lost most of my genteel fair complexion haymaking this hot
weather, 'tis true, but I'll do your business as well as them that
look better. There be scents and good hair-oil in the world yet,
thank God, and they'll take off the roughest o' my edge. I'll
compliment her. "Better late than never, Sally Hall," I'll say.'
'It is not Sally,' said Darton hurriedly. 'It is young Mrs. Hall.'
Japheth's face, as soon as he really comprehended, became a picture
of reproachful dismay. 'Not Sally?' he said. 'Why not Sally? I
can't believe it! Young Mrs. Hall! Well, well--where's your
Darton shortly explained particulars; but Johns would not be
reconciled. 'She was a woman worth having if ever woman was,' he
cried. 'And now to let her go!'
'But I suppose I can marry where I like,' said Darton.
'H'm,' replied the dairyman, lifting his eyebrows expressively.
'This don't become you, Charles--it really do not. If I had done
such a thing you would have sworn I was a curst no'thern fool to be
drawn off the scent by such a red-herring doll-oll-oll.'
Farmer Darton responded in such sharp terms to this laconic opinion
that the two friends finally parted in a way they had never parted
before. Johns was to be no groomsman to Darton after all. He had
flatly declined. Darton went off sorry, and even unhappy,
particularly as Japheth was about to leave that side of the county,
so that the words which had divided them were not likely to be
explained away or softened down.
A short time after the interview Darton was united to Helena at a
simple matter-of fact wedding; and she and her little girl joined
the boy who had already grown to look on Darton's house as home.
For some months the farmer experienced an unprecedented happiness
and satisfaction. There had been a flaw in his life, and it was as
neatly mended as was humanly possible. But after a season the
stream of events followed less clearly, and there were shades in his
reveries. Helena was a fragile woman, of little staying power,
physically or morally, and since the time that he had originally
known her--eight or ten years before--she had been severely tried.
She had loved herself out, in short, and was now occasionally given
to moping. Sometimes she spoke regretfully of the gentilities of
her early life, and instead of comparing her present state with her
condition as the wife of the unlucky Hall, she mused rather on what
it had been before she took the first fatal step of clandestinely
marrying him. She did not care to please such people as those with
whom she was thrown as a thriving farmer's wife. She allowed the
pretty trifles of agricultural domesticity to glide by her as sorry
details, and had it not been for the children Darton's house would
have seemed but little brighter than it had been before.
This led to occasional unpleasantness, until Darton sometimes
declared to himself that such endeavours as his to rectify early
deviations of the heart by harking back to the old point mostly
failed of success. 'Perhaps Johns was right,' he would say. 'I
should have gone on with Sally. Better go with the tide and make
the best of its course than stem it at the risk of a capsize.' But
he kept these unmelodious thoughts to himself, and was outwardly
considerate and kind.
This somewhat barren tract of his life had extended to less than a
year and a half when his ponderings were cut short by the loss of
the woman they concerned. When she was in her grave he thought
better of her than when she had been alive; the farm was a worse
place without her than with her, after all. No woman short of
divine could have gone through such an experience as hers with her
first husband without becoming a little soured. Her stagnant
sympathies, her sometimes unreasonable manner, had covered a heart
frank and well meaning, and originally hopeful and warm. She left
him a tiny red infant in white wrappings. To make life as easy as
possible to this touching object became at once his care.
As this child learnt to walk and talk Darton learnt to see
feasibility in a scheme which pleased him. Revolving the experiment
which he had hitherto made upon life, he fancied he had gained
wisdom from his mistakes and caution from his miscarriages.
What the scheme was needs no penetration to discover. Once more he
had opportunity to recast and rectify his ill-wrought situations by
returning to Sally Hall, who still lived quietly on under her
mother's roof at Hintock. Helena had been a woman to lend pathos
and refinement to a home; Sally was the woman to brighten it. She
would not, as Helena did, despise the rural simplicities of a
farmer's fireside. Moreover, she had a pre-eminent qualification
for Darton's household; no other woman could make so desirable a
mother to her brother's two children and Darton's one as Sally--
while Darton, now that Helena had gone, was a more promising husband
for Sally than he had ever been when liable to reminders from an
uncured sentimental wound.
Darton was not a man to act rapidly, and the working out of his
reparative designs might have been delayed for some time. But there
came a winter evening precisely like the one which had darkened over
that former ride to Hintock, and he asked himself why he should
postpone longer, when the very landscape called for a repetition of
He told his man to saddle the mare, booted and spurred himself with
a younger horseman's nicety, kissed the two youngest children, and
rode off. To make the journey a complete parallel to the first, he
would fain have had his old acquaintance Japheth Johns with him.
But Johns, alas! was missing. His removal to the other side of the
county had left unrepaired the breach which had arisen between him
and Darton; and though Darton had forgiven him a hundred times, as
Johns had probably forgiven Darton, the effort of reunion in present
circumstances was one not likely to be made.
He screwed himself up to as cheerful a pitch as he could without his
former crony, and became content with his own thoughts as he rode,
instead of the words of a companion. The sun went down; the boughs
appeared scratched in like an etching against the sky; old crooked
men with faggots at their backs said 'Good-night, sir,' and Darton
replied 'Good-night' right heartily.
By the time he reached the forking roads it was getting as dark as
it had been on the occasion when Johns climbed the directing-post.
Darton made no mistake this time. 'Nor shall I be able to mistake,
thank Heaven, when I arrive,' he murmured. It gave him peculiar
satisfaction to think that the proposed marriage, like his first,
was of the nature of setting in order things long awry, and not a
momentary freak of fancy.
Nothing hindered the smoothness of his journey, which seemed not
half its former length. Though dark, it was only between five and
six o'clock when the bulky chimneys of Mrs. Hall's residence
appeared in view behind the sycamore-tree. On second thoughts he
retreated and put up at the ale-house as in former time; and when he
had plumed himself before the inn mirror, called for something to
drink, and smoothed out the incipient wrinkles of care, he walked on
to the Knap with a quick step.
That evening Sally was making 'pinners' for the milkers, who were
now increased by two, for her mother and herself no longer joined in
milking the cows themselves. But upon the whole there was little
change in the household economy, and not much in its appearance,
beyond such minor particulars as that the crack over the window,
which had been a hundred years coming, was a trifle wider; that the
beams were a shade blacker; that the influence of modernism had
supplanted the open chimney corner by a grate; that Rebekah, who had
worn a cap when she had plenty of hair, had left it off now she had
scarce any, because it was reported that caps were not fashionable;
and that Sally's face had naturally assumed a more womanly and
Mrs. Hall was actually lifting coals with the tongs, as she had used
'Five years ago this very night, if I am not mistaken--' she said,
laying on an ember.
'Not this very night--though 'twas one night this week,' said the
'Well, 'tis near enough. Five years ago Mr. Darton came to marry
you, and my poor boy Phil came home to die.' She sighed. 'Ah,
Sally,' she presently said, 'if you had managed well Mr. Darton
would have had you, Helena or none.'
