Thomas Hardy.

Wessex tales .. online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryThomas HardyWessex tales .. → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


WESSEX TALES



WESSEX TALES



THAT IS TO SAY

AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN — THE
THREE STRANGERS— THE WITH-
ERED ARM — FELLOW -TOWNSMEN
—INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP—
AND THE DISTRACTED PREACHER



BY

THOMAS HARDY



WITH FRONTISPIECE BY

H. MACBETH-RAEBURN

AND

A MAP OF WESSEX



i';3ss



NEW YORK
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS

FRANKLIN SQUARE



Books by
THOMAS HARDY

DESPERATE REMEDIES

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

A GROUP OF NOBLE DAMES

THE HAND OF ETHELBERTA

JUDE THE OBSCURE

A LAODICEAN

LIFE'S LITTLE IRONIES

THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE

A PAIR OF BLUE EYES

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE

TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES

THE TRUMPET MAJOR

TWO ON A TOWER

UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE

THE WELL-BELOVED

WESSEX TALES

THE WOODLANDERS

Crown 8vo.

ISmo. Thin Paper Edition.

Cloth. Leather.

A CHANGED MAN. Post 8vo
WESSEX POEMS. First Series
WESSEX POEMS. Second Series



HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK



PniMTCO IN THE UNITED STATES OP AMENIC*

A-0

ri Q n: f:-;



PREFACE

An apology is perhaps needed for the neglect of contrast
which is shown by presenting two consecutive stories of
hangmen in such a small collection as the following. But
in the neighbourhood of county-towns tales of executions
used to form a large proportion of the local traditions ; and
though never personally acquainted with any chief operator
at such scenes, the writer of these pages had as a boy
the privilege of being on speaking terms with a man who
applied for the office, and who sank into an incurable
melancholy because he failed to get it, some slight mitiga-
tion of his grief being to dwell upon striking episodes in
the lives of those happier ones who had held it with suc-
cess and renown. His tale of disappointment used to
cause some wonder why his ambition should have taken
such an unfortunate form, but its nobleness was never
questioned. In those days, too, there was still living an
old woman who, for the cure of some eating disease, had
been taken in her youth to have her 'blood turned' by a
convict's corpse, in the manner described in * The Withered
Arm.'

Since writing this story some years ago I have been re-
minded by an aged friend who knew ' Rhoda Brook ' that,
in relating her dream, my forgetfulness has weakened the
facts out of which the tale grew. In reality it was while
lying down on a hot afternoon that the incubus oppressed
her and she flung it off, with the results upon the body of
the original as described. To my mind the occurrence of



PREFACE

such a vision in the daytime is more impressive than if it
had happened in a midnight dream. Readers are therefore
asked to correct the misrelation, which affords an instance
of how our imperfect memories insensibly formalize the
fresh originality of living fact — from whose shape they
slowly depart, as machine-made castings depart by degrees
from the sharp hand-work of the mould.

Among the many devices for concealing smuggled goods
in caves and pits of the earth, that of planting an apple-
tree in a tray or box which was placed over the mouth
of the pit is, I believe, unique, and it is detailed in one
of the tales precisely as described by an old carrier of
* tubs ' — a man who was afterwards in my father's employ
for over thirty years. I never gathered from his reminis-
cences what means were adopted for lifting the tree, which,
with its roots, earth, and receptacle, must have been of
considerable weight. There is no doubt, however, that the
thing was done through many years. My informant often
spoke, too, of the horribly suffocating sensation produced
by the pair of spirit-tubs slung upon the chest and back,
after stumbling with the burden of them for several miles
inland over a rough country and in darkness. He said
that though years of his youth and young manhood were
spent in this irregular business, his profits from the same,
taken all together, did not average the wages he might
have earned in a steady employment, whilst the fatigues
and risks were excessive.

I may add that the first story in the series turns upon

a physical possibility that may attach to women of

imaginative temperament, and that is well supported by

the experiences of medical men and other observers of such

manifestations.

T. H.

April 1896.



CONTENTS



An Imaginative Woman

The Three Strangers

The Withered Arm
A Lorn Milkmaid
The Young Wife
A Vision .

A Suggestion .
Conjuror Trendlb
A Second Attempt
A Ride .
A Water-side Hermit
A Rencounter



rACB

33

^3
6S
68

73
78
83
87
91
97

lOI



\^



vu



CONTENTS



Fellow-Townsmen . . • . •

Interlopers at the Knap • • .

