Fifteen months have passed, and we are brought on to Midsummer Night, 1867.
The picture presented is the interior of the old belfry of Carriford Church, at ten o’clock in the evening.
Six Carriford men and one stranger are gathered there, beneath the light of a flaring candle stuck on a piece of wood against the wall. The six Carriford men are the well-known ringers of the fine-toned old bells in the key of F, which have been music to the ears of Carriford parish and the outlying districts for the last four hundred years. The stranger is an assistant, who has appeared from nobody knows where.
The six natives — in their shirt-sleeves, and without hats — pull and catch frantically at the dancing bellropes, the locks of their hair waving in the breeze created by their quick motions; the stranger, who has the treble bell, does likewise, but in his right mind and coat. Their ever-changing shadows mingle on the wall in an endless variety of kaleidoscopic forms, and the eyes of all the seven are religiously fixed on a diagram like a large addition sum, which is chalked on the floor.
Vividly contrasting with the yellow light of the candle upon the four unplastered walls of the tower, and upon the faces and clothes of the men, is the scene discernible through the screen beneath the tower archway. At the extremity of the long mysterious avenue of the nave and chancel can be seen shafts of moonlight streaming in at the east window of the church — blue, phosphoric, and ghostly.
A thorough renovation of the bell-ringing machinery and accessories had taken place in anticipation of an interesting event. New ropes had been provided; every bell had been carefully shifted from its carriage, and the pivots lubricated. Bright red ‘sallies’ of woollen texture — soft to the hands and easily caught — glowed on the ropes in place of the old ragged knots, all of which newness in small details only rendered more evident the irrepressible aspect of age in the mass surrounding them.
The triple-bob-major was ended, and the ringers wiped their faces and rolled down their shirt-sleeves, previously to tucking away the ropes and leaving the place for the night.
‘Piph — h — h — h! A good forty minutes,’ said a man with a streaming face, and blowing out his breath — one of the pair who had taken the tenor bell.
‘Our friend here pulled proper well — that ‘a did — seeing he’s but a stranger,’ said Clerk Crickett, who had just resigned the second rope, and addressing the man in the black coat.
”A did,’ said the rest.
‘I enjoyed it much,’ said the man modestly.
‘What we should ha’ done without you words can’t tell. The man that d’belong by rights to that there bell is ill o’ two gallons o’ wold cider.’
‘And now so’s,’ remarked the fifth ringer, as pertaining to the last allusion, ‘we’ll finish this drop o’ metheglin and cider, and every man home — along straight as a line.’
‘Wi’ all my heart,’ Clerk Crickett replied. ‘And the Lord send if I ha’n’t done my duty by Master Teddy Springrove — that I have so.’
‘And the rest o’ us,’ they said, as the cup was handed round.
‘Ay, ay — in ringen — but I was spaken in a spiritual sense o’ this mornen’s business o’ mine up by the chancel rails there. ’Twas very convenient to lug her here and marry her instead o’ doen it at that twopenny-halfpenny town o’ Budm’th. Very convenient.’
‘Very. There was a little fee for Master Crickett.’
‘Ah — well. Money’s money — very much so — very — I always have said it. But ’twas a pretty sight for the nation. He coloured up like any maid, that ‘a did.’
‘Well enough ‘a mid colour up. ’Tis no small matter for a man to play wi’ fire.’
‘Whatever it may be to a woman,’ said the clerk absently.
‘Thou’rt thinken o’ thy wife, clerk,’ said Gad Weedy. ‘She’ll play wi’it again when thou’st got mildewed.’
‘Well — let her, God bless her; for I’m but a poor third man, I. The Lord have mercy upon the fourth! . . . Ay, Teddy’s got his own at last. What little white ears that maid hev, to be sure! choose your wife as you choose your pig — a small ear and a small tale — that was always my joke when I was a merry feller, ah — years agone now! But Teddy’s got her. Poor chap, he was getten as thin as a hermit wi’ grief — so was she.’
‘Maybe she’ll pick up now.’
‘True —’tis nater’s law, which no man shall gainsay. Ah, well do I bear in mind what I said to Pa’son Raunham, about thy mother’s family o’ seven, Gad, the very first week of his comen here, when I was just in my prime. “And how many daughters has that poor Weedy got, clerk?” he says. “Six, sir,” says I, “and every one of ’em has a brother!” “Poor woman,” says he, “a dozen children! — give her this half-sovereign from me, clerk.” ‘A laughed a good five minutes afterwards, when he found out my merry nater —‘a did. But there, ’tis over wi’ me now. Enteren the Church is the ruin of a man’s wit for wit’s nothen without a faint shadder o’ sin.’
