Thomas Hardy.

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

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had come to affect his feelings by her seductive eyes.

' Would you like a fire in your room, Mr. Stock-
dale, on account of your cold ? '

The minister, being still a little pricked in the con-
science for countenancing her in watering the spirits,
saw here a way to self-chastisement. 'No, I thank
you,' he said firmly ; ' it is not necessary. I have
never been used to one in my life, and it would be
giving way to luxury too far.'

'Then I won't insist,' she said, and disconcerted
him by vanishing instantly.

Wondering if she was vexed by his refusal, he
wished that he had chosen to have a fire, even though
it should have scorched him out of bed and endangered
his self -discipline for a dozen days. However, he
consoled himself with what was in truth a rare con-
solation for a budding lover, that he was under the
same roof with Lizzy ; her guest, in fact, to take a
poetical view of the term lodger ; and that he would
certainly see her on the morrow.

The morrow came, and Stockdale rose early, his
cold quite gone. He had never in his life so longed
for the breakfast hour as he did that day, and
punctually at eight o'clock, after a short walk to
reconnoitre the premises, he re-entered the door of

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WESSEX TALES

his dwelling. Breakfast passed, and Martha Sarah
attended, but nobody came voluntarily as on the night
before to inquire if there were other wants which he
had not mentioned, and which she would attempt to
gratify. He was disappointed, and went out, hoping
to see her at dinner. Dinner time came ; he sat down
to the meal, finished it, lingered on for a whole hour,
although two new teachers were at that moment
waiting at the chapel-door to speak to him by appoint-
ment. It was useless to wait longer, and he slowly
went his way down the lane, cheered by the thought
that, after all, he would see her in the evening, and
perhaps engage again in the delightful tub-broaching
in the neighbouring church tower, which proceeding
he resolved to render more moral by steadfastly insist-
ing that no water should be introduced to fill up,
though the tub should cluck like all the hens in
Christendom. But nothing could disguise the fact
that it was a queer business ; and his countenance fell
when he thought how much more his mind was
interested in that matter than in his serious duties.

However, compunction vanished with the decline
of day. Night came, and his tea and supper ; but no
Lizzy Newberry, and no sweet temptations. At last
the minister could bear it no longer, and said to his
quaint little attendant, 'Where is Mrs. Newberry to-
day ? ' judiciously handing a penny as he spoke.

' She's busy/ said Martha.

'Anything serious happened?' he asked, handing
another penny, and revealing yet additional pennies in
the background.

' O no nothing at all ! ' said she, with breathless
confidence. 'Nothing ever happens to her. She's
only biding upstairs in bed because 'tis her way some-
times.'

Being a young man of some honour he would not
question further, and assuming that Lizzy must have a
bad headache, or other slight ailment, in spite of what
the girl had said, he went to bed dissatisfied, not even

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THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

setting eyes on old Mrs. Simpkins. ' I said last night
that I should see her to-morrow,' he reflected; 'but
that was not to be ! '

Next day he had better fortune, or worse, meeting
her at the foot of the stairs in the morning, and being
favoured by a visit or two from her during the day
once for the purpose of making kindly inquiries about
his comfort, as on the first evening, and at another
time to place a bunch of winter-violets on his table,
with a promise to renew them when they drooped.
On these occasions there was something in her smile
which showed how conscious she was of the effect she
produced, though it must be said that it was rather
a humorous than a designing consciousness, and
savoured more of pride than of vanity.

As for Stockdale, he clearly perceived that he
possessed unlimited capacity for backsliding, and
wished that tutelary saints were not denied to Dis-
senters. He set a watch upon his tongue and eyes
for the space of one hour and a half, after which he
found it was useless to struggle further, and gave
himself up to the situation. ' The other minister will
be here in a month,' he said to himself when sitting
over the fire. ' Then I shall be off, and she will
distract my mind no more ! . . . And then, shall I go
on living by myself for ever ? No ; when my two
years of probation are finished, I shall have a furnished
house to live in, with a varnished door and a brass
knocker; and I'll march straight back to her, and ask
her flat, as soon as the last plate is on the dresser ! '

