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indeed at all times was rather a thing to be investigated
than beheld, so much more wall than window was
there in the apartment. ' It is nearly eight,' said she

184




KING'S HINTOCK

(Melbury Osmund)

Kings Hintock is approximately Melbury Os-
mund, a village near Evershot. The 'old house
with mullioned windows of Hamhill stone, and
chimneys of lavish solidity,' is still remembered,
but has been demolished.



as not to
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ness by a few
no such aids u
her gaxe ;
judgnv
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some



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regard out

ick-spirited, hand-



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i them

speeches that
mean '



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iy/ cried Sail
uldn't be amazed if it di<
;ch kind prom
get 'em when they

be doesn't intend it as a wedding-gown
y as a gown to wear
is what it would be called by
.me late it don't much ma
a to fall back upo

ock and opened the g

nible by night, and
.her a thing to be investigated
all than window was
y eight,' said she



'Eight o'clock, and neither dress nor man,' said
Mrs. Hall.

' Mother, if you think to tantalize me by talking
like that, you are much mistaken ! Let him be as late
as he will or stay away altogether I don't care,'
said Sally. But a tender, minute quaver in the
negation showed that there was something forced in
that statement.

Mrs. Hall perceived it, and drily observed that
she was not so sure about Sally not caring. ' But
perhaps you don't care so much as I do, after all,' she
said. ' For I see what you don't, that it is a good
and flourishing match for you ; a very honourable
offer in Mr. Darton. And I think I see a kind
husband in him. So pray God 'twill go smooth, and
wind up well.'

Sally would not listen to misgivings. Of course
it would go smoothly, she asserted. ' How you are
up and down, mother ! ' she went on. ' At this
moment, whatever hinders him, we are not so anxious
to see him as he is to be here, and his thought runs
on before him, and settles down upon us like the star
in the east. Hark!' she exclaimed, with a breath of
relief, her eyes sparkling. ' I heard something. Yes
here they are ! '

The next moment her mother's slower ear also
distinguished the familiar reverberation occasioned by
footsteps clambering up the roots of the sycamore.

' Yes it sounds like them at last,' she said.
' Well, it is not so very late after all, considering the
distance.'

The footfall ceased, and they arose, expecting a
knock. They began to think it might have been,
after all, some neighbouring villager under Bacchic
influence, giving the centre of the road a wide berth,
when their doubts were dispelled by the new-comer's
entry into the passage. The door of the room was
gently opened, and there appeared, not the pair of
travellers with whom we have already made acquaint-

185



WESSEX TALES

ance, but a pale-faced man in the garb of extreme
poverty almost in rags.

' O, it's a tramp gracious me ! ' said Sally, starting
back.

His cheeks and eye-orbits were deep concaves
rather, it might be, from natural weakness of constitu-
tion than irregular living, though there were indica-
tions that he had led no careful life. He gazed at
the two women fixedly for a moment : then with an
abashed, humiliated demeanour, dropped his glance
to the floor, and sank into a chair without uttering a
word.

Sally was in advance of her mother, who had
remained standing by the fire. She now tried to
discern the visitor across the candles.

4 Why mother,' said Sally faintly, turning back to
Mrs. Hall. ' It is Phil, from Australia!'

Mrs. Hall started, and grew pale, and a fit of
coughing seized the man with the ragged clothes.
' To come home like this ! ' she said. ' O, Philip are
you ill ? '

' No, no, mother,' replied he impatiently, as soon
as he could speak.

' But for God's sake how do you come here and
just now too?'

1 Well, I am here,' said the man. 'How it is I
hardly know. I've come home, mother, because I
was driven to it. Things were against me out there,
and went from bad to worse.'

1 Then why didn't you let us know ? you've not
writ a line for the last two or three years.'

The son admitted sadly that he had not. He said
that he had hoped and thought he might fetch up
again, and be able to send good news. Then he had
been obliged to abandon that hope, and had finally
come home from sheer necessity previously to
making a new start. ' Yes, things are very bad
with me,' he repeated, perceiving their commiserating
glances at his clothes.

186



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

They brought him nearer the fire, took his hat
from his thin hand, which was so small and smooth
as to show that his attempts to fetch up again had
not been in a manual direction. His mother resumed
her inquiries, and dubiously asked if he had chosen to
come that particular night for any special reason.

