'A Mere Interlude' by Thomas Hardy

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I The traveler in schoolbooks, who vouched in dryest tones for thefidelity to fact of the following narrative, used to add a ring of truth to it byopening with a nicety of criticism on the heroine's personality.People werewrong, he declared, when they surmised that Baptista Trewthen was ayoung woman with scarcely emotions or character.There was nothing in herto love, and nothing to hate-so ran the general opinion.That she showedfew positive qualities was true.The colors and tones which changing eventspaint on the faces of active womankind were looked for in vain upon hers. But still waters run deep; and no crisis had come in the years of her earlymaidenhood to demonstrate what lay hidden within her, like metal in a mine. She was the daughter of a small farmer in St. Maria’s, one of the Islesof Lyonesse beyond Off-Wessex, who had spent a large sum, as thereunderstood, on her education, by sending her to the mainland for two years. At nineteen she was entered at the Training College for Teachers, and attwenty-one nominated to a school in the country, near Tor-upon-Sea,whither she proceeded after the Christmas examination and holidays. The months passed by from winter to spring and summer, and Baptistaapplied herself to her new duties as best she could, till an uneventful yearhad elapsed.Then an air of abstraction pervaded her bearing as she walkedto and fro, twice a day, and she showed the traits of a person who hadsomething on her mind.A widow, by name Mrs. Wace, in whose houseBaptista Trewthen had been provided with a sitting room and bedroom tillthe schoolhouse should be built, noticed this change in her youthful tenant'smanner, and at last ventured to press her with a few questions. "It has nothing to do with the place, nor with you," said MissTrewthen. "Then it is the salary?" "No, nor the salary." "Then it is something you have heard from home, my dear." Baptista was silent for a few moments."It is Mr. Heddegan," shemurmured."Him they used to call David Heddegan before he got hismoney." "And who is the Mr. Heddegan they used to call David?" "An old bachelor at Giant's Town, St. Maria's, with no relationswhatever, who lives about a stone's throw from father's.When I was a childhe used to take me on his knee and say he'd marry me someday.Now I ama woman the jest has turned earnest, and he is anxious to do it.And fatherand mother say I can't do better than have him." "He's well off?" "Yes-he's the richest man we know-as a friend and neighbor.""How much older did you say he was than yourself'?" "I didn't say.Twenty years at least." "And an unpleasant man in the bargain perhaps?""No-he's not unpleasant." "Well, child, all I can say is that I'd resist any such engagement if it'snot palatable to 'ee.You are comfortable here, in my little house, I hope. All the parish like 'ee: and I've never been so cheerful, since my poorhusband left me to wear his wings, as I've been with 'ee as my lodger." The schoolmistress assured her landlady that she could return thesentiment."But here comes my perplexity," she said."I don't like keepingschool.Ah, you are surprised-you didn't suspect it.That's because I'veconcealed my feeling.Well, I simply hate school.I don't care forchildren-they are unpleasant, troublesome little things, whom nothing woulddelight so much as to hear that you had fallen down dead.Yet I would evenput up with them if it was not for the inspector.For three months before hisvisit I didn't sleep soundly.And the Committee of Council are alwayschanging the Code, so that you don't know what to teach, and what to leaveuntaught.I think father and mother are right.They say I shall never excelas a schoolmistress if I dislike the work so, and that therefore I ought to getsettled by marrying Mr. Heddegan.Between us two, I like him better thanschool; but I don't like him quite so much as to wish to marry him." These conversations, once begun, were continued from day to day; tillat length the young girl's elderly friend and landlady threw in her opinion onthe side of Miss Trewthen's parents.All things considered, she declared, theuncertainty of the school, the labor, Baptista's natural dislike for teaching, itwould be as well to take what fate offered, and make the best of matters bywedding her father's old neighbor and prosperous friend. The Easter holidays came round, and Baptista went to spend them asusual in her native isle, going by train into Off-Wessex and crossing bypacket from Pen-zephyr.When she returned in the middle of April her facewore a more settled aspect. "Well?" said the expectant Mrs. Wace. "I have agreed to have him as my husband," said Baptista, in anoff-hand way."Heaven knows if it will be for the best or not.But I haveagreed to do it, and so the matter is settled."Mrs. Wace commended her; but Baptista did not care to dwell on thesubject; so that allusion to it was very infrequent between them. Nevertheless among other things, she repeated to the widow from time totime in monosyllabic remarks that the wedding was really impending; that itwas arranged for the summer, and that she had given notice of leaving theschool at the August holidays.Later on she announced more specifically thather marriage was to take place immediately after her return home at thebeginning of the month aforesaid. She now corresponded regularly with Mr. Heddegan.Her letters fromhim were seen, at least on the outside, and in part within, by Mrs. Wace. Had she read more of their interiors than the occasional sentences shownher by Baptista she would have perceived that the scratchy, rustyhandwriting of Miss Trewthen's betrothed conveyed little more matter thandetails of their future housekeeping, and his preparations for the same, withinnumerable 'my dears' sprinkled in disconnectedly, to show the depth of hisaffection without the inconveniences of syntax.II It was the end of July-dry, too dry, even for the season, the delicategreen herbs and vegetables that grew in this favored end of the kingdomtasting rather of the watering-pot than of the pure fresh moisture from theskies.Baptista's boxes were packed, and one Saturday morning shedeparted by a wagonette to the station, and thence by train to Pen-zephyr,from which port she was, as usual, to cross the water immediately to herhome, and become Mr. Heddegan's wife on the Wednesday of the weekfollowing. She might have returned a week sooner.But though the wedding dayhad loomed so near, and the banns were out, she delayed her departure tillthis last moment, saying it was not necessary for her to be at home longbeforehand.As Mr. Heddegan was older than herself, she said, she was tobe married in her ordinary summer bonnet and gray silk frock, and therewere no preparations to make that had not amply made by her parents andintended husband. In due time, after a hot and tedious journey, she reached Pen-zephyr. She here obtained some refreshment, and then went toward the pier, whereshe learnt to her surprise that the little steamboat plying between the townand the islands had left at eleven o'clock; the usual hour of departure in theafternoon having been forestalled in consequence of the fogs which had for afew days prevailed toward evening, making twilight navigation dangerous. This being Saturday, there was now no other boat till Tuesday, and itbecame obvious that here she would have to remain for the three days,unless her friends should think fit to rig out one of the island sailing-boatsand come to fetch her-a not very likely contingency, the sea distance beingnearly forty miles. Baptista, however, had been detained in Pen-zephyr on more than oneoccasion before, either on account of bad weather or some such reason asthe present, and she was therefore not in any personal alarm.But, as shewas to be married on the following Wednesday, the delay was certainlyinconvenient to a more than ordinary degree, since it would leave less than aday's interval between her arrival and the wedding ceremony. Apart from this awkwardness she did not much mind the accident.Itwas indeed curious to see how little she minded.Perhaps it would not be toomuch to say that, although she was going to do the critical deed of her lifequite willingly, she experienced an indefinable relief at the postponement ofher meeting with Heddegan.But her manner after making discovery of thehindrance was quiet and subdued, even to passivity itself; as was instancedby her having, at the moment of receiving information that the steamer hadsailed, replied 'Oh,' so coolly to the porter with her luggage, that he wasalmost disappointed at her lack of disappointment. The question now was, should she return again to Mrs. Wace, in thevillage of Lower Wessex, or wait in the town at which she had arrived.Shewould have preferred to go back, but the distance was too great; moreover,having left the place for good, and somewhat dramatically, to become abride, a return, even for so short a space, would have been a triflehumiliating. Leaving, then, her boxes at the station, her next anxiety was to securea respectable, or rather genteel, lodging in the popular seaside resortconfronting her.To this end she looked about the town, in which, thoughshe had passed through it half-a-dozen times, she was practically a stranger.Baptista found a room to suit her over a fruiterer's shop; where she madeherself at home, and set herself in order after her journey.An early cup oftea having revived her spirits she walked out to reconnoiter. Being a schoolmistress she avoided looking at the schools, and havinga sort of trade connection with books, she avoided looking at thebooksellers; but wearying of the other