Thomas Hardy.

The writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) online

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DEAR MR. DARTGN, We have been so alarmed these
last few days by the report that you were ruined by the

stoppage of 's Bank, that, now it is contradicted, I hasten,

21 1



WESSEX TALES

by my mother's wish, to say how truly glad we are to find
there is no foundation for the report. After your kindness to
my poor brother's children, I can do no less than write at such
a moment. We had a letter from each of them a few days
ago. Your faithful friend, ' SALLY HALL.'

' Mercenary little woman ! ' said Darton to himself
with a smile. ' Then that was the secret of her
refusal this time she thought I was ruined.'

Now, such was Darton, that as hours went on he
could not help feeling too generously towards Sally
to condemn her in this. What did he want in a wife ?
he asked himself. Love and integrity. What next ?
Worldly wisdom. And was there really more than
worldly wisdom in her refusal to go aboard a sinking
ship ? She now knew it was otherwise. ' Begad,' he
said, ' I'll try her again.'

The fact was he had so set his heart upon Sally,
and Sally alone, that nothing was to be allowed to
baulk him ; and his reasoning was purely formal.

Anniversaries having been unpropitious, he waited
on till a bright day late in May a day when all
animate nature was fancying, in its trusting, foolish
way, that it was going to bask under blue sky for ever-
more. As he rode through Long-Ash Lane it was
scarce recognizable as the track of his two winter
journeys. No mistake could be made now, even with
his eyes shut. The cuckoo's note was at its best,
between April tentativeness and midsummer decrepi-
tude, and the reptiles in the sun behaved as winningly
as kittens on a hearth. Though afternoon, and about
the same time as on the last occasion, it was broad
day and sunshine when he entered Hintock, and the
details of the Knap dairy-house were visible far up
the road. He saw Sally in the garden, and was set
vibrating. He had first intended to go on to the
inn ; but ' No/ he said ; 'I'll tie my horse to the
garden-gate. If all goes well it can soon be taken
round : if not, I mount and ride away.'

The tall shade of the horseman darkened the room

212



INTERLOPERS AT THE KNAP

in which Mrs. Hall sat, and made her start, for he
had ridden by a side path to the top of the slope,
where riders seldom came. In a few seconds he was
in the garden with Sally.

Five ay, three minutes did the business at the
back of that row of bees. Though spring had come,
and heavenly blue consecrated the scene, Darton suc-
ceeded not. ' No, 1 said Sally firmly. ' I will never,
never marry you, Mr. Darton. I would have done it
once ; but now I never can.'

' But ! ' implored Mr. Darton. And with a burst
of real eloquence he went on to declare all sorts of
things that he would do for her. He would drive her
to see her mother every week take her to London
settle so much money upon her Heaven knows what
he did not promise, suggest, and tempt her with. But
it availed nothing. She interposed with a stout
negative which closed the course of his argument like
an iron gate across a highway. Darton paused.

' Then,' said he simply, ' you hadn't heard of my
supposed failure when you declined last time ? '

'I had not,' she said. 'That you believed me
capable of refusing you for such a reason does not
help your cause.'

'And 'tis not because of any soreness from my
slighting you years ago ? '

' No. That soreness is long past.'

' Ah then you despise me, Sally ! '

' No,' she slowly answered. ' I don't altogether
despise you. ' I don't think you quite such a hero as
I once did that's all. The truth is, I am happy
enough as I am ; and I don't mean to marry at all.
Now, may / ask a favour, sir ? ' She spoke with an
ineffable charm, which, whenever he thought of it,
made him curse his loss of her as long as he lived.

' To any extent.'

' Please do not put this question to me any more.
Friends as long as you like, but lovers and married
never.'

213



WESSEX TALES

' I never will,' said Darton. ' Not if I live a
hundred years.'

And he never did. That he had worn out his
welcome in her heart was only too plain.

When his step-children had grown up and were
placed out in life all communication between Darton
and the Hall family ceased. It was only by chance
that, years after, he learnt that Sally, notwithstanding
the solicitations her attractions drew down upon her,
had refused several offers of marriage, and steadily
adhered to her purpose of leading a single life.

May 1884.