For no reason, he told her. His arrival had
been quite at random. Then Philip Hall looked
round the room, and saw for the first time that the
table was laid somewhat luxuriously, and for a larger
number than themselves ; and that an air of festivity
pervaded their dress. He asked quickly what was
going on.

1 Sally is going to be married in a day or two,'
replied the mother ; and she explained how Mr.
Darton, Sally's intended husband, was coming there
that night with the groomsman, Mr. Johns, and other
details. ' We thought it must be their step when we
heard you,' said Mrs. Hall.

The needy wanderer looked again on the floor.
' I see I see,' he murmured. ' Why, indeed, should
I have come to-night ? Such folk as I are not
wanted here at these times, naturally. And I have
no business here spoiling other people's happiness.'

' Phil,' said his mother, with a tear in her eye, but
with a thinness of lip and severity of manner which
were presumably not more than past events justified ;
'since you speak like that to me, I'll speak honestly
to you. For these three years you have taken no
thought for us. You left home with a good supply of
money, and strength and education, and you ought
to have made good use of it all. But you come back
like a beggar ; and that you come in a very awkward
time for us cannot be denied. Your return to-night
may do us much harm. But mind you are welcome
to this home as long as it is mine. I don't wish to
turn you adrift. We will make the best of a bad job ;
and I hope you are not seriously ill ? '

' O no. I have only this infernal cough.

187



WESSEX TALES

She looked at him anxiously. ' I think you had
better go to bed at once,' she said.

1 Well I shall be out of the way there,' said the
son wearily. ' Having ruined myself, don't let me
ruin you by being seen in these togs, for Heaven's
sake. Who do you say Sally is going to be married
to a Farmer Darton ? '

' Yes a gentleman-farmer quite a wealthy man.
Far better in station than she could have expected.
It is a good thing, altogether.'

' Well done, little Sal ! ' said her brother, brighten-
ing and looking up at her with a smile. ' I ought to
have written ; but perhaps I have thought of you all
the more. But let me get out of sight. I would
rather go and jump into the river than be seen here.
But have you anything I can drink ? I am con-
foundedly thirsty with my long tramp.'

' Yes, yes, we will bring something upstairs to
you,' said Sally, with grief in her face.

' Ay, that will do nicely. But, Sally and mother '
He stopped, and they waited. ' Mother, I have not
told you all,' he resumed slowly, still looking on the
floor between his knees. ' Sad as what you see of me
is, there's worse behind.'

His mother gazed upon him in grieved suspense,
and Sally went and leant upon the bureau, listening
for every sound, and sighing. Suddenly she turned
round, saying, ' Let them come, I don't care ! Philip,
tell the worst, and take your time.'

' Well, then,' said the unhappy Phil, ' I am not the
only one in this mess. Would to Heaven I were !
But '

'O, Phil!'

' I have a wife as destitute as I.'

' A wife ? ' said his mother.

' Unhappily ! '

' A wife ! Yes, that is the way with sons ! '

1 And besides ' said he.

1 Besides ! O, Philip, surely '

188



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

' I have two little children.'

' Wife and children ! ' whispered Mrs. Hall, sinking
down confounded.

' Poor little things ! ' said Sally involuntarily.

His mother turned again to him. ' I suppose these
helpless beings are left in Australia ? '

' No. They are in England.'

' Well, I can only hope you've left them in a
respectable place.'

' I have not left them at all. They are here
within a few yards of us. In short, they are in the
stable.'

'Where?'

' In the stable. I did not like to bring them
indoors till I had seen you, mother, and broken the
bad news a bit to you. They were very tired, and
are resting out there on some straw.'

Mrs. Hall's fortitude visibly broke down. She
had been brought up not without refinement, and was
even more moved by such a collapse of genteel aims
as this than a substantial dairyman's widow would in
ordinary have been moved. ' Well, it must be borne,'
she said, in a low voice, with her hands tightly joined.
' A starving son, a starving wife, starving children !
Let it be. But why is this come to us now, to-day,
to-night ? Could no other misfortune happen to help-
less women than this, which will quite upset my poor
girl's chance of a happy life ? Why have you done us
this wrong, Philip ? What respectable man will come
here, and marry open-eyed into a family of vagabonds?'

' Nonsense, mother ! ' said Sally vehemently, while
her face flushed. ' Charley isn't the man to desert me.
But if he should be, and won't marry me because
Phil's come, let him go and marry elsewhere. I won't
be ashamed of my own flesh and blood for any man in
England not I !' And then Sally turned away and
burst into tears.

