Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "My Father taught me how to be a man -- and not by instilling in me a sense of machismo or an agenda of dominance. He taught me that a real man doesn't take, he gives; he doesn't use force, he uses logic; doesn't play the role of trouble-maker, but rather, trouble-shooter; and most importantly, a real man is defined by what's in his heart, not his pants."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Ch. 5: Enter A Dragoon

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    I lately had a melancholy experience (said the gentleman who is
    answerable for the truth of this story). It was that of going over a
    doomed house with whose outside aspect I had long been familiar--a house,
    that is, which by reason of age and dilapidation was to be pulled down
    during the following week. Some of the thatch, brown and rotten as the
    gills of old mushrooms, had, indeed, been removed before I walked over
    the building. Seeing that it was only a very small house--which is
    usually called a 'cottage-residence'--situated in a remote hamlet, and
    that it was not more than a hundred years old, if so much, I was led to
    think in my progress through the hollow rooms, with their cracked walls
    and sloping floors, what an exceptional number of abrupt family incidents
    had taken place therein--to reckon only those which had come to my own
    knowledge. And no doubt there were many more of which I had never heard.

    It stood at the top of a garden stretching down to the lane or street
    that ran through a hermit-group of dwellings in Mellstock parish. From a
    green gate at the lower entrance, over which the thorn hedge had been
    shaped to an arch by constant clippings, a gravel path ascended between
    the box edges of once trim raspberry, strawberry, and vegetable plots,
    towards the front door. This was in colour an ancient and bleached green
    that could be rubbed off with the finger, and it bore a small
    long-featured brass knocker covered with verdigris in its crevices. For
    some years before this eve of demolition the homestead had degenerated,
    and been divided into two tenements to serve as cottages for farm
    labourers; but in its prime it had indisputable claim to be considered
    neat, pretty, and genteel.

    The variety of incidents above alluded to was mainly owing to the nature
    of the tenure, whereby the place had been occupied by families not quite
    of the kind customary in such spots--people whose circumstances,
    position, or antecedents were more or less of a critical happy-go-lucky
    cast. And of these residents the family whose term comprised the story I
    wish to relate was that of Mr. Jacob Paddock the market-gardener, who
    dwelt there for some years with his wife and grown-up daughter.

    I

    An evident commotion was agitating the premises, which jerked busy sounds
    across the front plot, resembling those of a disturbed hive. If a member
    of the household appeared at the door it was with a countenance of
    abstraction and concern.

    Evening began to bend over the scene; and the other inhabitants of the
    hamlet came out to draw water, their common well being in the public road
    opposite the garden and house of the Paddocks. Having wound up their
    bucketsfull respectively they lingered, and spoke significantly together.
    From their words any casual listener might have gathered information of
    what had occurred.

    The woodman who lived nearest the site of the story told most of the
    tale. Selina, the daughter of the Paddocks opposite, had been surprised
    that afternoon by receiving a letter from her once intended husband, then
    a corporal, but now a sergeant-major of dragoons, whom she had hitherto
    supposed to be one of the slain in the Battle of the Alma two or three
    years before.

    'She picked up wi'en against her father's wish, as we know, and before he
    got his stripes,' their informant continued. 'Not but that the man was
    as hearty a feller as you'd meet this side o' London. But Jacob, you
    see, wished her to do better, and one can understand it. However, she
    was determined to stick to him at that time; and for what happened she
    was not much to blame, so near as they were to matrimony when the war
    broke out and spoiled all.'

    'Even the very pig had been killed for the wedding,' said a woman, 'and
    the barrel o' beer ordered in. O, the man meant honourable enough. But
    to be off in two days to fight in a foreign country--'twas natural of her
    father to say they should wait till he got back.'

    'And he never came,' murmured one in the shade.

    'The war ended but her man never turned up again. She was not sure he
    was killed, but was too proud, or too timid, to go and hunt for him.'

    'One reason why her father forgave her when he found out how matters
    stood was, as he said plain at the time, that he liked the man, and could
    see that he meant to act straight. So the old folks made the best of
    what they couldn't mend, and kept her there with 'em, when some wouldn't.
    Time has proved seemingly that he did mean to act straight, now that he
    has writ to her that he's coming. She'd have stuck to him all through
    the time, 'tis my belief; if t'other hadn't come along.'

    'At the time of the courtship,' resumed the woodman, 'the regiment was
    quartered in Casterbridge Barracks, and he and she got acquainted by his
    calling to buy a penn'orth of rathe-ripes off that tree yonder in her
    father's orchard--though 'twas said he seed her over hedge as well as the
    apples. He declared 'twas a kind of apple he much fancied; and he called
    for a penn'orth every day till the tree was cleared. It ended in his
    calling for her.'

