Thomas Hardy.

A Laodicean; a story of to-day online

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"life's little ironies," etc.







Printed hy Bai.lantvne, Hanson ^ Co,
At Hie Ballantync Press


i HE changing of the old order in country manors and
mansions may be slow or sudden, may have many issues
romantic or otherwise, its romantic issues being not
necessarily restricted to a change back to the original
order ; though this admissible instance appears to have
been the only romance formerly recognized by novelists
as possible in the case. Whether the following production
be a picture of other possibilities or not, its incidents
may be taken to be fairly well supported by evidence
every day forthcoming in most counties.

The writing of the tale was rendered memorable to
two persons, at least, by a tedious illness of five months
that laid hold of the author soon after the story was begun
in a well-known magazine ; during which period the narra-
tive had to be strenuously continued l>y dictation to a
predetermined cheerful ending.

As some of these novels of Wessex life address themselves
more especially to readers into whose souls the iron has
entered, and whose years have less pleasure in them now



than heretofore, so "A Laodicean" may perhaps help to
while away an idle afternoon of the comfortable ones whose
lines have fallen to them in pleasant places ; above all,
of that large and happy section of the reading public
which has not yet reached ripeness of years ; those to
whom marriage is the pilgrim's Eternal City, and not a
milestone on the way.

T. H.

January 1896.




George Somerset, I-XV . . . . i


Dare and IIavill, I-VIT . . . .141


De bTANCY, I-XI . . . . .201





Somerset, Dare, and De Stancy, I-V . . 301


De Stancy and Paula, I-XIV . . -337


Paula, I-V . . . . . -453





i HE sun blazed down and down, till it was within
half-an-hour of its setting ; but the sketcher still lingered
at his occupation of measuring and copying the chevroned
doorway — a bold and quaint example of a transitional
style of architecture, which formed the tower entrance to
an English village church. The graveyard being quite
open on its western side, the tweed-clad figure of the
young draughtsman, and the tall mass of antique masonry
which rose above him to a battlemented parapet, were
fired to a great brightness by the solar rays, that crossed
the neighbouring mead like a warp of gold threads, in
whose mazes groups of equally lustrous gnats danced and
wailed incessantly.

He was so absorbed in his pursuit that he did not
mark the brilliant chromatic effect of which he composed
the central feature, till it was brought home to his intelli-
gence by the warmth of the moulded stonework under
his touch when measuring ; which led him at length to
turn his head and gaze on its cause.

There are few in whom the sight of a sunset does not
beget as much meditative melancholy as contemplative
pleasure, the human decline and death that it illustrates



being too obvious to escape the notice of the simplest
observer. The sketcher, as if he had been brought to
this reflection many hundreds of times before by the same
spectacle, showed that he did not wish to pursue it just
now, by turning away his face after a few moments, to
resume his architectural studies.

He took his measurements carefully, and as if he
reverenced the old workers whose trick he was en-
deavouring to acquire six hundred years after the original
performance had ceased and the performers passed into
the unseen. By means of a strip of lead called a leaden
tape, which he pressed around and into the fillets and
hollows with his finger and thumb, he transferred the
exact contour of each moulding to his drawing, that lay
on a sketching-stool a few feet distant ; where were also
a sketching-block, a small T-square, a bow-pencil, and
other mathematical instruments. When he had marked
down the line thus fixed, he returned to the doorway to
copy another as before.

