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I have forgotten ; one I have never repeated, and
assuredly can never forget.

Phyllis told me the story with her own lips. She
was then an old lady of seventy-five, and her auditor
a lad of fifteen. She enjoined silence as to her share
in the incident, till she should be ' dead, buried, and
forgotten.' Her life was prolonged twelve years after
the day of her narration, and she has now been dead
nearly twenty. The oblivion which in her modesty
and humility she courted for herself has only partially
fallen on her, with the unfortunate result of inflicting
an injustice upon her memory ; since such fragments
of her story as got abroad at the time, and have been
kept alive ever since, are precisely those which are
most unfavourable to her character.

It all began with the arrival of the York Hussars,
one of the foreign regiments above alluded to. Before
that day scarcely a soul had been seen near her father's
house for weeks. When a noise like the brushing
skirt of a visitor was heard on the doorstep, it proved
to be a scudding leaf; when a carriage seemed to be
nearing the door, it was her father grinding his sickle
on the stone in the garden for his favourite relaxation
of trimming the box-tree borders to the plots. A
sound like luggage thrown down from the coach was
a gun far away at sea ; and what looked like a tall
man by the gate at dusk was a yew bush cut into
a quaint and attenuated shape. There is no such

46



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

solitude in country places now as there was in those
old days.

Yet all the while King George and his court were
at his favourite sea-side resort, not more than five
miles off.

The daughter's seclusion was great, but beyond
the seclusion of the girl lay the seclusion of the father.
If her social condition was twilight, his was darkness.
Yet he enjoyed his darkness, while her twilight
oppressed her. Dr. Grove had been a professional
man whose taste for lonely meditation over meta-
physical questions had diminished his practice till it
no longer paid him to keep it going ; after which he-
had relinquished it and hired at a nominal rent the
small, dilapidated, half farm half manor-house of this
obscure inland nook, to make a sufficiency of an
income which in a town would have been inadequate
for their maintenance. He stayed in his garden the
greater part of the day, growing more and more
irritable with the lapse of time, and the increasing
perception that he had wasted his life in the pursuit
of illusions. He saw his friends less and less
frequently. Phyllis became so shy that if she met
a stranger anywhere in her short rambles she felt
ashamed at his gaze, walked awkwardly, and blushed
to her shoulders.

Yet Phyllis was discovered even here by an
admirer, and her hand most unexpectedly asked in
marriage.

The King, as aforesaid, was at the neighbouring
town, where he had taken up his abode at Gloucester
Lodge ; and his presence in the town naturally brought
many county people thither. Among these idlers
many of whom professed to have connections and
interests with the Court was one Humphrey Gould,
a bachelor ; a personage neither young nor old ; neither
good-looking nor positively plain. Too steady-going
to be 'a buck ' (as fast and unmarried men were then
called), he was an approximately fashionable man of

47



WESSEX TALES

a mild type. This bachelor of thirty found his way
to the village on the down : beheld Phyllis ; made her
father's acquaintance in order to make hers ; and by
some means or other she sufficiently inflamed his
heart to lead him in that direction almost daily ; till
he became engaged to marry her.

As he was of an old local family, some of whose
members were held in respect in the county, Phyllis,
in bringing him to her feet, had accomplished what
was considered a brilliant move for one in her con-
strained position. How she had done it was not
quite known to Phyllis herself. In those days un-
equal marriages were regarded rather as a violation
of the laws of nature than as a mere infringement of
convention, the more modern view, and hence when
Phyllis, of the watering-place bourgeoisie, was chosen
by such a gentlemanly fellow, it was as if she were
going to be taken to heaven, though perhaps the
uninformed would have seen no great difference in
the respective positions of the pair, the said Gould
being as poor as a crow.

