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The Trumpet-Major
by Thomas Hardy
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XXXVIII. A DELICATE SITUATION

'I am ready to go,' said Anne, as soon as he arrived.

He paused as if taken aback by her readiness, and replied with much uncertainty, 'Would it—wouldn't it be better to put it off till there is less sun?'

The very slightest symptom of surprise arose in her as she rejoined, 'But the weather may change; or had we better not go at all?'

'O no!—it was only a thought. We will start at once.'

And along the vale they went, John keeping himself about a yard from her right hand. When the third field had been crossed they came upon half-a- dozen little boys at play.

'Why don't he clasp her to his side, like a man?' said the biggest and rudest boy.

'Why don't he clasp her to his side, like a man?' echoed all the rude smaller boys in a chorus.

The trumpet-major turned, and, after some running, succeeded in smacking two of them with his switch, returning to Anne breathless. 'I am ashamed they should have insulted you so,' he said, blushing for her.

'They said no harm, poor boys,' she replied reproachfully.

Poor John was dumb with perception. The gentle hint upon which he would have eagerly spoken only one short day ago was now like fire to his wound.

They presently came to some stepping-stones across a brook. John crossed first without turning his head, and Anne, just lifting the skirt of her dress, crossed behind him. When they had reached the other side a village girl and a young shepherd approached the brink to cross. Anne stopped and watched them. The shepherd took a hand of the young girl in each of his own, and walked backward over the stones, facing her, and keeping her upright by his grasp, both of them laughing as they went.

'What are you staying for, Miss Garland?' asked John.

'I was only thinking how happy they are,' she said quietly; and withdrawing her eyes from the tender pair, she turned and followed him, not knowing that the seeming sound of a passing bumble-bee was a suppressed groan from John.

When they reached the hill they found forty navvies at work removing the dark sod so as to lay bare the chalk beneath. The equestrian figure that their shovels were forming was scarcely intelligible to John and Anne now they were close, and after pacing from the horse's head down his breast to his hoof, back by way of the king's bridle-arm, past the bridge of his nose, and into his cocked-hat, Anne said that she had had enough of it, and stepped out of the chalk clearing upon the grass. The trumpet-major had remained all the time in a melancholy attitude within the rowel of his Majesty's right spur.

'My shoes are caked with chalk,' she said as they walked downwards again; and she drew back her dress to look at them. 'How can I get some of it cleared off?'

'If you was to wipe them in the long grass there,' said John, pointing to a spot where the blades were rank and dense, 'some of it would come off.' Having said this, he walked on with religious firmness.

Anne raked her little feet on the right side, on the left side, over the toe, and behind the heel; but the tenacious chalk held its own. Panting with her exertion, she gave it up, and at length overtook him.

'I hope it is right now?' he said, looking gingerly over his shoulder.

'No, indeed!' said she. 'I wanted some assistance—some one to steady me. It is so hard to stand on one foot and wipe the other without support. I was in danger of toppling over, and so gave it up.'

'Merciful stars, what an opportunity!' thought the poor fellow while she waited for him to offer help. But his lips remained closed, and she went on with a pouting smile—

'You seem in such a hurry! Why are you in such a hurry? After all the fine things you have said about—about caring so much for me, and all that, you won't stop for anything!'

It was too much for John. 'Upon my heart and life, my dea—' he began. Here Bob's letter crackled warningly in his waistcoat pocket as he laid his hand asseveratingly upon his breast, and he became suddenly scaled up to dumbness and gloom as before.

When they reached home Anne sank upon a stool outside the door, fatigued with her excursion. Her first act was to try to pull off her shoe—it was a difficult matter; but John stood beating with his switch the leaves of the creeper on the wall.

'Mother—David—Molly, or somebody—do come and help me pull off these dirty shoes!' she cried aloud at last. 'Nobody helps me in anything!'

'I am very sorry,' said John, coming towards her with incredible slowness and an air of unutterable depression.

'O, I can do without you. David is best,' she returned, as the old man approached and removed the obnoxious shoes in a trice.

Anne was amazed at this sudden change from devotion to crass indifference. On entering her room she flew to the glass, almost expecting to learn that some extraordinary change had come over her pretty countenance, rendering her intolerable for evermore. But it was, if anything, fresher than usual, on account of the exercise. 'Well!' she said retrospectively. For the first time since their acqaintance she had this week encouraged him; and for the first time he had shown that encouragement was useless. 'But perhaps he does not clearly understand,' she added serenely.

When he next came it was, to her surprise, to bring her newspapers, now for some time discontinued. As soon as she saw them she said, 'I do not care for newspapers.'

'The shipping news is very full and long to-day, though the print is rather small.'

'I take no further interest in the shipping news,' she replied with cold dignity.

She was sitting by the window, inside the table, and hence when, in spite of her negations, he deliberately unfolded the paper and began to read about the Royal Navy she could hardly rise and go away. With a stoical mien he read on to the end of the report, bringing out the name of Bob's ship with tremendous force.

'No,' she said at last, 'I'll hear no more! Let me read to you.'

The trumpet-major sat down. Anne turned to the military news, delivering every detail with much apparent enthusiasm. 'That's the subject I like!' she said fervently.

'But—but Bob is in the navy now, and will most likely rise to be an officer. And then—'

'What is there like the army?' she interrupted. 'There is no smartness about sailors. They waddle like ducks, and they only fight stupid battles that no one can form any idea of. There is no science nor stratagem in sea-fights—nothing more than what you see when two rams run their heads together in a field to knock each other down. But in military battles there is such art, and such splendour, and the men are so smart, particularly the horse-soldiers. O, I shall never forget what gallant men you all seemed when you came and pitched your tents on the downs! I like the cavalry better than anything I know; and the dragoons the best of the cavalry—and the trumpeters the best of the dragoons!'

'O, if it had but come a little sooner!' moaned John within him. He replied as soon as he could regain self-command, 'I am glad Bob is in the navy at last—he is so much more fitted for that than the merchant-service—so brave by nature, ready for any daring deed. I have heard ever so much more about his doings on board the Victory. Captain Hardy took special notice that when he—'

'I don't want to know anything more about it,' said Anne impatiently; 'of course sailors fight; there's nothing else to do in a ship, since you can't run away! You may as well fight and be killed as be killed not fighting.'