    "Twas a thousand pities they didn't jine up at once and ha' done wi' it.

    'Well; better late than never, if so be he'll have her now. But, Lord,
    she'd that faith in 'en that she'd no more belief that he was alive, when
    a' didn't come, than that the undermost man in our churchyard was alive.
    She'd never have thought of another but for that--O no!'

    "Tis awkward, altogether, for her now.'

    'Still she hadn't married wi' the new man. Though to be sure she would
    have committed it next week, even the licence being got, they say, for
    she'd have no banns this time, the first being so unfortunate.'

    'Perhaps the sergeant-major will think he's released, and go as he came.'

    'O, not as I reckon. Soldiers bain't particular, and she's a tidy piece
    o' furniture still. What will happen is that she'll have her soldier,
    and break off with the master-wheelwright, licence or no--daze me if she
    won't.'

    In the progress of these desultory conjectures the form of another
    neighbour arose in the gloom. She nodded to the people at the well, who
    replied 'G'd night, Mrs. Stone,' as she passed through Mr. Paddock's gate
    towards his door. She was an intimate friend of the latter's household,
    and the group followed her with their eyes up the path and past the
    windows, which were now lighted up by candles inside.

    II

    Mrs. Stone paused at the door, knocked, and was admitted by Selina's
    mother, who took her visitor at once into the parlour on the left hand,
    where a table was partly spread for supper. On the 'beaufet' against the
    wall stood probably the only object which would have attracted the eye of
    a local stranger in an otherwise ordinarily furnished room, a great plum-
    cake guarded as if it were a curiosity by a glass shade of the kind seen
    in museums--square, with a wooden back like those enclosing stuffed
    specimens of rare feather or fur. This was the mummy of the cake
    intended in earlier days for the wedding-feast of Selina and the soldier,
    which had been religiously and lovingly preserved by the former as a
    testimony to her intentional respectability in spite of an untoward
    subsequent circumstance, which will be mentioned. This relic was now as
    dry as a brick, and seemed to belong to a pre-existent civilization. Till
    quite recently, Selina had been in the habit of pausing before it daily,
    and recalling the accident whose consequences had thrown a shadow over
    her life ever since--that of which the water-drawers had spoken--the
    sudden news one morning that the Route had come for the ---th Dragoons,
    two days only being the interval before departure; the hurried
    consultation as to what should be done, the second time of asking being
    past but not the third; and the decision that it would be unwise to
    solemnize matrimony in such haphazard circumstances, even if it were
    possible, which was doubtful.

    Before the fire the young woman in question was now seated on a low
    stool, in the stillness of reverie, and a toddling boy played about the
    floor around her.

    'Ah, Mrs. Stone!' said Selina, rising slowly. 'How kind of you to come
    in. You'll bide to supper? Mother has told you the strange news, of
    course?'

    'No. But I heard it outside, that is, that you'd had a letter from Mr.
    Clark--Sergeant-Major Clark, as they say he is now--and that he's coming
    to make it up with 'ee.'

    'Yes; coming to-night--all the way from the north of England where he's
    quartered. I don't know whether I'm happy or--frightened at it. Of
    course I always believed that if he was alive he'd come and keep his
    solemn vow to me. But when it is printed that a man is killed--what can
    you think?'

    'It was printed?'

    'Why, yes. After the Battle of the Alma the book of the names of the
    killed and wounded was nailed up against Casterbridge Town Hall door.
    'Twas on a Saturday, and I walked there o' purpose to read and see for
    myself; for I'd heard that his name was down. There was a crowd of
    people round the book, looking for the names of relations; and I can mind
    that when they saw me they made way for me--knowing that we'd been just
    going to be married--and that, as you may say, I belonged to him. Well,
    I reached up my arm, and turned over the farrels of the book, and under
    the "killed" I read his surname, but instead of "John" they'd printed
    "James," and I thought 'twas a mistake, and that it must be he. Who
    could have guessed there were two nearly of one name in one regiment.'

    'Well--he's coming to finish the wedding of 'ee as may be said; so never
    mind, my dear. All's well that ends well.'

    'That's what he seems to say. But then he has not heard yet about Mr.
    Miller; and that's what rather terrifies me. Luckily my marriage with
    him next week was to have been by licence, and not banns, as in John's
    case; and it was not so well known on that account. Still, I don't know
    what to think.'

    'Everything seems to come just 'twixt cup and lip with 'ee, don't it now,
    Miss Paddock. Two weddings broke off--'tis odd! How came you to accept
    Mr. Miller, my dear?'