The Distracted Preacher . . ,

How HIS Cold was Cured .
How he saw two other Men
The Mysterious Greatcoat
At the Time of the New Moon .
How they went to Lulstead Cove
The Great Search at Nether-Moynton



rAca
IDS

m

219

234
238
247
256
267



The Walk to Warm'kll Cross, and afterwards 277



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN



AN IMACmATIVE WOMAN

When WilUam Marchmlll had finished his inquiries
for lodgings at a well-known watering-place in Upper
Wessex, he returned to the hotel to find his wife. She,
with the children, had rambled along the shore, and
Marchmill followed in the direction indicated by the
military-looking hall-porter.

' By Jove, how far you've gone ! I am quite out of
breath,' Marchmill said, rather impatiently, when he
came up with his wife, who was reading as she walked,
the three children being considerably further ahead with
the nurse.

Mrs. Marchmill started out of the reverie into which
the book had thrown her. 'Yes,' she said, 'you've
been such a long time. I was tired of staying in that
dreary hotel. But I am sorry if you have wanted me.
Will ? '

'Well, I have had trouble to suit myself. When
you see the airy and comfortable rooms heard of, you
find they are stuffy and uncomfortable. Will you come
and see if what I've fixed on will do ? There is not
much room, I am afraid ; but I can light on nothing
better. The town is rather full.'

The pair left the children and nurse to continue their
ramble, and went back together.

In age well-balanced, in personal appearance fairly

3



WESSEX TALES

matched, and in domestic requirements conformable, in
temper this couple differed, though even here they did
not often clash, he being equable, if not lymphatic, and
she decidedly nervous and sanguine. It was to their
tastes and fancies, those smallest, greatest particulars,
that no common denominator could be applied. March-
mill considered his wife's likes and inclinations somewhat
silly; she considered his sordid and material. The
husband's business was that of a gunmaker in a thriving
city northwards, and his soul was in that business
always ; the lady was best characterized by that super-
annuated phrase of elegance ' a votary of the muse.' An
impressionable, palpitating creature was Ella, shrinking
humanely from detailed knowledge of her husband's
trade whenever she reflected that everything he manu-
factured had for its purpose the destruction of life. She
could only recover her equanimity by assuring herself
that some, at least, of his weapons were sooner or later
used for the extermination of horrid vermin and animals
almost as cruel to their inferiors in species as human
beings were to theirs.

She had never antecedently regarded this occupation
of his as any objection to having him for a husband.
Indeed, the necessity of getting life-leased at all cost,
a cardinal virtue which all good mothers teach, kept
her from thinking of it at all till she had closed with
William, had passed the honeymoon, and reached the
reflecting stage. Then, like a person who has stumbled
upon some object in the dark, she wondered what she
had got ; mentally walked round it, estimated it ; whether
it were rare or common; contained gold, silver, or
lead; were a clog or a pedestal, everything to her or
nothing.

She came to some vague conclusions, and since then
had kept her heart alive by pitying her proprietor's
obtuseness and want of refinement, pitying herself, and
letting off her delicate and ethereal emotions in imagi-

4



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN

native occupations, day-dreams, and night-sighs, which
perhaps would not much have disturbed WiUia ti if he
had known of them.

Her figure was small, elegant, and slight in build,
tripping, or rather bounding, in movement. She was
dark-eyed, and had that marvellously bright and liquid
sparkle in each pupil which characterizes persons of
Ella's cast of soul, and is too often a cause of heart-
ache to the possessor's male friends, ultimately some-
times to herself. Her husband was a tall, long-featured
man, with a brown beard ; he had a pondering regard ;
and was, it must be added, usually kind and tolerant
to her. He spoke in squarely shaped sentences, and
was supremely satisfied with a condition of sublunary
things which made weapons a necessity.

Husband and wife walked till they had reached the
house they were in search of, which stood in a terrace
facing the sea, and was fronted by a small garden of
wind-proof and salt-proof evergreens, stone steps leading
up to the porch. It had its number in the row, but, being
rather larger than the rest, was in addition sedulously
distinguished as Coburg House by its landlady, though
everybody else called it 'Thirteen, New Parade.' The
spot was bright and lively now ; but in winter it became
necessary to place sandbags against the door, and to
stuff up the keyhole against the wind and rain, which
had worn the paint so thin that the priming and knotting
showed through.