'Still it is his character to be careless of himself where the honour of his country is concerned,' John pleaded. 'If you had only known him as a boy you would own it. He would always risk his own life to save anybody else's. Once when a cottage was afire up the lane he rushed in for a baby, although he was only a boy himself, and he had the narrowest escape. We have got his hat now with the hole burnt in it. Shall I get it and show it to you?'

'No—I don't wish it. It has nothing to do with me.' But as he persisted in his course towards the door, she added, 'Ah! you are leaving because I am in your way. You want to be alone while you read the paper—I will go at once. I did not see that I was interrupting you.' And she rose as if to retreat.

'No, no! I would rather be interrupted by you than—O, Miss Garland, excuse me! I'll just speak to father in the mill, now I am here.'

It is scarcely necessary to state that Anne (whose unquestionable gentility amid somewhat homely surroundings has been many times insisted on in the course of this history) was usually the reverse of a woman with a coming-on disposition; but, whether from pique at his manner, or from wilful adherence to a course rashly resolved on, or from coquettish maliciousness in reaction from long depression, or from any other thing,—so it was that she would not let him go.

'Trumpet-major,' she said, recalling him.

'Yes?' he replied timidly.

'The bow of my cap-ribbon has come untied, has it not?' She turned and fixed her bewitching glance upon him.

The bow was just over her forehead, or, more precisely, at the point where the organ of comparison merges in that of benevolence, according to the phrenological theory of Gall. John, thus brought to, endeavoured to look at the bow in a skimming, duck-and-drake fashion, so as to avoid dipping his own glance as far as to the plane of his interrogator's eyes. 'It is untied,' he said, drawing back a little.

She came nearer, and asked, 'Will you tie it for me, please?'

As there was no help for it, he nerved himself and assented. As her head only reached to his fourth button she necessarily looked up for his convenience, and John began fumbling at the bow. Try as he would it was impossible to touch the ribbon without getting his finger tips mixed with the curls of her forehead.

'Your hand shakes—ah! you have been walking fast,' she said.

'Yes—yes.'

'Have you almost done it?' She inquiringly directed her gaze upward through his fingers.

'No—not yet,' he faltered in a warm sweat of emotion, his heart going like a flail.

'Then be quick, please.'

'Yes, I will, Miss Garland! B-B-Bob is a very good fel—'

'Not that man's name to me!' she interrupted.

John was silent instantly, and nothing was to be heard but the rustling of the ribbon; till his hands once more blundered among the curls, and then touched her forehead.

'O good God!' ejaculated the trumpet-major in a whisper, turning away hastily to the corner-cupboard, and resting his face upon his hand.

'What's the matter, John?' said she.

'I can't do it!'

'What?'

'Tie your cap-ribbon.'

'Why not?'

'Because you are so—Because I am clumsy, and never could tie a bow.'

'You are clumsy indeed,' answered Anne, and went away.

After this she felt injured, for it seemed to show that he rated her happiness as of meaner value than Bob's; since he had persisted in his idea of giving Bob another chance when she had implied that it was her wish to do otherwise. Could Miss Johnson have anything to do with his firmness? An opportunity of testing him in this direction occurred some days later. She had been up the village, and met John at the mill-door.

'Have you heard the news? Matilda Johnson is going to be married to young Derriman.'

Anne stood with her back to the sun, and as he faced her, his features were searchingly exhibited. There was no change whatever in them, unless it were that a certain light of interest kindled by her question turned to complete and blank indifference. 'Well, as times go, it is not a bad match for her,' he said, with a phlegm which was hardly that of a lover.

John on his part was beginning to find these temptations almost more than he could bear. But being quartered so near to his father's house it was unnatural not to visit him, especially when at any moment the regiment might be ordered abroad, and a separation of years ensue; and as long as he went there he could not help seeing her.

The year changed from green to gold, and from gold to grey, but little change came over the house of Loveday. During the last twelve months Bob had been occasionally heard of as upholding his country's honour in Denmark, the West Indies, Gibraltar, Malta, and other places about the globe, till the family received a short letter stating that he had arrived again at Portsmouth. At Portsmouth Bob seemed disposed to remain, for though some time elapsed without further intelligence, the gallant seaman never appeared at Overcombe. Then on a sudden John learnt that Bob's long-talked-of promotion for signal services rendered was to be an accomplished fact. The trumpet-major at once walked off to Overcombe, and reached the village in the early afternoon. Not one of the family was in the house at the moment, and John strolled onwards over the hill towards Casterbridge, without much thought of direction till, lifting his eyes, he beheld Anne Garland wandering about with a little basket upon her arm.

At first John blushed with delight at the sweet vision; but, recalled by his conscience, the blush of delight was at once mangled and slain. He looked for a means of retreat. But the field was open, and a soldier was a conspicuous object: there was no escaping her.

'It was kind of you to come,' she said, with an inviting smile.

'It was quite by accident,' he answered, with an indifferent laugh. 'I thought you was at home.'

Anne blushed and said nothing, and they rambled on together. In the middle of the field rose a fragment of stone wall in the form of a gable, known as Faringdon Ruin; and when they had reached it John paused and politely asked her if she were not a little tired with walking so far. No particular reply was returned by the young lady, but they both stopped, and Anne seated herself on a stone, which had fallen from the ruin to the ground.

'A church once stood here,' observed John in a matter-of-fact tone.

'Yes, I have often shaped it out in my mind,' she returned. 'Here where I sit must have been the altar.'

'True; this standing bit of wall was the chancel end.'

Anne had been adding up her little studies of the trumpet-major's character, and was surprised to find how the brightness of that character increased in her eyes with each examination. A kindly and gentle sensation was again aroused in her. Here was a neglected heroic man, who, loving her to distraction, deliberately doomed himself to pensive shade to avoid even the appearance of standing in a brother's way.

'If the altar stood here, hundreds of people have been made man and wife just there, in past times,' she said, with calm deliberateness, throwing a little stone on a spot about a yard westward.

John annihilated another tender burst and replied, 'Yes, this field used to be a village. My grandfather could call to mind when there were houses here. But the squire pulled 'em down, because poor folk were an eyesore to him.'