    'He's been so good and faithful! Not minding about the child at all; for
    he knew the rights of the story. He's dearly fond o' Johnny, you
    know--just as if 'twere his own--isn't he, my duck? Do Mr. Miller love
    you or don't he?'

    'Iss! An' I love Mr. Miller,' said the toddler.

    'Well, you see, Mrs. Stone, he said he'd make me a comfortable home; and
    thinking 'twould be a good thing for Johnny, Mr. Miller being so much
    better off than me, I agreed at last, just as a widow might--which is
    what I have always felt myself; ever since I saw what I thought was
    John's name printed there. I hope John will forgive me!'

    'So he will forgive 'ee, since 'twas no manner of wrong to him. He ought
    to have sent 'ee a line, saying 'twas another man.'

    Selina's mother entered. 'We've not known of this an hour, Mrs. Stone,'
    she said. 'The letter was brought up from Lower Mellstock Post-office by
    one of the school children, only this afternoon. Mr. Miller was coming
    here this very night to settle about the wedding doings. Hark! Is that
    your father? Or is it Mr. Miller already come?'

    The footsteps entered the porch; there was a brushing on the mat, and the
    door of the room sprung back to disclose a rubicund man about thirty
    years of age, of thriving master-mechanic appearance and obviously
    comfortable temper. On seeing the child, and before taking any notice
    whatever of the elders, the comer made a noise like the crowing of a cock
    and flapped his arms as if they were wings, a method of entry which had
    the unqualified admiration of Johnny.

    'Yes--it is he,' said Selina constrainedly advancing.

    'What--were you all talking about me, my dear?' said the genial young man
    when he had finished his crowing and resumed human manners. 'Why what's
    the matter,' he went on. 'You look struck all of a heap.' Mr. Miller
    spread an aspect of concern over his own face, and drew a chair up to the
    fire.

    'O mother, would you tell Mr. Miller, if he don't know?'

    'Mister Miller! and going to be married in six days!' he interposed.

    'Ah--he don't know it yet!' murmured Mrs. Paddock.

    'Know what?'

    'Well--John Clark--now Sergeant-Major Clark--wasn't shot at Alma after
    all. 'Twas another of almost the same name.'

    'Now that's interesting! There were several cases like that.'

    'And he's home again; and he's coming here to-night to see her.'

    'Whatever shall I say, that he may not be offended with what I've done?'
    interposed Selina.

    'But why should it matter if he be?'

    'O! I must agree to be his wife if he forgives me--of course I must.'

    'Must! But why not say nay, Selina, even if he do forgive 'ee?'

    'O no! How can I without being wicked? You were very very kind, Mr.
    Miller, to ask me to have you; no other man would have done it after what
    had happened; and I agreed, even though I did not feel half so warm as I
    ought. Yet it was entirely owing to my believing him in the grave, as I
    knew that if he were not he would carry out his promise; and this shows
    that I was right in trusting him.'

    'Yes . . . He must be a goodish sort of fellow,' said Mr. Miller, for a
    moment so impressed with the excellently faithful conduct of the sergeant-
    major of dragoons that he disregarded its effect upon his own position.
    He sighed slowly and added, 'Well, Selina, 'tis for you to say. I love
    you, and I love the boy; and there's my chimney-corner and sticks o'
    furniture ready for 'ee both.'

    'Yes, I know! But I mustn't hear it any more now,' murmured Selina
    quickly. 'John will be here soon. I hope he'll see how it all was when
    I tell him. If so be I could have written it to him it would have been
    better.'

    'You think he doesn't know a single word about our having been on the
    brink o't. But perhaps it's the other way--he's heard of it and that may
    have brought him.

    'Ah--perhaps he has!' she said brightening. 'And already forgives me.'

    'If not, speak out straight and fair, and tell him exactly how it fell
    out. If he's a man he'll see it.'

    'O he's a man true enough. But I really do think I shan't have to tell
    him at all, since you've put it to me that way!'

    As it was now Johnny's bedtime he was carried upstairs, and when Selina
    came down again her mother observed with some anxiety, 'I fancy Mr. Clark
    must be here soon if he's coming; and that being so, perhaps Mr. Miller
    wouldn't mind--wishing us good-night! since you are so determined to
    stick to your sergeant-major.' A little bitterness bubbled amid the
    closing words. 'It would be less awkward, Mr. Miller not being here--if
    he will allow me to say it.'

    'To be sure; to be sure,' the master-wheelwright exclaimed with instant
    conviction, rising alertly from his chair. 'Lord bless my soul,' he
    said, taking up his hat and stick, 'and we to have been married in six
    days! But Selina--you're right. You do belong to the child's father
    since he's alive. I'll try to make the best of it.'

