Thomas Hardy.

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This eBook was produced from the 1907 Macmillan and Co. edition by Les
Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.





THE HAND OF ETHELBERTA - A COMEDY IN CHAPTERS
by Thomas Hardy.


"Vitae post-scenia celant." - Lucretius.




PREFACE


This somewhat frivolous narrative was produced as an interlude between
stories of a more sober design, and it was given the sub-title of a
comedy to indicate - though not quite accurately - the aim of the
performance. A high degree of probability was not attempted in the
arrangement of the incidents, and there was expected of the reader a
certain lightness of mood, which should inform him with a good-natured
willingness to accept the production in the spirit in which it was
offered. The characters themselves, however, were meant to be consistent
and human.

On its first appearance the novel suffered, perhaps deservedly, for what
was involved in these intentions - for its quality of unexpectedness in
particular - that unforgivable sin in the critic's sight - the immediate
precursor of 'Ethelberta' having been a purely rural tale. Moreover, in
its choice of medium, and line of perspective, it undertook a delicate
task: to excite interest in a drama - if such a dignified word may be used
in the connection - wherein servants were as important as, or more
important than, their masters; wherein the drawing-room was sketched in
many cases from the point of view of the servants' hall. Such a reversal
of the social foreground has, perhaps, since grown more welcome, and
readers even of the finer crusted kind may now be disposed to pardon a
writer for presenting the sons and daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Chickerel as
beings who come within the scope of a congenial regard.

T. H.

December 1895.




CONTENTS


1. A STREET IN ANGLEBURY - A HEATH NEAR IT - INSIDE THE 'RED LION' INN
2. CHRISTOPHER'S HOUSE - SANDBOURNE TOWN - SANDBOURNE MOOR
3. SANDBOURNE MOOR (continued)
4. SANDBOURNE PIER - ROAD TO WYNDWAY - BALLROOM IN WYNDWAY HOUSE
5. AT THE WINDOW - THE ROAD HOME
6. THE SHORE BY WYNDWAY
7. THE DINING-ROOM OF A TOWN HOUSE - THE BUTLER'S PANTRY
8. CHRISTOPHER'S LODGINGS - THE GROUNDS ABOUT ROOKINGTON
9. A LADY'S DRAWING-ROOMS - ETHELBERTA'S DRESSING-ROOM
10. LADY PETHERWIN'S HOUSE
11. SANDBOURNE AND ITS NEIGHBOURHOOD - SOME LONDON STREETS
12. ARROWTHORNE PARK AND LODGE
13. THE LODGE (continued) - THE COPSE BEHIND
14. A TURNPIKE ROAD
15. AN INNER ROOM AT THE LODGE
16. A LARGE PUBLIC HALL
17. ETHELBERTA'S HOUSE
18. NEAR SANDBOURNE - LONDON STREETS - ETHELBERTA'S
19. ETHELBERTA'S DRAWING-ROOM
20. THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF THE HALL - THE ROAD HOME
21. A STREET - NEIGH'S ROOMS - CHRISTOPHER'S ROOMS
22. ETHELBERTA'S HOUSE
23. ETHELBERTA'S HOUSE (continued)
24. ETHELBERTA'S HOUSE (continued) - THE BRITISH MUSEUM
25. THE ROYAL ACADEMY - THE FARNFIELD ESTATE
26. ETHELBERTA'S DRAWING-ROOM
27. MRS. BELMAINE'S - CRIPPLEGATE CHURCH
28. ETHELBERTA'S - MR. CHICKEREL'S ROOM
29. ETHELBERTA'S DRESSING-ROOM - MR. DONCASTLE'S HOUSE
30. ON THE HOUSETOP
31. KNOLLSEA - A LOFTY DOWN - A RUINED CASTLE
32. A ROOM IN ENCKWORTH COURT
33. THE ENGLISH CHANNEL - NORMANDY
34. THE HOTEL BEAU SEJOUR, AND SPOTS NEAR IT
35. THE HOTEL (continued), AND THE QUAY IN FRONT
36. THE HOUSE IN TOWN
37. KNOLLSEA - AN ORNAMENTAL VILLA
38. ENCKWORTH COURT
39. KNOLLSEA - MELCHESTER
40. MELCHESTER (continued)
41. WORKSHOPS - AN INN - THE STREET
42. THE DONCASTLES' RESIDENCE, AND OUTSIDE THE SAME
43. THE RAILWAY - THE SEA - THE SHORE BEYOND
44. SANDBOURNE - A LONELY HEATH - THE 'RED LION' - THE HIGHWAY
45. KNOLLSEA - THE ROAD THENCE - ENCKWORTH
46. ENCKWORTH (continued) - THE ANGLEBURY HIGHWAY
47. ENCKWORTH AND ITS PRECINCTS - MELCHESTER
SEQUEL. ANGLEBURY - ENCKWORTH - SANDBOURNE




