The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid, by Thomas Hardy

Chapter 13

On going out into the garden next morning, with a strange sense of being another person than herself, she beheld Jim leaning mutely over the gate.

He nodded. ‘Good morning, Margery,’ he said civilly.

‘Good morning,’ said Margery in the same tone.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he continued. ‘But which way was you going this morning?’

‘I am not going anywhere just now, thank you. But I shall go to my father’s by-and-by with Edy.’ She went on with a sigh, ‘I have done what he has all along wished, that is, married you; and there’s no longer reason for enmity atween him and me.’

‘Trew — trew. Well, as I am going the same way, I can give you a lift in the trap, for the distance is long.’

‘No thank you — I am used to walking,’ she said.

They remained in silence, the gate between them, till Jim’s convictions would apparently allow him to hold his peace no longer. ‘This is a bad job!’ he murmured.

‘It is,’ she said, as one whose thoughts have only too readily been identified. ‘How I came to agree to it is more than I can tell!’ And tears began rolling down her cheeks.

‘The blame is more mine than yours, I suppose,’ he returned. ‘I ought to have said No, and not backed up the gentleman in carrying out this scheme. ’Twas his own notion entirely, as perhaps you know. I should never have thought of such a plan; but he said you’d be willing, and that it would be all right; and I was too ready to believe him.’

‘The thing is, how to remedy it,’ said she bitterly. ‘I believe, of course, in your promise to keep this private, and not to trouble me by calling.’

‘Certainly,’ said Jim. ‘I don’t want to trouble you. As for that, why, my dear Mrs. Hayward —’

‘Don’t Mrs. Hayward me!’ said Margery sharply. ‘I won’t be Mrs. Hayward!’

Jim paused. ‘Well, you are she by law, and that was all I meant,’ he said mildly.

‘I said I would acknowledge no such thing, and I won’t. A thing can’t be legal when it’s against the wishes of the persons the laws are made to protect. So I beg you not to call me that anymore.’

‘Very well, Miss Tucker,’ said Jim deferentially. ‘We can live on exactly as before. We can’t marry anybody else, that’s true; but beyond that there’s no difference, and no harm done. Your father ought to be told, I suppose, even if nobody else is? It will partly reconcile him to you, and make your life smoother.’

Instead of directly replying, Margery exclaimed in a low voice:

‘O, it is a mistake — I didn’t see it all, owing to not having time to reflect! I agreed, thinking that at least I should get reconciled to father by the step. But perhaps he would as soon have me not married at all as married and parted. I must ha’ been enchanted — bewitched — when I gave my consent to this! I only did it to please that dear good dying nobleman — though why he should have wished it so much I can’t tell!’

‘Nor I neither,’ said Jim. ‘Yes, we’ve been fooled into it, Margery,’ he said, with extraordinary gravity. ‘He’s had his way wi’ us, and now we’ve got to suffer for it. Being a gentleman of patronage, and having bought several loads of lime o’ me, and having given me all that splendid furniture, I could hardly refuse —’

‘What, did he give you that?’

‘Ay sure — to help me win ye.’

Margery covered her face with her hands; whereupon Jim stood up from the gate and looked critically at her. ‘’Tis a footy plot between you two men to — snare me!’ she exclaimed. ‘Why should you have done it — why should he have done it — when I’ve not deserved to be treated so. He bought the furniture — did he! O, I’ve been taken in — I’ve been wronged!’ The grief and vexation of finding that long ago, when fondly believing the Baron to have lover-like feelings himself for her, he was still conspiring to favour Jim’s suit, was more than she could endure.

Jim with distant courtesy waited, nibbling a straw, till her paroxysm was over. ‘One word, Miss Tuck — Mrs. — Margery,’ he then recommenced gravely. ‘You’ll find me man enough to respect your wish, and to leave you to yourself — for ever and ever, if that’s all. But I’ve just one word of advice to render ‘ee. That is, that before you go to Silverthorn Dairy yourself you let me drive ahead and call on your father. He’s friends with me, and he’s not friends with you. I can break the news, a little at a time, and I think I can gain his good will for you now, even though the wedding be no natural wedding at all. At any count, I can hear what he’s got to say about ‘ee, and come back here and tell ‘ee.’