'Don't be sentimental about that, mother,' begged Sally. 'I didn't
care to manage well in such a case. Though I liked him, I wasn't so
anxious. I would never have married the man in the midst of such a
hitch as that was,' she added with decision; 'and I don't think I
would if he were to ask me now.'
'I am not sure about that, unless you have another in your eye.'
'I wouldn't; and I'll tell you why. I could hardly marry him for
love at this time o' day. And as we've quite enough to live on if
we give up the dairy to-morrow, I should have no need to marry for
any meaner reason . . . I am quite happy enough as I am, and there's
an end of it.'
Now it was not long after this dialogue that there came a mild rap
at the door, and in a moment there entered Rebekah, looking as
though a ghost had arrived. The fact was that that accomplished
skimmer and churner (now a resident in the house) had overheard the
desultory observations between mother and daughter, and on opening
the door to Mr. Darton thought the coincidence must have a grisly
meaning in it. Mrs. Hall welcomed the farmer with warm surprise, as
did Sally, and for a moment they rather wanted words.
'Can you push up the chimney-crook for me, Mr Darton? the notches
hitch,' said the matron. He did it, and the homely little act
bridged over the awkward consciousness that he had been a stranger
for four years.
Mrs. Hall soon saw what he had come for, and left the principals
together while she went to prepare him a late tea, smiling at
Sally's recent hasty assertions of indifference, when she saw how
civil Sally was. When tea was ready she joined them. She fancied
that Darton did not look so confident as when he had arrived; but
Sally was quite light-hearted, and the meal passed pleasantly.
About seven he took his leave of them. Mrs. Hall went as far as the
door to light him down the slope. On the doorstep he said frankly--
'I came to ask your daughter to marry me; chose the night and
everything, with an eye to a favourable answer. But she won't.'
'Then she's a very ungrateful girl!' emphatically said Mrs. Hall.
Darton paused to shape his sentence, and asked, 'I--I suppose
there's nobody else more favoured?'
'I can't say that there is, or that there isn't,' answered Mrs.
Hall. 'She's private in some things. I'm on your side, however,
Mr. Darton, and I'll talk to her.'
'Thank 'ee, thank 'ee!' said the farmer in a gayer accent; and with
this assurance the not very satisfactory visit came to an end.
Darton descended the roots of the sycamore, the light was withdrawn,
and the door closed. At the bottom of the slope he nearly ran
against a man about to ascend.
'Can a jack-o'-lent believe his few senses on such a dark night, or
can't he?' exclaimed one whose utterance Darton recognized in a
moment, despite its unexpectedness. 'I dare not swear he can,
though I fain would!' The speaker was Johns.
Darton said he was glad of this opportunity, bad as it was, of
putting an end to the silence of years, and asked the dairyman what
he was travelling that way for.
Japheth showed the old jovial confidence in a moment. 'I'm going to
see your--relations--as they always seem to me,' he said--'Mrs. Hall
and Sally. Well, Charles, the fact is I find the natural
barbarousness of man is much increased by a bachelor life, and, as
your leavings were always good enough for me, I'm trying
civilization here.' He nodded towards the house.
'Not with Sally--to marry her?' said Darton, feeling something like
a rill of ice water between his shoulders.
'Yes, by the help of Providence and my personal charms. And I think
I shall get her. I am this road every week--my present dairy is
only four miles off, you know, and I see her through the window.
'Tis rather odd that I was going to speak practical to-night to her
for the first time. You've just called?'
'Yes, for a short while. But she didn't say a word about you.'
'A good sign, a good sign. Now that decides me. I'll swing the
mallet and get her answer this very night as I planned.'
A few more remarks, and Darton, wishing his friend joy of Sally in a
slightly hollow tone of jocularity, bade him good-bye. Johns
promised to write particulars, and ascended, and was lost in the
shade of the house and tree. A rectangle of light appeared when
Johns was admitted, and all was dark again.
'Happy Japheth!' said Darton. 'This then is the explanation!'
He determined to return home that night. In a quarter of an hour he
passed out of the village, and the next day went about his swede-
lifting and storing as if nothing had occurred.
He waited and waited to hear from Johns whether the wedding-day was
fixed: but no letter came. He learnt not a single particular till,
meeting Johns one day at a horse-auction, Darton exclaimed genially-
-rather more genially than he felt--'When is the joyful day to be?'
To his great surprise a reciprocity of gladness was not conspicuous
in Johns. 'Not at all,' he said, in a very subdued tone. ''Tis a
bad job; she won't have me.'
Darton held his breath till he said with treacherous solicitude,
'Try again--'tis coyness.'
'O no,' said Johns decisively. 'There's been none of that. We
talked it over dozens of times in the most fair and square way. She
tells me plainly, I don't suit her. 'Twould be simply annoying her
to ask her again. Ah, Charles, you threw a prize away when you let
her slip five years ago.'
'I did--I did,' said Darton.
He returned from that auction with a new set of feelings in play.
He had certainly made a surprising mistake in thinking Johns his
successful rival. It really seemed as if he might hope for Sally
This time, being rather pressed by business, Darton had recourse to
pen-and-ink, and wrote her as manly and straightforward a proposal
as any woman could wish to receive. The reply came promptly:-
'DEAR MR. DARTON,--I am as sensible as any woman can be of the
goodness that leads you to make me this offer a second time. Better
women than I would be proud of the honour, for when I read your nice
long speeches on mangold-wurzel, and such like topics, at the
Casterbridge Farmers' Club, I do feel it an honour, I assure you.
But my answer is just the same as before. I will not try to explain
what, in truth, I cannot explain--my reasons; I will simply say that
I must decline to be married to you. With good wishes as in former
times, I am, your faithful friend,
Darton dropped the letter hopelessly. Beyond the negative, there
was just a possibility of sarcasm in it--'nice long speeches on
mangold-wurzel' had a suspicious sound. However, sarcasm or none,
there was the answer, and he had to be content.
He proceeded to seek relief in a business which at this time
engrossed much of his attention--that of clearing up a curious
mistake just current in the county, that he had been nearly ruined
by the recent failure of a local bank. A farmer named Darton had
lost heavily, and the similarity of name had probably led to the
error. Belief in it was so persistent that it demanded several days
of letter-writing to set matters straight, and persuade the world
that he was as solvent as ever he had been in his life. He had
hardly concluded this worrying task when, to his delight, another
letter arrived in the handwriting of Sally.
Darton tore it open; it was very short.
'DEAR MR. DARTON,--We have been so alarmed these last few days by
the report that you were ruined by the stoppage of --'s Bank, that,
now it is contradicted I hasten, by my mother's wish, to say how
truly glad we are to find there is no foundation for the report.
After your kindness to my poor brother's children, I can do no less
than write at such a moment. We had a letter from each of them a
few days ago.--Your faithful friend,
'Mercenary little woman!' said Darton to himself with a smile.