1. A STREET IN ANGLEBURY - A HEATH NEAR IT - INSIDE THE 'RED LION' INN


Young Mrs. Petherwin stepped from the door of an old and well-appointed
inn in a Wessex town to take a country walk. By her look and carriage
she appeared to belong to that gentle order of society which has no
worldly sorrow except when its jewellery gets stolen; but, as a fact not
generally known, her claim to distinction was rather one of brains than
of blood. She was the daughter of a gentleman who lived in a large house
not his own, and began life as a baby christened Ethelberta after an
infant of title who does not come into the story at all, having merely
furnished Ethelberta's mother with a subject of contemplation. She
became teacher in a school, was praised by examiners, admired by
gentlemen, not admired by gentlewomen, was touched up with
accomplishments by masters who were coaxed into painstaking by her many
graces, and, entering a mansion as governess to the daughter thereof, was
stealthily married by the son. He, a minor like herself, died from a
chill caught during the wedding tour, and a few weeks later was followed
into the grave by Sir Ralph Petherwin, his unforgiving father, who had
bequeathed his wealth to his wife absolutely.

These calamities were a sufficient reason to Lady Petherwin for pardoning
all concerned. She took by the hand the forlorn Ethelberta - who seemed
rather a detached bride than a widow - and finished her education by
placing her for two or three years in a boarding-school at Bonn. Latterly
she had brought the girl to England to live under her roof as daughter
and companion, the condition attached being that Ethelberta was never
openly to recognize her relations, for reasons which will hereafter
appear.

The elegant young lady, as she had a full right to be called if she cared
for the definition, arrested all the local attention when she emerged
into the summer-evening light with that diadem-and-sceptre bearing - many
people for reasons of heredity discovering such graces only in those
whose vestibules are lined with ancestral mail, forgetting that a bear
may be taught to dance. While this air of hers lasted, even the
inanimate objects in the street appeared to know that she was there; but
from a way she had of carelessly overthrowing her dignity by versatile
moods, one could not calculate upon its presence to a certainty when she
was round corners or in little lanes which demanded no repression of
animal spirits.

'Well to be sure!' exclaimed a milkman, regarding her. 'We should freeze
in our beds if 'twere not for the sun, and, dang me! if she isn't a
pretty piece. A man could make a meal between them eyes and chin - eh,
hostler? Odd nation dang my old sides if he couldn't!'

The speaker, who had been carrying a pair of pails on a yoke, deposited
them upon the edge of the pavement in front of the inn, and straightened
his back to an excruciating perpendicular. His remarks had been
addressed to a rickety person, wearing a waistcoat of that preternatural
length from the top to the bottom button which prevails among men who
have to do with horses. He was sweeping straws from the carriage-way
beneath the stone arch that formed a passage to the stables behind.

'Never mind the cursing and swearing, or somebody who's never out of
hearing may clap yer name down in his black book,' said the hostler, also
pausing, and lifting his eyes to the mullioned and transomed windows and
moulded parapet above him - not to study them as features of ancient
architecture, but just to give as healthful a stretch to the eyes as his
acquaintance had done to his back. 'Michael, a old man like you ought to
think about other things, and not be looking two ways at your time of
life. Pouncing upon young flesh like a carrion crow - 'tis a vile thing
in a old man.'

''Tis; and yet 'tis not, for 'tis a naterel taste,' said the milkman,
again surveying Ethelberta, who had now paused upon a bridge in full
view, to look down the river. 'Now, if a poor needy feller like myself
could only catch her alone when she's dressed up to the nines for some
grand party, and carry her off to some lonely place - sakes, what a pot of
jewels and goold things I warrant he'd find about her! 'Twould pay en
for his trouble.'

'I don't dispute the picter; but 'tis sly and untimely to think such
roguery. Though I've had thoughts like it, 'tis true, about high
women - Lord forgive me for't.'

'And that figure of fashion standing there is a widow woman, so I hear?'

'Lady - not a penny less than lady. Ay, a thing of twenty-one or
thereabouts.'

'A widow lady and twenty-one. 'Tis a backward age for a body who's so
forward in her state of life.'

