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

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the top was the dip of heavy oars, and the dashing of
waves against a boat's bow. In a moment the keel
gently touched the shingle, and Stockdale heard the
footsteps of the thirty-six carriers running forwards over
the pebbles towards the point of landing.

There was a sousing in the water as of a brood of
ducks plunging in, showing that the men had not been
particular about keeping their legs, or even their waists,
dry from the brine : but it was impossible to see what
they were doing, and in a few minutes the shingle was
trampled again. The iron bar sustaining the rope, on
which Stockdale's hand rested, began to swerve a little,

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THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

and the carriers one by one appeared climbing up the
sloping cliff, dripping audibly as they came, and sus-
taining themselves by the guide-rope. Each man on
reaching the top was seen to be carrying a pair of tubs,
one on his back and one on his chest, the two being
slung together by cords passing round the chine hoops,
and resting on the carrier's shoulders. Some of the
stronger men carried three by putting an extra one on
the top behind, but the customary load was a pair,
these being quite weighty enough to give their bearer
the sensation of having chest and backbone in contact
after a walk of four or five miles.

' Where is Mr. Owlett ? ' said Lizzy to one of them.

' He will not come up this way,' said the carrier.
1 He's to bide on shore till we be safe off.' Then,
without waiting for the rest, the foremost men plunged
across the down ; and, when the last had ascended,
Lizzy pulled up the rope, wound it round her arm,
wriggled the bar from the sod, and turned to follow
the carriers.

'You are very anxious about Owlett's safety,' said
the minister.

' Was there ever such a man ! said Lizzy. ' Why,
isn't he my cousin ? '

'Yes. Well, it is a bad night's work,' said Stock-
dale heavily. ' But I'll carry the bar and rope for
you.'

'Thank God, the tubs have got so far all right,'
said she.

Stockdale shook his head, and, taking the bar,
walked by her side towards the downs ; and the moan
of the sea was heard no more.

'Is this what you meant the other day when yoi-
spoke of having business with Owlett ? ' the young man
asked.

' This is it,' she replied. ' I never see him on any
other matter.'

'A partnership of that kind with a young man is
very odd.'

257



WESSEX TALES

' It was begun by my father and his, who were
brother-laws.'

Her companion could not blind himself to the fact
that where tastes and pursuits were so akin as Lizzy's
and Owlett's, and where risks were shared, as with
them, in every undertaking, there would be a peculiar
appropriateness in her answering Owlett's standing
question on matrimony in the affirmative. This did
not soothe Stockdale, its tendency being rather to
stimulate in him an effort to make the pair as inappro-
priate as possible, and win her away from this nocturnal
crew to correctness of conduct and a minister's parlour
in some far-removed inland county.

They had been walking near enough to the file of
carriers for Stockdale to perceive that, when they got
into the road to the village, they split up into two
companies of unequal size, each of which made off in
a direction of its own. One company, the smaller of
the two, went towards the church, and by the time that
Lizzy and Stockdale reached their own house these
men had scaled the churchyard wall, and were pro-
ceeding noiselessly over the grass within.

' I see that Mr. Owlett has arranged for one batch
to be put in the church again,' observed Lizzy. ' Do
you remember my taking you there the first night you
came ? '

' Yes, of course,' said Stockdale. ' No wonder you
had permission to broach the tubs they were his, I
suppose ? '

1 No, they were not they were mine ; I had per-
mission from myself. The day after that they went
several miles inland in a waggon-load of manure, and
sold very well.'

At this moment the group of men who had made
off to the left some time before began leaping one by
one from the hedge opposite Lizzy's house, and the
first man, who had no tubs upon his shoulders, came
forward.

' Mrs. Newberry, isn't it ? ' he said hastily.

258



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

4 Yes, Jim,' said she. ' What's the matter ? '

1 1 find that we can't put any in Badger's Clump
to-night, Lizzy,' said Owlett. 'The place is watched.
We must sling the apple-tree in the orchet if there's
time. We can't put any more under the church lumber
than I have sent on there, and my mixen hev already
more in en than is safe.'

'Very well,' she said. 'Be quick about it that's
all. What can I do ? '

' Nothing at all, please. Ah, it is the minister !
you two that can't do anything had better get indoors
and not be zeed.'