'Then that was the secret of her refusal this time--she thought I
Now, such was Darton, that as hours went on he could not help
feeling too generously towards Sally to condemn her in this. What
did he want in a wife? he asked himself. Love and integrity. What
next? Worldly wisdom. And was there really more than worldly
wisdom in her refusal to go aboard a sinking ship? She now knew it
was otherwise. 'Begad,' he said, 'I'll try her again.'
The fact was he had so set his heart upon Sally, and Sally alone,
that nothing was to be allowed to baulk him; and his reasoning was
Anniversaries having been unpropitious, he waited on till a bright
day late in May--a day when all animate nature was fancying, in its
trusting, foolish way, that it was going to bask out of doors for
evermore. As he rode through Long-Ash Lane it was scarce
recognizable as the track of his two winter journeys. No mistake
could be made now, even with his eyes shut. The cuckoo's note was
at its best, between April tentativeness and midsummer decrepitude,
and the reptiles in the sun behaved as winningly as kittens on a
hearth. Though afternoon, and about the same time as on the last
occasion, it was broad day and sunshine when he entered Hintock, and
the details of the Knap dairy-house were visible far up the road.
He saw Sally in the garden, and was set vibrating. He had first
intended to go on to the inn; but 'No,' he said; 'I'll tie my horse
to the garden-gate. If all goes well it can soon be taken round:
if not, I mount and ride away'
The tall shade of the horseman darkened the room in which Mrs. Hall
sat, and made her start, for he had ridden by a side path to the top
of the slope, where riders seldom came. In a few seconds he was in
the garden with Sally.
Five--ay, three minutes--did the business at the back of that row of
bees. Though spring had come, and heavenly blue consecrated the
scene, Darton succeeded not. 'NO,' said Sally firmly. 'I will
never, never marry you, Mr. Darton. I would have done it once; but
now I never can.'
'But!'--implored Mr. Darton. And with a burst of real eloquence he
went on to declare all sorts of things that he would do for her. He
would drive her to see her mother every week--take her to London--
settle so much money upon her--Heaven knows what he did not promise,
suggest, and tempt her with. But it availed nothing. She
interposed with a stout negative, which closed the course of his
argument like an iron gate across a highway. Darton paused.
'Then,' said he simply, 'you hadn't heard of my supposed failure
when you declined last time?'
'I had not,' she said. 'But if I had 'twould have been all the
'And 'tis not because of any soreness from my slighting you years
'No. That soreness is long past.'
'Ah--then you despise me, Sally?'
'No,' she slowly answered. 'I don't altogether despise you. I
don't think you quite such a hero as I once did--that's all. The
truth is, I am happy enough as I am; and I don't mean to marry at
all. Now, may _I_ ask a favour, sir?' She spoke with an ineffable
charm, which, whenever he thought of it, made him curse his loss of
her as long as he lived.
'To any extent.'
'Please do not put this question to me any more. Friends as long as
you like, but lovers and married never.'
'I never will,' said Darton. 'Not if I live a hundred years.'
And he never did. That he had worn out his welcome in her heart was
only too plain.
When his step-children had grown up, and were placed out in life,
all communication between Darton and the Hall family ceased. It was
only by chance that, years after, he learnt that Sally,
notwithstanding the solicitations her attractions drew down upon
her, had refused several offers of marriage, and steadily adhered to
her purpose of leading a single life
THE DISTRACTED PREACHER
CHAPTER I--HOW HIS COLD WAS CURED
Something delayed the arrival of the Wesleyan minister, and a young
man came temporarily in his stead. It was on the thirteenth of
January 183- that Mr. Stockdale, the young man in question, made his
humble entry into the village, unknown, and almost unseen. But when
those of the inhabitants who styled themselves of his connection
became acquainted with him, they were rather pleased with the
substitute than otherwise, though he had scarcely as yet acquired
ballast of character sufficient to steady the consciences of the
hundred-and-forty Methodists of pure blood who, at this time, lived
in Nether-Moynton, and to give in addition supplementary support to
the mixed race which went to church in the morning and chapel in the
evening, or when there was a tea--as many as a hundred-and-ten
people more, all told, and including the parish-clerk in the winter-
time, when it was too dark for the vicar to observe who passed up
the street at seven o'clock--which, to be just to him, he was never
anxious to do.
It was owing to this overlapping of creeds that the celebrated
population-puzzle arose among the denser gentry of the district
around Nether-Moynton: how could it be that a parish containing
fifteen score of strong full-grown Episcopalians, and nearly
thirteen score of well-matured Dissenters, numbered barely two-and-
twenty score adults in all?
The young man being personally interesting, those with whom he came
in contact were content to waive for a while the graver question of
his sufficiency. It is said that at this time of his life his eyes
were affectionate, though without a ray of levity; that his hair was
curly, and his figure tall; that he was, in short, a very lovable
youth, who won upon his female hearers as soon as they saw and heard
him, and caused them to say, 'Why didn't we know of this before he
came, that we might have gied him a warmer welcome!'
The fact was that, knowing him to be only provisionally selected,
and expecting nothing remarkable in his person or doctrine, they and
the rest of his flock in Nether-Moynton had felt almost as
indifferent about his advent as if they had been the soundest
church-going parishioners in the country, and he their true and
appointed parson. Thus when Stockdale set foot in the place nobody
had secured a lodging for him, and though his journey had given him
a bad cold in the head, he was forced to attend to that business
himself. On inquiry he learnt that the only possible accommodation
in the village would be found at the house of one Mrs. Lizzy
Newberry, at the upper end of the street.
It was a youth who gave this information, and Stockdale asked him
who Mrs. Newberry might be.
The boy said that she was a widow-woman, who had got no husband,
because he was dead. Mr. Newberry, he added, had been a well-to-do
man enough, as the saying was, and a farmer; but he had gone off in
a decline. As regarded Mrs. Newberry's serious side, Stockdale
gathered that she was one of the trimmers who went to church and
'I'll go there,' said Stockdale, feeling that, in the absence of
purely sectarian lodgings, he could do no better.
'She's a little particular, and won't hae gover'ment folks, or
curates, or the pa'son's friends, or such like,' said the lad
'Ah, that may be a promising sign: I'll call. Or no; just you go
up and ask first if she can find room for me. I have to see one or
two persons on another matter. You will find me down at the
In a quarter of an hour the lad came back, and said that Mrs.
Newberry would have no objection to accommodate him, whereupon
Stockdale called at the house.
It stood within a garden-hedge, and seemed to be roomy and
comfortable. He saw an elderly woman, with whom he made
arrangements to come the same night, since there was no inn in the
place, and he wished to house himself as soon as possible; the
village being a local centre from which he was to radiate at once to
the different small chapels in the neighbourhood. He forthwith sent
his luggage to Mrs. Newberry's from the carrier's, where he had
taken shelter, and in the evening walked up to his temporary home.