    Before the generous Miller had got further there came a knock to the door
    accompanied by the noise of wheels.

    'I thought I heard something driving up!' said Mrs Paddock.

    They heard Mr. Paddock, who had been smoking in the room opposite, rise
    and go to the door, and in a moment a voice familiar enough to Selina was
    audibly saying, 'At last I am here again--not without many interruptions!
    How is it with 'ee, Mr. Paddock? And how is she? Thought never to see
    me again, I suppose?'

    A step with a clink of spurs in it struck upon the entry floor.

    'Danged if I bain't catched!' murmured Mr. Miller, forgetting company-
    speech. 'Never mind--I may as well meet him here as elsewhere; and I
    should like to see the chap, and make friends with en, as he seems one o'
    the right sort.' He returned to the fireplace just as the sergeant-major
    was ushered in.

    III

    He was a good specimen of the long-service soldier of those days; a not
    unhandsome man, with a certain undemonstrative dignity, which some might
    have said to be partly owing to the stiffness of his uniform about his
    neck, the high stock being still worn. He was much stouter than when
    Selina had parted from him. Although she had not meant to be
    demonstrative she ran across to him directly she saw him, and he held her
    in his arms and kissed her.

    Then in much agitation she whispered something to him, at which he seemed
    to be much surprised.

    'He's just put to bed,' she continued. 'You can go up and see him. I
    knew you'd come if you were alive! But I had quite gi'd you up for dead.
    You've been home in England ever since the war ended?'

    'Yes, dear.'

    'Why didn't you come sooner?'

    'That's just what I ask myself! Why was I such a sappy as not to hurry
    here the first day I set foot on shore! Well, who'd have thought it--you
    are as pretty as ever!'

    He relinquished her to peep upstairs a little way, where, by looking
    through the ballusters, he could see Johnny's cot just within an open
    door. On his stepping down again Mr. Miller was preparing to depart.

    'Now, what's this? I am sorry to see anybody going the moment I've
    come,' expostulated the sergeant-major. 'I thought we might make an
    evening of it. There's a nine gallon cask o' "Phoenix" beer outside in
    the trap, and a ham, and half a rawmil' cheese; for I thought you might
    be short o' forage in a lonely place like this; and it struck me we might
    like to ask in a neighbour or two. But perhaps it would be taking a
    liberty?'

    'O no, not at all,' said Mr. Paddock, who was now in the room, in a
    judicial measured manner. 'Very thoughtful of 'ee, only 'twas not
    necessary, for we had just laid in an extry stock of eatables and
    drinkables in preparation for the coming event.'

    "Twas very kind, upon my heart,' said the soldier, 'to think me worth
    such a jocund preparation, since you could only have got my letter this
    morning.'

    Selina gazed at her father to stop him, and exchanged embarrassed glances
    with Miller. Contrary to her hopes Sergeant-Major Clark plainly did not
    know that the preparations referred to were for something quite other
    than his own visit.

    The movement of the horse outside, and the impatient tapping of a whip-
    handle upon the vehicle reminded them that Clark's driver was still in
    waiting. The provisions were brought into the house, and the cart
    dismissed. Miller, with very little pressure indeed, accepted an
    invitation to supper, and a few neighbours were induced to come in to
    make up a cheerful party.

    During the laying of the meal, and throughout its continuance, Selina,
    who sat beside her first intended husband, tried frequently to break the
    news to him of her engagement to the other--now terminated so suddenly,
    and so happily for her heart, and her sense of womanly virtue. But the
    talk ran entirely upon the late war; and though fortified by half a horn
    of the strong ale brought by the sergeant-major she decided that she
    might have a better opportunity when supper was over of revealing the
    situation to him in private.

    Having supped, Clark leaned back at ease in his chair and looked around.
    'We used sometimes to have a dance in that other room after supper,
    Selina dear, I recollect. We used to clear out all the furniture into
    this room before beginning. Have you kept up such goings on?'

    'No, not at all!' said his sweetheart, sadly.

    'We were not unlikely to revive it in a few days,' said Mr. Paddock.
    'But, howsomever, there's seemingly many a slip, as the saying is.'

    'Yes, I'll tell John all about that by and by!' interposed Selina; at
    which, perceiving that the secret which he did not like keeping was to be
    kept even yet, her father held his tongue with some show of testiness.