While Owlett thus conversed, in a tone so full of
contraband anxiety and so free from lover's jealousy,
the men who followed him had been descending one
by one from the hedge ; and it unfortunately happened
that when the hindmost took his leap, the cord slipped
which sustained his tubs : the result was that both the
kegs fell into the road, one of them being stove in by
the blow.

' 'Od drown it all ! ' said Owlett, rushing back.

' It is worth a good deal, I suppose ? ' said Stock-
dale.

'O no about two guineas and half to us now,'
said Lizzy excitedly. ' It isn't that it is the smell !
It is so blazing strong before it has been lowered by
water, that it smells dreadfully when spilt in the road
like that ! I do hope Latimer won't pass by till it is
gone off.'

Owlett and one or two others picked up the burst
tub and began to scrape and trample over the spot,
to disperse the liquor as much as possible ; and then
they all entered the gate of Owlett's orchard, which
adjoined Lizzy's garden on the right. Stockdale did
not care to follow them, for several on recognizing him
had looked wonderingly at his presence, though they
said nothing. "Lizzy left his side and went to the
bottom of the garden, looking over the hedge into the
orchard, where the men could be dimly seen bustling

259



WESSEX TALES

about, and apparently hiding the tubs. All was done
noiselessly, and without a light ; and when it was over
they dispersed in different directions, those who had
taken their cargoes to the church having already gone
off to their homes.

Lizzy returned to the garden-gate, over which
Stockdale was still abstractedly leaning. ' It is all
finished : I am going indoors now,' she said gently.
' I will leave the door ajar for you.'

1 no you needn't,' said Stockdale ; ' I am coming
too.'

But before either of them had moved, the faint
clatter of horses' hoofs broke upon the ear, and it
seemed to come from the point where the track across
the down joined the hard road.

' They are just too late ! ' cried Lizzy exultingly.

1 Who ? ' said Stockdale.

1 Latimer, the riding-officer, and some assistant of
his. We had better go indoors.'

They entered the house, and Lizzy bolted the door.
' Please don't get a light, Mr. Stockdale,' she said.

'Of course I will not,' said he.

' I thought you might be on the side of the king,'
said Lizzy, with faintest sarcasm.

' I am,' said Stockdale. ' But, Lizzy Newberry, I
love you, and you know it perfectly well ; and you
ought to know, if you do not, what I have suffered
in my conscience on your account these last few days ! '

' I guess very well, 1 she said hurriedly. ' Yet I
don't see why. Ah, you are better than I ! '

The trotting of the horses seemed to have again
died away, and the pair of listeners touched each
other's fingers in the cold ' Good-night ' of those whom
something seriously divided. They were on the land-
ing, but before they had taken three steps apart, the
tramp of the horsemen suddenly revived, almost close
to the house. Lizzy turned to the staircase window,
opened the casement about an inch, and put her face
close to the aperture. ' Yes, one of 'em is Latimer/

260



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

she whispered. ' He always rides a white horse.
One would think it was the last colour for a man in
that line.'

Stockdale looked, and saw the white shape of the
animal as it passed by ; but before the riders had gone
another ten yards Latimer reined in his horse, and said
something to his companion which neither Stockdale
nor Lizzy could hear. Its drift was, however, soon
made evident, for the other man stopped also ; and
sharply turning the horses' heads they cautiously re-
traced their steps. When they were again opposite
Mrs. Newberry's garden, Latimer dismounted, and the
man on the dark horse did the same.

Lizzy and Stockdale, intently listening and observ-
ing the proceedings, naturally put their heads as close
as possible to the slit formed by the slightly opened
casement ; and thus it occurred that at last their
cheeks came positively into contact. They went on
listening, as if they did not know of the singular incident
which had happened to their faces, and the pressure of
each to each rather increased than lessened with the
lapse of time.

They could hear the Customs-men sniffing the air
like hounds as they paced slowly along. When they
reached the spot where the tub had burst, both stopped
on the instant.

' Ay, ay, 'tis quite strong here,' said the second
officer. ' Shall we knock at the door ? '

'Well, no,' said Latimer. 'Maybe this is only a
trick to put us off the scent. They wouldn't kick up
this stink anywhere near their hiding-place. I have
known such things before.'

' Anyhow, the things, or some of 'em, must have
been brought this way,' said the other.