' Wait till you are twenty years older and you will
tell a different tale,' replied her mother.

189



WESSEX TALES

The son stood up. ' Mother,' he said bitterly, 'as
I have come, so I will go. All I ask of you is that
you will allow me and mine to lie in your stable to-
night. I give you my word that we'll be gone by
break of day, and trouble you no further ! '

Mrs. Hall, the mother, changed at that. 'O no,'
she answered hastily ; ' never shall it be said that 1
sent any of my own family from my door. Bring 'em
in, Philip, or take me out to them.'

' We will put 'em all into the large bedroom,' said
Sally, brightening, * and make up a large fire. Let's
go and help them in, and call Rebekah.' (Rebekah
was the woman who assisted at the dairy and house-
work; she lived in a cottage hard by with her husband,
who attended to the cows.)

Sally went to fetch a lantern from the back-kitchen,
but her brother said, ' You won't want a light. I lit
the lantern that was hanging there.'

4 What must we call your wife ? ' asked Mrs. Hall.

' Helena,' said Philip.

With shawls over their heads they proceeded to-
wards the back door.

1 One minute before you go/ interrupted Philip.
'I I haven't confessed all.'

' Then Heaven help us ! ' said Mrs. Hall, pushing
to the door and clasping her hands in calm despair.

' We passed through Evershead as we came,' he
continued, ' and I just looked in at the " Sow-and-
Acorn " to see if old Mike still kept on there as usual.
The carrier had come in from Sherton Abbas at that
moment, and guessing that I was bound for this place
for I think he knew me he asked me to bring on
a dressmaker's parcel for Sally that was marked " im-
mediate." My wife had walked on with the children.
'Twas a flimsy parcel, and the paper was torn, and I
found on looking at it that it was a thick warm gown.
I didn't wish you to see poor Helena in a shabby state.
I was ashamed that you should 'twas not what she
was born to. I untied the parcel in the road, took it

190



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

on to her where she was waiting in the Lower Barn,
and told her I had managed to get it for her, and
that she was to ask no question. She, poor thing,
must have supposed I obtained it on trust, through
having reached a place where I was known, for she
put it on gladly enough. She has it on now. Sally
has other gowns, I daresay.'

Sally looked at her mother, speechless.

' You have others, I daresay ! ' repeated Phil, with a
sick man's impatience. ' I thought to myself, " Better
Sally cry than Helena freeze." Well, is the dress of
great consequence ? 'Twas nothing very ornamental,
as far as I could see.'

'No no; not of consequence,' returned Sally
sadly, adding in a gentle voice, ' You will not mind
if I lend her another instead of that one, will you ? '

Philip's agitation at the confession had brought on
another attack of the cough, which seemed to shake
him to pieces. He was so obviously unfit to sit in
a chair that they helped him upstairs at once ; and
having hastily given him a cordial and kindled the
bedroom fire, they descended to fetch their unhappy
new relations.



Ill

IT was with strange feelings that the girl and her
mother, lately so cheerful, passed out of the back door
into the open air of the barton, laden with hay scents
and the herby breath of cows. A fine sleet had begun
to fall, and they trotted across the yard quickly. The
stable-door was open ; a light shone from it from the
lantern which always hung there, and which Philip
had lighted, as he said. Softly nearing the door, Mrs.
Hall pronounced the name ' Helena ! '

There was no answer for the moment. Looking in
she was taken by surprise. Two people appeared
before her. For one, instead of the drabbish woman
she had expected, Mrs. Hall saw a pale, dark-eyed,
ladylike creature, whose personality ruled her attire
rather than was ruled by it. She was in a new and
handsome gown, Sally's own, and an old bonnet. She
was standing up, agitated ; her hand was held by her
companion none else than Sally's affianced, Farmer
Charles Darton, upon whose fine figure the pale
stranger's eyes were fixed, as his were fixed upon her.
His other hand held the rein of his horse, which was
standing saddled as if just led in.

At sight of Mrs. Hall they both turned, looking at
her in a way neither quite conscious nor unconscious,
and without seeming to recollect that words were
necessary as a solution to the scene. In another
moment Sally entered also, when Mr. Darton dropped
his companion's hand, led the horse aside, and came
to greet his betrothed and Mrs. Hall.