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER



HOW HIS COLD WAS CURED

I

SOMETHING delayed the arrival of the Wesleyan
minister, and a young man came temporarily in his
stead. It was on the thirteenth of January 183- that
Mr. Stockdale, the young man in question, made his
humble entry into the village, unknown, and almost
unseen. But when those of the inhabitants who styled
themselves of his connection became acquainted with
him, they were rather pleased with the substitute than
otherwise, though he had scarcely as yet acquired
ballast of character sufficient to steady the consciences
of the hundred-and-forty Methodists of pure blood
who, at this time, lived in Nether-Moynton, and to
give in addition supplementary support to the mixed
race which went to church in the morning and chapel
in the evening, or when there was a tea as many as
a hundred-and-ten people more, all told, and including
the parish-clerk in the winter-time, when it was too
dark for the vicar to observe who passed up the street
at seven o'clock which, to be just to him, he was
never anxious to do.

It was owing to this overlapping of creeds that the
celebrated population-puzzle arose among the denser
gentry of the district around Nether-Moynton : how
could it be that a parish containing fifteen score of
strong full-grown Episcopalians, and nearly thirteen
score of well-matured Dissenters, numbered barely
two-and-twenty score adults in all ?

217



WESSEX TALES

The young man being personally interesting, those
with whom he came in contact were content to waive
for a while the graver question of his sufficiency. It
is said that at this time of his life his eyes were
affectionate, though without a ray of levity ; that his
hair was curly, and his figure tall ; that he was, in
short, a very lovable youth, who won upon his female
hearers as soon as they saw and heard him, and caused
them to say, 'Why didn't we know of this before he
came, that we might have gi'ed him a warmer welcome!'

The fact was that, knowing him to be only pro-
visionally selected, and expecting nothing remarkable
in his person or doctrine, they and the rest of his flock
in Nether-Moynton had felt almost as indifferent about
his advent as if they had been the soundest church-
going parishioners in the country, and he their true
and appointed parson. Thus when Stockdale set foot
in the place nobody had secured a lodging for him,
and though his journey had given him a bad cold in
the head he was forced to attend to that business
himself. On inquiry he learnt that the only possible
accommodation in the village would be found at the
house of one Mrs. Lizzy Newberry, at the upper end
of the street.

It was a youth who gave this information, and
Stockdale asked him who Mrs. Newberry might be.

The boy said that she was a widow- woman, who
had got no husband, because he was dead. Mr.
Newberry, he added, had been a well-to-do man
enough, as the saying was, and a farmer ; but he had
gone off in a decline. As regarded Mrs. Newberry's
serious side, Stockdale gathered that she was one of
the trimmers who went to church and chapel both.

' I'll go there,' said Stockdale, feeling that, in the
absence of purely sectarian lodgings, he could do no
better.

' She's a little particular, and won't hae gover'ment
folks, or curates, or the pa'son's friends, or such like/
said the lad dubiously.

218



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

'Ah, that may be a promising sign : I'll call. Or
no ; just you go up and ask first if she can find room
for me. I have to see one or two persons on another
matter. You will find me down at the carrier's.'

In a quarter of an hour the lad came back, and
said that Mrs. Newberry would have no objection to
accommodate him, whereupon Stockdale called at the
house. It stood within a garden-hedge, and seemed
to be roomy and comfortable. He saw an elderly
woman, with whom he made arrangements to come
the same night, since there was no inn in the place,
and he wished to house himself as soon as possible ;
the village being a local centre from which he was to
radiate at once to the different small chapels in the
neighbourhood. He forthwith sent his luggage to
Mrs. Newberry's from the carrier's, where he had
taken shelter, and in the evening walked up to his
temporary home.

As he now lived there, Stockdale felt it unnecessary
to knock at the door ; and entering quietly he had the
pleasure of hearing footsteps scudding away like mice
into the back quarters. He advanced to the parlour,
as the front room was called, though its stone floor
was scarcely disguised by the carpet, which only over-
laid the trodden areas, leaving sandy deserts under the
furniture. But the room looked snug and cheerful.
The firelight shone out brightly, trembling on the
bulging mouldings of the table-legs, playing with brass
knobs and handles, and lurking in great strength on
the under surface of the chimney-piece. A deep
arm-chair, covered with horsehair, and studded with
a countless throng of brass nails, was pulled up on
one side of the fireplace. The tea-things were on the
table, the teapot cover was open, and a little handbell
had been laid at that precise point towards which a
person seated in the great chair might be expected
instinctively to stretch his hand.