As he now lived there, Stockdale felt it unnecessary to knock at the
door; and entering quietly he had the pleasure of hearing footsteps
scudding away like mice into the back quarters. He advanced to the
parlour, as the front room was called, though its stone floor was
scarcely disguised by the carpet, which only over-laid the trodden
areas, leaving sandy deserts under the bulging mouldings of the
table-legs, playing with brass furniture. But the room looked snug
and cheerful. The firelight shone out brightly, trembling on the
knobs and handles, and lurking in great strength on the under
surface of the chimney-piece. A deep arm-chair, covered with
horsehair, and studded with a countless throng of brass nails, was
pulled up on one side of the fireplace. The tea-things were on the
table, the teapot cover was open, and a little hand-bell had been
laid at that precise point towards which a person seated in the
great chair might be expected instinctively to stretch his hand.
Stockdale sat down, not objecting to his experience of the room thus
far, and began his residence by tinkling the bell. A little girl
crept in at the summons, and made tea for him. Her name, she said,
was Marther Sarer, and she lived out there, nodding towards the road
and village generally. Before Stockdale had got far with his meal,
a tap sounded on the door behind him, and on his telling the
inquirer to come in, a rustle of garments caused him to turn his
head. He saw before him a fine and extremely well-made young woman,
with dark hair, a wide, sensible, beautiful forehead, eyes that
warmed him before he knew it, and a mouth that was in itself a
picture to all appreciative souls.
'Can I get you anything else for tea?' she said, coming forward a
step or two, an expression of liveliness on her features, and her
hand waving the door by its edge.
'Nothing, thank you,' said Stockdale, thinking less of what he
replied than of what might be her relation to the household.
'You are quite sure?' said the young woman, apparently aware that he
had not considered his answer.
He conscientiously examined the tea-things, and found them all
there. 'Quite sure, Miss Newberry,' he said.
'It is Mrs. Newberry,' she said. 'Lizzy Newberry, I used to be
'O, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Newberry.' And before he had occasion
to say more she left the room.
Stockdale remained in some doubt till Martha Sarah came to clear the
table. 'Whose house is this, my little woman,' said he.
'Mrs. Lizzy Newberry's, sir.'
'Then Mrs. Newberry is not the old lady I saw this afternoon?'
'No. That's Mrs. Newberry's mother. It was Mrs. Newberry who comed
in to you just by now, because she wanted to see if you was good-
Later in the evening, when Stockdale was about to begin supper, she
came again. 'I have come myself, Mr. Stockdale,' she said. The
minister stood up in acknowledgment of the honour. 'I am afraid
little Marther might not make you understand. What will you have
for supper?--there's cold rabbit, and there's a ham uncut.'
Stockdale said he could get on nicely with those viands, and supper
was laid. He had no more than cut a slice when tap-tap came to the
door again. The minister had already learnt that this particular
rhythm in taps denoted the fingers of his enkindling landlady, and
the doomed young fellow buried his first mouthful under a look of
'We have a chicken in the house, Mr. Stockdale--I quite forgot to
mention it just now. Perhaps you would like Marther Sarer to bring
Stockdale had advanced far enough in the art of being a young man to
say that he did not want the chicken, unless she brought it up
herself; but when it was uttered he blushed at the daring gallantry
of the speech, perhaps a shade too strong for a serious man and a
minister. In three minutes the chicken appeared, but, to his great
surprise, only in the hands of Martha Sarah. Stockdale was
disappointed, which perhaps it was intended that he should be.
He had finished supper, and was not in the least anticipating Mrs.
Newberry again that night, when she tapped and entered as before.
Stockdale's gratified look told that she had lost nothing by not
appearing when expected. It happened that the cold in the head from
which the young man suffered had increased with the approach of
night, and before she had spoken he was seized with a violent fit of
sneezing which he could not anyhow repress.
Mrs. Newberry looked full of pity. 'Your cold is very bad to-night,
Stockdale replied that it was rather troublesome.
'And I've a good mind'--she added archly, looking at the cheerless
glass of water on the table, which the abstemious minister was going
'Yes, Mrs. Newberry?'
'I've a good mind that you should have something more likely to cure
it than that cold stuff.'
'Well,' said Stockdale, looking down at the glass, 'as there is no
inn here, and nothing better to be got in the village, of course it
To this she replied, 'There is something better, not far off, though
not in the house. I really think you must try it, or you may be
ill. Yes, Mr. Stockdale, you shall.' She held up her finger,
seeing that he was about to speak. 'Don't ask what it is; wait, and
you shall see.'
Lizzy went away, and Stockdale waited in a pleasant mood. Presently
she returned with her bonnet and cloak on, saying, 'I am so sorry,
but you must help me to get it. Mother has gone to bed. Will you
wrap yourself up, and come this way, and please bring that cup with
Stockdale, a lonely young fellow, who had for weeks felt a great
craving for somebody on whom to throw away superfluous interest, and
even tenderness, was not sorry to join her; and followed his guide
through the back door, across the garden, to the bottom, where the
boundary was a wall. This wall was low, and beyond it Stockdale
discerned in the night shades several grey headstones, and the
outlines of the church roof and tower.
'It is easy to get up this way,' she said, stepping upon a bank
which abutted on the wall; then putting her foot on the top of the
stonework, and descending a spring inside, where the ground was much
higher, as is the manner of graveyards to be. Stockdale did the
same, and followed her in the dusk across the irregular ground till
they came to the tower door, which, when they had entered, she
softly closed behind them.
'You can keep a secret?' she said, in a musical voice.
'Like an iron chest!' said he fervently.
Then from under her cloak she produced a small lighted lantern,
which the minister had not noticed that she carried at all. The
light showed them to be close to the singing-gallery stairs, under
which lay a heap of lumber of all sorts, but consisting mostly of
decayed framework, pews, panels, and pieces of flooring, that from
time to time had been removed from their original fixings in the
body of the edifice and replaced by new.
'Perhaps you will drag some of those boards aside?' she said,
holding the lantern over her head to light him better. 'Or will you
take the lantern while I move them?'
'I can manage it,' said the young man, and acting as she ordered, he
uncovered, to his surprise, a row of little barrels bound with wood
hoops, each barrel being about as large as the nave of a heavy
When they were laid open Lizzy fixed her eyes on him, as if she
wondered what he would say.
'You know what they are?' she asked, finding that he did not speak.
'Yes, barrels,' said Stockdale simply. He was an inland man, the
son of highly respectable parents, and brought up with a single eye
to the ministry; and the sight suggested nothing beyond the fact
that such articles were there.
'You are quite right, they are barrels,' she said, in an emphatic
tone of candour that was not without a touch of irony.
Stockdale looked at her with an eye of sudden misgiving. 'Not
smugglers' liquor?' he said.
'Yes,' said she. 'They are tubs of spirit that have accidentally
come over in the dark from France.'
In Nether-Moynton and its vicinity at this date people always smiled
at the sort of sin called in the outside world illicit trading; and
these little kegs of gin and brandy were as well known to the
inhabitants as turnips. So that Stockdale's innocent ignorance, and
his look of alarm when he guessed the sinister mystery, seemed to
strike Lizzy first as ludicrous, and then as very awkward for the
good impression that she wished to produce upon him.