192



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

1 Ah ! ' he said, smiling with something like forced
composure 'this is a roundabout way of arriving,
you will say, my dear Mrs. Hall. But we lost our
way, which made us late. I saw a light here, and
led in my horse at once my friend Johns and my
man have gone onward to the little inn with theirs,
not to crowd you too much. No sooner had I entered
than I saw that this lady had taken temporary shelter
here and found I was intruding.'

'She is my daughter-in-law,' said Mrs. Hall
calmly. ' My son, too, is in the house, but he has
gone to bed unwell.'

Sally had stood staring wonderingly at the scene
until this moment, hardly recognizing Darton's shake
of the hand. The spell that bound her was broken
by her perceiving the two little children seated on a
heap of hay. She suddenly went forward, spoke to
them, and took one on her arm and the other in her
hand.

' And two children ? ' said Mr. Darton, showing
thus that he had not been there long enough as yet
to understand the situation.

' My grandchildren,' said Mrs. Hall, with as much
affected ease as before.

Philip Hall's wife, in spite of this interruption to
her first rencounter, seemed scarcely so much affected
by it as to feel any one's presence in addition to Mr.
Darton's. However, arousing herself by a quick re-
flection, she threw a sudden critical glance of her sad
eyes upon Mrs. Hall ; and, apparently finding her
satisfactory, advanced to her in a meek initiative.
Then Sally and the stranger spoke some friendly
words to each other, and Sally went on with the
children into the house. Mrs. Hall and Helena
followed, and Mr. Darton followed these, looking at
Helena's dress and outline, and listening to her voice
like a man in a dream.

By the time the others reached the house Sally
had already gone upstairs with the tired children.

193



WESSEX TALES

She rapped against the wall for Rebekah to come in
and help to attend to them, Rebekah's house being
a little ' spit-and-daub ' cabin leaning against the sub-
stantial stonework of Mrs. Hall's taller erection.
When she came a bed was made up for the little
ones, and some supper given to them. On descend-
ing the stairs after seeing this done Sally went to the
sitting-room. Young Mrs. Hall entered it just in
advance of her, having in the interim retired with her
mother-in-law to take off her bonnet, and otherwise
make herself presentable. Hence it was evident that
no further communication could have passed between
her and Mr. Darton since their brief interview in the
stable.

Mr. Japheth Johns now opportunely arrived, and
broke up the restraint of the company, after a few
orthodox meteorological commentaries had passed be-
tween him and Mrs. Hall by way of introduction.
They at once sat down to supper, the present of wine
and turkey not being produced for consumption to-
night, lest the premature display of those gifts should
seem to throw doubt on Mrs. Hall's capacities as a
provider.

' Drink hearty, Mr. Johns drink hearty,' said
that matron magnanimously. ' Such as it is there's
plenty of. But perhaps cider-wine is not to your
taste? though there's body in it.'

' Quite the contrairy, ma'am quite the contrairy,'
said the dairyman. ' For though I inherit the malt-
liquor principle from my father, I am a cider-drinker
on my mother's side. She came from these parts, you
know. And there's this to be said for't 'tis a more
peaceful liquor, and don't lie about a man like your
hotter drinks. With care, one may live on it a twelve-
month without knocking down a neighbour, or getting
a black eye from an old acquaintance.'

The general conversation thus begun was con-
tinued briskly, though it was in the main restricted
to Mrs. Hall and Japheth, who in truth required but

194



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

little help from anybody. There being slight call upon
Sally's tongue, she had ample leisure to do what her
heart most desired, namely, watch her intended hus-
band and her sister-in-law with a view of elucidating
the strange momentary scene in which her mother
and herself had surprised them in the stable. If that
scene meant anything, it meant, at least, that they
had met before. That there had been no time for
explanations Sally could see, for their manner was
still one of suppressed amazement at each other's
presence there. Barton's eyes, too, fell continually
on the gown worn by Helena as if this were an added
riddle to his perplexity ; though to Sally it was the
one feature in the case which was no mystery. He
seemed to feel that fate had impishly changed his
vis-a-vis in the lover's jig he was about to foot ; that
while the gown had been expected to enclose a Sally,
a Helena's face looked out from the bodice ; that some
long-lost hand met his own from the sleeves.

Sally could see that whatever Helena might know
of Darton, she knew nothing of how the dress entered
into his embarrassment. And at moments the young
girl would have persuaded herself that Darton's looks
at her sister-in-law were entirely the fruit of the
clothes query. But surely at other times a more
extensive range of speculation and sentiment was
expressed by her lover's eye than that which the
changed dress would account for.