The householder, who had been watching for the
gentleman's return, met them in the passage, and
showed the rooms. She informed them that she was
a professional man's widow, left in needy circumstances
by the rather sudden death of her husband, and she
spoke anxiously of the conveniences of the establish-
ment.

Mrs. Marchmill sai 1 that she liked the situation and
the house; but, it being small, there would not be

5



WESSEX TALES

accommodation enough, unless she could have all the
rooms.

The landlady mused with an air of disappointment.
She wanted the visitors to be her tenants very badly,
she said, with obvious honesty. But unfortunately two
of the rooms were occupied permanently by a bachelor
gentleman. He did not pay season prices, it was true ;
but as he kept on his apartments all the year round,
and was an extremely nice and interesting young man,
who gave no trouble, she did not like to turn him out
for a month's ' let,* even at a high figure. ' Perhaps,
however,' she added, 'he might offer to go for a
time.'

They would not hear of this, and went back to the
hotel, intending to proceed to the agent's to inquire
further. Hardly had they sat down to tea when the
landlady called. Her gentleman, she said, had been
so obliging as to offer to give up his rooms for three
or four weeks rather than drive the new-comers away.

* It is very kind, but we won't inconvenience him in
that way,' said the Marchmills.

' O, it won't inconvenience him, I assure you ! ' said
the landlady eloquently. • You see, he's a different sort
of young man from most — dreamy, solitary, rather
melancholy — and he cares more to be here when the
south-westerly gales are beating against the door, and
the sea washes over the Parade, and there's not a soul
in the place, than he does now in the season. He'd
just as soon be where, in fact, he's going temporarily,
to a little cottage on the Island opposite, for a change.*
She hoped therefore that they would come.

The Marchmill family accordingly took possession
of the house next day, and it seemed to suit them very
well. After luncheon Mr. Marchmill strolled out to-
wards the pier, and Mrs. Marchmill, having despatched
the children to their outdoor amusements on the sands,
settled herself iu more completely, examining this and

6



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN

that article, and testing the reflecting powers of the
mirror in the wardrobe door.

In the small back sitting-room, which had been the
young bachelor's, she found furniture of a more personal
nature than in the rest. Shabby books, of correct
rather than rare editions, were piled up in a queerly
reserved manner in corners, as if the previous occupant
had not conceived the possibility that any incoming
person of the season's bringing could care to look
inside them. The landlady hovered on the threshold
to rectify anything that Mrs. Marchmill might not find
to her satisfaction.

' I'll make this my own little room,* said the latter,
* because the books are here. By the way, the person
who has left seems to have a good many. He won't
mind my reading some of them, Mrs. Hooper, I hope ? '

' O dear no, ma'am. Yes, he has a good many.
You see, he is in the literary line himself somewhat.
He is a poet — yes, really a poet — and he has a little
income of his own, which is enough to write verses
on, but not enough for cutting a figure, even if he
cared to.'

' A poet ! O, I did not know that.'

Mrs. Marchmill opened one of the books, and saw
the owner's name written on the title-page. * Dear
me ! ' she continued ; * I know his name very well —
Robert Trewe — of course I do ; and his writings !
And it is h's rooms we have taken, and Aim we have
turned out of his home ? '

Ella Marchmill, sitting down alone a few minutes
later, thought with interested surprise of Robert Trewe.
Her own latter history will best explain that interest.
Herself the only daughter of a struggling man of letters,
she had during the last year or two taken to writing
poems, in an endeavour to find a congenial channel
in which to let flow her painfully embayed emotions,
whose former limpidity and sparkle seemed departing



WESSEX TALES

in the stagnation caused by the routine of a practical
household and the gloom of bearing children to a
commonplace father. These poems, subscribed with a
masculine pseudonym, had appeared in various obscure
magazines, and in two cases in rather prominent ones.
In the second of the latter the page which bore her
effusion at the bottom, in smallish print, bore at the
top, in large print, a few verses on the same subject by
this very man, Robert Trewe. Both of them had, in
fact, been struck by a tragic incident reported in the
daily papers, and had used it simultaneously as an
inspiration, the editor remarking in a note upon the
coincidence, and that the excellence of both poems
prompted him to give them together.