shops she inspected the churches; notthat for her own part she cared much about ecclesiastical edifices; buttourists looked at them, and so would she-a proceeding for which no onewould have credited her with any great originality, such, for instance, as thatshe subsequently showed herself to possess.The churches soon oppressedher.She tried the Museum, but came out because it seemed lonely andtedious.Yet the town and the walks in this land of strawberries, theseheadquarters of early English flowers and fruit, were then, as always,attractive.From the more picturesque streets she went to the towngardens, and the Pier, and the Harbour, and looked at the men at workthere, loading and unloading as in the time of the Phoenicians. "Not Baptista?Yes, Baptista it is!" The words were uttered behind her.Turning round she gave a startand becoming confused, even agitated, for a moment.Then she said in herusual un-demonstrative manner, "O-is it really you, Charles?"Without speaking again at once, and with a half-smile, the new-comerglanced her over.There was much criticism, and some resentment-eventemper- in his eye. "I am going home," continued she."But I have missed the boat." He scarcely seemed to take in the meaning of this explanation, in theintensity of his critical survey."Teaching still?What a fine schoolmistressyou make, Baptista, I warrant!" he said with a slight flavor of sarcasm,which was not lost upon her. "I know I am nothing to brag of," she replied."That's why I havegiven up.""O-given up?You astonish me." "I hate the profession." "Perhaps that's because I am in it." "O, no, it isn't.But I am going to enter on another life altogether.Iam going to be married next week to Mr. David Heddegan." The young man-fortified as he was by a natural cynical pride andpassionateness -winced at this unexpected reply, notwithstanding. "Who is Mr. David Heddegan?" he asked, as indifferently as lay in hispower. She informed him the bearer of the name was a general merchant ofGiant's Town, St. Maria's Island-her father's nearest neighbor and oldestfriend. "Then we shan't see anything more of you on the mainland?" inquiredthe schoolmaster. "O, I don't know about that," said Miss Trewthen. "Here endeth the career of the belle of the boarding school your fatherwas foolish enough to send you to.A 'general merchant's' wife in theLyonesse Isles.Will you sell pounds of soap and pennyworths of tin tacks, orwhole bars of saponaceous matter, and great tenpenny nails?" "He's not in such a small way as that!" she almost pleaded."He ownsships, though they are rather little ones!" "O well, it is much the same.Come, let us walk on; it is tedious tostand still.I thought you would be a failure in education," he continued,when she obeyed him and strolled ahead."You never showed power thatway.You remind me much of some of those women who think they are sureto be great actresses if they go on the stage because they have a prettyface, and forget that what we require is acting.But found your mistake,didn't you?" "Don't taunt me, Charles." It was noticeable that the youngschoolmaster's tone led her no anger or retaliatory passion; far otherwise:there was a tear in her eye. "How is it you are at Pen-zephyr?" she inquired. "I don't taunt you.I speak the truth, purely in a friendly way, as Ishould to any I wished well.Though for that matter I might have someexcuse even for taunting you.Such a terrible hurry as you've been in.Ihate a woman who is in such a hurry." "How do you mean that?" "Why-to be somebody's wife or other-anything's wife rather thannobody's.You couldn't wait for me, O, no.Well, thank God, I'm cured of allthat!""How merciless you are!" she said bitterly."Wait for you?What doesthat mean, Charley?You never showed-anything to wait for-anythingspecial toward me." "O, come, Baptista dear; come!" "What I mean is, nothing definite," she expostulated."I suppose youliked me a little; but it seemed to me to be only a pastime on your part, andthat you never meant to make an honorable engagement of it." "There, that's just it!You girls expect a man to mean business at thefirst look.No man when he first becomes interested in a woman has anydefinite scheme of engagement to marry her in his mind, unless he ismeaning a vulgar mercenary marriage.However, I did at last mean anhonorable engagement, as you call it, come to that." "But you never said so, and an indefinite courtship soon injures awoman's position and credit, sooner than you think." "Baptista, I solemnly declare that in six months I should have askedyou to marry me." She walked along in silence, looking on the ground, and appearingvery uncomfortable.Presently he said, "Would you have waited for me ifyou had known?" To this she whispered in a sorrowful whisper, "Yes!" They went still farther in silence-passing along one of the beautifulwalks on the outskirts of the town, yet not observant of scene or situation. Her shoulder and his were close together, and he clasped his fingers roundthe small of her arm-quite lightly, and without any attempt at impetus; yetthe act seemed to say, "Now I hold you, and my will must be yours." Recurring to a previous question of hers he said, "I have merely rundown here for a day or two from school near Trufal, before going off to thenorth for the rest of my holiday.I have seen my relations at Redrutin quitelately, so I am not going there this time.How little I thought of meetingyou!How very different the circumstances would have been if, instead ofparting again as we must in half-an-hour or so, possibly forever, you hadbeen now just going off with me, as my wife, on our honeymoon trip. Ha-ha-well-so humorous is life!" She stopped suddenly."I must go back now-this is altogether toopainful, Charley!It is not at all a kind mood you are in today." "I don't want to pain you-you know I do not," he said more gently. "Only it just exasperates me-this you are going to do.I wish you wouldnot." "What?" "Marry him.There, now I have showed you my true sentiments." "I must do it now," said she. "Why?" he asked, dropping the offhand masterful tone he had hithertospoken, and becoming earnest; still holding her arm, however, as if she werehis chattel to be taken up or put down at will."It is never too late to breakoff a marriage that's distasteful to you.Now I'll say one thing; and it istruth: I wish you would marry me instead of him, even now, at the lastmoment, though you have served me so badly." "O, it is not possible to think of that!" she answered hastily, shakingher head."When I get home all will be prepared-it is ready even now-thethings for the party, the furniture, Mr. Heddegan's new suit, and everything. I should require the courage of a tropical lion to go home there and say Iwouldn't carry out my promise!""Then go, in Heaven's name!But there would be no necessity for youto go home and face them in that way.If we were to marry, it would haveto be at once, instantly; or not at all.I should think your affection not worththe having unless you agreed to come back with me to Trufal this evening,where we could be married by license on Monday morning.And then no Mr.David Heddegan or anybody else could get you away from me." "I must go home by the Tuesday boat," she faltered."What wouldthey think if I did not come?" "You could go home by that boat just the same.All the differencewould be that I should go with you.You could leave me on the quay, whereI'd have a smoke, while you went and saw your father and mother privately;you could then tell them what you had done, and that I was waiting not faroff; that I was a schoolmaster in a fairly good position, and a young man youhad known when you were at the Training College.Then I would comeboldly forward; and they would see that it could not be altered, and so youwouldn't suffer a lifelong misery by being the wife of a wretched old gafferyou don't like at all.Now, honestly; you do like me best, don't you,Baptista?" "Yes." "Then we will do as I say." She did not pronounce a clear affirmative.But that she consented tothe novel proposition at some moment or other of that walk was apparent bywhat occurred a little later.III An enterprise of such pith required, indeed, less talking thanconsideration.The first thing they did in carrying it out was to return to therailway station, where Baptista took from her luggage a small trunk ofimmediate necessaries which she would in any case have required aftermissing the boat.That same afternoon they traveled up the line to Trufal. Charles Stow (as his name was), despite his disdainful indifference tothings, was very careful of appearances, and made the journeyindependently of her though in the same train.He told her where she couldget board and lodgings in the city; and with merely a distant nod to her of aprovisional kind, went off to his own quarters, and to see about the license. On Sunday she saw him in the morning across the nave of thepro-cathedral.In the afternoon they walked together in the fields, where hetold her that the license would be ready next day, and would be available theday after, when the ceremony could be performed as early after eight o'clockas they should choose. His courtship, thus renewed after an interval of two years, was asimpetuous, violent even, as it was short.The next day came and passed,and the final arrangements were made.Their agreement was to get theceremony over as soon as they possibly could the next morning, so as to goon to Pen-zephyr at once, and reach that place in time for the boat'sdeparture the same day.It was in obedience to Baptista's earnest requestthat Stow consented thus to make the whole journey to Lyonesse by landand water at one heat, and not break it at Pen-zephyr; she seemed to