Thus a titillating fortnight was passed by young
Stockdale, during which time things proceeded much
as such matters have done ever since the beginning of
history. He saw the object of attachment several times
one day, did not see her at all the next, met her when
he least expected to do so, missed her when hints and
signs as to where she should be at a given hour almost
amounted to an appointment. This mild coquetry was
perhaps fair enough under the circumstances of their

229



WESSEX TALES

being so closely lodged, and Stockdale put up with it as
philosophically as he was able. Being in her own house
she could, after vexing him or disappointing him of
her presence, easily win him back by suddenly surround-
ing him with those little attentions which her position
as his landlady put it in her power to bestow. When
he had waited indoors half the day to see her, and on
finding that she would not be seen, had gone off in a
huff to the dreariest and dampest walk he could
discover, she would restore equilibrium in the evening
with ' Mr. Stockdale, I have fancied you must feel
draught o' nights from your bedroom window, and so
I have been putting up thicker curtains this afternoon
while you were out ' ; or, ' I noticed that you sneezed
twice again this morning, Mr. Stockdale. Depend
upon it that cold is hanging about you yet ; I am sure
it is I have thought of it continually ; and you must
let me make a posset for you.'

Sometimes in coming home he found his sitting-
room rearranged, chairs placed where the table had
stood, and the table ornamented with the few fresh
flowers and leaves that could be obtained at this
season, so as to add a novelty to the room. At times
she would be standing on a chair outside the house,
trying to nail up a branch of the monthly rose which
the winter wind had blown down ; and of course he
stepped forward to assist her, when their hands got
mixed in passing the shreds and nails. Thus they
became friends again after a disagreement. She would
utter on these occasions some pretty and deprecatory
remark on the necessity of her troubling him anew ;
and he would straightway say that he would do a
hundred times as much for her if she should so require.



HOW HE SAW TWO OTHER MEN

II

MATTERS being in this advancing state, Stockdale
was rather surprised one cloudy evening, while sitting
in his room, at hearing her speak in low tones of ex-
postulation to some one at the door. It was nearly
dark, but the shutters were not yet closed, nor the
candles lighted ; and Stockdale was tempted to stretch
his head towards the window. He saw outside the
door a young man in clothes of a whitish colour, and
upon reflection judged their wearer to be the well-
built and rather handsome miller who lived below.
The miller's voice was alternately low and firm, and
sometimes it reached the level of positive entreaty ;
but what the words were Stockdale could in no
way hear.

Before the colloquy had ended, the minister's atten-
tion was attracted by a second incident. Opposite
Lizzy's home grew a clump of laurels, forming a thick
and permanent shade. One of the laurel boughs now
quivered against the light background of sky, and in a
moment the head of a man peered out, and remained
still. He seemed to be also much interested in the
conversation at the door, and was plainly lingering
there to watch and listen. Had Stockdale stood in
any other relation to Lizzy than that of a lover, he
might have gone out and investigated the meaning of
this : but being as yet but an unprivileged ally, he did
nothing more than stand up and show himself against

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WESSEX TALES

the firelight, whereupon the listener disappeared, and
Lizzy and the miller spoke in lower tcnes.

Stockdale was made so uneasy by the circumstance,
that as soon as the miller was gone, he said, 'Mrs.
Newberry, are you aware that you were watched just
now, and your conversation heard ? '

' When ? ' she said.

' When you were talking to that miller. A man
was looking from the laurel-tree as jealously as if he
could have eaten you.'

She showed more concern than the trifling event
seemed to demand, and he added, ' Perhaps you
were talking of things you did not wish to be over-
heard?'

' I was talking only on business,* she said.

' Lizzy, be frank ! ' said the young man. ' If it was
only on business, why should anybody wish to listen
to you ? '

She looked curiously at him. ' What else do you
think it could be, then ? '

' Well the only talk between a young woman and
man that is likely to amuse an eavesdropper.'

'Ah yes,' she said, smiling in spite of her pre-
occupation. 'Well, my cousin Owlett has spoken to
me about matrimony, every now and then, that's true ;
but he was not speaking of it then. I wish he had
been speaking of it, with all my heart. It would have
been much less serious for me.'

' O Mrs. Newberry ! '

' It would. Not that I should ha' chimed in with
him, of course. I wish it for other reasons. I am
glad, Mr. Stockdale, that you have told me of that
listener. It is a timely warning, and I must see my
cousin again.'