'Smuggling is carried on here by some of the people,' she said in a
gentle, apologetic voice. 'It has been their practice for
generations, and they think it no harm. Now, will you roll out one
of the tubs?'
'What to do with it?' said the minister.
'To draw a little from it to cure your cold,' she answered. 'It is
so 'nation strong that it drives away that sort of thing in a jiffy.
O, it is all right about our taking it. I may have what I like; the
owner of the tubs says so. I ought to have had some in the house,
and then I shouldn't ha' been put to this trouble; but I drink none
myself, and so I often forget to keep it indoors.'
'You are allowed to help yourself, I suppose, that you may not
inform where their hiding-place is?'
'Well, no; not that particularly; but I may take any if I want it.
So help yourself.'
'I will, to oblige you, since you have a right to it,' murmured the
minister; and though he was not quite satisfied with his part in the
performance, he rolled one of the 'tubs' out from the corner into
the middle of the tower floor. 'How do you wish me to get it out--
with a gimlet, I suppose?'
'No, I'll show you,' said his interesting companion; and she held up
with her other hand a shoemaker's awl and a hammer. 'You must never
do these things with a gimlet, because the wood-dust gets in; and
when the buyers pour out the brandy that would tell them that the
tub had been broached. An awl makes no dust, and the hole nearly
closes up again. Now tap one of the hoops forward.'
Stockdale took the hammer and did so.
'Now make the hole in the part that was covered by the hoop.'
He made the hole as directed. 'It won't run out,' he said.
'O yes it will,' said she. 'Take the tub between your knees, and
squeeze the heads; and I'll hold the cup.'
Stockdale obeyed; and the pressure taking effect upon the tub, which
seemed, to be thin, the spirit spirted out in a stream. When the
cup was full he ceased pressing, and the flow immediately stopped.
'Now we must fill up the keg with water,' said Lizzy, 'or it will
cluck like forty hens when it is handled, and show that 'tis not
'But they tell you you may take it?'
'Yes, the SMUGGLERS: but the BUYERS must not know that the
smugglers have been kind to me at their expense.'
'I see,' said Stockdale doubtfully. 'I much question the honesty of
By her direction he held the tub with the hole upwards, and while he
went through the process of alternately pressing and ceasing to
press, she produced a bottle of water, from which she took
mouthfuls, conveying each to the keg by putting her pretty lips to
the hole, where it was sucked in at each recovery of the cask from
pressure. When it was again full he plugged the hole, knocked the
hoop down to its place, and buried the tub in the lumber as before.
'Aren't the smugglers afraid that you will tell?' he asked, as they
recrossed the churchyard.
'O no; they are not afraid of that. I couldn't do such a thing.'
'They have put you into a very awkward corner,' said Stockdale
emphatically. 'You must, of course, as an honest person, sometimes
feel that it is your duty to inform--really you must.'
'Well, I have never particularly felt it as a duty; and, besides, my
first husband--' She stopped, and there was some confusion in her
voice. Stockdale was so honest and unsophisticated that he did not
at once discern why she paused: but at last he did perceive that
the words were a slip, and that no woman would have uttered 'first
husband' by accident unless she had thought pretty frequently of a
second. He felt for her confusion, and allowed her time to recover
and proceed. 'My husband,' she said, in a self-corrected tone,
'used to know of their doings, and so did my father, and kept the
secret. I cannot inform, in fact, against anybody.'
'I see the hardness of it,' he continued, like a man who looked far
into the moral of things. 'And it is very cruel that you should be
tossed and tantalized between your memories and your conscience. I
do hope, Mrs. Newberry, that you will soon see your way out of this
'Well, I don't just now,' she murmured.
By this time they had passed over the wall and entered the house,
where she brought him a glass and hot water, and left him to his own
reflections. He looked after her vanishing form, asking himself
whether he, as a respectable man, and a minister, and a shining
light, even though as yet only of the halfpenny-candle sort, were
quite justified in doing this thing. A sneeze settled the question;
and he found that when the fiery liquor was lowered by the addition
of twice or thrice the quantity of water, it was one of the
prettiest cures for a cold in the head that he had ever known,
particularly at this chilly time of the year.
Stockdale sat in the deep chair about twenty minutes sipping and
meditating, till he at length took warmer views of things, and
longed for the morrow, when he would see Mrs. Newberry again. He
then felt that, though chronologically at a short distance, it would
in an emotional sense be very long before to-morrow came, and walked
restlessly round the room. His eye was attracted by a framed and
glazed sampler in which a running ornament of fir-trees and peacocks
surrounded the following pretty bit of sentiment:-
'Rose-leaves smell when roses thrive,
Here's my work while I'm alive;
Rose-leaves smell when shrunk and shed,
Here's my work when I am dead.
'Lizzy Simpkins. Fear God. Honour the King.
'Aged 11 years.
''Tis hers,' he said to himself. 'Heavens, how I like that name!'
Before he had done thinking that no other name from Abigail to
Zenobia would have suited his young landlady so well, tap-tap came
again upon the door; and the minister started as her face appeared
yet another time, looking so disinterested that the most ingenious
would have refrained from asserting that she had come to affect his
feelings by her seductive eyes.
'Would you like a fire in your room, Mr. Stockdale, on account of
The minister, being still a little pricked in the conscience for
countenancing her in watering the spirits, saw here a way to self-
chastisement. 'No, I thank you,' he said firmly; 'it is not
necessary. I have never been used to one in my life, and it would
be giving way to luxury too far.'
'Then I won't insist,' she said, and disconcerted him by vanishing
Wondering if she was vexed by his refusal, he wished that he had
chosen to have a fire, even though it should have scorched him out
of bed and endangered his self-discipline for a dozen days.
However, he consoled himself with what was in truth a rare
consolation for a budding lover, that he was under the same roof
with Lizzy; her guest, in fact, to take a poetical view of the term
lodger; and that he would certainly see her on the morrow.
The morrow came, and Stockdale rose early, his cold quite gone. He
had never in his life so longed for the breakfast hour as he did
that day, and punctually at eight o'clock, after a short walk, to
reconnoitre the premises, he re-entered the door of his dwelling.
Breakfast passed, and Martha Sarah attended, but nobody came
voluntarily as on the night before to inquire if there were other
wants which he had not mentioned, and which she would attempt to
gratify. He was disappointed, and went out, hoping to see her at
dinner. Dinner time came; he sat down to the meal, finished it,
lingered on for a whole hour, although two new teachers were at that
moment waiting at the chapel-door to speak to him by appointment.
It was useless to wait longer, and he slowly went his way down the
lane, cheered by the thought that, after all, he would see her in
the evening, and perhaps engage again in the delightful tub-
broaching in the neighbouring church tower, which proceeding he
resolved to render more moral by steadfastly insisting that no water
should be introduced to fill up, though the tub should cluck like
all the hens in Christendom. But nothing could disguise the fact
that it was a queer business; and his countenance fell when he
thought how much more his mind was interested in that matter than in
his serious duties.