'Do you know, John, what you once asked me to do?' she continued, not accepting the digression, and turning her eyes upon him.

'In what sort of way?'

'In the matter of my future life, and yours.'

'I am afraid I don't.'

'John Loveday!'

He turned his back upon her for a moment, that she might not see his face. 'Ah—I do remember,' he said at last, in a dry, small, repressed voice.

'Well—need I say more? Isn't it sufficient?'

'It would be sufficient,' answered the unhappy man. 'But—'

She looked up with a reproachful smile, and shook her head. 'That summer,' she went on, 'you asked me ten times if you asked me once. I am older now; much more of a woman, you know; and my opinion is changed about some people; especially about one.'

'O Anne, Anne!' he burst out as, racked between honour and desire, he snatched up her hand. The next moment it fell heavily to her lap. He had absolutely relinquished it half-way to his lips.

'I have been thinking lately,' he said, with preternaturally sudden calmness, 'that men of the military profession ought not to m—ought to be like St. Paul, I mean.'

'Fie, John; pretending religion!' she said sternly. 'It isn't that at all. It's Bob!'

'Yes!' cried the miserable trumpet-major. 'I have had a letter from him to-day.' He pulled out a sheet of paper from his breast. 'That's it! He's promoted—he's a lieutenant, and appointed to a sloop that only cruises on our own coast, so that he'll be at home on leave half his time—he'll be a gentleman some day, and worthy of you!'

He threw the letter into her lap, and drew back to the other side of the gable-wall. Anne jumped up from her seat, flung away the letter without looking at it, and went hastily on. John did not attempt to overtake her. Picking up the letter, he followed in her wake at a distance of a hundred yards.

But, though Anne had withdrawn from his presence thus precipitately, she never thought more highly of him in her life than she did five minutes afterwards, when the excitement of the moment had passed. She saw it all quite clearly; and his self-sacrifice impressed her so much that the effect was just the reverse of what he had been aiming to produce. The more he pleaded for Bob, the more her perverse generosity pleaded for John. To-day the crisis had come—with what results she had not foreseen.

As soon as the trumpet-major reached the nearest pen-and-ink he flung himself into a seat and wrote wildly to Bob:—

'DEAR ROBERT,—I write these few lines to let you know that if you want Anne Garland you must come at once—you must come instantly, and post-haste—or she will be gone! Somebody else wants her, and she wants him! It is your last chance, in the opinion of—

'Your faithful brother and well-wisher, 'JOHN.

'P.S.—Glad to hear of your promotion. Tell me the day and I'll meet the coach.'



XXXIX. BOB LOVEDAY STRUTS UP AND DOWN

One night, about a week later, two men were walking in the dark along the turnpike road towards Overcombe, one of them with a bag in his hand.

'Now,' said the taller of the two, the squareness of whose shoulders signified that he wore epaulettes, 'now you must do the best you can for yourself, Bob. I have done all I can; but th'hast thy work cut out, I can tell thee.'

'I wouldn't have run such a risk for the world,' said the other, in a tone of ingenuous contrition. 'But thou'st see, Jack, I didn't think there was any danger, knowing you was taking care of her, and keeping my place warm for me. I didn't hurry myself, that's true; but, thinks I, if I get this promotion I am promised I shall naturally have leave, and then I'll go and see 'em all. Gad, I shouldn't have been here now but for your letter!'

'You little think what risks you've run,' said his brother. 'However, try to make up for lost time.'

'All right. And whatever you do, Jack, don't say a word about this other girl. Hang the girl!—I was a great fool, I know; still, it is over now, and I am come to my senses. I suppose Anne never caught a capful of wind from that quarter?'

'She knows all about it,' said John seriously.

'Knows? By George, then, I'm ruined!' said Bob, standing stock-still in the road as if he meant to remain there all night.

'That's what I meant by saying it would be a hard battle for 'ee,' returned John, with the same quietness as before.

Bob sighed and moved on. 'I don't deserve that woman!' he cried passionately, thumping his three upper ribs with his fist.

'I've thought as much myself,' observed John, with a dryness which was almost bitter. 'But it depends on how thou'st behave in future.'

'John,' said Bob, taking his brother's hand, 'I'll be a new man. I solemnly swear by that eternal milestone staring at me there that I'll never look at another woman with the thought of marrying her whilst that darling is free—no, not if she be a mermaiden of light! It's a lucky thing that I'm slipped in on the quarterdeck! it may help me with her—hey?'

'It may with her mother; I don't think it will make much difference with Anne. Still, it is a good thing; and I hope that some day you'll command a big ship.'

Bob shook his head. 'Officers are scarce; but I'm afraid my luck won't carry me so far as that.'

'Did she ever tell you that she mentioned your name to the King?'

The seaman stood still again. 'Never!' he said. 'How did such a thing as that happen, in Heaven's name?'

John described in detail, and they walked on, lost in conjecture.

As soon as they entered the house the returned officer of the navy was welcomed with acclamation by his father and David, with mild approval by Mrs. Loveday, and by Anne not at all—that discreet maiden having carefully retired to her own room some time earlier in the evening. Bob did not dare to ask for her in any positive manner; he just inquired about her health, and that was all.

'Why, what's the matter with thy face, my son?' said the miller, staring. 'David, show a light here.' And a candle was thrust against Bob's cheek, where there appeared a jagged streak like the geological remains of a lobster.

'O—that's where that rascally Frenchman's grenade busted and hit me from the Redoubtable, you know, as I told 'ee in my letter.'

'Not a word!'

'What, didn't I tell 'ee? Ah, no; I meant to, but I forgot it.'

'And here's a sort of dint in yer forehead too; what do that mean, my dear boy?' said the miller, putting his finger in a chasm in Bob's skull.

'That was done in the Indies. Yes, that was rather a troublesome chop—a cutlass did it. I should have told 'ee, but I found 'twould make my letter so long that I put it off, and put it off; and at last thought it wasn't worth while.'

John soon rose to take his departure.

'It's all up with me and her, you see,' said Bob to him outside the door. 'She's not even going to see me.'