It being the month of August, when the pale face of
the townsman and the stranger is to be seen among the
brown skins of remotest uplanders, not only in England,
but throughout the temperate zone, few of the homeward-
bound labourers paused to notice him further than by a
momentary turn of the head. They had beheld such
gentlemen before, not exactly measuring the church so
accurately as this one seemed to be doing, but painting
it from a distance, or at least walking round the mouldy
pile. At the same time the present visitor, even ex-
teriorly, was not altogether commonplace. His features
were good, his eyes of the dark deep sort called eloquent
by the sex that ought to know, and with that ray of light
in them which announces a heart susceptible to beauty
of all kinds, — in woman, in art, and in inanimate nature.
Though he would have been broadly characterized as
a young man, his face bore contradictory testimonies to
his precise age. This was conceivably owing to a too



dominant speculative activity in him, which, wliile it had
preserved the emotional side of his constitution, and with
it the significant flexuousness of mouth and chin, had
played upon his forehead and temples till, at weary
moments, they exhibited some traces of being over-
exercised. A youthfulness about the mobile features, a
mature forehead — though not exactly what the world
has been familiar with in past ages — is now growing
common ; and with the advance of juvenile introspection
it probably must grow commoner still. Briefly, he had
more of the beauty — if beauty it ought to be called — of
the future human type than of the past ; but not so
much as to make him other than a nice young man.

His build was somewhat slender and tall ; his com-
plexion, though a little browned by recent exposure,
was that of a man who spent much of his time indoors.
Of beard he had but small show, though he was as
innocent as a Nazarite of the use of the razor ; but he
possessed a moustache all-sufficient to hide the subtleties
of his mouth, which could thus be tremulous at tender
moments without provoking inconvenient criticism.

Owing to his situation on high ground, open to the
west, he remained enveloped in the lingering aureate
haze till a time when the eastern part of the churchyard
was in obscurity, and damp with rising dew. When it
w'as too dark to sketch further he packed up his drawing,
and, beckoning to a lad who had been idling by the
gate, directed him to carry the stool and implements
to a roadside inn which he named, lying a mile or two
ahead. The draughtsman leisurely followed the lad out
of the churchyard, and along a lane in the direction

The spectacle of a summer traveller from London
sketching medieval details in these neo- Pagan days,
when a lull has come over the study of English Gothic
architecture, through a re-awakening to the art-forms



of times that more nearly neighbour our own, is ac-
counted for by the fact that George Somerset, son of the
Academician of that name, was a man of independent
tastes and excursive instincts, who unconsciously, and
perhaps unhappily, took greater pleasure in floating in
lonely currents of thought than with the general tide of
opinion. When quite a lad, in the days of the French-
Gothic mania which immediately succeeded to the great
English-pointed revival under Britton, Pugin, Rickman,
Scott, and other medisevalists, he had crept away from
the fashion to admire what was good in Palladian and
Renaissance. As soon as Jacobean, Queen Anne, and
kindred accretions of decayed styles began to be popular,
he purchased such old-school works as Revett and
Stuart, Chambers, and the rest, and worked diligently
at the Five Orders ; till quite bewildered on the question
of style, he concluded that all styles were extinct, and
with them all architecture as a living art. Somerset was
not old enough at that time to know that, in practice,
art had at all times been as full of shifts and com-
promises as every other mundane thing; that ideal
perfection was never achieved by Greek, Goth, or
Hebrew Jew, and never would be; and thus he v>-as
thrown into a mood of disgust with his profession,
from which mood he was only delivered by recklessly
abandoning these studies and indulging in an old en-
thusiasm for poetical literature. For two whole years
he did nothing but write verse in every conceivable
metre, and on every conceivable subject, from Words-
worthian sonnets on the singing of his tea-kettle to
epic fragments on the Fall of Empires. His discovery
at the age of five-and-twenty that these inspired works
were not jumped at by the publishers with all the eager-
ness they deserved, coincided in point of time with a
severe hint from his father that unless he went on with
his legitimate profession he might have to look else-
where than at home for an allowance. Mr. Somerset



junior then awoke to realities, became intently practical,
rushed back to his dusty drawing-boards, and worked
up the styles anew, with a view of regularly starting in
practice on the first day of the following January.