This pecuniary condition was his excuse probably
a true one for postponing their union, and as the
winter drew nearer, and the King departed for the
season, Mr. Humphrey Gould set out for Bath,
promising to return to Phyllis in a few weeks. The
winter arrived, the date of his promise passed, yet
Gould postponed his coming, on the ground that he
could not very easily leave his father in the city of
their sojourn, the elder having no other relative near
him. Phyllis, though lonely in the extreme, was
content. The man who had asked her in marriage
was a desirable husband for her in many ways ; her
father highly approved of his suit ; but this neglect
of her was awkward, if not painful, for Phyllis. Love
him in the true sense of the word she assured me she
never did, but she had a genuine regard for him ;
admired a certain methodical and dogged way in
which he sometimes took his pleasure ; valued his

48






BINCOMBE VILLAGE



Bincombe Village, near Weymouth, is where
Phyllis Grove is supposed to have lived.

Bincombe Down, upon which the York Hus-
sars with other regiments had come to encamp,
was visible from Phyllis' window, and overlooked
one of the most extensive panoramas in the whole
of the Wessex Country 'commanding the Isle
of Portland in front, and reaching to St. Aid-
helm's Head eastward, and almost to the Start
on the west.'




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rl oJ bsaoqq.

o7 sril rfoidw noqij ,11 we'
o} omoo bcri ainsmlgsi isriJ* 1

bnB ,wobnrw 'aiflvrN mml skfi-
olodv/ siii ni afimBionsq ovhenaj-
^Lil srfl snibnmfnoo'- vi^nuoO
-blA J8 oi gnirioBQi bnt 'JTO*I - 'ip

bm: . .' - ' '' '

.

no






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many w



d wx



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

knowledge of what the Court was doing, had done,
or was about to do ; and she was not without a feeling
of pride that he had chosen her when he might have
exercised a more ambitious choice.

But he did not come ; and the spring developed.
His letters were regular though formal ; and it is not
to be wondered that the uncertainty of her position,
linked with the fact that there was not much passion
in her thoughts of Humphrey, bred an indescribable
dreariness in the heart of Phyllis Grove. The spring
was soon summer, and the summer brought the King ;
but still no Humphrey Gould. All this while the
engagement by letter was maintained intact.

At this point of time a golden radiance flashed in
upon the lives of people here, and charged all youthful
thought with emotional interest. This radiance was
the aforesaid York Hussars.



II

The present generation has probably but a very
dim notion of the celebrated York Hussars of ninety
years ago. They were one of the regiments of the
King's German Legion, and (though they somewhat
degenerated later on) their brilliant uniform, their
splendid horses, and above all, their foreign air and
mustachios (rare appendages then), drew crowds of
admirers of both sexes wherever they went. These
with other regiments had come to encamp on the
downs and pastures, because of the presence of the
King in the neighbouring town.

The spot was high and airy, and the view extensive,
commanding Portland the Isle of Slingers in front,
and reaching to St. Aldhelm's Head eastward, and
almost to the Start on the west.

Phyllis, though not precisely a girl of the village,
was as interested as any of them in this military
investment. Her father's home stood somewhat

49



WESSEX TALES

apart, and on the highest point of ground to which
the lane ascended, so that it was almost level with the
top of the church tower in the lower part of the parish.
Immediately from the outside of the garden- wall the
grass spread away to a great distance, and it was
crossed by a path which came close to the wall. Ever
since her childhood it had been Phyllis's pleasure to
clamber up this fence and sit on the top a feat not
so difficult as it may seem, the walls in this district
being built of rubble, without mortar, so that there
were plenty of crevices for small toes.

She was sitting up here one day, listlessly survey-
ing the pasture without, when her attention was
arrested by a solitary figure walking along the path.
It was one of the renowned German Hussars, and he
moved onward with his eyes on the ground, and with
the manner of one who wished to escape company.
His head would probably have been bent like his eyes
but for his stiff neck-gear. On nearer view she per-
ceived that his face was marked with deep sadness.
Without observing her, he advanced by the footpath
till it brought him almost immediately under the wall.

Phyllis was much surprised to see a fine, tall
soldier in such a mood as this. Her theory of the
military, and of the York Hussars in particular
(derived entirely from hearsay, for she had never
talked to a soldier in her life), was that their hearts
were as gay as their accoutrements.

At this moment the Hussar lifted his eyes and
noticed her on her perch, the white muslin neckerchief
which covered her shoulders and neck where left bare
by her low gown, and her white raiment in general,
snowing conspicuously in the bright sunlight of this
summer day. He blushed a little at the suddenness
of the encounter, and without halting a moment from
his pace passed on.