' But don't go away till I have spoken,' said the
minister. ' I'll out with it at once, and make no more
ado. Let it be Yes or No between us, Lizzy ; please
do ! ' And he held out his hand, in which she freely
allowed her own to rest, but without speaking.

232



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

' You mean Yes by that ? ' he asked, after waiting a
while.

4 You may be my sweetheart, if you will.'

1 Why not say at once you will wait for me until I
have a house and can come back to marry you.'

' Because I am thinking thinking of something
else, she said with embarrassment. 'It all comes
upon me at once, and I must settle one thing at a
time.'

' At any rate, dear Lizzy, you can assure me that
the miller shall not be allowed to speak to you except
on business ? You have never directly encouraged
him?'

She parried the question by saying, ' You see, he
and his party have been in the habit of leaving things
on my premises sometimes, and as I have not denied
him, it makes him rather forward.'

' Things what things ? '

'Tubs they are called Things here.'

' But why don't you deny him, my dear Lizzy ? '

' I cannot well.'

' You are too timid. It is unfair of him to impose
so upon you, and get your good name into danger by
his smuggling tricks. Promise me that the next time
he wants to leave his tubs here you will let me roll
them into the street ? '

She shook her head. ' I would not venture to
offend the neighbours so much as that,' said she, 'or
do anything that would be so likely to put poor Owlett
into the hands of the Customs-men.'

Stockdale sighed, and said that he thought hers a
mistaken generosity when it extended to assisting
those who cheated the king of his dues. ' At any
rate, you will let me make him keep his distance as
your lover, and tell him flatly that you are not for
him?'

' Please not, at present,' she said. ' I don't wish to
offend my old neighbours. It is not only Mr. Owlett
who is concerned.'

233



WESSEX TALES

'This is too bad,' said Stockdale impatiently.

' On my honour, I won't encourage him as my
lover,' Lizzy answered earnestly. ' A reasonable man
will be satisfied with that.'

'Well, so I am,' said Stockdale, his countenance
clearing.



THE MYSTERIOUS GREATCOAT

III

STOCKDALE now began to notice more particularly
a feature in the life of his fair landlady, which he had
casually observed but scarcely ever thought of before.
It was that she was markedly irregular in her hours
of rising. For a week or two she would be tolerably
punctual, reaching the ground-floor within a few minutes
of half-past seven. Then suddenly she would not be
visible till twelve at noon, perhaps for three or four
days in succession ; and twice he had certain proof
that she did not leave her room till half-past three in
the afternoon. The second time that this extreme
lateness came under his notice was on a day when he
had particularly wished to consult with her about his
future movements ; and he concluded, as he always had
done, that she had a cold, headache, or other ailment,
unless she had kept herself invisible to avoid meeting
and talking to him, which he could hardly believe.
The former supposition was disproved, however, by
her innocently saying, some days later, when they were
speaking on a question of health, that she had never
had a moment's heaviness, headache, or illness of any
kind since the previous January twelvemonth.

' I am glad to hear it,' said he. ' I thought quite
otherwise.'

'What, do I look sickly?' she asked, turning up
her face to show the impossibility of his gazing on it
and holding such a belief for a moment.

235



WESSEX TALES

' Not at all ; I merely thought so from your being
sometimes obliged to keep your room through the best
part of the day.'

*O, as for that it means nothing,' she murmured,
with a look which some might have called cold, and
which was the worst look that he liked to see upon her.
' It is pure sleepiness, Mr. Stockdale.'

'Never!'

' It is, I tell you. When I stay in my room till
half-past three in the afternoon, you may always be
sure that I slept soundly till three, or I shouldn't have
stayed there.'

'It is dreadful,' said Stockdale, thinking of the
disastrous effects of such indulgence upon the house-
hold of a minister, should it become a habit of every-
day occurrence.

' But then,' she said, divining his good and prescient
thoughts, ' it only happens when I stay awake all
night. I don't go to sleep till five or six in the
morning sometimes.'

' Ah, that's another matter,' said Stockdale. ' Sleep-
lessness to such an alarming extent is real illness.
Have you spoken to a doctor ? '

' O no there is no need for doing that it is all
natural to me.' And she went away without further
remark.