After that event Ella, otherwise 'John Ivy,* had
watched with much attention the appearance anywhere
in print of verse bearing the signature of Robert Trewe,
who, with a man's unsusceptibility on the question of
sex, had never once thought of passing himself off as
a woman. To be sure, Mrs. Marchmill had satisfied
herself with a sort of reason for doing the contrary in
her case ; that nobody might beUeve in her inspiration
if they found that the sentiments came from a pushing
tradesman's wife, from the mother of three children by
a matter-of-fact small arms manufacturer.

Trewe's verse contrasted with that of the rank and
file of recent minor poets in being impassioned rather
than ingenious, luxuriant rather than finished. Neither
symboliste nor decadent, he was a pessin)ist in so far as
that character applies to a man who looks at the worst
contingencies as well as the best in the human condition.
Being Uttle attracted by excellences of form and rhythm
apart from content, he sometimes, when feeling outran
his artistic speed, perpetrated sonnets in the loosely
rhymed Elizabethan fashion, which every right-minded
reviewer said he ought not to have done.

With sad and hopeless envy, Ella Marchmill had

S



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN

often and often scanned the rival poet's work, so much
stronger as it always was than her own feeble lines. She
had imitated him, and her inability to touch his level
would send her into fits of despondency. Months
passed away thus, till she observed from the publishers'
list that Trewe had collected his fugitive pieces into a
volume, which was duly issued, and was much or little
praised according to chance, and had a sale quite suffi-
cient to pay for the printing.

This step onward had suggested to John Ivy the
idea of collecting her pieces also, or at any rate of
making up a book of her rhymes by adding m^any in
manuscript to the few that had seen the light, for she
had been able to get no great number into print. A
ruinous charge was made for costs of publication; a
few reviews noticed her poor little volume ; but nobody
talked of it, nobody bought it, and it fell dead in a
fortnight — if it had ever been alive.

The author's thoughts were diverted to another
groove just then by the discovery that she was going
to have a third child, and the collapse of her poetical
venture had perhaps less effect upon her mind than it
might have done if she had been domestically unoccu-
pied. Her husband had paid the publisher's bill with
the doctor's, and there it all had ended for the time.
But, though less than a poet of her century, Ella was
more than a mere multiplier of her kind, and latterly
she had begun to feel the old afflatus once more. And
now by an odd conjunction she found herself in the
rooms of Robert Trewe.

She thoughtfully rose from her chair and searched
the apartment with the interest of a fellow-tradesman.
Yes, the volume of his own verse was among the rest.
Though quite familiar with its contents, she read it here
as if it spoke aloud to her, then called up Mrs. Hooper,
the landlady, for some trivial service, and inquired again
about the young man.

9



WESSEX TALES

* Well, I'm sure you'd be interested in him, ma'am,
if you could see him, only he's so shy that I don't
suppose you will,' Mrs. Hooper seemed nothing loth
to minister to her tenant's curiosity about her prede-
cessor, * Lived here long ? Yes, nearly two years.
He keeps on his rooms even when he's not here : the
soft air of this place suits his chest, and he likes to be
able to come back at any time. He is mostly writing
or reading, and doesn't see many people, though, for
the matter of that, he is such a good, kind young fellow
that folks would only be too glad to be friendly with
him if they knew him. You don't meet kind-hearted
people every day,'

» Ah, he's kind-hearted . . . and good.*

* Yes ; he'll oblige me in anything if I ask him.
" Mr, Trewe," I say to him sometimes, " you are rather
out of spirits." *' Well, I am, Mrs, Hooper," he'll say,
" though 1 don't know how you should find it out"
"Why not take a little change?" I ask. Then in a
day or two he'll say that he will take a trip to Paris,
or Norway, or somewhere ; and I assure you he comes
back all the better for it.'

* Ah, indeed ! His is a sensitive nature, no doubt,'
*Yes, Still he's odd in some things. Once when

he had finished a poem of his composition late at night
he walked up and down the room rehearsing it; and
the floors being so thin — jerry-built houses, you know,
though I say it myself — he kept me awake up above
him till I wished him further. . , . But we get on
very well.'

This was but the beginning of a series of conver-
sations about the rising poet as the days went qdu
On one of these occasions Mrs. Hooper drew EU^s
attention to what she had not noticed before : minute
scribblings in pencil on the wall-paper behind the
curtains at the head of the bed.

•01 let me look,' said Mrs. Marchmill, unable to

lO



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN

conceal a rush of tender curiosity as she bent her pretty
face close to the wall.