It is an old story, and perhaps only deserves the
light tone in which the soaring of a young man into the
empyrean, and his descent again, is always narrated.
But as has often been said, the light and the truth may
be on the side of the dreamer : a far wider view than
the wise ones have may be his at that recalcitrant time,
and his reduction to common measure be nothing less
than a tragic event. The operation called lunging, in
which a haltered colt is made to trot round and round
a horsebreaker who holds the rope, till the beholder
grows dizzy in looking at them, is a very unhappy one
for the animal concerned. During its progress the colt
springs upward, across the circle, stops, flies over the
turf VN-ith the velocity of a bird, and indulges in all sorts
of graceful antics ; but he always ends in one way —
thanks to the knotted whipcord — in a level trot round
the lunger with the regularity of a horizontal wheel, and
in the loss for ever to his character of the bold contours
which the fine hand of Nature gave it. Yet the process
is considered to be the making of him.

Whether Somerset became permanently made under
the action of the inevitable lunge, or whether he lapsed
into mere dabbling with the artistic side of his profession
only, it would be premature to say ; but at any rate it
was his contrite return to architecture as a calling that
sent him on the sketching excursion under notice. Feel-
ing that something still was wanting to round off his
knowledge before he could take his professional line
with confidence, he was led to remember that his own
native Gothic was the one form of design that he had
totally neglected from the beginning, through its having
greeted him with wearisome iteration at the opening of
his career. Now it had again returned to silence; in-



deed — such is the surprising instabiUty of art ' prin-
ciples ' as they are facetiously called — it was just as
likely as not to sink into the neglect and oblivion
which had been its lot in Georgian times. This acci-
dent of being out of vogue lent English Gothic an
additional charm to one of his proclivities ; and away
he went to make it the business of a summer circuit
in the west.

The quiet time of evening, the secluded neighbour-
hood, the unusually gorgeous liveries of the clouds
packed in a pile over that quarter of the heavens in
which the sun had disappeared, were such as to make
a traveller loiter on his walk. Coming to a stile,
Somerset mounted himself on the top bar, to imbibe
the spirit of the scene and hour. The evening was so
still that every trifling sound could be heard for miles.
There was the rattle of a returning waggon, mixed with
the smacks of the waggoner's whip : the team must have
been at least three miles off. From far over the hill
came the faint periodic yell of kennelled hounds ; while
from the nearest village resounded the voices of boys at
play in the twilight. Then a powerful clock struck the
hour ; it was not from the direction of the church, but
rather from the wood behind him ; and he thought it
must be the clock of some mansion that way.

But the mind of man cannot always be forced to
take up subjects by the pressure of their material pre-
sence, and Somerset's thoughts were often, to his great
loss, apt to be even more than common truants from
the tones and images that met his outer senses on walks
and rides. He would sometimes go quietly through the
queerest, gayest, most extraordinary town in Europe,
and let it alone, provided it did not meddle with him
by its beggars, beauties, innkeepers, police, coachmen,
mongrels, bad smells, and such like obstructions. This
feat of questionable utility he began performing now.
Sitting on the three-inch ash rail that had been peeled



and polished like glass by the rubbings of all the small-
clothes in the parish, he forgot the time, the place,
forgot that it was August — in short, everything of the
present altogether. His mind flew back to his past
life, and deplored the waste of time that had resulted
from his not having been able to make up his mind
which of the many fashions of art that were coming
and going in kaleidoscopic change was the true point
of departure from himself. He had suffered from the
modern malady of unlimited appreciativeness as much
as any living man of his own age. Dozens of his
fellows in years and experience, who had never thought
specially of the matter, but had blunderingly applied
themselves to whatever form of art confronted them at
the moment of their making a move, were by this time
acquiring renown as new lights ; while he was still
unknown. He wished that some accident could have
hemmed in his eyes between inexorable blinkers, and
sped him on in a channel ever so worn.