'Wait a little,' said the trumpet-major. It was easy enough on the night of the arrival, in the midst of excitement, when blood was warm, for Anne to be resolute in her avoidance of Bob Loveday. But in the morning determination is apt to grow invertebrate; rules of pugnacity are less easily acted up to, and a feeling of live and let live takes possession of the gentle soul. Anne had not meant even to sit down to the same breakfast-table with Bob; but when the rest were assembled, and had got some way through the substantial repast which was served at this hour in the miller's house, Anne entered. She came silently as a phantom, her eyes cast down, her cheeks pale. It was a good long walk from the door to the table, and Bob made a full inspection of her as she came up to a chair at the remotest corner, in the direct rays of the morning light, where she dumbly sat herself down.

It was altogether different from how she had expected. Here was she, who had done nothing, feeling all the embarrassment; and Bob, who had done the wrong, feeling apparently quite at ease.

'You'll speak to Bob, won't you, honey?' said the miller after a silence. To meet Bob like this after an absence seemed irregular in his eyes.

'If he wish me to,' she replied, so addressing the miller that no part, scrap, or outlying beam whatever of her glance passed near the subject of her remark.

'He's a lieutenant, you know, dear,' said her mother on the same side; 'and he's been dreadfully wounded.'

'Oh?' said Anne, turning a little towards the false one; at which Bob felt it to be time for him to put in a spoke for himself.

'I am glad to see you,' he said contritely; 'and how do you do?'

'Very well, thank you.'

He extended his hand. She allowed him to take hers, but only to the extent of a niggardly inch or so. At the same moment she glanced up at him, when their eyes met, and hers were again withdrawn.

The hitch between the two younger members of the household tended to make the breakfast a dull one. Bob was so depressed by her unforgiving manner that he could not throw that sparkle into his stories which their substance naturally required; and when the meal was over, and they went about their different businesses, the pair resembled the two Dromios in seldom or never being, thanks to Anne's subtle contrivances, both in the same room at the same time.

This kind of performance repeated itself during several days. At last, after dogging her hither and thither, leaning with a wrinkled forehead against doorposts, taking an oblique view into the room where she happened to be, picking up worsted balls and getting no thanks, placing a splinter from the Victory, several bullets from the Redoubtable, a strip of the flag, and other interesting relics, carefully labelled, upon her table, and hearing no more about them than if they had been pebbles from the nearest brook, he hit upon a new plan. To avoid him she frequently sat upstairs in a window overlooking the garden. Lieutenant Loveday carefully dressed himself in a new uniform, which he had caused to be sent some days before, to dazzle admiring friends, but which he had never as yet put on in public or mentioned to a soul. When arrayed he entered the sunny garden, and there walked slowly up and down as he had seen Nelson and Captain Hardy do on the quarter-deck; but keeping his right shoulder, on which his one epaulette was fixed, as much towards Anne's window as possible.

But she made no sign, though there was not the least question that she saw him. At the end of half-an-hour he went in, took off his clothes, and gave himself up to doubt and the best tobacco.

He repeated the programme on the next afternoon, and on the next, never saying a word within doors about his doings or his notice.

Meanwhile the results in Anne's chamber were not uninteresting. She had been looking out on the first day, and was duly amazed to see a naval officer in full uniform promenading in the path. Finding it to be Bob, she left the window with a sense that the scene was not for her; then, from mere curiosity, peeped out from behind the curtain. Well, he was a pretty spectacle, she admitted, relieved as his figure was by a dense mass of sunny, close-trimmed hedge, over which nasturtiums climbed in wild luxuriance; and if she could care for him one bit, which she couldn't, his form would have been a delightful study, surpassing in interest even its splendour on the memorable day of their visit to the town theatre. She called her mother; Mrs. Loveday came promptly.

'O, it is nothing,' said Anne indifferently; 'only that Bob has got his uniform.'

Mrs. Loveday peeped out, and raised her hands with delight. 'And he has not said a word to us about it! What a lovely epaulette! I must call his father.'

'No, indeed. As I take no interest in him I shall not let people come into my room to admire him.'

'Well, you called me,' said her mother.

'It was because I thought you liked fine clothes. It is what I don't care for.'

Notwithstanding this assertion she again looked out at Bob the next afternoon when his footsteps rustled on the gravel, and studied his appearance under all the varying angles of the sunlight, as if fine clothes and uniforms were not altogether a matter of indifference. He certainly was a splendid, gentlemanly, and gallant sailor from end to end of him; but then, what were a dashing presentment, a naval rank, and telling scars, if a man was fickle-hearted? However, she peeped on till the fourth day, and then she did not peep. The window was open, she looked right out, and Bob knew that he had got a rise to his bait at last. He touched his hat to her, keeping his right shoulder forwards, and said, 'Good-day, Miss Garland,' with a smile.

Anne replied, 'Good-day,' with funereal seriousness; and the acquaintance thus revived led to the interchange of a few words at supper-time, at which Mrs. Loveday nodded with satisfaction. But Anne took especial care that he should never meet her alone, and to insure this her ingenuity was in constant exercise. There were so many nooks and windings on the miller's rambling premises that she could never be sure he would not turn up within a foot of her, particularly as his thin shoes were almost noiseless.

One fine afternoon she accompanied Molly in search of elderberries for making the family wine which was drunk by Mrs. Loveday, Anne, and anybody who could not stand the rougher and stronger liquors provided by the miller. After walking rather a long distance over the down they came to a grassy hollow, where elder-bushes in knots of twos and threes rose from an uneven bank and hung their heads towards the south, black and heavy with bunches of fruit. The charm of fruit-gathering to girls is enhanced in the case of elderberries by the inoffensive softness of the leaves, boughs, and bark, which makes getting into the branches easy and pleasant to the most indifferent climbers. Anne and Molly had soon gathered a basketful, and sending the servant home with it, Anne remained in the bush picking and throwing down bunch by bunch upon the grass. She was so absorbed in her occupation of pulling the twigs towards her, and the rustling of their leaves so filled her ears, that it was a great surprise when, on turning her head, she perceived a similar movement to her own among the boughs of the adjoining bush.

At first she thought they were disturbed by being partly in contact with the boughs of her bush; but in a moment Robert Loveday's face peered from them, at a distance of about a yard from her own. Anne uttered a little indignant 'Well!' recovered herself, and went on plucking. Bob thereupon went on plucking likewise.

