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chosen,' he said at last. ' But that's all past and
gone. However, if you are in any trouble or poverty
I shall be glad to be of service, and as your relation
by marriage I shall have a right to be. Does your
uncle know of your distress ? '

' My uncle is dead. He left me without a farthing.
And now we have two children to maintain.'

'What, left you nothing? How could he be so
cruel as that ? '

1 1 disgraced myself in his eyes.'

' Now,' said Darton earnestly, ' let me take care of
the children, at least while you are so unsettled. You
belong to another, so I cannot take care of you.'

' Yes you can,' said a voice ; and suddenly a third
figure stood beside them. It was Sally. ' You can,
since you seem to wish to ? ' she repeated. ' She no
longer belongs to another. ... My poor brother is
dead!

Her face was red, her eyes sparkled, and all the
woman came to the front. ' I have heard it ! ' she
went on to him passionately. ' You can protect her
now as well as the children ! ' She turned then to her
agitated sister-in-law. ' I heard something,' said Sally
(in a gentle murmur, differing much from her previous
passionate words), 'and I went into his room. It
must have been the moment you left. He went off
so quickly, and weakly, and it was so unexpected,
that I couldn't leave even to call you.'

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INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

Darton was just able to gather from the confused
discourse which followed that, during his sleep by the
fire, Sally's brother whom he had never seen had become
worse ; and that during Helena's absence for water
the end had unexpectedly come. The two young
women hastened upstairs, and he was again left alone.

After standing there a short time he went to the
front door and looked out ; till, softly closing it behind
him, he advanced and stood under the large sycamore-
tree. The stars were flickering coldly, and the damp-
ness which had just descended upon the earth in rain
now sent up a chill from it. Darton was in a strange
position, and he felt it. The unexpected appearance,
in deep poverty, of Helena a young lady, daughter
of a deceased naval officer, who had been brought up
by her uncle, a solicitor, and had refused Darton in
marriage years ago the passionate, almost angry
demeanour of Sally at discovering them, the abrupt
announcement that Helena was a widow ; all this
coming together was a conjuncture difficult to cope
with in a moment, and made him question whether
he ought to leave the house or offer assistance. But
for Sally's manner he would unhesitatingly have done
the latter.

He was still standing under the tree when the
door in front of him opened, and Mrs. Hall came out.
She went round to the garden-gate at the side without
seeing him. Darton followed her, intending to speak.
Pausing outside, as if in thought, she proceeded to a
spot where the sun came earliest in spring-time, and
where the north wind never blew ; it was where the
row of beehives stood under the wall. Discerning
her object, he waited till she had accomplished it.

It was the universal custom thereabout to wake
the bees by tapping at their hives whenever a death
occurred in the household, under the belief that if this
were not done the bees themselves would pine away
and perish during the ensuing year. As soon as an

199



WESSEX TALES

interior buzzing responded to her tap at the first hive
Mrs. Hall went on to the second, and thus passed
down the row. As soon as she came back he met
her.

'What can I do in this trouble, Mrs. Hall?' he
said.

1 O nothing, thank you, nothing,' she said in a
tearful voice, now just perceiving him. ' We have
called Rebekah and her husband, and they will do
everything necessary.' She told him in a few words
the particulars of her son's arrival, broken in health
indeed, at death's very door, though they did not
suspect it and suggested, as the result of a conversa-
tion between her and her daughter, that the wedding
should be postponed.

' Yes, of course,' said Darton. ' I think now to
go straight to the inn and tell Johns what has
happened.' It was not till after he had shaken hands
with her that he turned hesitatingly and added, ' Will
you tell the mother of his children that, as they are
now left fatherless, I shall be glad to take the eldest
of them, if it would be any convenience to her and to
you? '

Mrs. Hall promised that her son's widow should
be told of the offer, and they parted. He retired
down the rooty slope and disappeared in the direction
of the inn, where he informed Johns of the circum-
stances. Meanwhile Mrs. Hall had entered the house.
Sally was downstairs in the sitting-room alone, and
her mother explained to her that Darton had readily
assented to the postponement.