All that day the foreigner's face haunted Phyllis ;
its aspect was so striking, so handsome, and his eyes
were so blue, and sad, and abstracted. It was per-

50



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

haps only natural that on some following 1 day at the
same hour she should look over that wall again, and
wait till he had passed a second time. On this
occasion he was reading a letter, and at the sight of
her his manner was that of one who had half expected
or hoped to discover her. He almost stopped, smiled,
and made a courteous salute. The end of the meeting
was that they exchanged a few words. She asked
him what he was reading, and he readily informed her
that he was re-perusing letters from his mother in
Germany ; he did not get them often, he said, and
was forced to read the old ones a great many times.
This was all that passed at the present interview, but
others of the same kind followed.

Phyllis used to say that his English, though not
good, was quite intelligible to her, so that their
acquaintance was never hindered by difficulties of
speech. Whenever the subject became too delicate,
subtle, or tender, for such words of English as were
at his command, the eyes no doubt helped out the
tongue, and though this was later on the lips
helped out the eyes. In short this acquaintance,
unguardedly made, and rash enough on her part,
developed and ripened. Like Desdemona, she pitied
him, and learnt his history.

His name was Matthaus Tina, and Saarbriick his
native town, where his mother was still living. His
age was twenty-two, and he had already risen to the
grade of corporal, though he had not long been in the
army. Phyllis used to assert that no such refined or
well-educated young man could have been found in the
ranks of the purely English regiments, some of these
foreign soldiers having rather the graceful manner and
presence of our native officers than of our rank and file.

She by degrees learnt from her foreign friend a
circumstance about himself and his comrades which
Phyllis would least have expected of the York
Hussars. So far from being as gay as its uniform,
the regiment was pervaded by a dreadful melancholy,

Si



WESSEX TALES

a chronic home-sickness, which depressed many of the
men to such an extent that they could hardly attend
to their drill. The worst sufferers were the younger
soldiers who had not been over here long. They
hated England and English life ; they took no interest
whatever in King George and his island kingdom,
and they only wished to be out of it and never to see
it any more. Their bodies were here, but their hearts
and minds were always far away in their dear father-
land, of which brave men and stoical as they were
in many ways they would speak with tears in their
eyes. One of the worst of the sufferers from this
home-woe, as he called it in his own tongue, was
Matthaus Tina, whose dreamy musing nature felt the
gloom of exile still more intensely from the fact that
he had left a lonely mother at home with nobody to
cheer her.

Though Phyllis, touched by all this, and interested
in his history, did not disdain her soldier's acquaint-
ance, she declined (according to her own account, at
least) to permit the young man to overstep the line of
mere friendship for a long while as long, indeed, as
she considered herself likely to become the possession
of another ; though it is probable that she had lost her
heart to Matthaus before she was herself aware. The
stone wall of necessity made anything like intimacy
difficult ; and he had never ventured to come, or to
ask to come, inside the garden, so that all their
conversation had been overtly conducted across this
boundary.

Ill

But news reached the village from a friend of
Phyllis's father concerning Mr. Humphrey Gould,
her remarkably cool and patient betrothed. This
gentleman had been heard to say in Bath that he
considered his overtures to Miss Phyllis Grove to
have reached only the stage of a half-understanding ;

52



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

and in view of his enforced absence on his father's
account, who was too great an invalid now to attend
to his affairs, he thought it best that there should be
no definite promise as yet on either side. He was
not sure, indeed, that he might not cast his eyes
elsewhere.

This account though only a piece of hearsay,
and as such entitled to no absolute credit tallied so
well with the infrequency of his letters and their lack
of warmth, that Phyllis did not doubt its truth for one
moment ; and from that hour she felt herself free to
bestow her heart as she should choose. Not so her
father; he declared the whole story to be a fabrication.
He had known Mr. Gould's family from his boyhood ;
and if there was one proverb which expressed the
matrimonial aspect of that family well, it was ' Love
me little, love me long.' Humphrey was an honour-
able man, who would not think of treating his
engagement so lightly. ' Do you wait in patience,'
he said ; 'all will be right enough in time.'