' Yes,' said Latimer musingly. ' Unless 'tis all done
to tole us the wrong way. I have a mind that we go
home for to-night without saying a word, and come the
first thing in the morning with more hands. I know
they have storages about here, but we can do nothing

261



WESSEX TALES

by this owl's light. We will look round the parish
and see if everybody is in bed, John ; and if all is
quiet, we will do as I say.'

They went on, and the two inside the window
could hear them passing leisurely through the whole
village, the street of which curved round at the bottom
and entered the turnpike road at another junction.
This way the officers followed, and the amble of their
horses died quite away.

' What will you do ? ' said Stockdale, withdrawing
from his position.

She knew that he alluded to the coming search by
the officers, to divert her attention from their own
tender incident by the casement, which he wished to
be passed over as a thing rather dreamt of than done.
'O, nothing,' she replied, with as much coolness as
she could command under her disappointment at his
manner. ' We often have such storms as this. You
would not be frightened if you knew what fools they
are. Fancy riding o' horseback through the place;
of course they will hear and see nobody while they
make that noise ; but they are always afraid to get off,
in case some of our fellows should burst out upon 'em,
and tie them up to the gate-post, as they have done
before now. Good-night, Mr. Stockdale.'

She closed the window and went to her room,
where a tear fell from her eyes ; and that not because
of the alertness of the riding-officers.



THE GREAT SEARCH AT

NETHER-MO YNTOfl

VI

STOCKDALE was so excited by the events of the
evening, and the dilemma that he was placed in between
conscience and love, that he did not sleep, or even
doze, but remained as broadly awake as at noonday.
As soon as the grey light began to touch ever so faintly
the whiter objects in his bedroom he arose, dressed
himself, and went downstairs into the road.

The village was already astir. Several of the
carriers had heard the well-known canter of Latimer's
horse while they were undressing in the dark that
night, and had already communicated with each other
and Owlett on the subject. The only doubt seemed
to be about the safety of those tubs which had been
left under the church gallery-stairs, and after a short
discussion at the corner of the mill, it was agreed
that these should be removed before it got lighter,
and hidden in the middle of a double hedge border-
ing the adjoining field. However, before anything
could be carried into effect, the footsteps of many men
were heard coming down the lane from the highway.

' Damn it, here they be,' said Owlett, who, having
already drawn the hatch and started his mill for the
day, stood stolidly at the mill-door covered with flour,
as if the interest of his whole soul was bound up in
the shaking walls around him.

263



WESSEX TALES

The two or three with whom he had been talking
dispersed to their usual work, and when the Customs-
officers, and the formidable body of men they had
hired, reached the village cross, between the mill and
Mrs. Newberry's house, the village wore the natural
aspect of a place beginning its morning labours.

' Now,' said Latimer to his associates, who numbered
thirteen men in all, ' what I know is that the things are
somewhere in this here place. We have got the day
before us, and 'tis hard if we can't light upon 'em and
get 'em to Budmouth Custom-house before night. First
we will try the fuel-houses, and then we'll work our way
into the chimmers, and then to the ricks and stables,
and so creep round. You have nothing but your noses
to guide ye, mind, so use 'em to-day if you never did
in your lives before.'

Then the search began. Owlett, during the early
part, watched from his mill-window, Lizzy from the
door of her house, with the greatest self-possession. A
farmer down below, who also had a share in the run,
rode about with one eye on his fields and the other on
Latimer and his myrmidons, prepared to put them off
the scent if he should be asked a question. Stockdale,
who was no smuggler at all, felt more anxiety than the
worst of them, and went about his studies with a heavy
heart, coming frequently to the door to ask Lizzy some
question or other on the consequences to her of the
tubs being found.

'The consequences,' she said quietly, 'are simply
that I shall lose 'em. As I have none in the house or
garden, they can't touch me personally.'

' But you have some in the orchard ? '

' Mr. Owlett rents that of me, and he lends it to
others. So it will be hard to say who put any tubs
there if they should be found.'

There was never such a tremendous sniffing known
as that which took place in N ether- Moynton parish and
its vicinity this day. All was done methodically, and
mostly on hands and knees. At different hours of the

264



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

day they had different plans. From daybreak to break-
fast-time the officers used their sense of smell in a direct
and straightforward manner only, pausing nowhere but
at such places as the tubs might be supposed to be se-
creted in at that very moment, pending their removal
on the following night. Among the places tested and
examined were :

Hollow trees Cupboards Culverts

Potato-graves Clock-cases Hedgerows

Fuel-houses Chimney-flues Faggot-ricks

Bedrooms Rainwater-butts Haystacks

Apple-lofts Pigsties Coppers and ovens.