'I am picking elderberries for your mother,' said the lieutenant at last, humbly.

'So I see.'

'And I happen to have come to the next bush to yours.'

'So I see; but not the reason why.'

Anne was now in the westernmost branches of the bush, and Bob had leant across into the eastern branches of his. In gathering he swayed towards her, back again, forward again.

'I beg pardon,' he said, when a further swing than usual had taken him almost in contact with her.

'Then why do you do it?'

'The wind rocks the bough, and the bough rocks me.' She expressed by a look her opinion of this statement in the face of the gentlest breeze; and Bob pursued: 'I am afraid the berries will stain your pretty hands.'

'I wear gloves.'

'Ah, that's a plan I should never have thought of. Can I help you?'

'Not at all.'

'You are offended: that's what that means.'

'No,' she said.

'Then will you shake hands?'

Anne hesitated; then slowly stretched out her hand, which he took at once. 'That will do,' she said, finding that he did not relinquish it immediately. But as he still held it, she pulled, the effect of which was to draw Bob's swaying person, bough and all, towards her, and herself towards him.

'I am afraid to let go your hand,' said that officer, 'for if I do your spar will fly back, and you will be thrown upon the deck with great violence.'

'I wish you to let me go!'

He accordingly did, and she flew back, but did not by any means fall.

'It reminds me of the times when I used to be aloft clinging to a yard not much bigger than this tree-stem, in the mid-Atlantic, and thinking about you. I could see you in my fancy as plain as I see you now.'

'Me, or some other woman!' retorted Anne haughtily.

'No!' declared Bob, shaking the bush for emphasis, 'I'll protest that I did not think of anybody but you all the time we were dropping down channel, all the time we were off Cadiz, all the time through battles and bombardments. I seemed to see you in the smoke, and, thinks I, if I go to Davy's locker, what will she do?'

'You didn't think that when you landed after Trafalgar.'

'Well, now,' said the lieutenant in a reasoning tone; 'that was a curious thing. You'll hardly believe it, maybe; but when a man is away from the woman he loves best in the port—world, I mean—he can have a sort of temporary feeling for another without disturbing the old one, which flows along under the same as ever.'

'I can't believe it, and won't,' said Anne firmly.

Molly now appeared with the empty basket, and when it had been filled from the heap on the grass, Anne went home with her, bidding Loveday a frigid adieu.

The same evening, when Bob was absent, the miller proposed that they should all three go to an upper window of the house, to get a distant view of some rockets and illuminations which were to be exhibited in the town and harbour in honour of the King, who had returned this year as usual. They accordingly went upstairs to an empty attic, placed chairs against the window, and put out the light; Anne sitting in the middle, her mother close by, and the miller behind, smoking. No sign of any pyrotechnic display was visible over the port as yet, and Mrs. Loveday passed the time by talking to the miller, who replied in monosyllables. While this was going on Anne fancied that she heard some one approach, and presently felt sure that Bob was drawing near her in the surrounding darkness; but as the other two had noticed nothing she said not a word.

All at once the swarthy expanse of southward sky was broken by the blaze of several rockets simultaneously ascending from different ships in the roads. At the very same moment a warm mysterious hand slipped round her own, and gave it a gentle squeeze.

'O dear!' said Anne, with a sudden start away.

'How nervous you are, child, to be startled by fireworks so far off,' said Mrs. Loveday.

'I never saw rockets before,' murmured Anne, recovering from her surprise.

Mrs. Loveday presently spoke again. 'I wonder what has become of Bob?'

Anne did not reply, being much exercised in trying to get her hand away from the one that imprisoned it; and whatever the miller thought he kept to himself, because it disturbed his smoking to speak.

Another batch of rockets went up. 'O I never!' said Anne, in a half-suppressed tone, springing in her chair. A second hand had with the rise of the rockets leapt round her waist.

'Poor girl, you certainly must have change of scene at this rate,' said Mrs. Loveday.

'I suppose I must,' murmured the dutiful daughter.

For some minutes nothing further occurred to disturb Anne's serenity. Then a slow, quiet 'a-hem' came from the obscurity of the apartment.

'What, Bob? How long have you been there?' inquired Mrs. Loveday.

'Not long,' said the lieutenant coolly. 'I heard you were all here, and crept up quietly, not to disturb ye.'

'Why don't you wear heels to your shoes like Christian people, and not creep about so like a cat?'

'Well, it keeps your floors clean to go slip-shod.'

'That's true.'

Meanwhile Anne was gently but firmly trying to pull Bob's arm from her waist, her distressful difficulty being that in freeing her waist she enslaved her hand, and in getting her hand free she enslaved her waist. Finding the struggle a futile one, owing to the invisibility of her antagonist, and her wish to keep its nature secret from the other two, she arose, and saying that she did not care to see any more, felt her way downstairs. Bob followed, leaving Loveday and his wife to themselves.

'Dear Anne,' he began, when he had got down, and saw her in the candle- light of the large room. But she adroitly passed out at the other door, at which he took a candle and followed her to the small room. 'Dear Anne, do let me speak,' he repeated, as soon as the rays revealed her figure. But she passed into the bakehouse before he could say more; whereupon he perseveringly did the same. Looking round for her here he perceived her at the end of the room, where there were no means of exit whatever.

'Dear Anne,' he began again, setting down the candle, 'you must try to forgive me; really you must. I love you the best of anybody in the wide, wide world. Try to forgive me; come!' And he imploringly took her hand.

Anne's bosom began to surge and fall like a small tide, her eyes remaining fixed upon the floor; till, when Loveday ventured to draw her slightly towards him, she burst out crying. 'I don't like you, Bob; I don't!' she suddenly exclaimed between her sobs. 'I did once, but I don't now—I can't, I can't; you have been very cruel to me!' She violently turned away, weeping.

'I have, I have been terribly bad, I know,' answered Bob, conscience-stricken by her grief. 'But—if you could only forgive me—I promise that I'll never do anything to grieve 'ee again. Do you forgive me, Anne?'

Anne's only reply was crying and shaking her head.

'Let's make it up. Come, say we have made it up, dear.'

She withdrew her hand, and still keeping her eyes buried in her handkerchief, said 'No.'