‘If so be Teddy and the lady had been kept apart for life, they’d both ha’ died,’ said Gad emphatically.
‘But now instead o’ death there’ll be increase o’ life,’ answered the clerk.
‘It all went proper well,’ said the fifth bell-ringer. ‘They didn’t flee off to Babylonish places — not they.’ He struck up an attitude —‘Here’s Master Springrove standen so: here’s the married woman standen likewise; here they d’walk across to Knapwater House; and there they d’bide in the chimley corner, hard and fast.’
‘Yes, ’twas a pretty wedden, and well attended,’ added the clerk. ‘Here was my lady herself — red as scarlet: here was Master Springrove, looken as if he half wished he’d never a-come — ah, poor souls! — the men always do! The women do stand it best — the maid was in her glory. Though she was so shy the glory shone plain through that shy skin. Ah, it did so’s.’
‘Ay,’ said Gad, ‘and there was Tim Tankins and his five journeymen carpenters, standen on tiptoe and peepen in at the chancel winders. There was Dairyman Dodman waiten in his new spring-cart to see ’em come out — whip in hand — that ‘a was. Then up comes two master tailors. Then there was Christopher Runt wi’ his pickaxe and shovel. There was wimmen-folk and there was men-folk traypsen up and down church’ard till they wore a path wi’ traypsen so — letten the squallen children slip down through their arms and nearly skinnen o’ em. And these were all over and above the gentry and Sunday-clothes folk inside. Well, I seed Mr. Graye at last dressed up quite the dand. “Well, Mr. Graye,” says I from the top o’ church’ard wall, “how’s yerself?” Mr. Graye never spoke — he’d prided away his hearen. Seize the man, I didn’ want en to spak. Teddy hears it, and turns round: “All right, Gad!” says he, and laughed like a boy. There’s more in Teddy.’
‘Well,’ said Clerk Crickett, turning to the man in black, ‘now you’ve been among us so long, and d’know us so well, won’t ye tell us what ye’ve come here for, and what your trade is?’
‘I am no trade,’ said the thin man, smiling, ‘and I came to see the wickedness of the land.’
‘I said thou wast one o’ the devil’s brood wi’ thy black clothes,’ replied a sturdy ringer, who had not spoken before.
‘No, the truth is,’ said the thin man, retracting at this horrible translation, ‘I came for a walk because it is a fine evening.’
‘Now let’s be off, neighbours,’ the clerk interrupted.
The candle was inverted in the socket, and the whole party stepped out into the churchyard. The moon was shining within a day or two of full, and just overlooked the three or four vast yews that stood on the south-east side of the church, and rose in unvaried and flat darkness against the illuminated atmosphere behind them.
‘Good-night,’ the clerk said to his comrades, when the door was locked. ‘My nearest way is through the park.’
‘I suppose mine is too?’ said the stranger. ‘I am going to the railway-station.’
‘Of course — come on.’
The two men went over a stile to the west, the remainder of the party going into the road on the opposite side.
‘And so the romance has ended well,’ the clerk’s companion remarked, as they brushed along through the grass. ‘But what is the truth of the story about the property?’
‘Now look here, neighbour,’ said Clerk Crickett, ‘if so be you’ll tell me what your line o’ life is, and your purpose in comen here today, I’ll tell you the truth about the wedden particulars.’
‘Very well — I will when you have done,’ said the other man.
”Tis a bargain; and this is the right o’ the story. When Miss Aldclyffe’s will was opened, it was found to have been drawn up on the very day that Manston (her love-child) married Miss Cytherea Graye. And this is what that deep woman did. Deep? she was as deep as the North Star. She bequeathed all her property, real and personal, to “THE WIFE OF AENEAS MANSTON” (with one exception): failen her life to her husband: failen his life to the heirs of his head — body I would say: failen them to her absolutely and her heirs for ever: failen these to Pa’son Raunham, and so on to the end o’ the human race. Now do you see the depth of her scheme? Why, although upon the surface it appeared her whole property was for Miss Cytherea, by the word “wife” being used, and not Cytherea’s name, whoever was the wife o’ Manston would come in for’t. Wasn’t that rale depth? It was done, of course, that her son AEneas, under any circumstances, should be master o’ the property, without folk knowen it was her son or suspecting anything, as they would if it had been left to en straightway.’