beoppressed with a dread of lingering anywhere, this great first act ofdisobedience to her parents once accomplished, with the weight on her mindthat her home had to be convulsed by the disclosure of it.To face herdifficulties over the water immediately she had created them was, however,a course more desired by Baptista than by her lover; though for once hegave way. The next morning was bright and warm as those which had precededit.By six o'clock it seemed nearly noon, as is often the case in that part ofEngland in the summer season.By nine they were husband and wife.Theypacked up and departed by the earliest train after the service; and on theway discussed at length what she should say on meeting her parents,Charley dictating the turn of each phrase.In her anxiety they had traveledso early that when they reached Pen-zephyr they found there were nearlytwo hours on their hands before the steamer's time of sailing. Baptista was extremely reluctant to be seen promenading the streetsof the watering-place with her husband till, as above stated, the householdat Giant's Town should know the unexpected course of events from her ownlips; and it was just possible, if not likely, that some Lyonessian might beprowling about there, or even have come across the sea to look for her.Tomeet any one to whom she was known, and to have to reply to awkwardquestions about the strange young man at her side before her well-framedannouncement had been delivered at proper time and place, was a thing shecould not contemplate with equanimity.So, instead of looking at the shopsand harbor, they went along the coast a little way. The heat of the morning was by this time intense.They clambered upon some cliffs, and while sitting there, looking around at St. Michael's Mountand other objects, Charles said to her that he thought he would run down tothe beach at their feet, and take just one plunge into the sea. Baptista did not much like the idea of being left alone; it was gloomy,she said.But he assured her he would not be gone more than a quarter ofan hour at the outside, and she passively assented. Down he went, disappeared, appeared again, and looked back.Thenhe again proceeded, and vanished, till, as a small waxen object, she saw himemerge from the nook that had screened him, cross the white fringe offoam, and walk into the undulating mass of blue.Once in the water heseemed less inclined to hurry than before; he remained a long time; and,unable either to appreciate his skill or criticize his want of it at that distance,she withdrew her eyes from the spot, and gazed at the still outline of St.Michael's-now beautifully toned in gray. Her anxiety for the hour of departure, and to cope at once with theapproaching incidents that she would have to manipulate as best she could,sent her into a reverie.It was now Tuesday; she would reach home in theevening-a very late time they would say; but, as the delay was a pureaccident, they would deem her marriage to Mr. Heddegan tomorrow stillpracticable.Then Charles would have to be produced from the background. It was a terrible undertaking to think of, and she almost regretted hertemerity in wedding so hastily that morning.The rage of her father wouldbe so crushing; the reproaches of her mother so bitter; and perhaps Charleswould answer hotly, and perhaps cause estrangement till death.There hadobviously been no alarm about her at St. Maria's, or somebody would havesailed across to inquire for her.She had, in a letter written at the beginningof the week, spoken of the hour at which she intended to leave her countryschoolhouse; and from this her friends had probably perceived that by suchtiming she would run a risk of losing the Saturday boat.She had missed it,and as a consequence sat here on the shore as Mrs. Charles Stow. This brought her to the present, and she turned from he outline of St.Michael's Mount to look about for her husband's form.He was, as far as shecould discover, no longer in the sea.Then he was dressing.By moving afew steps she could see where his clothes lay.But Charles was not besidethem. Baptista looked back again at the water in bewilderment, as if hersenses were the victim of some sleight of hand.Not a speck or spotresembling a man's head or face showed anywhere.By this time she wasalarmed, and her alarm intensified when she perceived a little beyond thescene of her husband's bathing a small area of water, the quality of whosesurface differed from that of the surrounding expanse as the coarsevegetation of some foul patch in a mead differs from the fine green of theremainder.Elsewhere it looked flexuous, here it looked vermiculated andlumpy, and her marine experiences suggested to her in a moment that twocurrents met and caused a turmoil at this place. She descended as hastily as her trembling limbs would allow.The waydown was terribly long, and before reaching the heap of clothes it occurredto her that, after all, it would be best to run first for help.Hastening alongin a lateral direction she proceeded inland till she met a man, and soonafterwards two others.To them she exclaimed, "I think a gentleman whowas bathing is in some danger.I cannot see him as I could.Will you pleaserun and help him, at once, if you will be so kind?" She did not think of turning to show them the exact spot, indicating itvaguely by the direction of her hand, and still going on her way with the ideaof gaining more assistance.When she deemed, in her faintness, that shehad carried the alarm far enough, she faced about and dragged herself backagain.Before reaching the now dreaded spot she met one of the men. "We can see nothing at all, Miss," he declared. Having gained the beach, she found the tide in, and no sign ofCharley's clothes.The other men whom she had besought to come haddisappeared, it must have been in some other direction, for she had not metthem going away.They, finding nothing, had probably thought her alarm amere conjecture, and given up the quest. Baptista sank down upon the stones near at hand.Where Charley hadundressed was now sea.There could not be the least doubt that he wasdrowned, and his body sucked under by the current; while his clothes, lyingwithin high-water mark, had probably been carried away by the rising tide. She remained in a stupor for some minutes, till a strange sensationsucceeded the aforesaid perceptions, mystifying her intelligence, and leavingher physically almost inert.With his personal disappearance, the last threedays of her life with him seemed to be swallowed up, also his image, in hermind's eye, waned curiously, receded far away, grew stranger and stranger,less and less real.Their meeting and marriage had been so sudden,unpremeditated, adventurous, that she could hardly believe that she hadplayed her part in such a reckless drama.Of all the few hours of her lifewith Charles, the portion that most insisted in coming back to memory wastheir fortuitous encounter on the previous Saturday, and those bitterreprimands with which he had begun the attack, as it might be called, whichhad piqued her to an unexpected consummation. A sort of cruelty, an imperiousness, even in his warmth, hadcharacterized Charles Stow.As a lover he had ever been a bit of a tyrant;and it might pretty truly have been said that he had stung her into marriagewith him at last.Still more alien from her life did these reflections operateto make him; and then they would be chased away by an interval ofpassionate weeping and mad regret.Finally, there returned upon theconfused mind of the young wife the recollection that she was on her wayhomeward, and that the packet would sail in three-quarters of an hour. Except the parasol in her hand, all she possessed was at the stationawaiting her onward journey. She looked in that direction; and, entering one of thoseundemonstrative phases so common with her, walked quietly on. At first she made straight for the railway; but suddenly turning shewent to a shop and wrote an anonymous line announcing his death bydrowning to the only person she had ever heard Charles mention as arelative.Posting this stealthily, and with a fearful look around her, sheseemed to acquire a terror of the late events, pursuing her way to thestation as if followed by a specter. When she got to the office she asked for the luggage that she had leftthere on the Saturday as well as the trunk left on the morning just lapsed. All were put in the boat, and she herself followed.Quickly as these thingshad been done, the whole proceeding, nevertheless, had been almostautomatic on Baptista's part ere she had come to any definite conclusion onher course. Just before the bell rang she heard a conversation on the pier, whichremoved the last shade of doubt from her mind, if any had existed, that shewas Charles Stow's widow.The sentences were but fragmentary, but shecould easily piece them out. "A man drowned-swam out too far-was a stranger to the place-peoplein boat-saw him go down-couldn't get there in time." The news was little more definite than this as yet; though it may aswell be stated once for all that the statement was true.Charley, with theover-confidence of his nature, had ventured out too far for his strength, andsuccumbed in the absence of assistance, his lifeless body being at thatmoment suspended in the transparent mid-depths of the bay.His clothes,however, had merely been gently lifted by the rising tide, and floated into anook hard by, where they lay out of sight of the passersby till a day or twoafter.IV In ten minutes they were steaming out of the harbor for their voyageof four or five hours, at whose ending she would have to tell her strangestory. As Pen-zephyr and all its environing scenes disappeared behindMousehole and