'Very well, then!' exclaimed Bob, with sudden determination. 'Now I know my doom! And whatever you hear of as happening to me, mind this, you cruel girl, that it is all your causing!' Saying this he strode with a hasty tread across the room into the passage and out at the door, slamming it loudly behind him.

Anne suddenly looked up from her handkerchief, and stared with round wet eyes and parted lips at the door by which he had gone. Having remained with suspended breath in this attitude for a few seconds she turned round, bent her head upon the table, and burst out weeping anew with thrice the violence of the former time. It really seemed now as if her grief would overwhelm her, all the emotions which had been suppressed, bottled up, and concealed since Bob's return having made themselves a sluice at last.

But such things have their end; and left to herself in the large, vacant, old apartment, she grew quieter, and at last calm. At length she took the candle and ascended to her bedroom, where she bathed her eyes and looked in the glass to see if she had made herself a dreadful object. It was not so bad as she had expected, and she went downstairs again.

Nobody was there, and, sitting down, she wondered what Bob had really meant by his words. It was too dreadful to think that he intended to go straight away to sea without seeing her again, and frightened at what she had done she waited anxiously for his return.



XL. A CALL ON BUSINESS

Her suspense was interrupted by a very gentle tapping at the door, and then the rustle of a hand over its surface, as if searching for the latch in the dark. The door opened a few inches, and the alabaster face of Uncle Benjy appeared in the slit.

'O, Squire Derriman, you frighten me!'

'All alone?' he asked in a whisper.

'My mother and Mr. Loveday are somewhere about the house.'

'That will do,' he said, coming forward. 'I be wherrited out of my life, and I have thought of you again—you yourself, dear Anne, and not the miller. If you will only take this and lock it up for a few days till I can find another good place for it—if you only would!' And he breathlessly deposited the tin box on the table.

'What, obliged to dig it up from the cellar?'

'Ay; my nephew hath a scent of the place—how, I don't know! but he and a young woman he's met with are searching everywhere. I worked like a wire- drawer to get it up and away while they were scraping in the next cellar. Now where could ye put it, dear? 'Tis only a few documents, and my will, and such like, you know. Poor soul o' me, I'm worn out with running and fright!'

'I'll put it here till I can think of a better place,' said Anne, lifting the box. 'Dear me, how heavy it is!'

'Yes, yes,' said Uncle Benjy hastily; 'the box is iron, you see. However, take care of it, because I am going to make it worth your while. Ah, you are a good girl, Anne. I wish you was mine!'

Anne looked at Uncle Benjy. She had known for some time that she possessed all the affection he had to bestow.

'Why do you wish that?' she said simply.

'Now don't ye argue with me. Where d'ye put the coffer?'

'Here,' said Anne, going to the window-seat, which rose as a flap, disclosing a boxed receptacle beneath, as in many old houses.

''Tis very well for the present,' he said dubiously, and they dropped the coffer in, Anne locking down the seat, and giving him the key. 'Now I don't want ye to be on my side for nothing,' he went on. 'I never did now, did I? This is for you.' He handed her a little packet of paper, which Anne turned over and looked at curiously. 'I always meant to do it,' continued Uncle Benjy, gazing at the packet as it lay in her hand, and sighing. 'Come, open it, my dear; I always meant to do it!'

She opened it and found twenty new guineas snugly packed within.

'Yes, they are for you. I always meant to do it!' he said, sighing again.

'But you owe me nothing!' returned Anne, holding them out.

'Don't say it!' cried Uncle Benjy, covering his eyes. 'Put 'em away. . . . Well, if you don't want 'em—But put 'em away, dear Anne; they are for you, because you have kept my counsel. Good-night t'ye. Yes, they are for you.'

He went a few steps, and turning back added anxiously, 'You won't spend 'em in clothes, or waste 'em in fairings, or ornaments of any kind, my dear girl?'

'I will not,' said Anne. 'I wish you would have them.'

'No, no,' said Uncle Benjy, rushing off to escape their shine. But he had got no further than the passage when he returned again.

'And you won't lend 'em to anybody, or put 'em into the bank—for no bank is safe in these troublous times?. . . If I was you I'd keep them exactly as they be, and not spend 'em on any account. Shall I lock them into my box for ye?'

'Certainly,' said she; and the farmer rapidly unlocked the window-bench, opened the box, and locked them in.

''Tis much the best plan,' he said with great satisfaction as he returned the keys to his pocket. 'There they will always be safe, you see, and you won't be exposed to temptation.'

When the old man had been gone a few minutes, the miller and his wife came in, quite unconscious of all that had passed. Anne's anxiety about Bob was again uppermost now, and she spoke but meagrely of old Derriman's visit, and nothing of what he had left. She would fain have asked them if they knew where Bob was, but that she did not wish to inform them of the rupture. She was forced to admit to herself that she had somewhat tried his patience, and that impulsive men had been known to do dark things with themselves at such times.

They sat down to supper, the clock ticked rapidly on, and at length the miller said, 'Bob is later than usual. Where can he be?'

As they both looked at her, she could no longer keep the secret.

'It is my fault,' she cried; 'I have driven him away! What shall I do?'

The nature of the quarrel was at once guessed, and her two elders said no more. Anne rose and went to the front door, where she listened for every sound with a palpitating heart. Then she went in; then she went out: and on one occasion she heard the miller say, 'I wonder what hath passed between Bob and Anne. I hope the chap will come home.'

Just about this time light footsteps were heard without, and Bob bounced into the passage. Anne, who stood back in the dark while he passed, followed him into the room, where her mother and the miller were on the point of retiring to bed, candle in hand.

'I have kept ye up, I fear,' began Bob cheerily, and apparently without the faintest recollection of his tragic exit from the house. 'But the truth on't is, I met with Fess Derriman at the "Duke of York" as I went from here, and there we have been playing Put ever since, not noticing how the time was going. I haven't had a good chat with the fellow for years and years, and really he is an out and out good comrade—a regular hearty! Poor fellow, he's been very badly used. I never heard the rights of the story till now; but it seems that old uncle of his treats him shamefully. He has been hiding away his money, so that poor Fess might not have a farthing, till at last the young man has turned, like any other worm, and is now determined to ferret out what he has done with it. The poor young chap hadn't a farthing of ready money till I lent him a couple of guineas—a thing I never did more willingly in my life. But the man was very honourable. "No; no," says he, "don't let me deprive ye." He's going to marry, and what may you think he is going to do it for?'