    The subject of a dance having been broached, to put the thought in
    practice was the feeling of all. Soon after the tables and chairs were
    borne from the opposite room to this by zealous hands, and two of the
    villagers sent home for a fiddle and tambourine, when the majority began
    to tread a measure well known in that secluded vale. Selina naturally
    danced with the sergeant-major, not altogether to her father's
    satisfaction, and to the real uneasiness of her mother, both of whom
    would have preferred a postponement of festivities till the rashly
    anticipated relationship between their daughter and Clark in the past had
    been made fact by the church's ordinances. They did not, however,
    express a positive objection, Mr. Paddock remembering, with
    self-reproach, that it was owing to his original strongly expressed
    disapproval of Selina's being a soldier's wife that the wedding had been
    delayed, and finally hindered--with worse consequences than were
    expected; and ever since the misadventure brought about by his government
    he had allowed events to steer their own courses.

    'My tails will surely catch in your spurs, John!' murmured the daughter
    of the house, as she whirled around upon his arm with the rapt soul and
    look of a somnambulist. 'I didn't know we should dance, or I would have
    put on my other frock.'

    'I'll take care, my love. We've danced here before. Do you think your
    father objects to me now? I've risen in rank. I fancy he's still a
    little against me.'

    'He has repented, times enough.'

    'And so have I! If I had married you then 'twould have saved many a
    misfortune. I have sometimes thought it might have been possible to rush
    the ceremony through somehow before I left; though we were only in the
    second asking, were we? And even if I had come back straight here when
    we returned from the Crimea, and married you then, how much happier I
    should have been!'

    'Dear John, to say that! Why didn't you?'

    'O--dilatoriness and want of thought, and a fear of facing your father
    after so long. I was in hospital a great while, you know. But how
    familiar the place seems again! What's that I saw on the beaufet in the
    other room? It never used to be there. A sort of withered corpse of a
    cake--not an old bride-cake surely?'

    'Yes, John, ours. 'Tis the very one that was made for our wedding three
    years ago.'

    'Sakes alive! Why, time shuts up together, and all between then and now
    seems not to have been! What became of that wedding-gown that they were
    making in this room, I remember--a bluish, whitish, frothy thing?'

    'I have that too.'

    'Really! . . . Why, Selina--'

    'Yes!'

    'Why not put it on now?'

    'Wouldn't it seem--. And yet, O how I should like to! It would remind
    them all, if we told them what it was, how we really meant to be married
    on that bygone day!' Her eyes were again laden with wet.

    'Yes . . . The pity that we didn't--the pity!' Moody mournfulness seemed
    to hold silent awhile one not naturally taciturn. 'Well--will you?' he
    said.

    'I will--the next dance, if mother don't mind.'

    Accordingly, just before the next figure was formed, Selina disappeared,
    and speedily came downstairs in a creased and box-worn, but still airy
    and pretty, muslin gown, which was indeed the very one that had been
    meant to grace her as a bride three years before.

    'It is dreadfully old-fashioned,' she apologized.

    'Not at all. What a grand thought of mine! Now, let's to't again.'

    She explained to some of them, as he led her to the second dance, what
    the frock had been meant for, and that she had put it on at his request.
    And again athwart and around the room they went.

    'You seem the bride!' he said.

    'But I couldn't wear this gown to be married in now!' she replied,
    ecstatically, 'or I shouldn't have put it on and made it dusty. It is
    really too old-fashioned, and so folded and fretted out, you can't think.
    That was with my taking it out so many times to look at. I have never
    put it on--never--till now!'

    'Selina, I am thinking of giving up the army. Will you emigrate with me
    to New Zealand? I've an uncle out there doing well, and he'd soon help
    me to making a larger income. The English army is glorious, but it ain't
    altogether enriching.'

    'Of course, anywhere that you decide upon. Is it healthy there for
    Johnny?'

    'A lovely climate. And I shall never be happy in England . . . Aha!' he
    concluded again, with a bitterness of unexpected strength, 'would to
    Heaven I had come straight back here!'

    As the dance brought round one neighbour after another the re-united pair
    were thrown into juxtaposition with Bob Heartall among the rest who had
    been called in; one whose chronic expression was that he carried inside
    him a joke on the point of bursting with its own vastness. He took
    occasion now to let out a little of its quality, shaking his head at
    Selina as he addressed her in an undertone--

    'This is a bit of a topper to the bridegroom, ho ho! 'Twill teach en the
    liberty you'll expect when you've married en!'

    'What does he mean by a "topper,"' the sergeant-major asked, who, not
    being of local extraction, despised the venerable local language, and
    also seemed to suppose 'bridegroom' to be an anticipatory name for
    himself. 'I only hope I shall never be worse treated than you've treated
    me to-night!'