Sally's independence made her one of the least
jealous of women. But there was something in the
relations of these two visitors which ought to be
explained.

Japheth Johns continued to converse in his well-
known style, interspersing his talk with some private
reflections on the position of Darton and Sally, which,
though the sparkle in his eye showed them to be
highly entertaining to himself, were apparently not
quite communicable to the company. At last he with-
drew for the night, going off to the roadside inn half-

195



WESSEX TALES

a-mile ahead, whither Darton promised to follow him
in a few minutes.

Half-an-hour passed, and then Mr. Darton also
rose to leave, Sally and her sister-in-law simultaneously
wishing him good-night as they retired upstairs to
their rooms. But on his arriving at the front door
with Mrs. Hall a sharp shower of rain began to come
down, when the widow suggested that he should
return to the fireside till the storm ceased.

Darton accepted her proposal, but insisted that,
as it was getting late, and she was obviously tired,
she should not sit up on his account, since he could
let himself out of the house, and would quite enjoy
smoking a pipe by the hearth alone. Mrs. Hall
assented ; and Darton was left by himself. He spread
his knees to the brands, lit up his tobacco as he had
said, and sat gazing into the fire, and at the notches of
the chimney-crook which hung above.

An occasional drop of rain rolled down the chimney
with a hiss, and still he smoked on ; but not like a
man whose mind was at rest. In the long run,
however, despite his meditations, early hours afield
and a long ride in the open air produced their natural
result. He began to doze.

How long he remained in this half-unconscious
state he did not know. He suddenly opened his eyes.
The back-brand had burnt itself in two, and ceased to
flame ; the light which he had placed on the mantel-
piece had nearly gone out. But in spite of these
deficiencies there was a light in the apartment, and it
came from elsewhere. Turning his head he saw
Philip Hall's wife standing at the entrance of the
room with a bed-candle in one hand, a small brass tea-
kettle in the other, and his gown, as it certainly
seemed, still upon her.

4 Helena ! ' said Darton, starting up.

Her countenance expressed dismay, and her first
words were an apology. ' I did not know you were
here, Mr. Darton, she said, while a blush flashed to

196



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

her cheek. ' I thought every one had retired I was
coming to make a little water boil ; my husband
seems to be worse. But perhaps the kitchen fire can
be lighted up again.'

' Don't go on my account. By all means put it on
here as you intended, said Darton. 'Allow me to
help you.' He went forward to take the kettle from
her hand, but she did not allow him, and placed it on
the fire herself.

They stood some way apart, one on each side of
the fireplace, waiting till the water should boil, the
candle on the mantel between them, and Helena with
her eyes on the kettle. Darton was the first to break
the silence. ' Shall I call Sally ? ' he said.

1 O no,' she quickly returned. ' We have given
trouble enough already. We have no right here. But
we are the sport of fate, and were obliged to come.'

' No right here ! ' said he in surprise.

' None. I can't explain it now,' answered Helena.
'This kettle is very slow.'

There was another pause ; the proverbial dila-
toriness of watched pots was never more clearly
exemplified.

Helena's face was of that sort which seems to ask
for assistance without the owner's knowledge the
very antipodes of Sally's, which was self-reliance
expressed. Darton's eyes travelled from the kettle
to Helena's face, then back to the kettle, then to the
face for rather a longer time. ' So I am not to know
anything of the mystery that has distracted me all the
evening?' he said. 'How is it that a woman, who
refused me because (as I supposed) my position was
not good enough for her taste, is found to be the wife
of a man who certainly seems to be worse off than I ? '

1 He had the prior claim,' said she.

1 What ! you knew him at that time ? '

' Yes, yes ! And he went to Australia, and sent
for me, and I joined him out there ! '

4 Ah that was the mystery ! '

197



WESSEX TALES

' Please say no more,' she implored. ' Whatever
my errors, I have paid for them during the last five
years ! '

The heart of Darton was subject to sudden over-
flowings. He was kind to a fault. ' I am sorry
from my soul,' he said, involuntarily approaching her.
Helena withdrew a step or two, at which he became
conscious of his movement, and quickly took his
former place. Here he stood without speaking, and
the little kettle began to sing.

' Well, you might have been my wife if you had


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Online LibraryThomas HardyThe writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) → online text (page 13 of 20)