St. Clement's Isle, Baptista's ephemeral, meteor-likehusband impressed her yet more as a fantasy.She was still in such atrance-like state that she had been an hour on the little packet-boat beforeshe became aware of the agitating fact that Mr. Heddegan was on board withher.Involuntarily she slipped from her left hand the symbol of her wifehood. "Hee-hee!Well, the truth is, I wouldn't interrupt 'ee."I reckon shedon't see me, or won't see me," I said, "and what's the hurry? She'll seeenough o' me soon!"I hope ye be well, mee deer?" He was a hale, well-conditioned man of about five and fifty, of thecomplexion common to those whose lives are passed on the bluffs andbeaches of an ocean isle.He extended the four quarters of his face in agenial smile, and his hand for a grasp of the same magnitude.She gave herown in surprised docility, and he continued:"I couldn't help coming across to meet 'ee.What an unfortunate thingyou missing the boat and not coming Saturday! They meant to have warned'ee that the time was changed, but forgot it at the last moment.The truth isthat I should have informed 'ee myself, but I was that busy finishing up ajob last week, so as to have this week free, that I trusted to your father forattending to these little things.However, so plain and quiet as it is all to be,it really do not matter so much as it might otherwise have done, and I hopeye haven't been greatly put out.Now, if you'd sooner that I should not beseen talking to 'ee-if 'ee feel shy at all before strangers-just say.I'll leave 'ee to yourself till we get home." "Thank you much.I am indeed a little tired, Mr. Heddegan." He nodded urbane acquiescence, strolled away immediately, andminutely inspected the surface of the funnel, till some female passengers ofGiant's Town tittered at what they must have thought a rebuff-for theapproaching wedding was known to many on St. Maria's Island, though tonobody elsewhere.Baptista colored at their satire, and called him back, andforced herself to commune with him in at least a mechanically friendlymanner. The opening event had been thus different from her expectation, andshe had adumbrated no act to meet it.Taken aback she passively allowedcircumstances to pilot her along; and so the voyage was made. It was near dusk when they touched the pier of Giant's Town, whereseveral friends and neighbors stood awaiting them.Her father had a lanternin his hand.Her mother, too, was there, reproachfully glad that the delayhad at last ended so simply.Mrs. Trewthen and her daughter went togetheralong the Giant's Walk, or promenade, to the house, rather in advance ofher husband and Mr. Heddegan, who talked in loud tones which reached thewomen over their shoulders. Some would have called Mrs. Trewthen a good mother; but thoughwell meaning she was maladroit, and her intentions missed their mark.Thismight have been partly attributable to the slight deafness from which shesuffered.Now, as usual, the chief utterances came from her lips. "Ah, yes, I'm so glad, my child, that you've got over safe.It is allready, and everything so well arranged, that nothing but misfortune couldhinder you settling as, with God's grace, becomes 'ee.Close to yourmother's door a'most, 'twill be a great blessing, I'm sure; and I was veryglad to find from your letters that you'd held your word sacred.That'sright-make your word your bond always.Mrs. Wace seems to be a sensiblewoman.I hope the Lord will do for her as he's doing for you no long timehence.And how did 'ee get over the terrible journey from Tor-upon-Sea toPen-zephyr?Once you'd done with the railway, of course, you seemed quiteat home.Well, Baptista, conduct yourself seemly, and all will be well." Thus admonished, Baptista entered the house, her father and Mr.Heddegan immediately at her back.Her mother had been so didactic thatshe had felt herself absolutely unable to broach the subjects in the center ofher mind. The familiar room, with the dark ceiling, the well-spread table, the oldchairs, had never before spoken so eloquently of the times ere she knew orhad heard of Charley Stow.She went upstairs to take off her things, hermother remaining below to complete the disposition of the supper, andattend to the preparation of tomorrow's meal, altogether composing such anarray of pies, from pies of fish to pies of turnips, as was never heard ofoutside the Western Duchy.Baptista, once alone, sat down and did nothing;and was called before she had taken off her bonnet. "I'm coming," she cried, jumping up, and speedily disapparelingherself, brushed her hair with a few touches and went down. Two or three of Mr. Heddegan's and her father's friends had droppedin, and expressed their sympathy for the delay she had been subjected to. The meal was a most merry one except to Baptista.She had desiredprivacy, and there was none; and to break the news was already a greaterdifficulty than it had been at first.Everything around her, animate andinanimate, great and small, insisted that she had come home to be married;and she could not get a chance to say nay. One or two people sang songs, as overtures to the melody of themorrow, till at length bedtime came, and they all withdrew, her motherhaving retired a little earlier.When Baptista found herself again alone in herbedroom the case stood as before: she had come home with much to say,and she had said nothing. It was now growing clear even to herself that Charles being dead, shehad not determination sufficient within her to break tidings which, had hebeen alive, would have imperatively announced themselves.And thus withthe stroke of midnight came the turning of the scale; her story shouldremain untold.It was not that upon the whole she thought it best not toattempt to tell it; but that she could not undertake so explosive a matter. To stop the wedding now would cause a convulsion in Giant's Town littleshort of volcanic.Weakened, tired, and terrified as she had been by theday's adventures, she could not make herself the author of such acatastrophe.But how refuse Heddegan without telling?It really seemed toher as if her marriage with Mr. Heddegan were about to take place as ifnothing had intervened. Morning came.The events of the previous days were cut off from herpresent existence by scene and sentiment more completely than ever. Charles Stow had grown to be a special being of whom, owing to hischaracter, she entertained rather fearful than loving memory.Baptista couldhear when she awoke that her parents were already moving aboutdownstairs.But she did not rise till her mother's rather rough voiceresounded up the staircase as it had done on the preceding evening. "Baptista!Come, time to be stirring!The man will be here, byHeaven's blessing, in three-quarters of an hour.He has looked in already fora minute or two-and says he's going to the church to see if things be wellforward." Baptista arose, looked out of the window, and took the easy course. When she emerged from the regions above she was arrayed in her new silkfrock and best stockings, wearing a linen jacket over the former forbreakfasting, and her common rippers over the latter, not to spoil the newones on the rough precincts of the dwelling. It is unnecessary to dwell at any great length on this part of themorning's proceedings.She revealed nothing; and married Heddegan, asshe had given her word to do, on that appointed August day.V Mr. Heddegan forgave the coldness of his bride's manner during andafter the wedding ceremony, full well aware that there had beenconsiderable reluctance on her part to acquiesce in this neighborlyarrangement, and, as a philosopher of long standing, holding that whateverBaptista's attitude now, the conditions would probably be much the same sixmonths hence as those which ruled among other married couples. An absolutely unexpected shock was given to Baptista's listless mindabout an hour after the wedding service.They had nearly finished themidday dinner when the now husband said to her father, 'we think ofstarting about two.And the breeze being so fair we shall bring up insidePen-zephyr new pier about six at least.' "What-are we going to Pen-zephyr?" said Baptista."I don't knowanything of it." "Didn't you tell her?" asked her father of Heddegan. It transpired that, owing to the delay in her arrival, this proposal too,among other things, had in the hurry not been mentioned to her, exceptsome time ago as a general suggestion that they would go somewhere. Heddegan had imagined that any trip would be pleasant, and one to themainland the pleasantest of all. She looked so distressed at the announcement that her husbandwillingly offered to give it up, though he had not had a holiday off the islandfor a whole year.Then she pondered on the inconvenience of staying atGiant's Town, where all the inhabitants were bonded, by the circumstancesof their situation, into a sort of family party, which permitted andencouraged on such occasions as these oral criticism that was apt to disturbthe equanimity of newly married girls, and would especially worry Baptista inher strange situation.Hence, unexpectedly, she agreed not to disorganizeher husband's plans for the wedding jaunt, and it was settled that, asoriginally intended, they should proceed in a neighbor's sailing boat to themetropolis of the district. In this way they arrived at Pen-zephyr without difficulty or mishap. Bidding adieu to Jenkin and his man, who had sailed them over, they strolledarm in arm off the pier, Baptista silent, cold, and obedient.Heddegan hadarranged to take her as far as Plymouth before their return, but to go nofurther than where they had landed that day.Their first business was to findan inn; and in this they had unexpected difficulty, since for some