    Selina looked frightened. 'He didn't mean you, dear,' she said as they
    moved on. 'We thought perhaps you knew what had happened, owing to your
    coming just at this time. Had you--heard anything about--what I
    intended?'

    'Not a breath--how should I--away up in Yorkshire? It was by the merest
    accident that I came just at this date to make peace with you for my
    delay.'

    'I was engaged to be married to Mr. Bartholomew Miller. That's what it
    is! I would have let 'ee know by letter, but there was no time, only
    hearing from 'ee this afternoon . . . You won't desert me for it, will
    you, John? Because, as you know, I quite supposed you dead, and--and--'
    Her eyes were full of tears of trepidation, and he might have felt a sob
    heaving within her.

    IV

    The soldier was silent during two or three double bars of the tune. 'When
    were you to have been married to the said Mr. Bartholomew Miller?' he
    inquired.

    'Quite soon.'

    'How soon?'

    'Next week--O yes--just the same as it was with you and me. There's a
    strange fate of interruption hanging over me, I sometimes think! He had
    bought the licence, which I preferred so that it mightn't be like--ours.
    But it made no difference to the fate of it.'

    'Had bought the licence! The devil!'

    'Don't be angry, dear John. I didn't know!'

    'No, no, I'm not angry.'

    'It was so kind of him, considering!'

    'Yes . . . I see, of course, how natural your action was--never thinking
    of seeing me any more! Is it the Mr. Miller who is in this dance?'

    'Yes.'

    Clark glanced round upon Bartholomew and was silent again, for some
    little while, and she stole a look at him, to find that he seemed
    changed. 'John, you look ill!' she almost sobbed. "Tisn't me, is it?'

    'O dear, no. Though I hadn't, somehow, expected it. I can't find fault
    with you for a moment--and I don't . . . This is a deuce of a long dance,
    don't you think? We've been at it twenty minutes if a second, and the
    figure doesn't allow one much rest. I'm quite out of breath.'

    'They like them so dreadfully long here. Shall we drop out? Or I'll
    stop the fiddler.'

    'O no, no, I think I can finish. But although I look healthy enough I
    have never been so strong as I formerly was, since that long illness I
    had in the hospital at Scutari.'

    'And I knew nothing about it!'

    'You couldn't, dear, as I didn't write. What a fool I have been
    altogether!' He gave a twitch, as of one in pain. 'I won't dance again
    when this one is over. The fact is I have travelled a long way to-day,
    and it seems to have knocked me up a bit.'

    There could be no doubt that the sergeant-major was unwell, and Selina
    made herself miserable by still believing that her story was the cause of
    his ailment. Suddenly he said in a changed voice, and she perceived that
    he was paler than ever: 'I must sit down.'

    Letting go her waist he went quickly to the other room. She followed,
    and found him in the nearest chair, his face bent down upon his hands and
    arms, which were resting on the table.

    'What's the matter?' said her father, who sat there dozing by the fire.

    'John isn't well . . . We are going to New Zealand when we are married,
    father. A lovely country! John, would you like something to drink?'

    'A drop o' that Schiedam of old Owlett's, that's under stairs, perhaps,'
    suggested her father. 'Not that nowadays 'tis much better than licensed
    liquor.'

    'John,' she said, putting her face close to his and pressing his arm.
    'Will you have a drop of spirits or something?'

    He did not reply, and Selina observed that his ear and the side of his
    face were quite white. Convinced that his illness was serious, a growing
    dismay seized hold of her. The dance ended; her mother came in, and
    learning what had happened, looked narrowly at the sergeant-major.

    'We must not let him lie like that, lift him up,' she said. 'Let him
    rest in the window-bench on some cushions.'

    They unfolded his arms and hands as they lay clasped upon the table, and
    on lifting his head found his features to bear the very impress of death
    itself. Bartholomew Miller, who had now come in, assisted Mr. Paddock to
    make a comfortable couch in the window-seat, where they stretched out
    Clark upon his back.

    Still he seemed unconscious. 'We must get a doctor,' said Selina. 'O,
    my dear John, how is it you be taken like this?'

    'My impression is that he's dead!' murmured Mr. Paddock. 'He don't
    breathe enough to move a tomtit's feather.'

    There were plenty to volunteer to go for a doctor, but as it would be at
    least an hour before he could get there the case seemed somewhat
    hopeless. The dancing-party ended as unceremoniously as it had begun;
    but the guests lingered round the premises till the doctor should arrive.
    When he did come the sergeant-major's extremities were already cold, and
    there was no doubt that death had overtaken him almost at the moment that
    he had sat down.

