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yards of her. A passenger alighted, and she heard his
voice. It was Humphrey Gould's.

He had brought a friend with him, and luggage.
The luggage was deposited on the grass, and the coach
went on its route to the royal watering-place.

4 1 wonder where that young man is with the horse
and trap ?' said her former admirer to his companion.
1 I hope we shan't have to wait here long. I told him
half-past nine o'clock precisely.'

58



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

' Have you got her present safe ? '

* Phyllis's ? O, yes. It is in this trunk. I hope
it will please her.'

4 Of course it will. What woman would not be
pleased with such a handsome peace-offering ? '

'Well she deserves it. I've treated her rather
badly. But she has been in my mind these last two
days much more than I should care to confess to every-
body. Ah, well; I'll say no more about that. It
cannot be that she is so bad as they make out. I
am quite sure that a girl of her good wit would
know better than to get entangled with any of those
Hanoverian soldiers. I won't believe it of her, and
there's an end on't.'

More words in the same strain were casually
dropped as the two men waited ; words which revealed
to her, as by a sudden illumination, the enormity of
her conduct. The conversation was at length cut off
by the arrival of the man with the vehicle. The
luggage was placed in it, and they mounted, and were
driven on in the direction from which she had just
come.

Phyllis was so conscious-stricken that she was at
first inclined to follow them ; but a moment's reflection
led her to feel that it would only be bare justice to
Matthaus to wait till he arrived, and explain candidly
that she had changed her mind difficult as the struggle
would be when she stood face to face with him. She
bitterly reproached herself for having believed reports
which represented Humphrey Gould as false to his
engagement, when, from what she now heard from his
own lips, she gathered that he had been living full of
trust in her. But she knew well enough who had won
her love. Without him her life seemed a dreary
prospect, yet the more she looked at his proposal the
more she feared to accept it so wild as it was, so
vague, so venturesome. She had promised Humphrey
Gould, and it was only his assumed faithlessness which
had led her to treat that promise as nought. His

59



WESSEX TALES

solicitude in bringing her these gifts touched her ; her
promise must be kept, and esteem must take the place
of love. She would preserve her self-respect. She
would stay at home, and marry him, and suffer.

Phyllis had thus braced herself to an exceptional
fortitude when, a few minutes later, the outline of
Matthaus Tina appeared behind a field-gate, over which
he lightly leapt as she stepped forward. There was no
evading it, he pressed her to his breast.

1 It is the first and last time!' she wildly thought
as she stood encircled by his arms.

How Phyllis got through the terrible ordeal of that
night she could never clearly recollect. She always
attributed her success in carrying out her resolve to
her lover's honour, for as soon as she declared to him
in feeble words that she had changed her mind, and
felt that she could not, dared not, fly with him,
he forbore to urge her, grieved as he was at her
decision. Unscrupulous pressure on his part, seeing
how romantically she had become attached to him,
would no doubt have turned the balance in his favour.
But he did nothing to tempt her unduly or unfairly.

On her side, fearing for his safety, she begged him
to remain. This, he declared, could not be. ' I
cannot break faith with my friend,' said he. Had he
stood alone he would have abandoned his plan. But
Christoph, with the boat and compass and chart, was
waiting on the shore ; the tide would soon turn ; his
mother had been warned of his coming ; go he must.

Many precious minutes were lost while he tarried,
unable to tear himself away, Phyllis held to her
resolve, though it cost her many a bitter pang. At
last they parted, and he went down the hill. Before
his footsteps had quite died away she felt a desire to
behold at least his outline once more, and running
noiselessly after him regained view of his diminishing
figure. For one moment she was sufficiently excited
to be on the point of rushing forward and linking her
fate with his. But she could not. The courage which

60



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

at the critical instant failed Cleopatra of Egypt could
scarcely be expected of Phyllis Grove.

A dark shape, similar to his own, joined him in the
highway. It was Christoph, his friend. She could
see no more ; they had hastened on in the direction of
the town and harbour, four miles ahead. With a
feeling akin to despair she turned and slowly pursued
her way homeward.

Tattoo sounded in the camp ; but there was no
camp for her now. It was as dead as the camp of the
Assyrians after the passage of the Destroying Angel.

She noiselessly entered the house, seeing nobody,
and went to bed. Grief, which kept her awake at
first, ultimately wrapped her in a heavy sleep. The
next morning her father met her at the foot of the
stairs.