'For love, I hope,' said Anne's mother.

'For money, I suppose, since he's so short,' said the miller.

'No,' said Bob, 'for spite. He has been badly served—deuced badly served—by a woman. I never heard of a more heartless case in my life. The poor chap wouldn't mention names, but it seems this young woman has trifled with him in all manner of cruel ways—pushed him into the river, tried to steal his horse when he was called out to defend his country—in short, served him rascally. So I gave him the two guineas and said, "Now let's drink to the hussy's downfall!"'

'O!' said Anne, having approached behind him.

Bob turned and saw her, and at the same moment Mr. and Mrs. Loveday discreetly retired by the other door.

'Is it peace?' he asked tenderly.

'O yes,' she anxiously replied. 'I—didn't mean to make you think I had no heart.' At this Bob inclined his countenance towards hers. 'No,' she said, smiling through two incipient tears as she drew back. 'You are to show good behaviour for six months, and you must promise not to frighten me again by running off when I—show you how badly you have served me.'

'I am yours obedient—in anything,' cried Bob. 'But am I pardoned?'

Youth is foolish; and does a woman often let her reasoning in favour of the worthier stand in the way of her perverse desire for the less worthy at such times as these? She murmured some soft words, ending with 'Do you repent?'

It would be superfluous to transcribe Bob's answer.

Footsteps were heard without.

'O begad; I forgot!' said Bob. 'He's waiting out there for a light.'

'Who?'

'My friend Derriman.'

'But, Bob, I have to explain.'

But Festus had by this time entered the lobby, and Anne, with a hasty 'Get rid of him at once!' vanished upstairs.

Here she waited and waited, but Festus did not seem inclined to depart; and at last, foreboding some collision of interests from Bob's new friendship for this man, she crept into a storeroom which was over the apartment into which Loveday and Festus had gone. By looking through a knot-hole in the floor it was easy to command a view of the room beneath, this being unceiled, with moulded beams and rafters.

Festus had sat down on the hollow window-bench, and was continuing the statement of his wrongs. 'If he only knew what he was sitting upon,' she thought apprehensively, 'how easily he could tear up the flap, lock and all, with his strong arm, and seize upon poor Uncle Benjy's possessions!' But he did not appear to know, unless he were acting, which was just possible. After a while he rose, and going to the table lifted the candle to light his pipe. At the moment when the flame began diving into the bowl the door noiselessly opened and a figure slipped across the room to the window-bench, hastily unlocked it, withdrew the box, and beat a retreat. Anne in a moment recognized the ghostly intruder as Festus Derriman's uncle. Before he could get out of the room Festus set down the candle and turned.

'What—Uncle Benjy—haw, haw! Here at this time of night?'

Uncle Benjy's eyes grew paralyzed, and his mouth opened and shut like a frog's in a drought, the action producing no sound.

'What have we got here—a tin box—the box of boxes? Why, I'll carry it for 'ee, uncle!—I am going home.'

'N-no-no, thanky, Festus: it is n-n-not heavy at all, thanky,' gasped the squireen.

'O but I must,' said Festus, pulling at the box.

'Don't let him have it, Bob!' screamed the excited Anne through the hole in the floor.

'No, don't let him!' cried the uncle. ''Tis a plot—there's a woman at the window waiting to help him!'

Anne's eyes flew to the window, and she saw Matilda's face pressed against the pane.

Bob, though he did not know whence Anne's command proceeded obeyed with alacrity, pulled the box from the two relatives, and placed it on the table beside him.

'Now, look here, hearties; what's the meaning o' this?' he said.

'He's trying to rob me of all I possess!' cried the old man. 'My heart- strings seem as if they were going crack, crack, crack!'

At this instant the miller in his shirt-sleeves entered the room, having got thus far in his undressing when he heard the noise. Bob and Festus turned to him to explain; and when the latter had had his say Bob added, 'Well, all I know is that this box'—here he stretched out his hand to lay it upon the lid for emphasis. But as nothing but thin air met his fingers where the box had been, he turned, and found that the box was gone, Uncle Benjy having vanished also.

Festus, with an imprecation, hastened to the door, but though the night was not dark Farmer Derriman and his burden were nowhere to be seen. On the bridge Festus joined a shadowy female form, and they went along the road together, followed for some distance by Bob, lest they should meet with and harm the old man. But the precaution was unnecessary: nowhere on the road was there any sign of Farmer Derriman, or of the box that belonged to him. When Bob re-entered the house Anne and Mrs. Loveday had joined the miller downstairs, and then for the first time he learnt who had been the heroine of Festus's lamentable story, with many other particulars of that yeoman's history which he had never before known. Bob swore that he would not speak to the traitor again, and the family retired.

The escape of old Mr. Derriman from the annoyances of his nephew not only held good for that night, but for next day, and for ever. Just after dawn on the following morning a labouring man, who was going to his work, saw the old farmer and landowner leaning over a rail in a mead near his house, apparently engaged in contemplating the water of a brook before him. Drawing near, the man spoke, but Uncle Benjy did not reply. His head was hanging strangely, his body being supported in its erect position entirely by the rail that passed under each arm. On after-examination it was found that Uncle Benjy's poor withered heart had cracked and stopped its beating from damages inflicted on it by the excitements of his life, and of the previous night in particular. The unconscious carcass was little more than a light empty husk, dry and fleshless as that of a dead heron found on a moor in January.

But the tin box was not discovered with or near him. It was searched for all the week, and all the month. The mill-pond was dragged, quarries were examined, woods were threaded, rewards were offered; but in vain.

At length one day in the spring, when the mill-house was about to be cleaned throughout, the chimney-board of Anne's bedroom, concealing a yawning fire-place, had to be taken down. In the chasm behind it stood the missing deed-box of Farmer Derriman.