'Well, be that as 'twill, here's my showings for her age. She was about
the figure of two or three-and-twenty when a' got off the carriage last
night, tired out wi' boaming about the country; and nineteen this morning
when she came downstairs after a sleep round the clock and a clane-washed
face: so I thought to myself, twenty-one, I thought.'

'And what's the young woman's name, make so bold, hostler?'

'Ay, and the house were all in a stoor with her and the old woman, and
their boxes and camp-kettles, that they carry to wash in because hand-
basons bain't big enough, and I don't know what all; and t'other folk
stopping here were no more than dirt thencefor'ard.'

'I suppose they've come out of some noble city a long way herefrom?'

'And there was her hair up in buckle as if she'd never seen a clay-cold
man at all. However, to cut a long story short, all I know besides about
'em is that the name upon their luggage is Lady Petherwin, and she's the
widow of a city gentleman, who was a man of valour in the Lord Mayor's
Show.'

'Who's that chap in the gaiters and pack at his back, come out of the
door but now?' said the milkman, nodding towards a figure of that
description who had just emerged from the inn and trudged off in the
direction taken by the lady - now out of sight.

'Chap in the gaiters? Chok' it all - why, the father of that nobleman
that you call chap in the gaiters used to be hand in glove with half the
Queen's court.'

'What d'ye tell o'?'

'That man's father was one of the mayor and corporation of Sandbourne,
and was that familiar with men of money, that he'd slap 'em upon the
shoulder as you or I or any other poor fool would the clerk of the
parish.'

'O, what's my lordlin's name, make so bold, then?'

'Ay, the toppermost class nowadays have left off the use of wheels for
the good of their constitutions, so they traipse and walk for many years
up foreign hills, where you can see nothing but snow and fog, till
there's no more left to walk up; and if they reach home alive, and ha'n't
got too old and weared out, they walk and see a little of their own
parishes. So they tower about with a pack and a stick and a clane white
pocket-handkerchief over their hats just as you see he's got on his. He's
been staying here a night, and is off now again. "Young man, young man,"
I think to myself, "if your shoulders were bent like a bandy and your
knees bowed out as mine be, till there is not an inch of straight bone or
gristle in 'ee, th' wouldstn't go doing hard work for play 'a b'lieve."'

'True, true, upon my song. Such a pain as I have had in my lynes all
this day to be sure; words don't know what shipwreck I suffer in these
lynes o' mine - that they do not! And what was this young widow lady's
maiden name, then, hostler? Folk have been peeping after her, that's
true; but they don't seem to know much about her family.'

'And while I've tended horses fifty year that other folk might straddle
'em, here I be now not a penny the better! Often-times, when I see so
many good things about, I feel inclined to help myself in common justice
to my pocket.

"Work hard and be poor,
Do nothing and get more."

But I draw in the horns of my mind and think to myself, "Forbear, John
Hostler, forbear!" - Her maiden name? Faith, I don't know the woman's
maiden name, though she said to me, "Good evening, John;" but I had no
memory of ever seeing her afore - no, no more than the dead inside church-
hatch - where I shall soon be likewise - I had not. "Ay, my nabs," I think
to myself, "more know Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows."'

'More know Tom Fool - what rambling old canticle is it you say, hostler?'
inquired the milkman, lifting his ear. 'Let's have it again - a good
saying well spit out is a Christmas fire to my withered heart. More know
Tom Fool - '

'Than Tom Fool knows,' said the hostler.

'Ah! That's the very feeling I've feeled over and over again, hostler,
but not in such gifted language. 'Tis a thought I've had in me for
years, and never could lick into shape! - O-ho-ho-ho! Splendid! Say it
again, hostler, say it again! To hear my own poor notion that had no
name brought into form like that - I wouldn't ha' lost it for the world!
More know Tom Fool than - than - h-ho-ho-ho-ho!'

'Don't let your sense o' vitness break out in such uproar, for heaven's
sake, or folk will surely think you've been laughing at the lady and
gentleman. Well, here's at it again - Night t'ee, Michael.' And the
hostler went on with his sweeping.

'Night t'ee, hostler, I must move too,' said the milkman, shouldering his
yoke, and walking off; and there reached the inn in a gradual diminuendo,
as he receded up the street, shaking his head convulsively, 'More
know - Tom Fool - than Tom Fool - ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!'

The 'Red Lion,' as the inn or hotel was called which of late years had
become the fashion among tourists, because of the absence from its
precincts of all that was fashionable and new, stood near the middle of
the town, and formed a corner where in winter the winds whistled and
assembled their forces previous to plunging helter-skelter along the
streets. In summer it was a fresh and pleasant spot, convenient for such
quiet characters as sojourned there to study the geology and beautiful
natural features of the country round.