Thus balanced between believing and not believing
in his own future, he was recalled to the scene without
by hearing the notes of a familiar hymn, rising in sub-
dued harmonies from a valley below. He listened
more heedfuUy. It was his old friend the ' New
Sabbath,' which he had never once heard since the
lisping days of childhood, and whose existence, much as
it had then been to him, he had till this moment quite
forgotten. Where the ' New Sabbath ' had kept itself all
these years — why that sound and hearty melody had
disappeared from all the cathedrals, parish churches,
minsters and chapels-of-ease that he had been ac-
quainted with during his apprenticeship to life, and
until his ways had become irregular and uncongrega-
tional — he could not, at first, say. But then he recol-
lected that the tune appertained to the old west-gallery
period of church-music, anterior to the great choral
reformation and the rule of Monk — that old time when


the repetition of a word, or half-Hne of a verse, was not
considered a disgrace to an ecclesiastical choir.

Willing to be interested in anything which would
keep him out-of-doors, Somerset dismounted from the
stile and descended the hill before him, to learn whence
the singing proceeded.



11 E found that it had its origin in a building stand-
ing alone in a field ; and though the evening was not
yet dark without, lights shone from the windows. In a
few moments Somerset stood before the edifice. Being
just then en rapport with ecclesiasticism by reason of
his recent occupation, he could not help murmuring,
' Shade of Pugin, what a monstrosity ! '

Perhaps this exclamation (rather out of date since
the discovery that Pugin himself often nodded amaz-
ingly) would not have been indulged in by Somerset
but for his new architectural resolves, which caused
professional opinions to advance themselves officiously
to his lips whenever occasion offered. The building
was, in short, a recently-erected chapel of red brick,
with pseudo - classic ornamentation, and the white re-
gular joints of mortar could be seen streaking its
surface in geometrical oppressiveness from top to
bottom. The roof was of blue slate, clean as a table,
and unbroken from gable to gable; the windows were
glazed with sheets of plate glass, a temporary iron stove-
pipe passing out near one of these, and running up to
the height of the ridge, where it was finished by a
covering like a parachute. ^V'alking round to the end,
he perceived an oblong white stone let into the wall



just above the plinth, on which was inscribed in deep
letters : —

Brectcd 187—



The ' New Sabbath ' still proceeded line by line,
with all the emotional swells and cadences that had of
old characterized the tune : and the body of vocal
harmony that it evoked implied a large congregation
within, to whom it was plainly as familiar as it had
been to church-goers of a past generation. With a
whimsical sense of regret at the secession of his once
favourite air Somerset moved away, and would have
quite withdrawn from the field had he not at that
moment observed two young men with pitchers of
water coming up from a stream hard by, and hastening
with their burdens into the chapel vestry by a side door.
Almost as soon as they had entered they emerged
again with empty pitchers, and proceeded to the stream
to fill them as before, an operation which they repeated
several times. Somerset went forward to the stream,
and waited till the young men came out again.

' You are carrying in a great deal of water,' he said,
as each dipped his pitcher.

One of the young men modestly replied, ' Yes : we
filled the cistern this morning; but it leaks, and re-
quires a few pitcherfuls more.'

' Why do you do it ? '

'There is to be a baptism, sir.'

Somerset was not sufficiently interested to develop
a further conversation, and observing them in silence
till they had again vanished into the building, he went
on his way. Reaching the brow of the hill he stopped
and looked back. The chapel was still in view, and
the shades of night having deepened, the lights shone



from the windows yet more brightly than before. A
few steps further would hide them and the edifice, and
all that belonged to it from his sight, possibly for t\er.
There was something in the thought which led him
to linger. The chapel had neither beauty, quaintness,
nor congeniality to recommend it : the dissimilitude be-
tween the new utilitarianism of the place and the scenes
of venerable Gothic art which had occupied his day-
light hours could not well be exceeded. But Somerset,
as has been said, was an instrument of no narrow gamut :
he had a key for other touches than the purely resthetic,
even on such an excursion as this. His mind was
arrested by the intense and busy energy which must
needs belong to an assembly that required such a glare
of light to do its religion by ; in the heaving of that
tune there was an earnestness which made him thought-
ful, and the shine of those windows he had characterized
as ugly reminded him of the shining of the good deed
in a naughty world. The chapel and its shabby plot of
ground, from which the herbage was all trodden away
by busy feet, had a living human interest that the
numerous minsters and churches knee-deep in fresh
green grass, visited by him during the foregoing week,
had often lacked. Moreover, there was going to be a
baptism : that meant the immersion of a grown-up
person ; and he had been told that Baptists were serious
people and that the scene was most impressive. What
manner of man would it be who on an ordinary plodding
and bustling evening of the nineteenth century could
single liimself out as one different from the rest of the
inhabitants, banish all shyness, and come forward to
undergo such a trying ceremony ? Who was he that
had pondered, gone into solitudes, wrestled with himself,
worked up his courage and said, I will do this, though
few else will, for I believe it to be my duty ?