' No doubt he has,' said Sally, with sad emphasis.
1 It is not put off for a week, or a month, or a year.
I shall never marry him, and she will ! '



IV

TIME passed, and the household on the Knap became
again serene under the composing influences of daily
routine. A desultory, very desultory correspondence,
dragged on between Sally Hall and Darton, who,
not quite knowing how to take her petulant words
on the night of her brother's death, had continued
passive thus long. Helena and her children remained
at the dairy-house, almost of necessity, and Darton
therefore deemed it advisable to stay away.

One day, seven months later on, when Mr. Darton
was as usual at his farm, twenty miles from King's-
Hintock, a note reached him from Helena. She
thanked him for his kind offer about her children,
which her mother-in-law had duly communicated, and
stated that she would be glad to accept it as regarded
the eldest, the boy. Helena had, in truth, good
need to do so, for her uncle had left her penniless,
and all application to some relatives in the north
had failed. There was, besides, as she said, no good
school near Hintock to which she could send the
child.

On a fine summer day the boy came. He was
accompanied half-way by Sally and his mother to
the ' White Horse,' the fine old Elizabethan inn at
Chalk Newton, 1 where he was handed over to Darton's
bailiff in a shining spring-cart, who met them there.

He was entered as a day-scholar at a popular

1 It is now pulled down, and its site occupied by a modern one in red brick
(1912).

2O I



WESSEX TALES

school at Casterbridge, three or four miles from
Barton's, having first been taught by Darton to ride
a forest-pony, on which he cantered to and from the
aforesaid fount of knowledge, and (as Darton hoped)
brought away a promising headful of the same at
each diurnal expedition. The thoughtful taciturnity
into which Darton had latterly fallen was quite dis-
sipated by the presence of this boy.

When the Christmas holidays came it was arranged
that he should spend them with his mother. The
journey was, for some reason or other, performed in
two stages, as at his coming, except that Darton in
person took the place of the bailiff, and that the boy
and himself rode on horseback.

Reaching the renowned 'White Horse,' Darton
inquired if Miss and young Mrs. Hall were there to
meet little Philip (as they had agreed to be). He
was answered by the appearance of Helena alone at
the door.

' At the last moment Sally would not come,' she
faltered.

That meeting practically settled the point towards
which these long-severed persons were converging.
But nothing was broached about it for some time yet.
Sally Hall had, in fact, imparted the first decisive
motion to events by refusing to accompany Helena.
She soon gave them a second move by writing the
following note :

4 [Private.]

' DEAR CHARLES, Living here so long and intimately
with Helena, I have naturally learnt her history, especially
that of it which refers to you. I am sure she would accept
you as a husband at the proper time, and I think you ought
to give her the opportunity. You inquire in an old note if
I am sorry that I showed temper (which it wasn't} that night
when I heard you talking to her. No, Charles, I am not
sorry at all for what I said then. Yours sincerely,

' SALLY HALL.'

Thus set in train, the transfer of Darton's heart

202



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

back to its original quarters proceeded by mere lapse
of time. In the following July, Darton went to his
friend Japheth to ask him at last to fulfil the bridal
office which had been in abeyance since the previous
January twelvemonths.

1 With all my heart, man o' constancy ! ' said
Dairyman Johns warmly. ' I've lost most of my
genteel fair complexion haymaking this hot weather,
'tis true, but I'll do your business as well as them
that look better. There be scents and good hair-oil
in the world yet, thank God, and they'll take off the
roughest o' my edge. I'll compliment her. " Better
late than never, Sally Hall," I'll say.'

' It is not Sally,' said Darton hurriedly. ' It is
young Mrs. Hall.'

Japheth's face, as soon as he really comprehended,
became a picture of reproachful dismay. 'Not Sally?'
he said. 4 Why not Sally ? I can't believe it ! Young
Mrs. Hall ! Well, well where's your wisdom ? '

Darton shortly explained particulars ; but Johns
would not be reconciled. ' She was a woman worth
having if ever woman was,' he cried. ' And now to
let her go ! '

1 But I suppose I can marry where I like,' said
Darton.

' H'm,' replied the dairyman, lifting his eyebrows
expressively. ' This don't become you, Charles it
really do not. If I had done such a thing you would
have sworn I was a curst no'thern fool to be drawn
off the scent by such a red-herring doll-oll-oll.'

Farmer Darton responded in such sharp terms
to this laconic opinion that the two friends finally
parted in a way they had never parted before. Johns
was to be no groomsman to Darton after all. He
had flatly declined. Darton went off sorry, and even
unhappy, particularly as Japheth was about to leave
that side of the county, so that the words which had
divided them were not likely to be explained away
or softened down.