She nodded a cool assent to this, and he left her strolling about the garden in the sunlight while he went on to reconnoitre as agreed. It must not be supposed that Jim’s dutiful echoes of Margery’s regret at her precipitate marriage were all gospel; and there is no doubt that his private intention, after telling the dairy-farmer what had happened, was to ask his temporary assent to her caprice, till, in the course of time, she should be reasoned out of her whims and induced to settle down with Jim in a natural manner. He had, it is true, been somewhat nettled by her firm objection to him, and her keen sorrow for what she had done to please another; but he hoped for the best.

But, alas for the astute Jim’s calculations! He drove on to the dairy, whose white walls now gleamed in the morning sun; made fast the horse to a ring in the wall, and entered the barton. Before knocking, he perceived the dairyman walking across from a gate in the other direction, as if he had just come in. Jim went over to him. Since the unfortunate incident on the morning of the intended wedding they had merely been on nodding terms, from a sense of awkwardness in their relations.

‘What — is that thee?’ said Dairyman Tucker, in a voice which unmistakably startled Jim by its abrupt fierceness. ‘A pretty fellow thou be’st!’

It was a bad beginning for the young man’s life as a son-in-law, and augured ill for the delicate consultation he desired.

‘What’s the matter?’ said Jim.

‘Matter! I wish some folks would burn their lime without burning other folks’ property along wi’ it. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You call yourself a man, Jim Hayward, and an honest lime-burner, and a respectable, market-keeping Christen, and yet at six o’clock this morning, instead o’ being where you ought to ha’ been — at your work, there was neither vell or mark o’ thee to be seen!’

‘Faith, I don’t know what you are raving at,’ said Jim.

‘Why — the sparks from thy couch-heap blew over upon my hay-rick, and the rick’s burnt to ashes; and all to come out o’ my well-squeezed pocket. I’ll tell thee what it is, young man. There’s no business in thee. I’ve known Silverthorn folk, quick and dead, for the last couple-o’-score year, and I’ve never knew one so three-cunning for harm as thee, my gentleman lime-burner; and I reckon it one o’ the luckiest days o’ my life when I ‘scaped having thee in my family. That maid of mine was right; I was wrong. She seed thee to be a drawlacheting rogue, and ’twas her wisdom to go off that morning and get rid o’ thee. I commend her for’t, and I’m going to fetch her home to-morrow.’

‘You needn’t take the trouble. She’s coming home-along to-night of her own accord. I have seen her this morning, and she told me so.’

‘So much the better. I’ll welcome her warm. Nation! I’d sooner see her married to the parish fool than thee. Not you — you don’t care for my hay. Tarrying about where you shouldn’t be, in bed, no doubt; that’s what you was a-doing. Now, don’t you darken my doors again, and the sooner you be off my bit o’ ground the better I shall be pleased.’

Jim looked, as he felt, stultified. If the rick had been really destroyed, a little blame certainly attached to him, but he could not understand how it had happened. However, blame or none, it was clear he could not, with any self-respect, declare himself to be this peppery old gaffer’s son-in-law in the face of such an attack as this.

For months — almost years — the one transaction that had seemed necessary to compose these two families satisfactorily was Jim’s union with Margery. No sooner had it been completed than it appeared on all sides as the gravest mishap for both. Stating coldly that he would discover how much of the accident was to be attributed to his negligence, and pay the damage, he went out of the barton, and returned the way he had come.

Margery had been keeping a look-out for him, particularly wishing him not to enter the house, lest others should see the seriousness of their interview; and as soon as she heard wheels she went to the gate, which was out of view.

‘Surely father has been speaking roughly to you!’ she said, on seeing his face.

‘Not the least doubt that he have,’ said Jim.

‘But is he still angry with me?’

‘Not in the least. He’s waiting to welcome ‘ee.’

‘Ah! because I’ve married you.’

‘Because he thinks you have not married me! He’s jawed me up hill and down. He hates me; and for your sake I have not explained a word.’

Margery looked towards home with a sad, severe gaze. ‘Mr. Hayward,’ she said, ‘we have made a great mistake, and we are in a strange position.’

‘True, but I’ll tell you what, mistress — I won’t stand —’ He stopped suddenly. ‘Well, well; I’ve promised!’ he quietly added.

‘We must suffer for our mistake,’ she went on. ‘The way to suffer least is to keep our own counsel on what happened last evening, and not to meet. I must now return to my father.’

He inclined his head in indifferent assent, and she went indoors, leaving him there.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:22