‘A clever arrangement! And what was the exception?’
‘The payment of a legacy to her relative, Pa’son Raunham.’
‘And Miss Cytherea was now Manston’s widow and only relative, and inherited all absolutely.’
‘True, she did. “Well,” says she, “I shan’t have it” (she didn’t like the notion o’ getten anything through Manston, naturally enough, pretty dear). She waived her right in favour o’ Mr. Raunham. Now, if there’s a man in the world that d’care nothen about land — I don’t say there is, but if there is —’tis our pa’son. He’s like a snail. He’s a-growed so to the shape o’ that there rectory that ‘a wouldn’ think o’ leaven it even in name. “’Tis yours, Miss Graye,” says he. “No, ’tis yours,” says she. “’Tis’n’ mine,” says he. The Crown had cast his eyes upon the case, thinken o’ forfeiture by felony — but ’twas no such thing, and ‘a gied it up, too. Did you ever hear such a tale? — three people, a man and a woman, and a Crown — neither o’ em in a madhouse — flingen an estate backwards and forwards like an apple or nut? Well, it ended in this way. Mr. Raunham took it: young Springrove was had as agent and steward, and put to live in Knapwater House, close here at hand — just as if ’twas his own. He does just what he’d like — Mr. Raunham never interferen — and hither today he’s brought his new wife, Cytherea. And a settlement ha’ been drawn up this very day, whereby their children, heirs, and cetrer, be to inherit after Mr. Raunham’s death. Good fortune came at last. Her brother, too, is doen well. He came in first man in some architectural competition, and is about to move to London. Here’s the house, look. Stap out from these bushes, and you’ll get a clear sight o’t.’
They emerged from the shrubbery, breaking off towards the lake, and down the south slope. When they arrived exactly opposite the centre of the mansion, they halted.
It was a magnificent picture of the English country-house. The whole of the severe regular front, with its columns and cornices, was built of a white smoothly-faced freestone, which appeared in the rays of the moon as pure as Pentelic marble. The sole objects in the scene rivalling the fairness of the facade were a dozen swans floating upon the lake.
At this moment the central door at the top of the steps was opened, and two figures advanced into the light. Two contrasting figures were they. A young lithe woman in an airy fairy dress — Cytherea Springrove: a young man in black stereotype raiment — Edward, her husband.
They stood at the top of the steps together, looking at the moon, the water, and the general loveliness of the prospect.
‘That’s the married man and wife — there, I’ve illustrated my story by rale liven specimens,’ the clerk whispered.
‘To be sure, how close together they do stand! You couldn’ slip a penny-piece between ’em-that you couldn’! Beautiful to see it, isn’t it — beautiful! . . . But this is a private path, and we won’t let ’em see us, as all the ringers be goen there to a supper and dance tomorrow night.’
The speaker and his companion softly moved on, passed through the wicket, and into the coach-road. Arrived at the clerk’s house at the further boundary of the park, they paused to part.
‘Now for your half o’ the bargain,’ said Clerk Crickett. ‘What’s your line o’ life, and what d’ye come here for?’
‘I’m the reporter to the Casterbridge Chronicle, and I come to pick up the news. Good-night.’
Meanwhile Edward and Cytherea, after lingering on the steps for several minutes, slowly descended the slope to the lake. The skiff was lying alongside.
‘O, Edward,’ said Cytherea, ‘you must do something that has just come into my head!’
‘Well, dearest — I know.’
‘Yes — give me one half-minute’s row on the lake here now, just as you did on Budmouth Bay three years ago.’
He handed her into the boat, and almost noiselessly pulled off from shore. When they were half-way between the two margins of the lake, he paused and looked at her.
‘Ah, darling, I remember exactly how I kissed you that first time,’ said Springrove. ‘You were there as you are now. I unshipped the sculls in this way. Then I turned round and sat beside you — in this way. Then I put my hand on the other side of your little neck —’
‘I think it was just on my cheek, in this way.’
‘Ah, so it was. Then you moved that soft red mouth round to mine —’
‘But, dearest — you pressed it round if you remember; and of course I couldn’t then help letting it come to your mouth without being unkind to you, and I wouldn’t be that.’
‘And then I put my cheek against that cheek, and turned my two lips round upon those two lips, and kissed them — so.’
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University of Adelaide
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55