Stockdale might have waited a long time to know
the real cause of her sleeplessness, had it not happened
that one dark night he was sitting in his bedroom
jotting down notes for a sermon, which occupied him
perfunctorily for a considerable time after the other
members of the household had retired. He did not
get to bed till one o'clock. Before he had fallen asleep
he heard a knocking at the front door, first rather
timidly performed, and then louder. Nobody answered
it, and the person knocked again. As the house still
remained undisturbed, Stockdale got out of bed, went
to his window, which overlooked the door, and opening
it, asked who was there.

236



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

A young woman's voice replied that Susan Wallis
was there, and that she had come to ask if Mrs.
Newberry could give her some mustard to make a
plaster with, as her father was taken very ill on the
chest.

The minister, having neither bell nor servant, was
compelled to act in person. ' I will call Mrs. New-
berry,' he said. Partly dressing himself, he went
along the passage and tapped at Lizzy's door. She
did not answer, and, thinking of her erratic habits in
the matter of sleep, he thumped the door persistently,
when he discovered, by its moving ajar under his
knocking, that it had only been gently pushed to.
As there was now a sufficient entry for the voice,
he knocked no longer, but said in firm tones, ' Mrs.
Newberry, you are wanted.'

The room was quite silent ; not a breathing, not a
rustle, came from any part of it. Stockdale now sent
a positive shout through the open space of the door :
' Mrs. Newberry ! ' still no answer, or movement of
any kind within. Then he heard sounds from the
opposite room, that of Lizzy's mother, as if she had
been aroused by his uproar though Lizzy had not, and
was dressing herself hastily. Stockdale softly closed
the younger woman's door and went on to the other,
which was opened by Mrs. Simpkins before he could
reach it. She was in her ordinary clothes, and had a
light in her hand.

' What's the person calling about ? ' she said in
alarm.

Stockdale told the girl's errand, adding seriously,
' I cannot wake Mrs. Newberry.'

' It is no matter,' said her mother. ' I can let the
girl have what she wants as well as my daughter.'
And she came out of the room and went downstairs.

Stockdale retired towards his own apartment, say-
ing, however, to Mrs. Simpkins from the landing, as if
on second thoughts, ' I suppose there is nothing the
matter with Mrs. Newberry, that I could not wake her?'

237



WESSEX TALES

' O no,' said the old lady hastily. ' Nothing at all.'

Still the minister was not satisfied. ' Will you go
in and see ? ' he said. ' I should be much more at
ease.'

Mrs. Simpkins returned up the staircase, went to
her daughter's room, and came out again almost
instantly. 'There is nothing at all the matter with
Lizzy,' she said ; and descended again to attend to
the applicant, who, having seen the light, had remained
quiet during this interval.

Stockdale went into his room and lay down as
before. He heard Lizzy's mother open the front door,
admit the girl, and then the murmured discourse of
both as they went to the store-cupboard for the medica-
ment required. The girl departed, the door was
fastened, Mrs. Simpkins came upstairs, and the house
was again in silence. Still the minister did not fall
asleep. He could not get rid of a singular suspicion,
which was all the more harassing in being, if true,
the most unaccountable thing within his experience.
That Lizzy Newberry was in her bedroom when he
made such a clamour at the door he could not possibly
convince himself, notwithstanding that he had heard
her come upstairs at the usual time, go into her
chamber, and shut herself up in the usual way. Yet
all reason was so much against her being elsewhere,
that he was constrained to go back again to the
unlikely theory of a heavy sleep, though he had heard
neither breath nor movement during a shouting and
knocking loud enough to rouse the Seven Sleepers.

Before coming to any positive conclusion he fell
asleep himself, and did not awake till day. He saw
nothing of Mrs. Newberry in the morning, before he
went out to meet the rising sun, as he liked to do
when the weather was fine ; but as this was by no
means unusual, he took no notice of it. At breakfast-
time he knew that she was not far off by hearing her
in the kitchen, and though he saw nothing of her
person, that back apartment being rigorously closed

238



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

against his eyes, she seemed to be talking, ordering,
and bustling about among the pots and skimmers in so
ordinary a manner, that there was no reason for his
wasting more time in fruitless surmise.

The minister suffered from these distractions, and
his extemporized sermons were not improved thereby.
Already he often said Romans for Corinthians in the
pulpit, and gave out hymns in strange cramped metres,
that hitherto had always been skipped, because the
congregation could not raise a tune to fit them. He
fully resolved that as soon as his few weeks of stay
approached their end he would cut the matter short,
and commit himself by proposing a definite engage-
ment, repenting at leisure if necessary.