However, compunction vanished with the decline of day. Night came,
and his tea and supper; but no Lizzy Newberry, and no sweet
temptations. At last the minister could bear it no longer, and said
to his quaint little attendant, 'Where is Mrs. Newberry to-day?'
judiciously handing a penny as he spoke.
'She's busy,' said Martha.
'Anything serious happened?' he asked, handing another penny, and
revealing yet additional pennies in the background.
'O no--nothing at all!' said she, with breathless confidence.
'Nothing ever happens to her. She's only biding upstairs in bed
because 'tis her way sometimes.'
Being a young man of some honour, he would not question further, and
assuming that Lizzy must have a bad headache, or other slight
ailment, in spite of what the girl had said, he went to bed
dissatisfied, not even setting eyes on old Mrs. Simpkins. 'I said
last night that I should see her to-morrow,' he reflected; 'but that
was not to be!'
Next day he had better fortune, or worse, meeting her at the foot of
the stairs in the morning, and being favoured by a visit or two from
her during the day--once for the purpose of making kindly inquiries
about his comfort, as on the first evening, and at another time to
place a bunch of winter-violets on his table, with a promise to
renew them when they drooped. On these occasions there was
something in her smile which showed how conscious she was of the
effect she produced, though it must be said that it was rather a
humorous than a designing consciousness, and savoured more of pride
than of vanity.
As for Stockdale, he clearly perceived that he possessed unlimited
capacity for backsliding, and wished that tutelary saints were not
denied to Dissenters. He set a watch upon his tongue and eyes for
the space of one hour and a half, after which he found it was
useless to struggle further, and gave himself up to the situation.
'The other minister will be here in a month,' he said to himself
when sitting over the fire. 'Then I shall be off, and she will
distract my mind no more! . . . And then, shall I go on living by
myself for ever? No; when my two years of probation are finished, I
shall have a furnished house to live in, with a varnished door and a
brass knocker; and I'll march straight back to her, and ask her
flat, as soon as the last plate is on the dresser!
Thus a titillating fortnight was passed by young Stockdale, during
which time things proceeded much as such matters have done ever
since the beginning of history. He saw the object of attachment
several times one day, did not see her at all the next, met her when
he least expected to do so, missed her when hints and signs as to
where she should be at a given hour almost amounted to an
appointment. This mild coquetry was perhaps fair enough under the
circumstances of their being so closely lodged, and Stockdale put up
with it as philosophically as he was able. Being in her own house,
she could, after vexing him or disappointing him of her presence,
easily win him back by suddenly surrounding him with those little
attentions which her position as his landlady put it in her power to
bestow. When he had waited indoors half the day to see her, and on
finding that she would not be seen, had gone off in a huff to the
dreariest and dampest walk he could discover, she would restore
equilibrium in the evening with 'Mr. Stockdale, I have fancied you
must feel draught o' nights from your bedroom window, and so I have
been putting up thicker curtains this afternoon while you were out;'
or, 'I noticed that you sneezed twice again this morning, Mr.
Stockdale. Depend upon it that cold is hanging about you yet; I am
sure it is--I have thought of it continually; and you must let me
make a posset for you.'
Sometimes in coming home he found his sitting-room rearranged,
chairs placed where the table had stood, and the table ornamented
with the few fresh flowers and leaves that could be obtained at this
season, so as to add a novelty to the room. At times she would be
standing on a chair outside the house, trying to nail up a branch of
the monthly rose which the winter wind had blown down; and of course
he stepped forward to assist her, when their hands got mixed in
passing the shreds and nails. Thus they became friends again after
a disagreement. She would utter on these occasions some pretty and
deprecatory remark on the necessity of her troubling him anew; and
he would straightway say that he would do a hundred times as much
for her if she should so require.
CHAPTER II--HOW HE SAW TWO OTHER MEN
Matters being in this advancing state, Stockdale was rather
surprised one cloudy evening, while sitting in his room, at hearing
her speak in low tones of expostulation to some one at the door. It
was nearly dark, but the shutters were not yet closed, nor the
candles lighted; and Stockdale was tempted to stretch his head
towards the window. He saw outside the door a young man in clothes
of a whitish colour, and upon reflection judged their wearer to be
the well-built and rather handsome miller who lived below. The
miller's voice was alternately low and firm, and sometimes it
reached the level of positive entreaty; but what the words were
Stockdale could in no way hear.
Before the colloquy had ended, the minister's attention was
attracted by a second incident. Opposite Lizzy's home grew a clump
of laurels, forming a thick and permanent shade. One of the laurel
boughs now quivered against the light background of sky, and in a
moment the head of a man peered out, and remained still. He seemed
to be also much interested in the conversation at the door, and was
plainly lingering there to watch and listen. Had Stockdale stood in
any other relation to Lizzy than that of a lover, he might have gone
out and investigated the meaning of this: but being as yet but an
unprivileged ally, he did nothing more than stand up and show
himself against the firelight, whereupon the listener disappeared,
and Lizzy and the miller spoke in lower tones.
Stockdale was made so uneasy by the circumstance, that as soon as
the miller was gone, he said, 'Mrs. Newberry, are you aware that you
were watched just now, and your conversation heard?'
'When?' she said.
'When you were talking to that miller. A man was looking from the
laurel-tree as jealously as if he could have eaten you.'
She showed more concern than the trifling event seemed to demand,
and he added, 'Perhaps you were talking of things you did not wish
to be overheard?'
'I was talking only on business,' she said.
'Lizzy, be frank!' said the young man. 'If it was only on business,
why should anybody wish to listen to you?'
She looked curiously at him. 'What else do you think it could be,
'Well--the only talk between a young woman and man that is likely to
amuse an eavesdropper.'
'Ah yes,' she said, smiling in spite of her preoccupation. 'Well,
my cousin Owlett has spoken to me about matrimony, every now and
then, that's true; but he was not speaking of it then. I wish he
had been speaking of it, with all my heart. It would have been much
less serious for me.'
'O Mrs. Newberry!'
'It would. Not that I should ha' chimed in with him, of course. I
wish it for other reasons. I am glad, Mr. Stockdale, that you have
told me of that listener. It is a timely warning, and I must see my
'But don't go away till I have spoken,' said the minister. 'I'll
out with it at once, and make no more ado. Let it be Yes or No
between us, Lizzy; please do!' And he held out his hand, in which
she freely allowed her own to rest, but without speaking.
'You mean Yes by that?' he asked, after waiting a while.
'You may be my sweetheart, if you will.'
'Why not say at once you will wait for me until I have a house and
can come back to marry you.'
'Because I am thinking--thinking of something else,' she said with
embarrassment. 'It all comes upon me at once, and I must settle one
thing at a time.'
'At any rate, dear Lizzy, you can assure me that the miller shall
not be allowed to speak to you except on business? You have never
directly encouraged him?'