Whether on account of these tlioughts, or from the
circumstance that he had been alone amongst the tombs


all day without communion with his kind, he could not
tell in after years (when he had good reason to think of
the subject) ; but so it was that Somerset went back,
and again stood under the chapel-wall.

Instead of entering he passed round to where the
stove-chimney came through the bricks, and holding on
to the iron stay he put his toes on the plinth and looked
in at the window. The building was quite full of
people belonging to that vast majority of society who
are denied the art of articulating their higher emotions,
and crave dumbly for a fugleman — respectably dressed
working people, whose faces and forms w^ere worn and
contorted by years of dreary toil. On a platform at the
end of the chapel a haggard man of more than middle
age, with grey whiskers ascetically cut back from the
fore part of his face so far as to be almost banished
from the countenance, stood reading a chapter. Between
the minister and the congregation Avas an open space,
and in the floor of this was sunk a tank full of water,
which just made its surface visible above the blackness
of its depths by reflecting the lights overhead.

Somerset endeavoured to discover which one among
the assemblage was to be the subject of the ceremony.
But nobody appeared there who was at all out of the
region of commonplace. The people were all quiet
and settled ; yet he could discern on their faces some-
thing more than attention, though it was less than
excitement : perhaps it was expectation. And as if
to bear out his surmise he heard at that moment the
noise of wheels behind him.

His gaze into the lighted chapel made what had
been an evening scene when he looked away from the
landscape night itself on looking back ; but he could
see enough to discover that a brougham had driven up
to the side-door used by the young water-bearers, and
that a lady in white-and-black half-mourning was in the
act of alighting, followed by what appeared to be a



waiting-woman carrying wraps. They entered the vestry-
room of the chapel, and the door was shut. The
service went on as before till at a certain moment the
door between vestry and chapel was opened, when a
woman came out clothed in an ample robe of flowing
white, which descended to her feet. Somerset was
unfortunate in his position ; he could not see her face,
but her gait suggested at once that she was the lady
who had arrived just before. She was rather tall than
otherwise, and the contour of her head and shoulders
denoted a girl in the heyday of youth and activity.
His imagination, stimulated by this beginning, set about
filling in the meagre outline with most attractive details.

She stood upon the brink of the pool, and the
minister descended the steps at its edge till the soles of
his shoes were moistened with the water. He turned
to the young candidate, but she did not follow him :
instead of doing so she remained rigid as a stone.
He stretched out his hand, but she still showed re-
luctance, till, with some embarrassment, he went back,
and spoke softly in her ear.

She approached the edge, looked into the water,
and turned away shaking her head. Somerset could
for the first time see her face. Though humanly im-
perfect, as is every face we see, it was one which made
him think that the best in woman-kind no less than
the best in psalm-tunes had gone over to the Dissenters.
He had certainly seen nobody so interesting in his tour
hitherto ; she was about twenty or twenty-one — perhaps
twenty-three, for years have a way of stealing marches
even upon beauty's anointed. The total dissimilarity
between the expression of her lineaments and that of the
countenances around her was not a little surprising, and
was productive of hypotheses without measure as to how
she came there. She was, in fact, emphatically a modern

Online LibraryThomas HardyA Laodicean; a story of to-day → online text (page 1 of 33)