The lady whose appearance had asserted a difference between herself and
the Anglebury people, without too clearly showing what that difference
was, passed out of the town in a few moments and, following the highway
across meadows fed by the Froom, she crossed the railway and soon got
into a lonely heath. She had been watching the base of a cloud as it
closed down upon the line of a distant ridge, like an upper upon a lower
eyelid, shutting in the gaze of the evening sun. She was about to return
before dusk came on, when she heard a commotion in the air immediately
behind and above her head. The saunterer looked up and saw a wild-duck
flying along with the greatest violence, just in its rear being another
large bird, which a countryman would have pronounced to be one of the
biggest duck-hawks that he had ever beheld. The hawk neared its intended
victim, and the duck screamed and redoubled its efforts.

Ethelberta impulsively started off in a rapid run that would have made a
little dog bark with delight and run after, her object being, if
possible, to see the end of this desperate struggle for a life so small
and unheard-of. Her stateliness went away, and it could be forgiven for
not remaining; for her feet suddenly became as quick as fingers, and she
raced along over the uneven ground with such force of tread that, being a
woman slightly heavier than gossamer, her patent heels punched little D's
in the soil with unerring accuracy wherever it was bare, crippled the
heather-twigs where it was not, and sucked the swampy places with a sound
of quick kisses.

Her rate of advance was not to be compared with that of the two birds,
though she went swiftly enough to keep them well in sight in such an open
place as that around her, having at one point in the journey been so near
that she could hear the whisk of the duck's feathers against the wind as
it lifted and lowered its wings. When the bird seemed to be but a few
yards from its enemy she saw it strike downwards, and after a level
flight of a quarter of a minute, vanish. The hawk swooped after, and
Ethelberta now perceived a whitely shining oval of still water, looking
amid the swarthy level of the heath like a hole through to a nether sky.

Into this large pond, which the duck had been making towards from the
beginning of its precipitate flight, it had dived out of sight. The
excited and breathless runner was in a few moments close enough to see
the disappointed hawk hovering and floating in the air as if waiting for
the reappearance of its prey, upon which grim pastime it was so intent
that by creeping along softly she was enabled to get very near the edge
of the pool and witness the conclusion of the episode. Whenever the duck
was under the necessity of showing its head to breathe, the other bird
would dart towards it, invariably too late, however; for the diver was
far too experienced in the rough humour of the buzzard family at this
game to come up twice near the same spot, unaccountably emerging from
opposite sides of the pool in succession, and bobbing again by the time
its adversary reached each place, so that at length the hawk gave up the
contest and flew away, a satanic moodiness being almost perceptible in
the motion of its wings.

The young lady now looked around her for the first time, and began to
perceive that she had run a long distance - very much further than she had
originally intended to come. Her eyes had been so long fixed upon the
hawk, as it soared against the bright and mottled field of sky, that on
regarding the heather and plain again it was as if she had returned to a
half-forgotten region after an absence, and the whole prospect was
darkened to one uniform shade of approaching night. She began at once to
retrace her steps, but having been indiscriminately wheeling round the
pond to get a good view of the performance, and having followed no path
thither, she found the proper direction of her journey to be a matter of
some uncertainty.

'Surely,' she said to herself, 'I faced the north at starting:' and yet
on walking now with her back where her face had been set, she did not
approach any marks on the horizon which might seem to signify the town.
Thus dubiously, but with little real concern, she walked on till the
evening light began to turn to dusk, and the shadows to darkness.

Presently in front of her Ethelberta saw a white spot in the shade, and
it proved to be in some way attached to the head of a man who was coming
towards her out of a slight depression in the ground. It was as yet too
early in the evening to be afraid, but it was too late to be altogether
courageous; and with balanced sensations Ethelberta kept her eye sharply
upon him as he rose by degrees into view. The peculiar arrangement of
his hat and pugree soon struck her as being that she had casually noticed
on a peg in one of the rooms of the 'Red Lion,' and when he came close
she saw that his arms diminished to a peculiar smallness at their
junction with his shoulders, like those of a doll, which was explained by
their being girt round at that point with the straps of a knapsack that
he carried behind him. Encouraged by the probability that he, like
herself, was staying or had been staying at the 'Red Lion,' she said,
'Can you tell me if this is the way back to Anglebury?'

'It is one way; but the nearest is in this direction,' said the
tourist - the same who had been criticized by the two old men.