' Mr. Goold is come ! ' he said triumphantly.

Humphrey was staying at the inn, and had already
called to inquire for her. He had brought her a
present of a very handsome looking-glass in a frame
of repousst silverwork, which her father held in his
hand. He had promised to call again in the course of
an hour, to ask Phyllis to walk with him.

Pretty mirrors were rarer in country-houses at that
day than they are now, and the one before her won
Phyllis's admiration. She looked into it, saw how
heavy her eyes were, and endeavoured to brighten
them. She was in that wretched state of mind which
leads a woman to move mechanically onward in what
she conceives to be her allotted path. Mr. Humphrey
had, in his undemonstrative way, been adhering all
along to the old understanding ; it was for her to do
the same, and to say not a word of her own lapse.
She put on her bonnet and tippet, and when he arrived
at the hour named she was at the door awaiting him.



Phyllis thanked him for his beautiful gift ; but the
talking was soon entirely on Humphrey's side as they
walked along. He told her of the latest movements
of the world of fashion a subject which she willingly
discussed to the exclusion of anything more personal
and his measured language helped to still her disquieted
heart and brain. Had not her own sadness been what
it was she must have observed his embarrassment.
At last he abruptly changed the subject.

' I am glad you are pleased with my little present/
he said. ' The truth is that I brought it to propitiate
'ee, and to get you to help me out of a mighty difficulty.'

It was inconceivable to Phyllis that this independent
bachelor whom she admired in some respects could
have a difficulty.

' Phyllis I'll tell you my secret at once ; for I
have a monstrous secret to confide before I can ask
your counsel. The case is, then, that I am married :
yes, I have privately married a dear young belle ; and
if you knew her, and I hope you will, you would say
everything in her praise. But she is not quite the
one that my father would have chose for me you
know the paternal idea as well as I and I have kept
it secret. There will be a terrible noise, no doubt ;
but I think that with your help I may get over it. If
you would only do me this good turn when I have
told my father, I mean say that you never could
have married me, you know, or something of that
sort 'pon my life it will help to smooth the way
vastly. I am so anxious to win him round to my
point of view, and not to cause any estrangement.'

What Phyllis replied she scarcely knew, or how
she counselled him as to his unexpected situation.
Yet the relief that his announcement brought her was
perceptible. To have confided her trouble in return
was what her aching heart longed to do ; and had

62



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

Humphrey been a woman she would instantly have
poured out her tale. But to him she feared to
confess ; and there was a real reason for silence, till
a. sufficient time had elapsed to allow her lover and
his comrade to get out of harm's way.

As soon as she reached home again she sought a
solitary place, and spent the time in half regretting
that she had not gone away, and in dreaming over the
meetings with Matthaus Tina from their beginning to
their end. In his own country, amongst his own
countrywomen, he would possibly soon forget her,
even to her very name.

Her listlessness was such that she did not go out of
the house for several days. There came a morning
which broke in fog and mist, behind which the dawn
could be discerned in greenish grey ; and the outlines
of the tents, and the rows of horses at the ropes.
The smoke from the canteen fires drooped heavily.

The spot at the bottom of the garden where she
had been accustomed to climb the wall to meet
Matthaus, was the only inch of English ground in
which she took any interest ; and in spite of the
disagreeable haze prevailing she walked out there till
she reached the well-known corner. Every blade of
grass was weighted with little liquid globes, and slugs
and snails had crept out upon the plots. She could
hear the usual faint noises from the camp, and in the
other direction the trot of farmers on the road to the
town, for it was market-day. She observed that her
frequent visits to this corner had quite trodden down
the grass in the angle of the wall, and left marks of
garden soil on the stepping-stones by which she had
mounted to look over the top. Seldom having gone
there till dusk, she had not considered that her traces
might be visible by day. Perhaps it was these which
had revealed her trysts to her father.

While she paused in melancholy regard, she
fancied that the customary sounds from the tents were
changing their character. Indifferent as Phyllis was

63



WESSEX TALES

to camp doings now, she mounted by the steps to the
old place. What she beheld at first awed and
perplexed her ; then she stood rigid, her fingers
hooked to the wall, her eyes staring out of her head,
and her face as if hardened to stone.