After breakfast they recommenced with renewed
vigour, taking a new line ; that is to say, directing
their attention to clothes that might be supposed to
have come in contact with the tubs in their removal
from the shore, such garments being usually tainted
with the spirit, owing to its oozing between the staves.
They now sniffed at

Smock-frocks Smiths' and shoemakers' aprons

Old shirts and waistcoats Knee-naps and hedging-gloves

Coats and hats Tarpaulins

Breeches and leggings Market-cloaks

Women's shawls and gowns Scarecrows.

And as soon as the mid-day meal was over, they
pushed their search into places where the spirits might
have been thrown away in alarm :

Horse-ponds Mixens Sinks in yards

Stable-drains Wet ditches Road-scrapings, and

Cinder-heaps Cesspools Back-door gutters.

But still these indefatigable Custom-house men
discovered nothing more than the original tell-tale
smell in the road opposite Lizzy's house, which even
yet had not passed off.

1 I'll tell ye what it is, men/ said Latimer, about
three o'clock in the afternoon, 'we must begin over
again. Find them tubs I will.'

The men, who had been hired for the day, looked

265



WESSEX TALES

at their hands and knees, muddy with creeping on all
fours so frequently, and rubbed their noses, as if they
had almost had enough of it ; for the quantity of bad
air which had passed into each one's nostril had rendered
it nearly as insensible as a flue. However, after a
moment's hesitation, they prepared to start anew, except
three, whose power of smell had quite succumbed under
the excessive wear and tear of the day.

By this time not a male villager was to be seen in
the parish. Owlett was not at his mill, the farmers
were not in their fields, the parson was not in his
garden, the smith had left his forge, and the wheel-
wright's shop was silent.

' Where the divil are the folk gone ? ' said Latimer,
waking up to the fact of their absence, and looking
round. 'I'll have 'em up for this! Why don't they
come and help us ? There's not a man about the place
but the Methodist parson, and he's an old woman. I
demand assistance in the king's name ! '

'We must find the jineral public afore we can
demand that,' said his lieutenant.

'Well, well, we shall do better without 'em,' said
Latimer, who changed his moods at a moment's notice.
' But there's great cause of suspicion in this silence and
this keeping out of sight, and I'll bear it in mind. Now
we will go across to Owlett's orchard and see what
we can find there.'

Stockdale, who heard this discussion from the
garden -gate, over which he had been leaning, was
rather alarmed, and thought it a mistake of the villagers
to keep so completely out of the way. He himself,
like the Preventives, had been wondering for the last
half-hour what could have become of them. Some
labourers were of necessity engaged in distant fields,
but the master- workmen should have been at home ;
though one and all, after just showing themselves at
their shops, had apparently gone off for the day. He
went in to Lizzy, who sat at a back window sewing, and
said, ' Lizzy, where are the men ? '

266



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

Lizzy laughed. 'Where they mostly are when
they're run so hard as this.' She cast her eyes to
heaven. ' Up there,' she said.

Stockdale looked up. ' What on the top of the
church tower ? ' he asked, seeing the direction of her
glance.

'Yes.'

'Well, I expect they will soon have to come down,'
said he gravely. ' I have been listening to the officers,
and they are going to search the orchard over again,
and then every nook in the church.'

Lizzy looked alarmed for the first time. ' Will
you go and tell our folk ? ' she said. ' They ought to
be let know.' Seeing his conscience struggling within
him like a boiling pot, she added, ' No, never mind,
I'll go myself.'

She went out, descended the garden, and climbed
over the churchyard wall at the same time that the
preventive-men were ascending the road to the orchard.
Stockdale could do no less than follow her. By the
time that she reached the tower entrance he was at
her side, and they entered together.

N ether- Moynton church-tower was, as in many
villages, without a turret, and the only way to the top
was by going up to the singers' gallery, and thence
ascending by a ladder to a square trap-door in the floor
of the bell-loft, above which a permanent ladder was
fixed, passing through the bells to a hole in the roof.
When Lizzy and Stockdale reached the gallery and
looked up, nothing but the trap-door and the five
holes for the bell-ropes appeared. The ladder was
gone.

' There's no getting up,' said Stockdale.