reason orother-possibly the fine weather-many of the nearest at hand were full oftourists and commercial travelers.He led her on till he reached a tavernwhich, though comparatively unpretending, stood in as attractive a spot asany in the town; and this, somewhat to their surprise after their previousexperience, they found apparently empty.The considerate old man,thinking that Baptista was educated to artistic notions, though he himselfwas deficient in them, had decided that it was most desirable to have, onsuch an occasion as the present, an apartment with "a good view" (theexpression being one he had often heard in use among tourists); and hetherefore asked for a favorite room on the first floor, from which a bowwindow protruded, for the express purpose of affording such an outlook. The landlady, after some hesitation, said she was sorry that particularapartment was engaged; the next one, however, or any other in the house,was unoccupied. "The gentleman who has the best one will give it up tomorrow, andthen you can change into it," she added, as Mr. Heddegan hesitated abouttaking the adjoining and less commanding one. "We shall be gone tomorrow, and shan't want it," he said. Wishing not to lose customers, the landlady earnestly continued thatsince he was bent on having the best room, perhaps the other gentlemanwould not object to move at once into the one they despised, since, thoughnothing could be seen from the window, the room was equally large. "Well, if he doesn't care for a view," said Mr. Heddegan, with the air ofa highly artistic man who did. "O, no-I am sure he doesn't," she said."I can promise that you shallhave the room you want.If you would not object to go for a walk for half anhour, I could have it ready, and your things in it, and a nice tea laid in thebow-window by the time you come back?" This proposal was deemed satisfactory by the fussy old tradesman,and they went out.Baptista nervously conducted him in an oppositedirection to her walk of the former day in other company, showing on herwan face, had he observed it, how much she was beginning to regret hersacrificial step for mending matters that morning. She took advantage of a moment when her husband's back was turnedto inquire casually in a shop if anything had been heard of the gentlemanwho was sucked down in the eddy while bathing. The shopman said, "Yes, his body has been washed ashore," and hadjust handed Baptista a newspaper on which she discerned the heading, "ASchoolmaster drowned while bathing," when her husband turned to join her. She might have pursued the subject without raising suspicion; but it wasmore than flesh and blood could do, and completing a small purchase almostran out of the shop. "What is your terrible hurry, mee deer?" said Heddegan, hasteningafter. "I don't know-I don't want to stay in shops," she gasped. "And we won't," he said."They are suffocating this weather.Let's goback and have some tay!" They found the much desired apartment awaiting their entry.It was asort of combination bed and sitting room, and the table was prettily spreadwith high tea in the bow window, a bunch of flowers in the midst, and abest-parlor chair on each side.Here they shared the meal by the ruddy lightof the vanishing sun.But though the view had been engaged, regardless ofexpense, exclusively for Baptista's pleasure, she did not direct any keenattention out of the window.Her gaze as often fell on the floor and walls ofthe room as elsewhere, and on the table as much as on either, beholdingnothing at all. But there was a change.Opposite her seat was the door, upon whichher eyes presently became riveted like those of a little bird upon a snake. For, on a peg at the back of the door, there hung a hat; such a hat-surely,from its peculiar make, the actual hat-that had been worn by Charles. Conviction grew to certainty when she saw a railway ticket sticking up fromthe band.Charles had put the ticket there-she had noticed the act. Her teeth almost chattered; she murmured something incoherent.Herhusband jumped up and said, "You are not well!What is it?What shall I get'ee?" "Smelling salts!" she said, quickly and desperately; "'at that chemist'sshop you were in just now." He jumped up like the anxious old man that he was, caught up his ownhat from a back table, and without observing the other hastened out anddownstairs. Left alone she gazed and gazed at the back of the door, thenspasmodically rang the bell.An honest-looking country maid-servantappeared in response. "A hat!" murmured Baptista, pointing with her finger."It does notbelong to us,""O yes, I'll take it away," said the young woman with some hurry "Itbelongs to the other gentleman." She spoke with a certain awkwardness, and took the hat out of theroom.Baptista had recovered her outward composure."The othergentleman?" she said."Where is the other gentleman?" "He's in the next room, ma'am.He removed out of this to oblige 'ee." "How can you say so?I should hear him if he were there," saidBaptista, sufficiently recovered to argue down an apparent untruth. "He's there," said the girl, hardily. "Then it is strange that he makes no noise," said Mrs. Heddegan,convicting the girl of falsity by a look. "He makes no noise; but it is not strange," said the servant. All at once a dread took possession of the bride's heart, like a coldhand laid thereon; for it flashed upon her that there was a possibility ofreconciling the girl's statement with her own knowledge of facts. "Why does he make no noise?" she weakly said. The waiting-maid was silent, and looked at her questioner."If I tellyou, ma'am, you won't tell missis?" she whispered. Baptista promised. "Because he's a-lying dead!" said the girl."He's the schoolmaster thatwas drownded yesterday." "O!" said the bride, covering her eyes."Then he was in this room tilljust now?" "Yes," said the maid, thinking the young lady's agitation naturalenough. "And I told missis that I thought she oughtn't to have done it,because I don't hold it right to keep visitors so much in the dark wheredeath's concerned; but she said the gentleman didn't die of anythinginfectious; she was a poor, honest, innkeeper's wife, she says, who had toget her living by making hay while the sun sheened.And owing to thedrownded gentleman being brought here, she said, it kept so many peopleaway that we were empty, though all the other houses were full.So whenyour good man set his mind upon the room, and she would have lost goodpaying folk if he'd not had it, it wasn't to be supposed, she said, that she'dlet anything stand in the way.Ye won't say that I've told ye, please, m'm? All the linen has been changed and as the inquest won't be till tomorrow,after you are gone, she thought you wouldn't know a word of it, beingstrangers here." The returning footsteps of her husband broke off further narration. Baptista waved her hand, for she could not speak.The waiting-maid quicklywithdrew, and Mr. Heddegan entered with the smelling salts and othernostrums. "Any better?" he questioned. "I don't like the hotel," she exclaimed, almost simultaneously."I can'tbear it-it doesn't suit me!" "Is that all that's the matter?" he returned pettishly (this being thefirst time of his showing such a mood)."Upon my heart and life such triflingis trying to any man's temper, Baptista!Sending me about from here toyond, and then when I come saying 'ee don't like the place that I have sunkso much money and words to get for 'ee.'Od dang it all, 'tis enough to-But Iwon't say anymore at present, mee deer, though it is just too much toexpect to turn out of the house now.We shan't get another quiet place atthis time of the evening-every other inn in the town is bustling with racketyfolk of one sort and t'other, while here 'tis as quiet as the grave-the country,I would say.So bide still, d'ye hear, and tomorrow we shall be out of thetown altogether-as early as you like." The obstinacy of age had, in short, overmastered its complaisance, andthe young woman said no more.The simple course of telling him that in theadjoining room lay a corpse which had lately occupied their own might, itwould have seemed, have been an effectual one without further disclosure,but to allude to that subject, however it was disguised, was more thanHeddegan's young wife had strength for.Horror broke her down.In thecontingency one thing only presented itself to her paralyzed regard-that hereshe was doomed to abide, in a hideous contiguity to the dead husband andthe living, and her conjecture did, in fact, bear itself out.That night she laybetween the two men she had married-Heddegan on the one hand, and onthe other through the partition against which the bed stood, Charles Stow.VI Kindly time had withdrawn the foregoing event three days from thepresent of Baptista Heddegan.It was ten o'clock in the morning; she hadbeen ill, not in an ordinary or definite sense, but in a state of coldstupefaction, from which it was difficult to arouse her so much as to say afew sentences.When questioned she had replied that she was pretty well. Their trip, as such, had been something of a failure.They had gone onas far as Falmouth, but here he had given way to her entreaties to returnhome.This they could not, very well do without repassing throughPen-zephyr, at which place they had now again arrived. In the train she had seen a weekly local paper, and read there aparagraph detailing the inquest on Charles.It was added that the funeralwas to take place at his native town of Redrutin on Friday. After reading this she had shown no reluctance to enter the fatalneighborhood of the tragedy, only stipulating that they should take their restat a different lodging from the first; and now comparatively braced up