On the open green stretching before her all the
regiments in the camp were drawn up in line, in the
mid- front of which two empty coffins lay on the
ground. The unwonted sounds which she had
noticed came from an advancing procession. It
consisted of the band of the York Hussars playing a
dead march ; next two soldiers of that regiment in a
mourning coach, guarded on each side, and accom-
panied by two priests. Behind came a crowd of
rustics who had been attracted by the event. The
melancholy procession marched along the front of the
line, returned to the centre, and halted beside the
coffins, where the two condemned men were blind-
folded, and each placed kneeling on his coffin ; a few
minutes' pause was now given, while they prayed.

A firing-party of twenty-four men stood ready
with levelled carbines. The commanding officer, who
had his sword drawn, waved it through some cuts of
the sword -exercise till he reached the downward
stroke, whereat the firing party discharged their
volley. The two victims fell, one upon his face
across his coffin, the other backwards.

As the volley resounded there arose a shriek from
the wall of Dr. Grove's garden, and some one fell
down inside ; but nobody among the spectators
without noticed it at the time. The two executed
Hussars were Matthaus Tina and his friend Christoph.
The soldiers on guard placed the bodies in the coffins
almost instantly ; but the colonel of the regiment, an
Englishman, rode up and exclaimed in a stern voice :
' Turn them out as an example to the men ! '

The coffins were lifted endwise, and the dead
Germans flung out upon their faces on the grass.
Then all the regiments wheeled in sections, and

64



THE MELANCHOLY HUSSAR

marched past the spot in slow time. When the
survey was over the corpses were again coffined, and
borne away.

Meanwhile Dr. Grove, attracted by the noise of
the volley, had rushed out into his garden, where he
saw his wretched daughter lying motionless against
the wall. She was taken indoors, but it was long
before she recovered consciousness ; and for weeks
they despaired of her reason.

It transpired that the luckless deserters from the
York Hussars had cut the boat from her moorings in
the adjacent harbour, according to their plan, and,
with two other comrades who were smarting under
ill-treatment from their colonel, had sailed in safety
across the Channel. But mistaking their bearings
they steered into Jersey, thinking that island the
French coast. Here they were perceived to be
deserters, and delivered up to the authorities.
Matthaus and Christoph interceded for the other
two at the court-martial, saying that it was entirely by
the former's representations that these were induced
to go. Their sentence was accordingly commuted to
flogging, the death punishment being reserved for
their leaders.

The visitor to the well - known old Georgian
watering - place, who may care to ramble to the
neighbouring village under the hills, and examine the
register of burials, will there find two entries in these
words :

' Matth : Tina (Corpl.) in His Majesty's Regmt. of York
Hussars, and Shot for Desertion, was Buried June joth, i8oi>
aged 22 years. Born in the town of Sarrbruk, Germany.

' Christoph Bless, belonging to His Majesty's Regmt. of
York Hussars, who was Shot for Desertion, was Buried June
3oth, 1801, aged 22 years. Born at Lothaargen, Alsatta. 1

Their graves were dug at the back of the little
church, near the wall. There is no memorial to mark
the spot, but Phyllis pointed it out to me. While she

65



WESSEX TALES

lived she used to keep their mounds neat ; but now
they are overgrown with nettles, and sunk nearly flat.
The older villagers, however, who know of the episode
from their parents, still recollect the place where the
soldiers lie. Phyllis lies near.

October 1889,



THE WITHERED ARM



A LORN MILKMAID
I

IT was an eighty-cow dairy, and the troop of milkers,
regular and supernumerary, were all at work ; for,
though the time of year was as yet but early April,
the feed lay entirely in water-meadows, and the cows
were 'in full pail.' The hour was about six in the
evening, and three-fourths of the large, red, rectangular
animals having been finished off, there was opportunity
for a little conversation.

' He do bring home his bride to-morrow, I hear.
They've come as far as Anglebury to-day.'

The voice seemed to proceed from the belly of the
cow called Cherry, but the speaker was a milking-
woman, whose face was buried in the flank of that
motionless beast.

' Hav' anybody seen her?' said another.

There was a negative response from the first.
' Though they say she's a rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little
body enough,' she added; and as the milkmaid spoke
she turned her face so that she could glance past her
cow's tail to the other side of the barton, where a thin,
fading woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from
the rest.