' O yes, there is,' said she. 'There's an eye look-
ing at us at this moment through a knot-hole in that
trap-door.'

And as she spoke the trap opened, and the dark
line of the ladder was seen descending against the
white-washed wall. When it touched the bottom

267



WESSEX TALES

Lizzy dragged it to its place, and said, ' If you'll go up,
I'll follow.'

The young man ascended, and presently found
himself among consecrated bells for the first time in
his life, nonconformity having been in the Stockdale
blood for some generations. He eyed them uneasily,
and looked round for Lizzy. Owlett stood here, hold-
ing the top of the ladder.

4 What, be you really one of us ? ' said the miller.

' It seems so,' said Stockdale sadly.

' He's not,' said Lizzy, who overheard. ' He's
neither for nor against us. He'll do us no harm.'

She stepped up beside them, and then they went
on to the next stage, which, when they had clambered
over the dusty bell -carriages, was of easy ascent, lead-
ing towards the hole through which the pale sky
appeared, and into the open air. Owlett remained
behind for a moment, to pull up the lower ladder.

' Keep down your heads,' said a voice, as soon as
they set foot on the flat.

Stockdale here beheld all the missing parishioners,
lying on their stomachs on the tower roof, except a few
who, elevated on their hands and knees, were peeping
through the embrasures of the parapet. Stockdale did
the same, and saw the village lying like a map below
him, over which moved the figures of the Customs-men,
each foreshortened to a crablike object, the crown of
his hat forming a circular disc in the centre of him.
Some of the men had turned their heads when the
young preacher's figure arose among them.

4 What, Mr. Stockdale ? ' said Matt Grey, in a tone
of surprise.

'I'd as lief that it hadn't been,' said Jim Clarke.
' If the pa'son should see him a trespassing here in his
tower, 'twould be none the better for we, seeing how 'a
do hate chapel-members. He'd never buy a tub of us
again, and he's as good a customer as we have got
this side o' Warm'll.'

' Where is the pa'son ? ' said Lizzy.

268



THE DISTRACTED PREACHER

'In his house, to be sure, that he mid see nothing
of what's going on where all good folks ought to be,
and this young man likewise.'

'Well, he has brought some news,' said Lizzy.
' They are going to search the orchard and church ;
can we do anything if they should find ? '

1 Yes,' said her cousin Owlett. ' That's what we've
been talking o', and we have settled our line. Well,
be dazed ! '

The exclamation was caused by his perceiving that
some of the searchers, having got into the orchard,
and begun stooping and creeping hither and thither,
were pausing in the middle, where a tree smaller than
the rest was growing. They drew closer, and bent
lower than ever upon the ground.

' O, my tubs ! ' said Lizzy faintly, as she peered
through the parapet at them.

' They have got 'em, 'a b'lieve,' said Owlett.

The interest in the movements of the officers was
so keen that not a single eye was looking in any other
direction ; but at that moment a shout from the church
beneath them attracted the attention of the smugglers,
as it did also of the party in the orchard, who sprang
to their feet and went towards the churchyard wall.
At the same time those of the Government men who
had entered the church unperceived by the smugglers
cried aloud, ' Here be some of 'em at last.'

The smugglers remained in a blank silence, uncer-
tain whether ' some of 'em ' meant tubs or men ; but
again peeping cautiously over the edge of the tower
they learnt that tubs were the things descried ; and
soon these fated articles were brought one by one into
the middle of the churchyard from their hiding-place
under the gallery-stairs.

'They are going to put 'em on Hinton's vault
till they find the rest ! ' said Lizzy hopelessly. The
Customs-men had, in fact, begun to pile up the tubs
on a large stone slab which was fixed there ; and when
all were brought out from the tower, two or three of

269



WESSEX TALES

the men were left standing by them, the rest of the
party again proceeding to the orchard.

The interest of the smugglers in the next manceuvres
of their enemies became painfully intense. Only about
thirty tubs had been secreted in the lumber of the
tower, but seventy were hidden in the orchard, making
up all that they had brought ashore as yet, the remainder
of the cargo having been tied to a sinker and dropped
overboard for another night's operations. The Pre-
ventives, having re-entered the orchard, acted as if
they were positive that here lay hidden the rest of the
tubs, which they were determined to find before night-
fall. They spread themselves out round the field, and
advancing on all fours as before, went anew round


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