At hearing him speak all the delicate activities in the young lady's
person stood still: she stopped like a clock. When she could again fence
with the perception which had caused all this, she breathed.

'Mr. Julian!' she exclaimed. The words were uttered in a way which would
have told anybody in a moment that here lay something connected with the
light of other days.

'Ah, Mrs. Petherwin! - Yes, I am Mr. Julian - though that can matter very
little, I should think, after all these years, and what has passed.'

No remark was returned to this rugged reply, and he continued
unconcernedly, 'Shall I put you in the path - it is just here?'

'If you please.'

'Come with me, then.'

She walked in silence at his heels, not a word passing between them all
the way: the only noises which came from the two were the brushing of her
dress and his gaiters against the heather, or the smart rap of a stray
flint against his boot.

They had now reached a little knoll, and he turned abruptly: 'That is
Anglebury - just where you see those lights. The path down there is the
one you must follow; it leads round the hill yonder and directly into the
town.'

'Thank you,' she murmured, and found that he had never removed his eyes
from her since speaking, keeping them fixed with mathematical exactness
upon one point in her face. She moved a little to go on her way; he
moved a little less - to go on his.

'Good-night,' said Mr. Julian.

The moment, upon the very face of it, was critical; and yet it was one of
those which have to wait for a future before they acquire a definite
character as good or bad.

Thus much would have been obvious to any outsider; it may have been
doubly so to Ethelberta, for she gave back more than she had got,
replying, 'Good-bye - if you are going to say no more.'

Then in struck Mr. Julian: 'What can I say? You are nothing to me. . . .
I could forgive a woman doing anything for spite, except marrying for
spite.'

'The connection of that with our present meeting does not appear, unless
it refers to what you have done. It does not refer to me.'

'I am not married: you are.'

She did not contradict him, as she might have done. 'Christopher,' she
said at last, 'this is how it is: you knew too much of me to respect me,
and too little to pity me. A half knowledge of another's life mostly
does injustice to the life half known.'

'Then since circumstances forbid my knowing you more, I must do my best
to know you less, and elevate my opinion of your nature by forgetting
what it consists in,' he said in a voice from which all feeling was
polished away.

'If I did not know that bitterness had more to do with those words than
judgment, I - should be - bitter too! You never knew half about me; you
only knew me as a governess; you little think what my beginnings were.'

'I have guessed. I have many times told myself that your early life was
superior to your position when I first met you. I think I may say
without presumption that I recognize a lady by birth when I see her, even
under reverses of an extreme kind. And certainly there is this to be
said, that the fact of having been bred in a wealthy home does slightly
redeem an attempt to attain to such a one again.'

Ethelberta smiled a smile of many meanings.

'However, we are wasting words,' he resumed cheerfully. 'It is better
for us to part as we met, and continue to be the strangers that we have
become to each other. I owe you an apology for having been betrayed into
more feeling than I had a right to show, and let us part friends. Good
night, Mrs. Petherwin, and success to you. We may meet again, some day,
I hope.'

'Good night,' she said, extending her hand. He touched it, turned about,
and in a short time nothing remained of him but quick regular brushings
against the heather in the deep broad shadow of the moor.

Ethelberta slowly moved on in the direction that he had pointed out. This
meeting had surprised her in several ways. First, there was the
conjuncture itself; but more than that was the fact that he had not
parted from her with any of the tragic resentment that she had from time
to time imagined for that scene if it ever occurred. Yet there was
really nothing wonderful in this: it is part of the generous nature of a
bachelor to be not indisposed to forgive a portionless sweetheart who, by
marrying elsewhere, has deprived him of the bliss of being obliged to
marry her himself. Ethelberta would have been disappointed quite had
there not been a comforting development of exasperation in the middle
part of his talk; but after all it formed a poor substitute for the
loving hatred she had expected.

When she reached the hotel the lamp over the door showed a face a little
flushed, but the agitation which at first had possessed her was gone to a
mere nothing. In the hall she met a slender woman wearing a silk dress
of that peculiar black which in sunlight proclaims itself to have once
seen better days as a brown, and days even better than those as a
lavender, green, or blue.

'Menlove,' said the lady, 'did you notice if any gentleman observed and
followed me when I left the hotel to go for a walk this evening?'

The lady's-maid, thus suddenly pulled up in a night forage after lovers,
put a hand to her forehead to show that there was no mistake about her
having begun to meditate on receiving orders to that effect, and said at



Online LibraryThomas HardyThe Hand of Ethelberta → online text (page 1 of 33)