' Years younger than he, they say,' continued the
second, with also a glance of reflectiveness in the same
direction.

' How old do you call him, then? '

' Thirty or so.'

69



WESSEX TALES

' More like forty,' broke in an old milkman near,
in a long white pinafore or ' wropper,' and with the
brim of his hat tied down, so that he looked like a
woman. ' 'A was born before our Great Weir was
builded, and I hadn't man's wages when I laved water
there.'

The discussion waxed so warm that the purr of the
milk streams became jerky, till a voice from another
cow's belly cried with authority, ' Now then, what the
Turk do it matter to us about Farmer Lodge's age, or
Farmer Lodge's new mis'ess ? I shall have to pay
him nine pound a year for the rent of every one of
these milchers, whatever his age or hers. Get on with
your work, or 'twill be dark afore we have done. The
evening is pinking in a'ready.' This speaker was the
dairyman himself, by whom the milkmaids and men
were employed.

Nothing more was said publicly about Farmer
Lodge's wedding, but the first woman murmured under
her cow to her next neighbour, ' 'Tis hard for she,'
signifying the thin worn milkmaid aforesaid.

4 O no,' said the second. ' He ha'n't spoke to
Rhoda Brook for years.'

When the milking was done they washed their
pails and hung them on a many-forked stand made as
usual of the peeled limb of an oak-tree, set upright in
the earth, and resembling a colossal antlered horn.
The majority then dispersed in various directions
homeward. The thin woman who had not spoken
was joined by a boy of twelve or thereabout, and the
twain went away up the field also.

Their course lay apart from that of the others, to a
lonely spot high above the water-meads, and not far
from the border of Egdon Heath, whose dark counte-
nance was visible in the distance as they drew nigh to
their home.

' They've just been saying down in barton that
your father brings his young wife home from Anglebury
to-morrow,' the woman observed. ' I shall want to

70



THE WITHERED ARM

send you for a few things to market, and you'll be
pretty sure to meet 'em.'

'Yes, mother,' said the boy. 'Is father married
then?'

'Yes. . . . You can give her a look, and tell me
what she's like, if you do see her.'

' Yes, mother.'

' If she's dark or fair, and if she's tall as tall as I.
And if she seems like a woman who has ever worked
for a living, or one that has been always well off,
and has never done anything, and shows marks of the
lady on her, as I expect she do.'

' Yes.'

They crept up the hill in the twilight and entered
the cottage. It was built of mud- walls, the surface of
which had been washed by many rains into channels
and depressions that left none of the original flat face
visible ; while here and there in the thatch above a
rafter showed like a bone protruding through the skin.

She was kneeling down in the chimney-corner,
before two pieces of turf laid together with the heather
inwards, blowing at the red-hot ashes with her breath
till the turves flamed. The radiance lit her pale cheek,
and made her dark eyes, that had once been handsome,
seem handsome anew. ' Yes,' she resumed, ' see if she
is dark or fair, and if you can, notice if her hands be
white ; if not, see if they look as though she had ever
done housework, or are milker's hands like mine.'

The boy a^ain promised, inattentively this time,
his mother not observing that he was cutting a notch
with his pocket-knife in the beech-backed chair.



THE YOUNG WIFE
II

THE road from Anglebury to Holmstoke is in general
level ; but there is one place where a sharp ascent
breaks its monotony. Farmers homeward-bound from
the former market-town, who trot all the rest of the
way, walk their horses up this short incline.

The next evening while the sun was yet bright a
handsome new gig, with a lemon-coloured body and
red wheels, was spinning westward along the level
highway at the heels of a powerful mare. The driver
was a yeoman in the prime of life, cleanly shaven like
an actor, his faced being toned to that bluish-vermilion
hue which so often graces a thriving farmer's features
when returning home after successful dealings in the
town. Beside him sat a woman, many years his
junior almost, indeed, a girl. Her face too was
fresh in colour, but it was of a totally different quality
soft and evanescent, like the light under a heap of
rose-petals.

Few people travelled this way, for it was not a
main road ; and the long white riband of gravel that
stretched before them was empty, save of one small
scarce-moving speck, which presently resolved itself
into the figure of a boy, who was creeping on at a
snail's pace, and continually looking behind him the
heavy bundle he carried being some excuse for, if not
the reason of, his dilatoriness. When the bouncing
gig-party slowed at the bottom of the incline above

72



THE WITHERED ARM

mentioned, the pedestrian was only a few yards in
front. Supporting the large bundle by putting one
hand on his hip, he turned and looked straight
at the farmer's wife as though he would read her
through and through, pacing along abreast of the
horse.