She parried the question by saying, 'You see, he and his party have
been in the habit of leaving things on my premises sometimes, and as
I have not denied him, it makes him rather forward.'
'Tubs--they are called Things here.'
'But why don't you deny him, my dear Lizzy?'
'I cannot well.'
'You are too timid. It is unfair of him to impose so upon you, and
get your good name into danger by his smuggling tricks. Promise me
that the next time he wants to leave his tubs here you will let me
roll them into the street?'
She shook her head. 'I would not venture to offend the neighbours
so much as that,' said she, 'or do anything that would be so likely
to put poor Owlett into the hands of the excisemen.'
Stockdale sighed, and said that he thought hers a mistaken
generosity when it extended to assisting those who cheated the king
of his dues. 'At any rate, you will let me make him keep his
distance as your lover, and tell him flatly that you are not for
'Please not, at present,' she said. 'I don't wish to offend my old
neighbours. It is not only Owlett who is concerned.'
'This is too bad,' said Stockdale impatiently.
'On my honour, I won't encourage him as my lover,' Lizzy answered
earnestly. 'A reasonable man will be satisfied with that.'
'Well, so I am,' said Stockdale, his countenance clearing.
CHAPTER III--THE MYSTERIOUS GREATCOAT
Stockdale now began to notice more particularly a feature in the
life of his fair landlady, which he had casually observed but
scarcely ever thought of before. It was that she was markedly
irregular in her hours of rising. For a week or two she would be
tolerably punctual, reaching the ground-floor within a few minutes
of half-past seven. Then suddenly she would not be visible till
twelve at noon, perhaps for three or four days in succession; and
twice he had certain proof that she did not leave her room till
half-past three in the afternoon. The second time that this extreme
lateness came under his notice was on a day when he had particularly
wished to consult with her about his future movements; and he
concluded, as he always had done, that she had a cold, headache, or
other ailment, unless she had kept herself invisible to avoid
meeting and talking to him, which he could hardly believe. The
former supposition was disproved, however, by her innocently saying,
some days later, when they were speaking on a question of health,
that she had never had a moment's heaviness, headache, or illness of
any kind since the previous January twelvemonth.
'I am glad to hear it,' said he. 'I thought quite otherwise.'
'What, do I look sickly?' she asked, turning up her face to show the
impossibility of his gazing on it and holding such a belief for a
'Not at all; I merely thought so from your being sometimes obliged
to keep your room through the best part of the day.'
'O, as for that--it means nothing,' she murmured, with a look which
some might have called cold, and which was the worst look that he
liked to see upon her. 'It is pure sleepiness, Mr. Stockdale.'
'It is, I tell you. When I stay in my room till half-past three in
the afternoon, you may always be sure that I slept soundly till
three, or I shouldn't have stayed there.'
'It is dreadful,' said Stockdale, thinking of the disastrous effects
of such indulgence upon the household of a minister, should it
become a habit of everyday occurrence.
'But then,' she said, divining his good and prescient thoughts, 'it
only happens when I stay awake all night. I don't go to sleep till
five or six in the morning sometimes.'
'Ah, that's another matter,' said Stockdale. 'Sleeplessness to such
an alarming extent is real illness. Have you spoken to a doctor?'
'O no--there is no need for doing that--it is all natural to me.'
And she went away without further remark.
Stockdale might have waited a long time to know the real cause of
her sleeplessness, had it not happened that one dark night he was
sitting in his bedroom jotting down notes for a sermon, which
occupied him perfunctorily for a considerable time after the other
members of the household had retired. He did not get to bed till
one o'clock. Before he had fallen asleep he heard a knocking at the
front door, first rather timidly performed, and then louder. Nobody
answered it, and the person knocked again. As the house still
remained undisturbed, Stockdale got out of bed, went to his window,
which overlooked the door, and opening it, asked who was there.
A young woman's voice replied that Susan Wallis was there, and that
she had come to ask if Mrs. Newberry could give her some mustard to
make a plaster with, as her father was taken very ill on the chest.
The minister, having neither bell nor servant, was compelled to act
in person. 'I will call Mrs. Newberry,' he said. Partly dressing
himself; he went along the passage and tapped at Lizzy's door. She
did not answer, and, thinking of her erratic habits in the matter of
sleep, he thumped the door persistently, when he discovered, by its
moving ajar under his knocking, that it had only been gently pushed
to. As there was now a sufficient entry for the voice, he knocked
no longer, but said in firm tones, 'Mrs. Newberry, you are wanted.'
The room was quite silent; not a breathing, not a rustle, came from
any part of it. Stockdale now sent a positive shout through the
open space of the door: 'Mrs. Newberry!'--still no answer, or
movement of any kind within. Then he heard sounds from the opposite
room, that of Lizzy's mother, as if she had been aroused by his
uproar though Lizzy had not, and was dressing herself hastily.
Stockdale softly closed the younger woman's door and went on to the
other, which was opened by Mrs. Simpkins before he could reach it.
She was in her ordinary clothes, and had a light in her hand.
'What's the person calling about?' she said in alarm.
Stockdale told the girl's errand, adding seriously, 'I cannot wake
'It is no matter,' said her mother. 'I can let the girl have what
she wants as well as my daughter.' And she came out of the room and
Stockdale retired towards his own apartment, saying, however, to
Mrs. Simpkins from the landing, as if on second thoughts, 'I suppose
there is nothing the matter with Mrs. Newberry, that I could not
'O no,' said the old lady hastily. 'Nothing at all.'
Still the minister was not satisfied. 'Will you go in and see?' he
said. 'I should be much more at ease.'
Mrs. Simpkins returned up the staircase, went to her daughter's
room, and came out again almost instantly. 'There is nothing at all
the matter with Lizzy,' she said; and descended again to attend to
the applicant, who, having seen the light, had remained quiet during
Stockdale went into his room and lay down as before. He heard
Lizzy's mother open the front door, admit the girl, and then the
murmured discourse of both as they went to the store-cupboard for
the medicament required. The girl departed, the door was fastened,
Mrs. Simpkins came upstairs, and the house was again in silence.
Still the minister did not fall asleep. He could not get rid of a
singular suspicion, which was all the more harassing in being, if
true, the most unaccountable thing within his experience. That
Lizzy Newberry was in her bedroom when he made such a clamour at the
door he could not possibly convince himself; notwithstanding that he
had heard her come upstairs at the usual time, go into her chamber,
and shut herself up in the usual way. Yet all reason was so much
against her being elsewhere, that he was constrained to go back
again to the unlikely theory of a heavy sleep, though he had heard
neither breath nor movement during a shouting and knocking loud
enough to rouse the Seven Sleepers.
Before coming to any positive conclusion he fell asleep himself, and
did not awake till day. He saw nothing of Mrs. Newberry in the
morning, before he went out to meet the rising sun, as he liked to
do when the weather was fine; but as this was by no means unusual,
he took no notice of it. At breakfast-time he knew that she was not
far off by hearing her in the kitchen, and though he saw nothing of
her person, that back apartment being rigorously closed against his
eyes, she seemed to be talking, ordering, and bustling about among
the pots and skimmers in so ordinary a manner, that there was no
reason for his wasting more time in fruitless surmise.