203



WESSEX TALES

A short time after the interview Darton was united
to Helena at a simple matter-of-fact wedding ; and
she and her little girl joined the boy who had already
grown to look on Darton's house as home.

For some months the farmer experienced an un-
precedented happiness and satisfaction. There had
been a flaw in his life, and it was as neatly mended
as was humanly possible. But after a season the
stream of events followed less clearly, and there were
shades in his reveries. Helena was a fragile woman,
of little staying power, physically or morally, and
since the time that he had originally known her
eight or ten years before she had been severely
tried. She had loved herself out, in short, and was
now occasionally given to moping. Sometimes she
spoke regretfully of the gentilities of her early life,
and instead of comparing her present state with her
condition as the wife of the unlucky Hall, she mused
rather on what it had been before she took the first
fatal step of clandestinely marrying him. She did
not care to please such people as those with whom
she was thrown as a thriving farmer's wife. She
allowed the pretty trifles of agricultural domesticity
to glide by her as sorry details, and had it not been
for the children Darton's house would have seemed
but little brighter than it had been before.

This led to occasional unpleasantness, until Darton
sometimes declared to himself that such endeavours
as his to rectify early deviations of the heart by
harking back to the old point mostly failed of success.
' Perhaps Johns was right,' he would say. ' I should
have gone on with Sally. Better go with the tide
and make the best of its course than stem it at the
risk of a capsize.' But he kept these unmelodious
thoughts to himself, and was outwardly considerate
and kind.

This somewhat barren tract of his life had extended
to less than a year and a half when his ponderings
were cut short by the loss of the woman they con-

204



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

earned. When she was in her grave he thought
better of her than when she had been alive ; the farm
was a worse place without her than with her, after
all. No woman short of divine could have gone
through such an experience as hers with her first
husband without becoming a little soured. Her
stagnant sympathies, her sometimes unreasonable
manner, had covered a heart frank and well meaning,
and originally hopeful and warm. She left him a
tiny red infant in white wrappings. To make life
as easy as possible to this touching object became
at once his care.

As this child learnt to walk and talk Darton learnt
to see feasibility in a scheme which pleased him.
Revolving the experiment which he had hitherto
made upon life, he fancied he had gained wisdom
from his mistakes and caution from his miscarriages.

What the scheme was needs no penetration to
discover. Once more he had opportunity to recast
and rectify his ill-wrought situations by returning to
Sally Hall, who still lived quietly on under her
mother's roof at Hintock. Helena had been a woman
to lend pathos and refinement to a home ; Sally was
the woman to brighten it. She would not, as Helena
did, despise the rural simplicities of a farmer's fireside.
Moreover, she had a pre-eminent qualification for
Darton's household ; no other woman could make
so desirable a mother to her brother's two children
and Darton's one as Sally while Darton, now that
Helena had gone, was a more promising husband
for Sally than he had ever been when liable to
reminders from an uncured sentimental wound.

Darton was not a man to act rapidly, and the
working out of his reparative designs might have
been delayed for some time. But there came a
winter evening precisely like the one which had
darkened over that former ride to Hintock, and he
asked himself why he should postpone longer, when the
very landscape called for a repetition of that attempt.

205



WESSEX TALES

He told his man to saddle the mare, booted and
spurred himself with a younger horseman's nicety,
kissed the two youngest children, and rode off. To
make the journey a complete parallel to the first,
he would fain have had his old acquaintance Japheth
Johns with him. But Johns, alas ! was missing.
His removal to the other side of the county had
left unrepaired the breach which had arisen between
him and Darton ; and though Darton had forgiven
him a hundred times, as Johns had probably forgiven
Darton, the effort of reunion in present circumstances
was one not likely to be made.

He screwed himself up to as cheerful a pitch as
he could without his former crony, and became con-
tent with his own thoughts as he rode, instead of
the words of a companion. The sun went down ;
the boughs appeared scratched in like an etching
against the sky ; old crooked men with faggots at
their backs said ' Good-night, sir,' and Darton replied
1 Good-night ' right heartily.