Stockdale sat down, not objecting to his experience
of the room thus far, and began his residence by

219



WESSEX TALES

tinkling the bell. A little girl crept in at the summons,
and made tea for him. Her name, she said, was
Marther Sarer, and she lived out there, nodding
towards the road and village generally. Before Stock-
dale had got far with his meal a tap sounded on the door
behind him, and on his telling the inquirer to come in,
a rustle of garments caused him to turn his head. He
saw before him a fine and extremely well-made young
woman, with dark hair, a wide, sensible, beautiful fore-
head, eyes that warmed him before he knew it, and a
mouth that was in itself a picture to all appreciative souls.

'Can I get you anything else for tea?' she said,
coming forward a step or two, an expression of
liveliness on her features, and her hand waving the
door by its edge.

' Nothing, thank you,' said Stockdale, thinking less
of what he replied than of what might be her relation
to the household.

' You are quite sure ? ' said the young woman,
apparently aware that he had not considered his
answer.

He conscientiously examined the tea-things, and
found them all there. ' Quite sure, Miss Newberry,'
he said.

' It is Mrs. Newberry,' she said. ' Lizzy Newberry.
I used to be Lizzy Simpkins.'

'O, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Newberry.' And
before he had occasion to say more she left the room.

Stockdale remained in some doubt till Martha
Sarah came to clear the table. 'Whose house is this,
my little woman ? ' said he.

' Mrs. Lizzy Newberry 's, sir.'

' Then Mrs. Newberry is not the old lady I saw
this afternoon ? '

' No. That's Mrs. Newberry's mother. It was
Mrs. Newberry who corned in to you just by now,
because she wanted to see if you was good-looking.'

Later in the evening, when Stockdale was about to
begin supper, she came again. ' I have come myself,

220



NETHER-MOYNTON VILLAGE

(Owermoigne Village)

Nether-Moynton, the name used for the little
village of Owermoigne, lying just back off the
road from Weymouth or Dorchester to Wareham,
is the background for the story, 'The Distracted
Preacher.' The village is only a few miles from
the coast, and was formerly the home of many
a smuggler. The house, which stands almost
opposite to the rectory, was used as the model
for the house in which Lizzie Newbury was sup-
posed to have lived.



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v more she left

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he old lady I saw

trs. Newberry's mother. , It was
comer; you just I

f you was good-lookii

i.le was about to
me again. ' I have come nr



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

Mr. Stockdale,' she said. The minister stood up in
acknowledgment of the honour. ' I am afraid little
Marther might not make you understand. What will
you have for supper ? there's cold rabbit, and there's
a ham uncut.'

Stockdale said he could get on nicely with those
viands, and supper was laid. He had no more than
cut a slice when tap-tap came to the door again. The
minister had already learnt that this particular rhythm
in taps denoted the fingers of his enkindling landlady,
and the doomed young fellow buried his first mouthful
under a look of receptive blandness.

' We have a chicken in the house, Mr. Stockdale
I quite forgot to mention it just now. Perhaps you
would like Marther Sarer to bring it up ? '

Stockdale had advanced far enough in the art of
being a young man to say that he did not want the
chicken, unless she brought it up herself ; but when it
was uttered he blushed at the daring gallantry of the
speech, perhaps a shade too strong for a serious man
and a minister. In three minutes the chicken appeared,
but, to his great surprise, only in the hands of Martha
Sarah. Stockdale was disappointed, which perhaps it
was intended that he should be.

He had finished supper, and was not in the least
anticipating Mrs. Newberry again that night, when she
tapped and entered as before. Stockdale's gratified
look told that she had lost nothing by not appearing
when expected. It happened that the cold in the head
from which the young man suffered had increased with
the approach of night, and before she had spoken he
was seized with a violent fit of sneezing which he could
not anyhow repress.

Mrs. Newberry looked full of pity. ' Your cold is
very bad to-night, Mr. Stockdale.'

Stockdale replied that it was rather troublesome.

' And I've a good mind ' she added archly, looking
at the cheerless glass of water on the table, which the
abstemious minister was going to drink.

221



WESSEX TALES

' Yes, Mrs. Newberry ? '

' I've a good mind that you should have something
more likely to cure it than that cold stuff.'