    The medical practitioner quite refused to accept the unhappy Selina's
    theory that her revelation had in any way induced Clark's sudden
    collapse. Both he and the coroner afterwards, who found the immediate
    cause to be heart-failure, held that such a supposition was unwarranted
    by facts. They asserted that a long day's journey, a hurried drive, and
    then an exhausting dance, were sufficient for such a result upon a heart
    enfeebled by fatty degeneration after the privations of a Crimean winter
    and other trying experiences, the coincidence of the sad event with any
    disclosure of hers being a pure accident.

    This conclusion, however, did not dislodge Selina's opinion that the
    shock of her statement had been the immediate stroke which had felled a
    constitution so undermined.

    V

    At this date the Casterbridge Barracks were cavalry quarters, their
    adaptation to artillery having been effected some years later. It had
    been owing to the fact that the ---th Dragoons, in which John Clark had
    served, happened to be lying there that Selina made his acquaintance. At
    the time of his death the barracks were occupied by the Scots Greys, but
    when the pathetic circumstances of the sergeant-major's end became known
    in the town the officers of the Greys offered the services of their fine
    reed and brass band, that he might have a funeral marked by due military
    honours. His body was accordingly removed to the barracks, and carried
    thence to the churchyard in the Durnover quarter on the following
    afternoon, one of the Greys' most ancient and docile chargers being
    blacked up to represent Clark's horse on the occasion.

    Everybody pitied Selina, whose story was well known. She followed the
    corpse as the only mourner, Clark having been without relations in this
    part of the country, and a communication with his regiment having brought
    none from a distance. She sat in a little shabby brown-black mourning
    carriage, squeezing herself up in a corner to be as much as possible out
    of sight during the slow and dramatic march through the town to the tune
    from Saul. When the interment had taken place, the volleys been fired,
    and the return journey begun, it was with something like a shock that she
    found the military escort to be moving at a quick march to the lively
    strains of 'Off she goes!' as if all care for the sergeant-major was
    expected to be ended with the late discharge of the carbines. It was, by
    chance, the very tune to which they had been footing when he died, and
    unable to bear its notes, she hastily told her driver to drop behind. The
    band and military party diminished up the High Street, and Selina turned
    over Swan bridge and homeward to Mellstock.

    Then recommenced for her a life whose incidents were precisely of a suit
    with those which had preceded the soldier's return; but how different in
    her appreciation of them! Her narrow miss of the recovered
    respectability they had hoped for from that tardy event worked upon her
    parents as an irritant, and after the first week or two of her mourning
    her life with them grew almost insupportable. She had impulsively taken
    to herself the weeds of a widow, for such she seemed to herself to be,
    and clothed little Johnny in sables likewise. This assumption of a moral
    relationship to the deceased, which she asserted to be only not a legal
    one by two most unexpected accidents, led the old people to indulge in
    sarcasm at her expense whenever they beheld her attire, though all the
    while it cost them more pain to utter than it gave her to hear it. Having
    become accustomed by her residence at home to the business carried on by
    her father, she surprised them one day by going off with the child to
    Chalk-Newton, in the direction of the town of Ivell, and opening a
    miniature fruit and vegetable shop, attending Ivell market with her
    produce. Her business grew somewhat larger, and it was soon sufficient
    to enable her to support herself and the boy in comfort. She called
    herself 'Mrs. John Clark' from the day of leaving home, and painted the
    name on her signboard--no man forbidding her.

    By degrees the pain of her state was forgotten in her new circumstances,
    and getting to be generally accepted as the widow of a sergeant-major of
    dragoons--an assumption which her modest and mournful demeanour seemed to
    substantiate--her life became a placid one, her mind being nourished by
    the melancholy luxury of dreaming what might have been her future in New
    Zealand with John, if he had only lived to take her there. Her only
    travels now were a journey to Ivell on market-days, and once a fortnight
    to the churchyard in which Clark lay, there to tend, with Johnny's
    assistance, as widows are wont to do, the flowers she had planted upon
    his grave.

    On a day about eighteen months after his unexpected decease, Selina was
    surprised in her lodging over her little shop by a visit from Bartholomew
    Miller. He had called on her once or twice before, on which occasions he
    had used without a word of comment the name by which she was known.

    'I've come this time,' he said, 'less because I was in this direction
    than to ask you, Mrs. Clark, what you mid well guess. I've come o'
    purpose, in short.'

    She smiled.

    "Tis to ask me again to marry you?'

    'Yes, of course. You see, his coming back for 'ee proved what I always
    believed of 'ee, though others didn't. There's nobody but would be glad
    to welcome you to our parish again, now you've showed your independence
    and acted up to your trust in his promise. Well, my dear, will you
    come?'