By the time he reached the forking roads it was
getting as dark as it had been on the occasion when
Johns climbed the directing-post. Darton made no
mistake this time. ' Nor shall I be able to mistake,
thank Heaven, when I arrive,' he murmured. It
gave him peculiar satisfaction to think that the pro-
posed marriage, like his first, was of the nature of
setting in order things long awry, and not a moment-
ary freak of fancy.

Nothing hindered the smoothness of his journey,
which seemed not half its former length. Though
dark, it was only between five and six o'clock when
the bulky chimneys of Mrs. Hall's residence appeared
in view behind the sycamore -tree. On second
thoughts he retreated and put up at the ale-house
as in former time ; and when he had plumed himself
before the inn mirror, called for something to drink,
and smoothed out the incipient wrinkles of care, he
walked on to the Knap with a quick step.

206



THAT evening Sally was making 'pinners' for the
milkers, who were now increased by two, for her mother
and herself no longer joined in milking the cows them-
selves. But upon the whole there was little change in
the household economy, and not much in its appearance,
beyond such minor particulars as that the crack over
the window, which had been a hundred years coming,
was a trifle wider ; that the beams were a shade
blacker ; that the influence of modernism had sup-
planted the open chimney corner by a grate ; that
Rebekah, who had worn a cap when she had plenty of
hair, had left it off now she had scarce any, because it
was reported that caps were not fashionable ; and that
Sally's face had naturally assumed a more womanly
and experienced cast.

Mrs. Hall was actually lifting coals with the tongs,
as she had used to do.

' Five years ago this very night, if I am not
mistaken ' she said, laying on an ember.

' Not this very night though 'twas one night this
week,' said the correct Sally.

' Well, 'tis near enough. Five years ago Mr.
Darton came to marry you, and my poor boy Phil
came home to die.' She sighed. 'Ah, Sally,' she
presently said, ' if you had managed well Mr. Darton
would have had you, Helena or none.'

' Don't be sentimental about that, mother,' begged
Sally. ' I didn't care to manage well in such a case.
Though I liked him, I wasn't so anxious. I would

207



WESSEX TALES

never have married the man in the midst of such a
hitch as that was,' she added with decision ; 'and I
don't think I would if he were to ask me now.'

' I am not sure about that, unless you have another
in your eye.'

' I wouldn't ; and I'll tell you why. I could hardly
marry him for love at this time o' day. And as we've
quite enough to live on if we give up the dairy to-
morrow, I should have no need to marry for any
meaner reason. ... I am quite happy enough as I
am, and there's an end of it.'

Now it was not long after this dialogue that there
came a mild rap at the door, and in a moment there
entered Rebekah, looking as though a ghost had
arrived. The fact was that that accomplished
skimmer and churner (now a resident in the house)
had overheard the desultory observations between
mother and daughter, and on opening the door to Mr.
Darton thought the coincidence must have a grisly
meaning in it. Mrs. Hall welcomed the farmer with
warm surprise, as did Sally, and for a moment they
rather wanted words.

4 Can you push up the chimney-crook for me, Mr.
Darton ? the notches hitch,' said the matron. He did
it, and the homely little act bridged over the awkward
consciousness that he had been a stranger for four
years.

Mrs. Hall soon saw what he had come for, and left
the principals together while she went to prepare him
a late tea, smiling at Sally's recent hasty assertions
of indifference, when she saw how civil Sally was.
When tea was ready she joined them. She fancied
that Darton did not look so confident as when he had
arrived ; but Sally was quite light-hearted, and the
meal passed pleasantly.

About seven he took his leave of them. Mrs. Hall
went as far as the door to light him down the slope.
On the doorstep he said frankly

' I came to ask your daughter to marry me ; chose

208



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

the night and everything, with an eye to a favourable
answer. But she won't/

' Then she's a very ungrateful girl ! ' emphatically
said Mrs. Hall.

Darton paused to shape his sentence, and asked,
' I I suppose there's nobody else more favoured ? '

' I can't say that there is, or that there isn't,'
answered Mrs. Hall. 'She's private in some things.
I'm on your side, however, Mr. Darton, and I'll talk
to her.'

' Thank 'ee, thank 'ee ! ' said the farmer in a gayer
accent ; and with this assurance the not very satis-
factory visit came to an end. Darton descended the
roots of the sycamore, the light was withdrawn, and
the door closed. At the bottom of the slope he nearly
ran against a man about to ascend.