The minister suffered from these distractions, and his extemporized
sermons were not improved thereby. Already he often said Romans for
Corinthians in the pulpit, and gave out hymns in strange cramped
metres, that hitherto had always been skipped, because the
congregation could not raise a tune to fit them. He fully resolved
that as soon as his few weeks of stay approached their end he would
cut the matter short, and commit himself by proposing a definite
engagement, repenting at leisure if necessary.
With this end in view, he suggested to her on the evening after her
mysterious sleep that they should take a walk together just before
dark, the latter part of the proposition being introduced that they
might return home unseen. She consented to go; and away they went
over a stile, to a shrouded footpath suited for the occasion. But,
in spite of attempts on both sides, they were unable to infuse much
spirit into the ramble. She looked rather paler than usual, and
sometimes turned her head away.
'Lizzy,' said Stockdale reproachfully, when they had walked in
silence a long distance.
'Yes,' said she.
'You yawned--much my company is to you!' He put it in that way, but
he was really wondering whether her yawn could possibly have more to
do with physical weariness from the night before than mental
weariness of that present moment. Lizzy apologized, and owned that
she was rather tired, which gave him an opening for a direct
question on the point; but his modesty would not allow him to put it
to her; and he uncomfortably resolved to wait.
The month of February passed with alternations of mud and frost,
rain and sleet, east winds and north-westerly gales. The hollow
places in the ploughed fields showed themselves as pools of water,
which had settled there from the higher levels, and had not yet
found time to soak away. The birds began to get lively, and a
single thrush came just before sunset each evening, and sang
hopefully on the large elm-tree which stood nearest to Mrs.
Newberry's house. Cold blasts and brittle earth had given place to
an oozing dampness more unpleasant in itself than frost; but it
suggested coming spring, and its unpleasantness was of a bearable
Stockdale had been going to bring about a practical understanding
with Lizzy at least half-a-dozen times; but, what with the mystery
of her apparent absence on the night of the neighbour's call, and
her curious way of lying in bed at unaccountable times, he felt a
check within him whenever he wanted to speak out. Thus they still
lived on as indefinitely affianced lovers, each of whom hardly
acknowledged the other's claim to the name of chosen one. Stockdale
persuaded himself that his hesitation was owing to the postponement
of the ordained minister's arrival, and the consequent delay in his
own departure, which did away with all necessity for haste in his
courtship; but perhaps it was only that his discretion was
reasserting itself, and telling him that he had better get clearer
ideas of Lizzy before arranging for the grand contract of his life
with her. She, on her part, always seemed ready to be urged further
on that question than he had hitherto attempted to go; but she was
none the less independent, and to a degree which would have kept
from flagging the passion of a far more mutable man.
On the evening of the first of March he went casually into his
bedroom about dusk, and noticed lying on a chair a greatcoat, hat,
and breeches. Having no recollection of leaving any clothes of his
own in that spot, he went and examined them as well as he could in
the twilight, and found that they did not belong to him. He paused
for a moment to consider how they might have got there. He was the
only man living in the house; and yet these were not his garments,
unless he had made a mistake. No, they were not his. He called up
'How did these things come in my room?' he said, flinging the
objectionable articles to the floor.
Martha said that Mrs. Newberry had given them to her to brush, and
that she had brought them up there thinking they must be Mr.
Stockdale's, as there was no other gentleman a-lodging there.
'Of course you did,' said Stockdale. 'Now take them down to your
mis'ess, and say they are some clothes I have found here and know
As the door was left open he heard the conversation downstairs.
'How stupid!' said Mrs. Newberry, in a tone of confusion. 'Why,
Marther Sarer, I did not tell you to take 'em to Mr. Stockdale's
'I thought they must be his as they was so muddy,' said Martha
'You should have left 'em on the clothes-horse,' said the young
mistress severely; and she came upstairs with the garments on her
arm, quickly passed Stockdale's room, and threw them forcibly into a
closet at the end of a passage. With this the incident ended, and
the house was silent again.
There would have been nothing remarkable in finding such clothes in
a widow's house had they been clean; or moth-eaten, or creased, or
mouldy from long lying by; but that they should be splashed with
recent mud bothered Stockdale a good deal. When a young pastor is
in the aspen stage of attachment, and open to agitation at the
merest trifles, a really substantial incongruity of this complexion
is a disturbing thing. However, nothing further occurred at that
time; but he became watchful, and given to conjecture, and was
unable to forget the circumstance.
One morning, on looking from his window, he saw Mrs. Newberry
herself brushing the tails of a long drab greatcoat, which, if he
mistook not, was the very same garment as the one that had adorned
the chair of his room. It was densely splashed up to the hollow of
the back with neighbouring Nether-Moynton mud, to judge by its
colour, the spots being distinctly visible to him in the sunlight.
The previous day or two having been wet, the inference was
irresistible that the wearer had quite recently been walking some
considerable distance about the lanes and fields. Stockdale opened
the window and looked out, and Mrs. Newberry turned her head. Her
face became slowly red; she never had looked prettier, or more
incomprehensible, he waved his hand affectionately, and said good-
morning; she answered with embarrassment, having ceased her
occupation on the instant that she saw him, and rolled up the coat
Stockdale shut the window. Some simple explanation of her
proceeding was doubtless within the bounds of possibility; but he
himself could not think of one; and he wished that she had placed
the matter beyond conjecture by voluntarily saying something about
it there and then.
But, though Lizzy had not offered an explanation at the moment, the
subject was brought forward by her at the next time of their
meeting. She was chatting to him concerning some other event, and
remarked that it happened about the time when she was dusting some
old clothes that had belonged to her poor husband.
'You keep them clean out of respect to his memory?' said Stockdale
'I air and dust them sometimes,' she said, with the most charming
innocence in the world.
'Do dead men come out of their graves and walk in mud?' murmured the
minister, in a cold sweat at the deception that she was practising.
'What did you say?' asked Lizzy.
'Nothing, nothing,' said he mournfully. 'Mere words--a phrase that
will do for my sermon next Sunday.' It was too plain that Lizzy was
unaware that he had seen actual pedestrian splashes upon the skirts
of the tell-tale overcoat, and that she imagined him to believe it
had come direct from some chest or drawer.
The aspect of the case was now considerably darker. Stockdale was
so much depressed by it that he did not challenge her explanation,
or threaten to go off as a missionary to benighted islanders, or
reproach her in any way whatever. He simply parted from her when
she had done talking, and lived on in perplexity, till by degrees
his natural manner became sad and constrained.
CHAPTER IV--AT THE TIME OF THE NEW MOON
The following Thursday was changeable, damp, and gloomy; and the
night threatened to be windy and unpleasant. Stockdale had gone
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