' These,' said Mrs. Hooper, with the manner of a
woman who knew things, ' are the very beginnings and
first thoughts of his verses. He has tried to rub most
of them out, but you can read them still. My belief
is that he wakes up in the night, you know, with some
rhyme in his head, and jots it down there on the wall
lest he should forget it by the morning. Some of these
very lines you see here I have seen afterwards in print
in the magazines. Some are newer; indeed, I have
not seen that one before. It must have been done
only a few days ago.'

' O yes 1 . . .'

Ella Marchmill flushed without knowing why, and
suddenly wished her companion would go away, now
that the information was imparted. An indescribable
consciousness of personal interest rather than literary
made her anxious to read the inscription alone; and
she accordingly waited till she could do so, with a sense
that a great store of emotion would be enjoyed in the act

Perhaps because the sea was choppy outside the
Island, Ella's husband found it much pleasanter to go
sailing and steaming about without his wife, who was
a bad sailor, than with her. He did not disdain to
go thus alone on board the steamboats of the cheap-
trippers, where there was dancing by moonlight, and
where the couples would come suddenly down with a
lurch into each other's arms ; for, as he blandly told her,
the company was too mixed for him to take her amid
such scenes. Thus, while this thriving manufacturer got
a great deal of change and sea-air out of his sojourn
here, the life, external at least, of Ella was monotonous
enough, and mainly consisted in passing a certain
number of hours each day in bathing and walking
up and down a stretch of shore. But the poetic
impulse having again waxed strong, she was possessed

xz



WESSEX TALES

by an inner flame which left her hardly conscious of
what was proceeding around her.

She had read till she knew by heart Trewe's last
little volume of verses, and spent a great deal of time
in vainly attempting to rival some of them, till, in her
failure, she burst into tears. The personal element in
the magnetic attraction exercised by this circumambient,
unapproachable master of hers was so much stronger
than the intellectual and abstract that she could not
understand it. To be sure, she was surrounded noon
and night by his customary environment, which literally
whispered of him to her at every moment; but he was
a man she had never seen, and that all that moved
her was the instinct to specialize a waiting emotion on
the first fit thing that came to hand did not, of course,
suggest itself to Ella.

In the natural way of passion under the too practi-
cal conditions which civilization has devised for its
fruition, her husband's love for her had not survived,
except in the form of fitful friendship, any more than,
or even so much as, her own for him; and, being
a woman of very living ardours, that required suste-
nance of some sort, they were beginning to feed on this
chancing material, which was, indeed, of a quality far
better than chance usually offers.

One day the children had been playing hide-and-
seek in a closet, whence, in their excitement, they pulled
out some clothing. Mrs. Hooper explained that it
belonged to Mr. Trewe, and hung it up in the closet
again. Possessed of her fantasy, Ella went later in
the afternoon, when nobody was in that part of the
house, opened the closet, unhitched one of the articles,
a mackintosh, and put it on, with the waterproof cap
belonging to it.

•The mantle of Elijah!' she said. 'Would it
might inspire me to rival him, glorious genius that
he isl'

12



AN IMAGINATIVE WOMAN

Her eyes always grew wet when she thought like
that, and she turned to look at herself in the glass.
Bis heart had beat inside that coat, and his brain had
worked under that hat at levels of thought she would
never reach. The consciousness of her weakness beside
him made her feel quite sick. Before she had got the
things off her the door opened, and her husband entered
the room,

' What the devil '

She blushed, and removed them.

• I found them in the closet here,* she said, ' and put
them on in a freak. What have I else to do ? You are
always away ! '

• Always away ? Well . .

That evening she had a further talk with the land-
lady, who might herself have nourished a half-tender
regard for the poet, so ready was she to discourse ardently
about him.

♦You are interested in Mr. Trewe, I know, ma'am,*
she said ; ' and he has just sent to say that he is going
to call to-morrow afternoon to look up some books of
his that he wants, if I'll be in, and he may select them
from your room ? '

' O yes ! '

• You could very well meet Mr. Trewe then, if you'd
like to be in the way ! '

She promised with secret delight, and went to bed
musing of him.

Next morning her husband observed : ' I've been
thinking of what you said, Ell : that I have gone about
a good deal and left you without much to amuse you.


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryThomas HardyWessex tales .. → online text (page 1 of 19)