Thomas Hardy.

A Laodicean; or, The castle of the De Stancys. A story of to-day (Volume 1) online

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VOL. 2053.


By the same Author,















The Right of Translation is reserved.

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The 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 chev-
roned doorway — a bold and quaint example of a transi-
tional 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 man, and the tall mass of antique
masonry which rose above him to a battlemented
parapet, were fired to a great brightness by the un-
interrupted solar rays, that crossed the neighbouring
mead like a warp of gold threads, in whose mazes
groups of equally lustrous gnats danced and wailed

He was so absorbed in his pursuit that he did not
mark the brilliant chromatic effect of which he com-
posed the central feature, till it was brought home to
his intelligence by the warmth of the moulded stone-
work 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 con-
templative pleasure, the human decline and death thai
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

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 in-
struments. When he had marked down the line thus
fixed, he returned to the doorway to copy another as

It being the month of August, when the pale face
of the townsman and stranger is to be seen among the
brown skins of remotest uplanders, not only in Eng-
land, 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 walk-
ing round the mouldy pile. At the same time the
present visitor, even exteriorly, was not altogether com-
monplace. 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 an-
nounces a heart susceptible to beauty of all kinds,—
in woman, in art, and in inanimate nature. Though
he would have been broadly characterised 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, while 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 in-
doors. 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

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 church-
yard was in obscurity, and damp with rising dew.


When it was 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 fol-
lowed the lad out of the churchyard, and along a lane
in the direction signified.

The spectacle of a summer traveller from London
sketching mediaeval 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 inde-
pendent tastes and excursive instincts, who uncon-
sciously, 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 suc-
ceeded to the great English-pointed revival under
Britton, Pugin, Rickman, Scott, and other medievalists,
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 de-
cayed 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 con-
cluded 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 compromises as


every other mundane thing; that ideal perfection was
never achieved by Greek, Goth, or Hebrew Jew, and
never would be; and thus he was 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 enthusiasm for poetical
literature. For two whole years he did nothing but
avoid his barber and write verse in every conceivable
metre except an original one, and on every conceivable
subject, from Wordsvvorthian 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 eagerness 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 elsewhere 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 nar-
rated. 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 recal-
citrant time, and his reduction to common measure be
nothing less than a tragic event. The operation called
lunging, in which a colt having a rope attached to its
head is made to trot round and round a horsebreaker
with the other end of the rope in his hand, till it


makes the beholder dizzy to look at them, is a very-
unhappy one for the animal concerned. During its
progress the colt springs upward, across the circle,
stops still, flies over the turf with 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 con-
sidered 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 is premature to say; but at any rate
it was the impetus of his contrite return to architecture
as a calling that sent him on the sketching excursion
under notice. Feeling that something still was wanting
to round off his knowledge before he could take his
professional line with confidence, he was led to re-
member that his own native Gothic was the one form
of design that he had totally neglected from the be-
ginning, through its having greeted him with weari-
some iteration at the opening of his career. Now it
had again returned to silence; indeed — such is the
surprising instability of art "principles" 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 accident 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
lying 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 power-
ful clock struck the hour; it was not from the direc-
tion 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
presence, 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 obstruc-
tions. This feat of questionable utility he began per-
forming now. Sitting on the three-inch ash rail that
had been peeled and polished like glass by the rub-
bings 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 for himself. He had
suffered from the modern malady of unlimited ap-
preciativeness as much as any living man of his own
age. Dozens of his fellows in years and experiences,
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 so delicately that a feather of opinion
turned either scale, he was recalled to the scene with-
out by hearing the notes of a solemn familiar hymn,
rising in subdued harmonies from an unexplored valley
below. He listened more needfully. 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 acquainted with during his
apprenticeship to life, and until his ways had become
irregular and uncongregational— he could not, at first,
say. But then he recollected 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-
line of a verse, was not considered a disgrace to an
episcopal 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.



He 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 (being one rather out of
date since the discovery that Pugin himself often nodded
to an amazing extent) would not have been indulged
in by Somerset but for his condition of returned pro-
digal, which caused professional opinions to officiously
advance themselves to his lips whenever occasion of-
fered. The building was, in short, a recently-erected
chapel of red brick, with pseudo-classic ornamentation,
and the white regular 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 run-
ning up to the height of the ridge, where it was finished
by a covering like a parachute. Walking round to the
end, he perceived an oblong white stone let into the
wall just above the plinth, on which was inscribed in
block letter:


ERECTED 187—, at the sole expense of JOHN
POWER, LS(,)., M.P.

"The New Sabbath" still proceeded line by line,
with all the emotional swells and cadences that had of
old characterised the tune; and the body of vocal har-
mony 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 with-
drawn from the field had he not at that moment ob-
served 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 requires
a few pitchersful more."

"Why do you do it?"

"There is to be a baptism, sir."

Somerset was not at the moment sufficiently in-
terested to develop a further conversation, and ob-
serving 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 hav-
ing deepened, the lights shone from the windows yet

A Laodicean. I. 2


more brightly than before. A few steps farther would
hide them, and the edifice, and all that belonged to it
from his sight, possibly for ever. There was some-
thing in the thought which led him to linger in a way
he had not at all expected. The chapel had neither
beauty, quaintness, nor congeniality to recommend it:
the dissimilitude between the new utilitarianism of
the place and the scenes of venerable Gothic art which
had occupied his daylight hours could not well be ex-
ceeded. But Somerset, as has been said, was an in-
strument of no narrow gamut: he had a key for other
touches than the purely aesthetic, 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 thoughtful, and the
shine of those windows he had characterised 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
earnest 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 cen-
tury could single himself 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

Whether on account of these thoughts, 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 wall, and holding on
to the iron stay he stood 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 were 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
was 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.

After glancing miscellaneously at the assemblage
for some moments Somerset endeavoured to discover
which one among them 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 something 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, which led
him to turn his head.

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 entered 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

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


reluctance, till, with some embarrassment, he went
back, and spoke softly in her ear, afterwards saying in
a voice audible to all who were near, "You will

She approached the edge, looked into the water,
and gently turned away. Somerset could for the first
time see her face. Though humanly imperfect, 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 subtle conjecture. The total dissimilarity be-
tween 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 type of maidenhood, and she looked ultra-
modern by reason of her environment: a presumably
sophisticated being among the simple ones — not
wickedly so, but one who knew life fairly well for her
age. Her hair, of good English brown, neither light
nor dark, was abundant — too abundant for convenience
in tying, as it seemed; and it threw off the lamp-light
in a hazy lustre. As before observed it could not be
said of her features that this or that Avas flawless —
quite the contrary, indeed; but the nameless charm of
them altogether was only another instance of how
beautiful a woman can be as a whole without attaining
in any one detail to the lines marked out as absolutely
correct. The spirit and the life were there; and material
shapes could be disregarded.


This was all that could be gleaned of her: what-
ever moral characteristics it might be the surface of,
enough was shown to assure Somerset that she had
had some experience of things lying far outside her
present circumscribed horizon, and could live, and was
even at that moment living, a clandestine, stealthy

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Online LibraryThomas HardyA Laodicean; or, The castle of the De Stancys. A story of to-day (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 17)