andcalm-indeed a cooler creature altogether than when last in the town, shesaid to David that she wanted to walk out for a while, as they had plenty oftime on their hands. "To a shop as usual, I suppose, mee deer?" "Partly for shopping," she said. "And it will be best for you, dear, tostay in after trotting about so much, and have a good rest while I am gone." He assented; and Baptista sallied forth. As she had stated, her firstvisit was made to a shop, a draper's. Without the exercise of much choiceshe purchased a black bonnet and veil, also a black stuff gown; a blackmantle she already wore. These articles were made up into a parcel which,in spite of the saleswoman's offers, her customer said she would take withher. Bearing it on her arm she turned to the railway, and at the station got aticket for Redrutin.Thus it appeared that, on her recovery from the paralyzed mood of theformer day, while she had resolved not to blast utterly the happiness of herpresent husband by revealing the history of the departed one, she had alsodetermined to indulge a certain odd, inconsequent, feminine sentiment ofdecency, to the small extent to which it could do no harm to any person. AtRedrutin she emerged from the railway carriage in the black attire purchasedat the shop, having during the transit made the change in the emptycompartment she had chosen. The other clothes were now in the bandboxand parcel. Leaving these at the cloakroom she proceeded onward, and aftera wary survey reached the side of a hill whence a view of the burial groundcould be obtained. It was now a little before two o'clock. While Baptista waited a funeralprocession ascended the road. Baptista hastened across, and by the time theprocession entered the cemetery gates she had unobtrusively joined it. In addition to the schoolmaster's own relatives (not a few), theparagraph in the newspapers of his death by drowning had drawn togethermany neighbors, acquaintances, and onlookers.Among them she passedunnoticed, and with a quiet step pursued the winding path to the chapel, andafterwards thence to the grave.When all was over, and the relatives andidlers had withdrawn, she stepped to the edge of the chasm.From beneathher mantle she drew a little bunch of forget-me-nots, and dropped them inupon the coffin.In a few minutes she also turned and went away from thecemetery.By five o'clock she was again in Pen-zephyr. "You have been a mortal long time!" said her husband, crossly."Iallowed you an hour at most, mee deer." "It occupied me longer," said she. "Well-I reckon it is wasting words to complain.Hang it, ye look sotired and wisht that I can't find heart to say what I would!" "I am-weary and wisht, David; I am.We can get home tomorrow forcertain, I hope?" "We can.And please God we will!" said Mr. Heddegan heartily, as if hetoo were weary of his brief honeymoon."I must be into business again onMonday morning at latest." They left by the next morning steamer, and in the afternoon took uptheir residence in their own house at Giant's Town. The hour that she reached the island it was as if a material weight hadbeen removed from Baptista's shoulders.Her husband attributed the changeto the influence of the local breezes after the hot-house atmosphere of themainland.However that might be, settled here, a few doors from hermother's dwelling, she recovered in no very long time much of hercustomary bearing, which was never very demonstrative.She accepted herposition calmly, and faintly smiled when her neighbors learned to call herMrs. Heddegan, and said she seemed likely to become the leader of fashionin Giant's Town. Her husband was a man who had made considerably more money bytrade than her father had done: and perhaps the greater profusion ofsurroundings at her command than she had heretofore been mistress of, wasnot without an effect upon her.One week, two weeks, three weeks passed;and, being pre-eminently a young woman who allowed things to drift, shedid nothing whatever either to disclose or conceal traces of her firstmarriage; or to learn if there existed possibilities-which there undoubtedlydid-by which that hasty contract might become revealed to those about herat any unexpected moment. While yet within the first month of her marriage, and on an eveningjust before sunset, Baptista was standing within her garden adjoining thehouse, when she saw passing along the road a personage clad in a greasyblack coat and battered tall hat, which, common enough in the slums of acity, had an odd appearance in St. Maria's.The tramp, as he seemed to be,marked her at once-bonnetless and unwrapped as she was her features wereplainly recognizable-and with an air of friendly surprise came and leant overthe wall. "What! don't you know me?" said he. She had some dim recollection of his face, but said that she was notacquainted with him. "Why, your witness to be sure, ma'am.Don't you mind the man thatwas mending the church window when you and your intended husbandwalked up to be made one; and the clerk called me down from the ladder,and I came and did my part by writing my name and occupation?" Baptista glanced quickly around; her husband was out of earshot. That would have been of less importance but for the fact that the weddingwitnessed by this personage had not been the wedding with Mr. Heddegan,but the one on the day previous. "I've had a misfortune since then, that's pulled me under, continuedher friend."But don't let me damp yer wedded joy by naming theparticulars.Yes, I've seen changes since; though 'tis but a short timeago-let me see, only a month next week, I think; for 'twere the first orsecond day in August." "Yes-that's when it was," said another man, a sailor, who had come upwith a pipe in his mouth, and felt it necessary to join in (Baptista havingreceded to escape further speech)."For that was the first time I set foot inGiant's Town; and her husband took her to him the same day." A dialogue then proceeded between the two men outside the wall,which Baptista could not help hearing. "Ay, I signed the book that made her one flesh," repeated the decayedglazier."Where's her goodman?" "About the premises somewhere; but you don't see 'em togethermuch," replied the sailor in an undertone."You see, he's older than she." "Older?I should never have thought it from my own observation,"said the glazier."He was a remarkably handsome man." "Handsome?Well, there he is-we can see for ourselves." David Heddegan had, indeed, just shown himself at the upper end ofthe garden, and the glazier, looking in bewilderment from the husband tothe wife, saw the latter turn pale. Now that decayed glazier was a far-seeing and cunning man-toofar-seeing and cunning to allow himself to thrive by simple andstraightforward means-and he held his peace, till he could read more plainlythe meaning of this riddle, merely adding carelessly, "Well-marriage do altera man, 'tis true.I should never ha' knowed him!" He then stared oddly at the disconcerted Baptista, and moving on towhere he could again address her, asked her to do him a good turn, since heonce had done the same for her.Understanding that he meant money, shehanded him some, at which he thanked her, and instantly went away.VII She had escaped exposure on this occasion; but the incident had beenan awkward one, and should have suggested to Baptista that sooner or laterthe secret must leak out.As it was, she suspected that at any rate she hadnot heard the last of the glazier. In a day or two, when her husband had gone to the old town on theother side of the island, there came a gentle tap at the door, and the worthywitness of her first marriage made his appearance a second time. "It took me hours to get to the bottom of the mystery-hours!" he saidwith a gaze of deep confederacy which offended her pride very deeply."Butthanks to a good intellect I've done it.Now, ma'am, I'm not a man to telltales, even when a tale would be so good as this.But I'm going back to themainland again, and a little assistance would be as rain on thirsty ground." "I helped you two days ago," began Baptista. "Yes-but what was that, my good lady?Not enough to pay mypassage to Pen-zephyr.I came over on your account, for I thought therewas a mystery somewhere.Now I must go back on my own.Mindthis-'twould be very awkward for you if your old man were to know.He's aqueer temper, though he may be fond." She knew as well as her visitor how awkward it would be; and thehush-money she paid was heavy that day.She had, however, thesatisfaction of watching the man to the steamer, and seeing him diminish outof sight.But Baptista perceived that the system into which she had been ledof purchasing silence thus was one fatal to her peace of mind, particularly ifit had to be continued.Hearing no more from the glazier she hoped the difficulty was past. But another week only had gone by, when, as she was pacing the Giant'sWalk (the name given to the promenade), she met the same personage inthe company of a fat woman carrying a bundle."This is the lady, my dear," he said to his companion."This, ma'am, ismy wife.We've come to settle in the town for a time, if so be we can findroom." "That you won't do," said she."Nobody can live here who is notprivileged." "I am privileged," said the glazier, "by my trade." Baptista went on, but in the afternoon she received a visit from theman's wife.This honest woman began to depict, in forcible colors, thenecessity for keeping up the concealment. "I will intercede with my husband, ma'am," she said."He's a true manif rightly managed; and I'll beg him to consider your position.'Tis a verynice house you've got here," she added, glancing round, "and well worth alittle sacrifice to keep it." The unlucky Baptista staved