From these words Phyllis at first imagined that
her father was in correspondence with Mr. Gould ;
and her heart sank within her ; for in spite of her
original intentions she had been relieved to hear
that her engagement had come to nothing. But she
presently learnt that her father had heard no more of
Humphrey Gould than she herself had done ; while
he would not write and address her affianced directly
on the subject, lest it should be deemed an imputation
on that bachelor's honour.

'You want an excuse for encouraging one or
other of those foreign fellows to flatter you with his
unmeaning attentions,' her father exclaimed, his mood
having of late been a very unkind one towards her.
' I see more than I say. Don't you ever set foot
outside that garden-fence without my permission. If
you want to see the camp I'll take you myself some
Sunday afternoon.'

Phyllis had not the smallest intention of disobeying

53



WESSEX TALES

him in her actions, but she assumed herself to be
independent with respect to her feelings. She no
longer checked her fancy for the Hussar, though she
was far from regarding him as her lover in the serious
sense in which an Englishman might have been
regarded as such. The young foreign soldier was
almost an ideal being to her, with none of the
appurtenances of an ordinary house-dweller ; one who
had descended she knew not whence, and would dis-
appear she knew not whither ; the subject of a
fascinating dream no more.

They met continually now mostly at dusk
during the brief interval between the going down of
the sun and the minute at which the last trumpet-call
summoned him to his tent. Perhaps her manner had
become less restrained latterly ; at any rate that of
the Hussar was so ; he had grown more tender every
day, and at parting after these hurried interviews she
reached down her hand from the top of the wall that
he might press it. One evening he held it such a
while that she exclaimed, ' The wall is white, and
somebody in the field may see your shape against it ! '

He lingered so long that night that it was with
the greatest difficulty that he could run across the
intervening stretch of ground and enter the camp
in time. On the next occasion of his awaiting her
she did not appear in her usual place at the usual
hour. His disappointment was unspeakably keen ; he
remained staring blankly at the spot, like a man in a
trance. The trumpets and tattoo sounded, and still
he did not go.

She had been delayed purely by an accident.
When she arrived she was anxious because of the
lateness of the hour, having heard as well as he the
sounds denoting the closing of the camp. She
implored him to leave immediately.

'No,' he said gloomily. 'I shall not go in yet
the moment you come I have thought of your
coming all day.'

54



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

' But you may be disgraced at being after time ? '

' I don't mind that. I should have disappeared
from the world some time ago if it had not been for
two persons my beloved, here, and my mother in
Saarbriick. I hate the army. I care more for a
minute of your company than for all the promotion in
the world.'

Thus he stayed and talked to her, and told her
interesting details of his native place, and incidents of
his childhood, till she was in a simmer of distress at
his recklessness in remaining. It was only because
she insisted on bidding him good-night and leaving
the wall that he returned to his quarters.

The next time that she saw him he was without
the stripes that had adorned his sleeve. He had
been broken to the level of private for his lateness
that night ; and as Phyllis considered herself to be
the cause of his disgrace her sorrow was great. But
the position was now reversed ; it was his turn to
cheer her.

' Don't grieve, meine Liebliche ! ' he said. ' I
have got a remedy for whatever comes. First, even
supposing I regain my stripes, would your father
allow you to marry a non-commissioned officer in the
York Hussars ?'

She flushed. This practical step had not been in
her mind in relation to such an unrealistic person as
he was ; and a moment's reflection was enough for it.
4 My father would not certainly would not,' she
answered unflinchingly. 'It cannot be thought of!
My dear friend, please do forget me : I fear I am
ruining you and your prospects ! '

' Not at all ! ' said he. ' You are giving this
country of yours just sufficient interest to me to make
me care to keep alive in it. If my dear land were
here also, and my old parent, with you, I could be
happy as I am, and would do my best as a soldier.
But it is not so. And now listen. This is my plan.
That you go with me to my own country, and be my

55



WESSEX TALES

wife there, and live there with my mother and me.
I am not a Hanoverian, as you know, though I
entered the army as such ; my country is by the Saar,
and is at peace with France, and if I were once in it
I should be free.'