With this end in view, he suggested to her on the
evening after her mysterious sleep that they should
take a walk together just before dark, the latter part
of the proposition being introduced that they might
return home unseen. She consented to go ; and away
they went over a stile, to a shrouded footpath suited
for the occasion. But, in spite of attempts on both
sides, they were unable to infuse much spirit into the
ramble. She looked rather paler than usual, and
sometimes turned her head away.

' Lizzy,' said Stockdale reproachfully, when they
had walked in silence a long distance.

'Yes,' said she.

' You yawned much my company is to you ! '
He put it in that way, but he was really wondering
whether her yawn could possibly have more to do
with physical weariness from the night before than
mental weariness of that present moment. Lizzy
apologized, and owned that she was rather tired,
which gave him an opening for a direct question on
the point ; but his modesty would not allow him to
put it to her ; and he uncomfortably resolved to wait.

The month of February passed wilh alternations
of mud and frost, rain and sleet, east winds and north-
westerly gales. The hollow places in the ploughed

239



WESSEX TALES

fields showed themselves as pools of water, which had
settled there from the higher levels, and had not yet
found time to soak away. The birds began to get
lively, and a single thrush came just before sunset
each evening, and sang hopefully on the large elm-
tree which stood nearest to Mrs. Newberry's house.
Cold blasts and brittle earth had given place to an
oozing dampness more unpleasant in itself than frost ;
but it suggested coming spring, and its unpleasantness
was of a bearable kind.

Stockdale had been going to bring about a practical
understanding with Lizzy at least half a dozen times ;
but, what with the mystery of her apparent absence
on the night of the neighbour's call, and her curious
way of lying in bed at unaccountable times, he felt a
check within him whenever he wanted to speak out.
Thus they still lived on as indefinitely affianced lovers,
each of whom hardly acknowledged the other's claim
to the name of chosen one. Stockdale persuaded him-
self that his hesitation was owing to the postponement
of the ordained minister's arrival, and the consequent
delay in his own departure, which did away with all
necessity for haste in his courtship ; but perhaps it
was only that his discretion was reasserting itself, and
telling him that he had better get clearer ideas of
Lizzy before arranging for the grand contract of his
life with her. She, on her part, always seemed ready
to be urged further on that question than he had
hitherto attempted to go ; but she was none the less
independent, and to a degree which would have kept
from flagging the passion of a far more mutable man.

On the evening of the first of March he went
casually into his bedroom about dusk, and noticed
lying on a chair a greatcoat, hat, and breeches.
Having no recollection of leaving any clothes of his
own in that spot, he went and examined them as well
as he could in the twilight, and found that they did
not belong to him. He paused for a moment to
consider how they might have got there. He was

240



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

the only man living in the house ; and yet these were
not his garments, unless he had made a mistake. No,
they were not his. He called up Martha Sarah.

' How did these things come in my room ? ' he said,
flinging the objectionable articles to the floor.

Martha said that Mrs. Newberry had given them
to her to brush, and that she had brought them up
there thinking they must be Mr. Stockdale's, as there
was no other gentleman a-lodging there.

' Of course you did,' said Stockdale. ' Now take
them down to your mis'ess, and say they are some
clothes I have found here and know nothing about. 1

As the door was left open he heard the conversa-
tion downstairs. ' How stupid ! ' said Mrs. Newberry,
in a tone of confusion. 'Why, Marther Sarer, I did
not tell you to take 'em to Mr. Stockdale's room ? '

' I thought they must be his as they was so muddy,'
said Martha humbly.

' You should have left 'em on the clothes-horse,'
said the young mistress severely ; and she came up-
stairs with the garments on her arm, quickly passed
Stockdale's room, and threw them forcibly into a closet
at the end of a passage. With this the incident ended,
and the house was silent again.

There would have been nothing remarkable in
finding such clothes in a widow's house had they been
clean ; or moth-eaten, or creased, or mouldy from long
lying by ; but that they should be splashed with recent
mud bothered Stockdale a good deal. When a young


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Online LibraryThomas HardyThe writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) → online text (page 16 of 20)