The low sun was full in her face, rendering every
feature, shade, and contour distinct, from the curve of
her little nostril to the colour of her eyes. The
farmer, though he seemed annoyed at the boy's per-
sistent presence, did not order him to get out of the
way ; and thus the lad preceded them, his hard gaze
never leaving her, till they reached the top of the
ascent, when the farmer trotted on with relief in his
lineaments having taken no outward notice of the
boy whatever.

' How that poor lad stared at me ! ' said the young
wife.

'Yes, dear; I saw that he did.'

' He is one of the village, I suppose?'

' One of the neighbourhood. I think he lives with
his mother a mile or two off.'

' He knows who we are, no doubt ?'

' O yes. You must expect to be stared at just at
first, my pretty Gertrude.'

' I do, though I think the poor boy may have
looked at us in the hope we might relieve him of his
heavy load, rather than from curiosity.'

' O no,' said her husband off-handedly. ' These
country lads will carry a hundredweight once they get
it on their backs ; besides his pack had more size than
weight in it. Now, then, another mile and I shall be
able to show you our house in the distance if it is
not too dark before we get there.' The wheels spun
round, and particles flew from their periphery as before,
till a white house of ample dimensions revealed itself,
with farm-buildings and ricks at the back.

Meanwhile the boy had quickened his pace, and
turning up a by-lane some mile and half short of the

73



WESSEX TALES

white farmstead, ascended towards the leaner pastures,
and so on to the cottage of his mother.

She had reached home after her day's milking at
the outlying dairy, and was washing cabbage at the
doorway in the declining light ' Hold up the net a
moment,' she said, without preface, as the boy came
up.

He flung down his bundle, held the edge of the
cabbage-net, and as she filled its meshes with the
dripping leaves she went on, ' Well, did you see her ? '

'Yes ; quite plain.'

' Is she ladylike?'

' Yes ; and more. A lady complete.'

' Is she young ? '

'Well, she's growed up, and her ways be quite a
woman's.'

' Of course. What colour is her hair and face ? '

' Her hair is lightish, and her face as comely as a
live doll's.'

' Her eyes, then, are not dark like mine?'

' No of a bluish turn, and her mouth is very nice
and red ; and when she smiles, her teeth show white.'

' Is she tall ?' said the woman sharply.

' I couldn't see. She was sitting down.'

* Then do you go to Holmstoke church to-morrow
morning : she's sure to be there. Go early and notice
her walking in, and come home and tell me if she's
taller than I.'

'Very well, mother. But why don't you go and
see for yourself?'

' / go to see her ! I wouldn't look up at her if she
were to pass my window this instant. She was with
Mr. Lodge, of course. What did he say or do ? '

'Just the same as usual.'

' Took no notice of you ? '

4 None.'

Next day the mother put a clean shift on the
boy, and started him off for Holmstoke church. He
reached the ancient little pile when the door was just

74



THE WITHERED ARM

being opened, and he was the first to enter. Taking
his seat by the font, he watched all the parishioners
file in. The well-to-do Farmer Lodge came nearly
last ; and his young wife, who accompanied him,
walked up the aisle with the shyness natural to a
modest woman who had appeared thus for the first
time. As all other eyes were fixed upon her, the
youth's stare was not noticed now.

When he reached home his mother said, ' Well ? '
before he had entered the room.

'She is not tall. She is rather short,' he replied.

' Ah ! ' said his mother, with satisfaction.

' But she's very pretty very. In fact, she's
lovely.' The youthful freshness of the yeoman's wife
had evidently made an impression even on the some-
what hard nature of the boy.

1 That's all I want to hear,' said his mother quickly.
' Now, spread the table-cloth. The hare you wired
is very tender ; but mind that nobody catches you.
You've never told me what sort of hands she had.'

' I have never seen 'em. She never took off her
gloves.'

' What did she wear this morning ? '

' A white bonnet and a silver-coloured gownd. It
whewed and whistled so loud when it rubbed against


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Online LibraryThomas HardyThe writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) → online text (page 5 of 20)