    'I'd rather bide as Mrs. Clark, I think,' she answered. 'I am not
    ashamed of my position at all; for I am John's widow in the eyes of
    Heaven.'

    'I quite agree--that's why I've come. Still, you won't like to be always
    straining at this shop-keeping and market-standing; and 'twould be better
    for Johnny if you had nothing to do but tend him.'

    He here touched the only weak spot in Selina's resistance to his
    proposal--the good of the boy. To promote that there were other men she
    might have married offhand without loving them if they had asked her to;
    but though she had known the worthy speaker from her youth, she could not
    for the moment fancy herself happy as Mrs. Miller.

    He paused awhile. 'I ought to tell 'ee, Mrs. Clark,' he said by and by,
    'that marrying is getting to be a pressing question with me. Not on my
    own account at all. The truth is, that mother is growing old, and I am
    away from home a good deal, so that it is almost necessary there should
    be another person in the house with her besides me. That's the practical
    consideration which forces me to think of taking a wife, apart from my
    wish to take you; and you know there's nobody in the world I care for so
    much.'

    She said something about there being far better women than she, and other
    natural commonplaces; but assured him she was most grateful to him for
    feeling what he felt, as indeed she sincerely was. However, Selina would
    not consent to be the useful third person in his comfortable home--at any
    rate just then. He went away, after taking tea with her, without
    discerning much hope for him in her good-bye.

    VI

    After that evening she saw and heard nothing of him for a great while.
    Her fortnightly journeys to the sergeant-major's grave were continued,
    whenever weather did not hinder them; and Mr. Miller must have known, she
    thought, of this custom of hers. But though the churchyard was not
    nearly so far from his homestead as was her shop at Chalk-Newton, he
    never appeared in the accidental way that lovers use.

    An explanation was forthcoming in the shape of a letter from her mother,
    who casually mentioned that Mr. Bartholomew Miller had gone away to the
    other side of Shottsford-Forum to be married to a thriving dairyman's
    daughter that he knew there. His chief motive, it was reported, had been
    less one of love than a wish to provide a companion for his aged mother.

    Selina was practical enough to know that she had lost a good and possibly
    the only opportunity of settling in life after what had happened, and for
    a moment she regretted her independence. But she became calm on
    reflection, and to fortify herself in her course started that afternoon
    to tend the sergeant-major's grave, in which she took the same sober
    pleasure as at first.

    On reaching the churchyard and turning the corner towards the spot as
    usual, she was surprised to perceive another woman, also apparently a
    respectable widow, and with a tiny boy by her side, bending over Clark's
    turf, and spudding up with the point of her umbrella some ivy-roots that
    Selina had reverently planted there to form an evergreen mantle over the
    mound.

    'What are you digging up my ivy for!' cried Selina, rushing forward so
    excitedly that Johnny tumbled over a grave with the force of the tug she
    gave his hand in her sudden start.

    'Your ivy?' said the respectable woman.

    'Why yes! I planted it there--on my husband's grave.'

    'Your husband's!'

    'Yes. The late Sergeant-Major Clark. Anyhow, as good as my husband, for
    he was just going to be.'

    'Indeed. But who may be my husband, if not he? I am the only Mrs. John
    Clark, widow of the late Sergeant-Major of Dragoons, and this is his only
    son and heir.'

    'How can that be?' faltered Selina, her throat seeming to stick together
    as she just began to perceive its possibility. 'He had been--going to
    marry me twice--and we were going to New Zealand.'

    'Ah!--I remember about you,' returned the legitimate widow calmly and not
    unkindly. 'You must be Selina; he spoke of you now and then, and said
    that his relations with you would always be a weight on his conscience.
    Well; the history of my life with him is soon told. When he came back
    from the Crimea he became acquainted with me at my home in the north, and
    we were married within a month of first knowing each other.
    Unfortunately, after living together a few months, we could not agree;
    and after a particularly sharp quarrel, in which, perhaps, I was most in
    the wrong--as I don't mind owning here by his graveside--he went away
    from me, declaring he would buy his discharge and emigrate to New
    Zealand, and never come back to me any more. The next thing I heard was
    that he had died suddenly at Mellstock at some low carouse; and as he had
    left me in such anger to live no more with me, I wouldn't come down to
    his funeral, or do anything in relation to him. 'Twas temper, I know,
    but that was the fact. Even if we had parted friends it would have been
    a serious expense to travel three hundred miles to get there, for one who
    wasn't left so very well off . . . I am sorry I pulled up your ivy-roots;
    but that common sort of ivy is considered a weed in my part of the
    country.'

    December 1899.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Thomas Hardy essay and need some advice, post your Thomas Hardy essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?