'Well,' said Stockdale, looking down at the glass,
' as there is no inn here, and nothing better to be got
in the village, of course it will do.'

To this she replied, ' There is something better,
not far off, though not in the house. I really think
you must try it, or you may be ill. Yes, Mr. Stock-
dale, you shall.' She held up her finger, seeing that
he was about to speak. ' Don't ask what it is ; wait,
and you shall see.'

Lizzy went away, and Stockdale waited in a
pleasant mood. Presently she returned with her
bonnet and cloak on, saying, ' I am so sorry, but you
must help me to get it. Mother has gone to bed.
Will you wrap yourself up, and come this way, and
please bring that cup with you ? '

Stockdale, a lonely young fellow, who had for weeks
felt a great craving for somebody on whom to throw
away superfluous interest, and even tenderness, was
not sorry to join her ; and followed his guide through
the back door, across the garden, to the bottom, where
the boundary was a wall. This wall was low, and
beyond it Stockdale discerned in the night shades
several grey headstones, and the outlines of the church
roof and tower.

1 It is easy to get up this way,' she said, stepping
upon a bank which abutted on the wall ; then putting
her foot on the top of the stonework, and descending
by a spring inside, where the ground was much higher,
as is the manner of graveyards to be. Stockdale did
the same, and followed her in the dusk across the
irregular ground till they came to the tower door,
which, when they had entered, she softly closed behind
them.

' You can keep a secret ? ' she said, in a musical
voice.

' Like an iron chest ! ' said he fervently.

222



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

Then from under her cloak she produced a small
lighted lantern, which the minister had not noticed
that she carried at all. The light showed them to be
close to the singing-gallery stairs, under which lay a
heap of lumber of all sorts, but consisting mostly of
decayed framework, pews, panels, and pieces of floor-
ing, that from time to time had been removed from
their original fixings in the body of the edifice and
replaced by new.

' Perhaps you will drag some of those boards
aside ? ' she said, holding the lantern over her head to
light him better. ' Or will you take the lantern while
I move them ? '

' I can manage it,' said the young man, and acting
as she ordered, he uncovered, to his surprise, a row of
little barrels bound with wood hoops, each barrel being
about as large as the nave of a heavy waggon-wheel.
When they were laid open Lizzy fixed her eyes on
him, as if she wondered what he would say.

' You know what they are ? ' she asked, finding that
he did not speak.

' Yes, barrels,' said Stockdale simply. He was an
inland man, the son of highly respectable parents, and
brought up with a single eye to the ministry ; and the
sight suggested nothing beyond the fact that such
articles were there.

' You are quite right, they are barrels,' she said, in
an emphatic tone of candour that was not without a
touch of irony.

Stockdale looked at her with an eye of sudden
misgiving. ' Not smugglers' liquor ? ' he said.

' Yes,' said she. ' They are tubs of spirit that have
accidentally floated over in the dark from France.'

In N ether- Moynton and its vicinity at this date
people always smiled at the sort of sin called in the
outside world illicit trading ; and these little kegs of
gin and brandy were as well known to the inhabitants
as turnips. So that Stockdale's innocent ignorance,
and his look of alarm when he guessed the sinister

223



WESSEX TALES

mystery, seemed to strike Lizzy first as ludicrous, and
then as very awkward for the good impression that she
wished to produce upon him.

' Smuggling is carried on here by some of the
people,' she said in a gentle, apologetic voice. ' It
has been their practice for generations, and they think
it no harm. Now, will you roll out one of the tubs ? '

' What to do with it ? ' said the minister.

' To draw a little from it to cure your cold,' she
answered. ' It is so 'nation strong that it drives away
that sort of thing in a jiffy. O, it is all right about
our taking it. I may have what I like ; the owner of
the tubs says so. I ought to have had some in the
house, and then I shouldn't ha' been put to this
trouble ; but I drink none myself, and so I often
forget to keep it indoors.'

1 You are allowed to help yourself, I suppose, that
you may not inform where their hiding-place is ? '

1 Well, no ; not that particularly ; but I may take
any if I want it. So help yourself.'

' I will, to oblige you, since you have a right to it,
murmured the minister ; and though he was not quite
satisfied with his part in the performance, he rolled one
of the ' tubs ' out from the corner into the middle of
the tower floor. ' How do you wish me to get it out
with a gimlet, I suppose ? '

' No, I'll show you,' said his interesting companion ;
and she held up with her other hand a shoemaker's
awl and a hammer. ' You must never do these things
with a gimlet, because the wood-dust gets in ; and
when the buyers pour out the brandy that would tell
them that the tub had been broached. An awl makes
no dust, and the hole nearly closes up again. Now
tap one of the hoops forward.'