off the danger on this third occasion asshe had done on the previous two.But she formed a resolve that, if theattack were once more to be repeated she would face a revelation-worsethough that must now be than before she had attempted to purchase silenceby bribes.Her tormentors, never believing her capable of acting upon suchan intention, came again; but she shut the door in their faces.Theyretreated, muttering something; but she went to the back of the house,where David Heddegan was. She looked at him, unconscious of all.The case was serious; she knewthat well. and all the more serious in that she liked him better now than shehad done at first.Yet, as she herself began to see, the secret was one thatwas sure to disclose itself.Her name and Charles's stood indelibly written inthe registers; and though a month only had passed as yet it was a wonderthat his clandestine union with her had not already been discovered by hisfriends.Thus spurring herself to the inevitable, she spoke to Heddegan. "David, come indoors.I have something to tell you." He hardly regarded her at first.She had discerned that during the lastweek or two he had seemed preoccupied, as if some private businessharassed him.She repeated her request.He replied with a sigh, "Yes,certainly, mee deer." When they had reached the sitting room and shut the door sherepeated, faintly, "David, I have something to tell you-a sort of tragedy Ihave concealed.You will hate me for having so far deceived you; butperhaps my telling you voluntarily will make you think a little better of methan you would do otherwise." "Tragedy?" he said, awakening to interest."Much you can know abouttragedies, mee deer, that have been in the world so short a time!" She saw that he suspected nothing, and it made her task the harder. But on she went steadily."It is about something that happened before wewere married," she said. "Indeed!" "Not a very long time before-a short time.And it is about a lover," shefaltered."I don't much mind that," he said mildly."In truth, I was in hopes'twas more.""In hopes!" "Well, yes." This screwed her up to the necessary effort."I met my oldsweetheart.He scorned me, chid me, dared me, and I went and marriedhim.We were coming straight here to tell you all what we had done; but hewas drowned; and I thought I would say nothing about him: and I marriedyou, David, for the sake of peace and quietness.I've tried to keep it fromyou, but have found I cannot.There-that's the substance of it, and you cannever, never forgive me, I am sure!" She spoke desperately.But the old man, instead of turning black orblue, or slaying her in his indignation, jumped up from his chair, and beganto caper around the room in quite an ecstatic emotion. "O, happy thing!How well it falls out!" he exclaimed, snapping hisfingers over his head."Ha-ha-the knot is cut-I see a way out of mytrouble-ha-ha!" She looked at him without uttering a sound, till, as he still continuedsmiling joyfully, she said, "O-what do you mean?Is it done to torment me?" "No-no! O, mee deer, your story helps me out of the most heartachingquandary a poor man ever found himself in!You see, it is this-I've got atragedy, too; and unless you had had one to tell, I could never have seenmy way to tell mine!" "What is yours-what is it?" she asked, with altogether a new view ofthings. "Well-it is a bouncer; mine is a bouncer!" said he, looking on theground and wiping his eyes. "Not worse than mine?" "Well-that depends upon how you look at it.Yours had to do with thepast alone; and I don't mind it.You see, we've been married a month, andit don't jar upon me as it would if we'd only been married a day or two.Nowmine refers to past, present, and future; so that-" "Past, present, and future!" she murmured."It never occurred to methat you had a tragedy too." "But I have!" he said, shaking his head."In fact, four." "Then tell 'em!" cried the young woman. "I will-I will.But be considerate, I beg 'ee, mee deer.Well-I wasn't abachelor when I married 'ee, anymore than you were a spinster.Just as youwas a widowwoman, I was a widow-man." "Ah!" said she, with some surprise."But is that all?-then we are nicelybalanced," she added, relieved. "No-it is not all.There's the point.I am not only a widower." "O, David!" "I am a widower with four tragedies-that is to say, four strappinggirls-the eldest taller than you.Don't 'ee look so struck-dumb-like!It fellout in this way.I knew the poor woman, their mother, in Pen-zephyr forsome years; and-to cut a long story short-I privately married her at last,just before she died.I kept the matter secret, but it is getting knownamong the people here by degrees.I've long felt for the children-that it ismy duty to have them here, and do something for them.I have not hadcourage to break it to 'ee, but I've seen lately that it would soon come toyour ears, and that hev worried me." "Are they educated?" said the ex-schoolmistress. "No.I am sorry to say they have been much neglected; in truth, theycan hardly read.And so I thought that by marrying a young schoolmistressI should get some one in the house who could teach 'em, and bring 'em intogenteel condition, all for nothing.You see, they are growed up too tall to besent to school." "O, mercy!" she almost moaned."Four great girls to teach therudiments to, and have always in the house with me spelling over theirbooks; and I hate teaching, it kills me.I am bitterly punished-I am, I am!" "You'll get used to 'em mee deer, and the balance of secrets-mineagainst yours -will comfort your heart with a sense of justice.I could sendfor 'em this week very well-and I will!In faith, I could send this very day. Baptista, you have relieved me of all my difficulty!" Thus the interview ended, so far as this matter was concerned. Baptista was too stupefied to say more, and when she went away to herroom she wept from very mortification at Mr. Heddegan's duplicity. Education, the one thing she abhorred; the shame of it to delude a youngwife so! The next meal came round.As they sat, Baptista would not suffer hereyes to turn toward him.He did not attempt to intrude upon her reserve,but every now and then looked under the table and chuckled withsatisfaction at the aspect of affairs."How very well matched we be!" hesaid, comfortably. Next day, when the steamer came in, Baptista saw her husband rushdown to meet it; and soon after there appeared at her door four tall, hipless,shoulderless girls, dwindling in height and size from the eldest to theyoungest, like a row of Pan pipes; at the head of them standing Heddegan. He smiled pleasantly through the gray fringe of his whiskers and beard, andturning to the girls said, "Now come forrard, and shake hands properly withyour stepmother." Thus she made their acquaintance, and he went out, leaving themtogether.On examination the poor girls turned out to b6 not onlyplain-looking, which she could have forgiven, but to have such a lamentablymeager intellectual equipment as to be hopelessly inadequate ascompanions.Even the eldest, almost her own age, could only read withdifficulty words of two syllables; and taste in dress was beyond theircomprehension.In the long vista of future years she saw nothing but drearydrudgery at her detested old trade without prospect of reward. She went about quite despairing during the next few days-anunpromising, unfortunate mood for a woman who had not been married sixweeks.From her parents she concealed everything.They had beenamongst the few acquaintances of Heddegan who knew nothing of his secret,and were indignant enough when they saw such a ready-made householdfoisted upon their only child.But she would not support them in theirremonstrances. "No, you don't yet know all," she said. Thus Baptista had sense enough to see the retributive fairness of thisissue.For some time, whenever conversation arose between her andHeddegan, which was not often, she always said, "I am miserable, and youknow it.Yet I don't wish things to be otherwise." But one day when he asked, "How do you like 'em now?" her answerwas unexpected."Much better than I did," she said, quietly."I may likethem very much someday." This was the beginning of a serener season for the chastened spirit ofBaptista Heddegan.She had, in truth, discovered, underneath the crust ofuncouthness and meager articulation which was due to their Troglodyteanexistence, that her unwelcomed daughters had natures that were unselfishalmost to sublimity.The harsh discipline accorded to their young livesbefore their mother's wrong had been righted, had operated less to crushthem than to lift them above all personal ambition.They considered theworld and its contents in a purely objective way, and their own lot seemedonly to affect them as that of certain human beings among the rest, whosetroubles they knew rather than suffered. This was such an entirely new way of regarding life to a woman ofBaptista's nature, that her attention, from being first arrested by it, becamedeeply interested.By imperceptible pulses her heart expanded in sympathywith theirs.The sentences of her tragicomedy, her life, confused till now,became clearer daily.That in humanity, as exemplified by these girls, therewas nothing to dislike, but infinitely much to pity, she learnt with the lapseof each week in their company.She grew to like the girls of unpromisingexterior, and from liking she got to love them; till they formed anunexpected point of junction between her own and her husband's interests,generating a sterling friendship at least, between a pair in whose existencethere had threatened to be neither friendship nor love.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Mere Interlude: Thomas Hardy's Tragic Tale of Love and Loss