Many were the conjectures as to how it had got there. Then Anne remembered that on going to bed on the night of the collision between Festus and his uncle in the room below, she had seen mud on the carpet of her room, and the miller remembered that he had seen footprints on the back staircase. The solution of the mystery seemed to be that the late Uncle Benjy, instead of running off from the house with his box, had doubled on getting out of the front door, entered at the back, deposited his box in Anne's chamber where it was found, and then leisurely pursued his way home at the heels of Festus, intending to tell Anne of his trick the next day—an intention that was for ever frustrated by the stroke of death.

Mr. Derriman's solicitor was a Casterbridge man, and Anne placed the box in his hands. Uncle Benjy's will was discovered within; and by this testament Anne's queer old friend appointed her sole executrix of his said will, and, more than that, gave and bequeathed to the same young lady all his real and personal estate, with the solitary exception of five small freehold houses in a back street in Budmouth, which were devised to his nephew Festus, as a sufficient property to maintain him decently, without affording any margin for extravagances. Oxwell Hall, with its muddy quadrangle, archways, mullioned windows, cracked battlements, and weed-grown garden, passed with the rest into the hands of Anne.



XLI. JOHN MARCHES INTO THE NIGHT

During this exciting time John Loveday seldom or never appeared at the mill. With the recall of Bob, in which he had been sole agent, his mission seemed to be complete.

One mid-day, before Anne had made any change in her manner of living on account of her unexpected acquisition, Lieutenant Bob came in rather suddenly. He had been to Budmouth, and announced to the arrested senses of the family that the —th Dragoons were ordered to join Sir Arthur Wellesley in the Peninsula.

These tidings produced a great impression on the household. John had been so long in the neighbourhood, either at camp or in barracks, that they had almost forgotten the possibility of his being sent away; and they now began to reflect upon the singular infrequency of his calls since his brother's return. There was not much time, however, for reflection, if they wished to make the most of John's farewell visit, which was to be paid the same evening, the departure of the regiment being fixed for next day. A hurried valedictory supper was prepared during the afternoon, and shortly afterwards John arrived.

He seemed to be more thoughtful and a trifle paler than of old, but beyond these traces, which might have been due to the natural wear and tear of time, he showed no signs of gloom. On his way through the town that morning a curious little incident had occurred to him. He was walking past one of the churches when a wedding-party came forth, the bride and bridegroom being Matilda and Festus Derriman. At sight of the trumpet-major the yeoman had glared triumphantly; Matilda, on her part, had winked at him slily, as much as to say—. But what she meant heaven knows: the trumpet-major did not trouble himself to think, and passed on without returning the mark of confidence with which she had favoured him.

Soon after John's arrival at the mill several of his friends dropped in for the same purpose of bidding adieu. They were mostly the men who had been entertained there on the occasion of the regiment's advent on the down, when Anne and her mother were coaxed in to grace the party by their superior presence; and their well-trained, gallant manners were such as to make them interesting visitors now as at all times. For it was a period when romance had not so greatly faded out of military life as it has done in these days of short service, heterogeneous mixing, and transient campaigns; when the esprit de corps was strong, and long experience stamped noteworthy professional characteristics even on rank and file; while the miller's visitors had the additional advantage of being picked men.

They could not stay so long to-night as on that earlier and more cheerful occasion, and the final adieus were spoken at an early hour. It was no mere playing at departure, as when they had gone to Exonbury barracks, and there was a warm and prolonged shaking of hands all round.

'You'll wish the poor fellows good-bye?' said Bob to Anne, who had not come forward for that purpose like the rest. 'They are going away, and would like to have your good word.'

She then shyly advanced, and every man felt that he must make some pretty speech as he shook her by the hand.

'Good-bye! May you remember us as long as it makes ye happy, and forget us as soon as it makes ye sad,' said Sergeant Brett.

'Good-night! Health, wealth, and long life to ye!' said Sergeant-major Wills, taking her hand from Brett.

'I trust to meet ye again as the wife of a worthy man,' said Trumpeter Buck.

'We'll drink your health throughout the campaign, and so good-bye t'ye,' said Saddler-sergeant Jones, raising her hand to his lips.

Three others followed with similar remarks, to each of which Anne blushingly replied as well as she could, wishing them a prosperous voyage, easy conquest, and a speedy return.

But, alas, for that! Battles and skirmishes, advances and retreats, fevers and fatigues, told hard on Anne's gallant friends in the coming time. Of the seven upon whom these wishes were bestowed, five, including the trumpet-major, were dead men within the few following years, and their bones left to moulder in the land of their campaigns.

John lingered behind. When the others were outside, expressing a final farewell to his father, Bob, and Mrs. Loveday, he came to Anne, who remained within.

'But I thought you were going to look in again before leaving?' she said gently.

'No; I find I cannot. Good-bye!'

'John,' said Anne, holding his right hand in both hers, 'I must tell you something. You were wise in not taking me at my word that day. I was greatly mistaken about myself. Gratitude is not love, though I wanted to make it so for the time. You don't call me thoughtless for what I did?'

'My dear Anne,' cried John, with more gaiety than truthfulness, 'don't let yourself be troubled! What happens is for the best. Soldiers love here to-day and there to-morrow. Who knows that you won't hear of my attentions to some Spanish maid before a month is gone by? 'Tis the way of us, you know; a soldier's heart is not worth a week's purchase—ha, ha! Goodbye, good-bye!'

Anne felt the expediency of his manner, received the affectation as real, and smiled her reply, not knowing that the adieu was for evermore. Then with a tear in his eye he went out of the door, where he bade farewell to the miller, Mrs. Loveday, and Bob, who said at parting, 'It's all right, Jack, my dear fellow. After a coaxing that would have been enough to win three ordinary Englishwomen, five French, and ten Mulotters, she has to- day agreed to bestow her hand upon me at the end of six months. Good-bye, Jack, good-bye!'

The candle held by his father shed its waving light upon John's face and uniform as with a farewell smile he turned on the doorstone, backed by the black night; and in another moment he had plunged into the darkness, the ring of his smart step dying away upon the bridge as he joined his companions-in-arms, and went off to blow his trumpet till silenced for ever upon one of the bloody battle-fields of Spain.



Footnotes:

{207} Vide Preface.

{211} Vide Preface.

{225} Vide Preface.

{272} Vide Preface.

{303} Vide Preface.

THE END

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