Stockdale took the hammer and did so.

' Now make the hole in the part that was covered
by the hoop. 1

He made the hole as directed. ' It won't run out, 1
he said.

224



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

*O yes it will,' said she. 'Take the tub between
your knees, and squeeze the heads ; and I'll hold the
cup.'

Stockdale obeyed ; and the pressure taking effect
upon the tub, which seemed to be thin, the spirit
spirted out in a stream. When the cup was full he
ceased pressing, and the flow immediately stopped.
' Now we must fill up the keg with water,' said Lizzy,
' or it will cluck like forty hens when it is handled, and
show that 'tis not full.'

' But they tell you you may take it ? '

1 Yes, the srmigglers ; but the buyers must not know
that the smugglers have been kind to me at their
expense.'

' I see,' said Stockdale doubtfully. ' I much ques-
tion the honesty of this proceeding.'

By her direction he held the tub with the hole
upwards, and while he went through the process of
alternately pressing and ceasing to press, she produced
a bottle of water, from which she took mouthfuls, con-
veying each to the keg by putting her pretty lips to
the hole, where it was sucked in at each recovery of
the cask from pressure. When it was again full he
plugged the hole, knocked the hoop down to its place,
and buried the tub in the lumber as before.

1 Aren't the smugglers afraid that you will tell ? '
he asked, as they recrossed the churchyard.

' O no ; they are not afraid of that. I couldn't do
such a thing.'

' They have put you into a very awkward corner,
said Stockdale emphatically. ' You must, of course, as
an honest person, sometimes feel that it is your duty
to inform really you must.'

' Well, I have never particularly felt it as a duty ;

and, besides, my first husband ' She stopped,

and there was some confusion in her voice. Stock-
dale was so honest and unsophisticated that he did not
at once discern why she paused : but at last he did
perceive that the words were a slip, and that no

225



WESSEX TALES

woman would have uttered ' first husband ' by accident
unless she had thought pretty frequently of a second.
He felt for her confusion, and allowed her time to
recover and proceed. ' My husband/ she said, in a
self-corrected tone, ' used to know of their doings, and
so did my father, and kept the secret. I cannot
inform, in fact, against anybody.'

' I see the hardness of it,' he continued, like a man
who looked far into the moral of things. ' And it is
very cruel that you should be tossed and tantalized
between your memories and your conscience. I do
hope, Mrs. Newberry, that you will soon see your way
out of this unpleasant position.'

'Well, I don't just now/ she murmured.

By this time they had passed over the wall and
entered the house, where she brought him a glass and
hot water, and left him to his own reflections. He
looked after her vanishing form, asking himself whether
he, as a respectable man, and a minister, and a shining
light, even though as yet only of the halfpenny-candle
sort, were quite justified in doing this thing. A sneeze
settled the question ; and he found that when the fiery
liquor was lowered by the addition of twice or thrice
the quantity of water, it was one of the prettiest cures
for a cold in the head that he had ever known,
particularly at this chilly time of the year.

Stockdale sat in the deep chair about twenty
minutes sipping and meditating, till he at length took
warmer views of things, and longed for the morrow,
when he would see Mrs. Newberry again. He then
felt that, though chronologically at a short distance,
it would in an emotional sense be very long before
to-morrow came, and walked restlessly round the
room. His eye was attracted by a framed and glazed
sampler in which a running ornament of fir-trees
and peacocks surrounded the following pretty bit of
sentiment :



226



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

'Rose-leaves smell when roses thrive,
Here's my work while I'm alive ;
Rose-leaves smell when shrunk and shed,
Here's my work when I am dead.

1 Lizzy Simpkins. Fear God. Honour the King.
'Aged ii years.'

''Tis hers/ he said to himself. ' Heavens, how I
like that name ! '

Before he had done thinking that no other name
from Abigail to Zenobia would have suited his young
landlady so well, tap-tap came again upon the door ;
and the minister started as her face appeared yet
another time, looking so disinterested that the most
ingenious would have refrained from asserting that she


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