'But how get there?' she asked. Phyllis had
been rather amazed than shocked at his proposition.
Her position in her father's house was growing
irksome and painful in the extreme ; his parental
affection seemed to be quite dried up. She was not
a native of the village, like all the joyous girls around
her ; and in some way Matthaus Tina had infected
her with his own passionate longing for his country,
and mother, and home.

' But how ? ' she repeated, finding that he did not
answer. ' Will you buy your discharge ? '

' Ah, no,' he said. ' That's impossible in these
times. No ; I came here against my will ; why
should I not escape ? Now is the time, as we shall
soon be striking camp, and I might see you no more.
This is my scheme. I will ask you to meet me on
the highway two miles off, on some calm night next
week that may be appointed. There will be nothing
unbecoming in it, or to cause you shame ; you will
not fly alone with me, for I will bring with me my
devoted young friend Christoph, an Alsatian, who has
lately joined the regiment, and who has agreed to
assist in this enterprise. We shall have come from
yonder harbour, where we shall have examined the
boats, and found one suited to our purpose. Christoph
has already a chart of the Channel, and we will then
go to the harbour, and at midnight cut the boat from
her moorings, and row away round the point out of
sight ; and by the next morning we are on the coast
of France, near Cherbourg. The rest is easy, for I
have saved money for the land journey, and can get a
change of clothes. I will write to my mother, who
will meet us on the way.'

He added details in reply to her inquiries, which

'



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

left no doubt in Phyllis's mind of the feasibility of the
undertaking. But its magnitude almost appalled her ;
and it is questionable if she would ever have gone
further in the wild adventure if, on entering the house
that night, her father had not accosted her in the
most significant terms.

' How about the York Hussars?' he said.

1 They are still at the camp ; but they are soon
going away, I believe.'

' It is useless for you to attempt to cloak your
actions in that way. You have been meeting one of
those fellows; you have been seen walking with him
foreign barbarians, not much better than the French
themselves ! I have made up my mind don't speak
a word till I have done, please ! I have made up my
mind that you shall stay here no longer while they
are on the spot. You shall go to your aunt's.'

It was useless for her to protest that she had never
taken a walk with any soldier or man under the sun
except himself. Her protestations were feeble, too,
for though he was not literally correct in his assertion,
he was virtually only half in error.

The house of her father's sister was a prison to
Phyllis. She had quite recently undergone experience
of its gloom ; and when her father went on to direct
her to pack what would be necessary for her to take,
her heart died within her. In after years she never
attempted to excuse her conduct during this week of
agitation ; but the result of her self-communing was
that she decided to join in the scheme of her lover and
his friend, and fly to the country which he had coloured
with such lovely hues in her imagination. She always
said that the one feature in his proposal which overcame
her hesitation was the obvious purity and straight-
forwardness of his intentions. He showed himself to
be so virtuous and kind ; he treated her with a respect
to which she had never before been accustomed ; and
she was braced to the obvious risks of the voyage by
her confidence in him.

57



IV

It was on a soft, dark evening of the following week
that they engaged in the adventure. Tina was to meet
her at a point in the highway at which the lane to the
village branched off. Christoph was to go ahead of
them to the harbour where the boat lay, row it round
the Nothe or Look-out as it was called in those days
and pick them up on the other side of the promontory,
which they were to reach by crossing the harbour-
bridge on foot, and climbing over the Look-out hill.

As soon as her father had ascended to his room she
left the house, and, bundle in hand, proceeded at a trot
along the lane. At such an hour not a soul was afoot
anywhere in the village, and she reached the junction
of the lane with the highway unobserved. Here she
took up her position in the obscurity formed by the
angle of a fence, whence she could discern every one
who approached along the turnpike-road, without being
herself seen.

She had not remained thus waiting for her lover
longer than a minute though from the tension of her
nerves the lapse of even that short time was trying
when, instead of the expected footsteps, the stage-coach
could be heard descending the hill. She knew that
Tina would not show himself till the road was clear,
and waited impatiently for the coach to pass. Nearing
the corner where she was it slackened speed, and,
instead of going by as usual, drew up within a few


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Online LibraryThomas HardyThe writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) → online text (page 4 of 20)