Thomas Hardy's "A Mere Interlude" is a short story that explores the themes of love, loss, and the fragility of human relationships. Written in 1885, this tragic tale follows the life of a young woman named Annie, who falls in love with a man named Jack, only to have her heart broken when he leaves her for another woman. The story is set in rural England and captures the essence of the Victorian era, with its strict moral codes and societal expectations.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the characters and themes of "A Mere Interlude," exploring the ways in which Hardy uses language and imagery to convey his message. We will examine the story's plot, characters, setting, and symbolism, analyzing how they contribute to the narrative and the overall meaning of the text.

Plot Summary

The story begins with Annie, a young woman who lives with her father in a small village in rural England. Annie is a talented pianist and enjoys spending her time playing music. One day, she meets Jack, a charming young man who is passing through the village. Jack is immediately drawn to Annie's beauty and her talent as a musician, and the two quickly fall in love.

However, their happiness is short-lived, as Jack is forced to leave the village to tend to his sick mother. Annie is heartbroken, but she vows to wait for Jack's return. Months pass, and Annie hears nothing from Jack, leading her to believe that he has forgotten about her.

One day, Annie receives a letter from Jack, telling her that he has fallen in love with another woman and that he cannot return to the village. Annie is devastated by the news and struggles to come to terms with her loss. Her father tries to comfort her, but she remains inconsolable, haunted by memories of her time with Jack.

The story ends with Annie playing the piano alone, reflecting on her lost love and the fleeting nature of happiness.



Annie is the main character of "A Mere Interlude," and the story revolves around her experiences and emotions. She is a young woman who is talented in music, specifically playing the piano. Annie is also deeply in love with Jack, and her feelings for him drive the narrative of the story.

Throughout the story, Annie is portrayed as a sensitive and emotional person, prone to bouts of sadness and despair. She is deeply affected by Jack's departure and his subsequent rejection, and her pain is palpable throughout the story. Despite her pain, however, Annie remains loyal to Jack, refusing to entertain the advances of other men and holding onto the hope that he will return to her.


Jack is the man that Annie falls in love with. He is a charming and charismatic person, and his presence in Annie's life brings her great joy. However, his departure and subsequent rejection of Annie is what ultimately leads to her despair and heartbreak.

Jack is a complex character, and his motivations for leaving Annie are not entirely clear. It is suggested that he may have been forced to leave due to family obligations or financial difficulties, but the story never fully explains the reasons for his departure.

Annie's Father

Annie's father is a minor character in the story, but he plays an important role in supporting his daughter through her pain and loss. He is the one who tries to comfort Annie when she is grieving, and he encourages her to continue playing the piano as a way of coping with her emotions.


Love and Loss

The central theme of "A Mere Interlude" is love and loss. The story explores the intense emotions that come with falling in love and the pain that follows when that love is lost. Annie's love for Jack is all-consuming, and her pain at losing him is devastating. The story highlights the fragility of human relationships and the fleeting nature of happiness, suggesting that even the most intense love can be fleeting and impermanent.

Society and Expectations

The story also touches on the theme of society and expectations. Annie is living in a society that has strict moral codes and expectations, and her relationship with Jack is frowned upon by many in her community. This societal pressure adds another layer of complexity to Annie's emotions, as she struggles to reconcile her love for Jack with the expectations of those around her.

Music and Art

Music and art are also significant themes in "A Mere Interlude." Annie's talent as a musician is what brings her into contact with Jack, and her love of music is a constant throughout the story. The story suggests that music and art can be a source of comfort and solace in times of grief, providing a way for people to express their emotions and find beauty in the world around them.


The Piano

The piano is a powerful symbol in "A Mere Interlude." It represents Annie's talent and her love of music, but it also serves as a reminder of her lost love. Throughout the story, Annie is often shown playing the piano alone, reflecting on her memories of Jack and the happiness they shared. The piano becomes a symbol of both joy and pain, representing the beauty of love and the heartbreak that follows its loss.

The Letters

The letters that Jack sends to Annie are also significant symbols in the story. They represent the hope that Annie holds onto, even as she is grappling with her grief. Each letter from Jack is a source of comfort and reassurance for Annie, giving her the strength to continue waiting for his return. However, the final letter from Jack is also a symbol of her loss, representing the finality of their relationship and the impossibility of their love.

Literary Techniques


Hardy uses vivid imagery throughout "A Mere Interlude" to create a sense of atmosphere and emotion. He describes the natural surroundings of the village in great detail, highlighting the beauty of the landscape and the changing seasons. This imagery serves to underscore the fleeting nature of happiness, emphasizing the transience of life and the impermanence of love.


Foreshadowing is another literary technique that Hardy employs in "A Mere Interlude." From the beginning of the story, there are hints that Annie's relationship with Jack will not end well. For example, when Jack first enters the village, he is described as a "tramp," suggesting that he is a transient figure who will not stay in one place for long. These hints serve to build tension and anticipation, preparing the reader for the tragic conclusion of the story.


Irony is also present in "A Mere Interlude," particularly in the way that Annie's love for Jack is ultimately what causes her pain. The title of the story itself is ironic, as the interlude that Annie experiences with Jack is anything but "mere." This irony adds another layer of complexity to the story, emphasizing the unpredictable nature of love and the tragedy that can result from its pursuit.


In conclusion, "A Mere Interlude" is a powerful and poignant story that explores the themes of love, loss, and the fragility of human relationships. Hardy's use of language and imagery creates a vivid and emotional narrative, capturing the essence of the Victorian era and the societal pressures that governed people's lives. The story's tragic conclusion serves as a reminder of the impermanence of happiness and the importance of cherishing the fleeting moments of joy that life has to offer.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Thomas Hardy’s “A Mere Interlude” is a classic short story that explores the themes of love, loss, and the fleeting nature of happiness. The story follows the protagonist, Annie, as she falls in love with a man named John, only to have her heart broken when he leaves her for another woman. Through Annie’s experiences, Hardy paints a vivid picture of the complexities of human relationships and the ways in which they can both enrich and devastate our lives.

The story begins with Annie, a young woman who works as a seamstress, meeting John, a handsome and charming man who is passing through town. From the moment they meet, there is a spark between them, and they quickly fall in love. For a time, Annie is blissfully happy, reveling in the joy of being with John and dreaming of a future together.

However, their happiness is short-lived. John is a restless soul, and he soon grows bored with their small town and the life they have built together. He leaves Annie for another woman, leaving her heartbroken and alone. The rest of the story follows Annie as she tries to come to terms with her loss and move on with her life.

One of the most striking things about “A Mere Interlude” is the way in which Hardy captures the intensity of Annie’s emotions. From the moment she meets John, she is consumed by her love for him, and this love only grows stronger as they spend more time together. Hardy’s descriptions of Annie’s feelings are vivid and evocative, painting a picture of a woman who is completely swept away by her passion.

For example, when Annie first sees John, she is struck by his good looks and charm. Hardy writes, “She had never seen a man like him before, and her heart beat fast as she looked at him.” This simple sentence captures the intensity of Annie’s attraction to John, and sets the stage for the rest of the story.

As their relationship develops, Annie’s feelings only become more intense. She describes John as “the light of her life” and “the very breath of her being,” showing just how much he means to her. When he leaves her, she is devastated, and her pain is palpable. Hardy writes, “Her heart was broken, and she felt as though she would never be happy again.” This raw emotion is what makes “A Mere Interlude” such a powerful and moving story.

Another key theme in the story is the idea of impermanence. Throughout the story, Hardy emphasizes the fleeting nature of happiness and the transience of human relationships. Annie’s love for John is intense and all-consuming, but it is also fragile and temporary. When John leaves her, she is forced to confront the fact that their love was never meant to last.

This theme is underscored by the title of the story itself. “A Mere Interlude” suggests that Annie’s relationship with John was just a brief pause in her life, a momentary diversion from the larger arc of her story. This idea is reinforced by the way in which the story ends. After John leaves her, Annie is left to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. She eventually marries another man and has children, but her memories of John continue to haunt her. In the end, she realizes that their love was just a fleeting moment in time, a mere interlude in the larger story of her life.

Overall, “A Mere Interlude” is a beautifully written and deeply moving story that explores the complexities of human relationships and the fleeting nature of happiness. Through Annie’s experiences, Hardy captures the intensity of love and the pain of loss, while also reminding us that nothing in life is permanent. This is a story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it, and one that is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever loved and lost.

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