' Can a jack-o'-lent believe his few senses on such
a dark night, or can't he ? ' exclaimed one whose
utterance Darton recognized in a moment, despite its
unexpectedness. ' I dare not swear he can, though I
fain would ! ' The speaker was Johns.

Darton said he was glad of this opportunity, bad as
it was, of putting an end to the silence of years, and
asked the dairyman what he was travelling that
way for.

Japheth showed the old jovial confidence in a
moment. ' I'm going to see your relations as they
always seem to me,' he said ' Mrs. Hall and Sally.
Well, Charles, the fact is I find the natural barbarous-
ness of man is much increased by a bachelor life, and,
as your leavings were always good enough for me,
I'm trying civilisation here.' He nodded towards the
house.

1 Not with Sally to marry her ? ' said Darton,
feeling something like a rill of ice water between his
shoulders.

4 Yes, by the help of Providence and my personal
charms. And I think I shall get her. I am this road
every week my present dairy is only four miles off,

209



WESSEX TALES

you know, and I see her through the window. 'Tis
rather odd that I was going to speak practical to-night
to her for the first time. You've just called ? '

1 Yes, for a short while. But she didn't say a word
about you.'

1 A good sign, a good sign. Now that decides me.
I'll swing the mallet and get her answer this very
night as I planned.'

A few more remarks, and Darton, wishing his
friend joy of Sally in a slightly hollow tone of jocularity,
bade him good-bye. Johns promised to write par-
ticulars, and ascended, and was lost in the shade of the
house and tree. A rectangle of light appeared when
Johns was admitted, and all was dark again.

' Happy Japheth ! ' said Darton. ' This then is the
explanation ! '

He determined to return home that night. In a
quarter of an hour he passed out of the village, and
the next day went about his swede-lifting and storing
as if nothing had occurred.

He waited and waited to hear from Johns whether
the wedding-day was fixed : but no letter came. He
learnt not a single particular till, meeting Johns one
day at a horse-auction, Darton exclaimed genially
rather more genially than he felt 'When is the
joyful day to be ? '

To his great surprise a reciprocity of gladness was
not conspicuous in Johns. ' Not at all,' he said, in a
very subdued tone. ' 'Tis a bad job ; she won't have
me.'

Darton held his breath till he said with treacherous
solicitude, ' Try again 'tis coyness.'

4 O no/ said Johns decisively. ' There's been none
of that. We talked it over dozens of times in the
most fair and square way. She tells me plainly, I
don't suit her. 'Twould be simply annoying her to
ask her again. Ah, Charles, you threw a prize away
when you let her slip five years ago.'

' I did I did,' said Darton.

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INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

He returned from that auction with a new set of
feelings in play. He had certainly made a surprising
mistake in thinking Johns his successful rival. It
really seemed as if he might hope for Sally after all.

This time, being rather pressed by business, Darton
had recourse to pen-and-ink, and wrote her as manly
and straightforward a proposal as any woman could
wish to receive. The reply came promptly :

' DEAR MR. DARTON, I am as sensible as any woman
can be of the goodness that leads you to make me this offer a
second time. Better women than I would be proud of the
honour, for when I read your nice long speeches on mangold-
wurzel, and such like topics, at the Casterbridge Farmers' Club,
I do feel it an honour, I assure you. But my answer is just
the same as before. I will not try to explain what, in truth,
I cannot explain my reasons ; I will simply say that I must
decline to be married to you. With good wishes as in former
times, I am, your faithful friend, ' SALLY HALL.'

Darton dropped the letter hopelessly. Beyond
the negative, there was just a possibility of sarcasm in
it ' nice long speeches on mangold-wurzel ' had a
suspicious sound. However, sarcasm or none, there
was the answer, and he had to be content.

He proceeded to seek relief in a business which at
this time engrossed much of his attention that of
clearing up a curious mistake just current in the
county, that he had been nearly ruined by the recent
failure of a local bank. A farmer named Darton had
lost heavily, and the similarity of name had probably
led to the error. Belief in it was so persistent that it
demanded several days of letter-writing to set matters
straight, and persuade the world that he was as sol-
vent as ever he had been in his life. He had hardly
concluded this worrying task when, to his delight,
another letter arrived in the handwriting of Sally.

Darton tore it open ; it was very short.


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