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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy


Chapter 3. FOUR TO FIVE P.M.

The cottages along Carriford village street were not so close but that on one side or other of the road was always a hedge of hawthorn or privet, over or through which could be seen gardens or orchards rich with produce. It was about the middle of the early apple- harvest, and the laden trees were shaken at intervals by the gatherers; the soft pattering of the falling crop upon the grassy ground being diversified by the loud rattle of vagrant ones upon a rail, hencoop, basket, or lean-to roof, or upon the rounded and stooping backs of the collectors--mostly children, who would have cried bitterly at receiving such a smart blow from any other quarter, but smilingly assumed it to be but fun in apples.

The Three Tranters Inn, a many-gabled, mediaeval building, constructed almost entirely of timber, plaster, and thatch, stood close to the line of the roadside, almost opposite the churchyard, and was connected with a row of cottages on the left by thatched outbuildings. It was an uncommonly characteristic and handsome specimen of the genuine roadside inn of bygone times; and standing on one of the great highways in this part of England, had in its time been the scene of as much of what is now looked upon as the romantic and genial experience of stage-coach travelling as any halting-place in the country. The railway had absorbed the whole stream of traffic which formerly flowed through the village and along by the ancient door of the inn, reducing the empty-handed landlord, who used only to farm a few fields at the back of the house, to the necessity of eking out his attenuated income by increasing the extent of his agricultural business if he would still maintain his social standing. Next to the general stillness pervading the spot, the long line of outbuildings adjoining the house was the most striking and saddening witness to the passed-away fortunes of the Three Tranters Inn. It was the bulk of the original stabling, and where once the hoofs of two-score horses had daily rattled over the stony yard, to and from the stalls within, thick grass now grew, whilst the line of roofs--once so straight--over the decayed stalls, had sunk into vast hollows till they seemed like the cheeks of toothless age.

On a green plot at the other end of the building grew two or three large, wide-spreading elm-trees, from which the sign was suspended-- representing the three men called tranters (irregular carriers), standing side by side, and exactly alike to a hair's-breadth, the grain of the wood and joints of the boards being visible through the thin paint depicting their forms, which were still further disfigured by red stains running downwards from the rusty nails above.

Under the trees now stood a cider-mill and press, and upon the spot sheltered by the boughs were gathered Mr. Springrove himself, his men, the parish clerk, two or three other men, grinders and supernumeraries, a woman with an infant in her arms, a flock of pigeons, and some little boys with straws in their mouths, endeavouring, whenever the men's backs were turned, to get a sip of the sweet juice issuing from the vat.

Edward Springrove the elder, the landlord, now more particularly a farmer, and for two months in the year a cider-maker, was an employer of labour of the old school, who worked himself among his men. He was now engaged in packing the pomace into horsehair bags with a rammer, and Gad Weedy, his man, was occupied in shovelling up more from a tub at his side. The shovel shone like silver from the action of the juice, and ever and anon, in its motion to and fro, caught the rays of the declining sun and reflected them in bristling stars of light.

Mr. Springrove had been too young a man when the pristine days of the Three Tranters had departed for ever to have much of the host left in him now. He was a poet with a rough skin: one whose sturdiness was more the result of external circumstances than of intrinsic nature. Too kindly constituted to be very provident, he was yet not imprudent. He had a quiet humorousness of disposition, not out of keeping with a frequent melancholy, the general expression of his countenance being one of abstraction. Like Walt Whitman he felt as his years increased--

'I foresee too much; it means more than I thought.'

On the present occasion he wore gaiters and a leathern apron, and worked with his shirt-sleeves rolled up beyond his elbows, disclosing solid and fleshy rather than muscular arms. They were stained by the cider, and two or three brown apple-pips from the pomace he was handling were to be seen sticking on them here and there.

The other prominent figure was that of Richard Crickett, the parish clerk, a kind of Bowdlerized rake, who ate only as much as a woman, and had the rheumatism in his left hand. The remainder of the group, brown-faced peasants, wore smock-frocks embroidered on the shoulders with hearts and diamonds, and were girt round their middle with a strap, another being worn round the right wrist.

'And have you seen the steward, Mr. Springrove?' said the clerk.

'Just a glimpse of him; but 'twas just enough to show me that he's not here for long.'

'Why mid that be?'

'He'll never stand the vagaries of the female figure holden the reins--not he.'

'She d' pay en well,' said a grinder; 'and money's money.'

'Ah--'tis: very much so,' the clerk replied.

'Yes, yes, naibour Crickett,' said Springrove, 'but she'll vlee in a passion--all the fat will be in the fire--and there's an end o't. . . . Yes, she is a one,' continued the farmer, resting, raising his eyes, and reading the features of a distant apple.

'She is,' said Gad, resting too (it is wonderful how prompt a journeyman is in following his master's initiative to rest) and reflectively regarding the ground in front of him.

'True: a one is she,' the clerk chimed in, shaking his head ominously.

'She has such a temper,' said the farmer, 'and is so wilful too. You may as well try to stop a footpath as stop her when she has taken anything into her head. I'd as soon grind little green crabs all day as live wi' her.'

''Tis a temper she hev, 'tis,' the clerk replied, 'though I be a servant of the Church that say it. But she isn't goen to flee in a passion this time.'

The audience waited for the continuation of the speech, as if they knew from experience the exact distance off it lay in the future.

The clerk swallowed nothing as if it were a great deal, and then went on, 'There's some'at between 'em: mark my words, naibours-- there's some'at between 'em.'

'D'ye mean it?'

'I d' know it. He came last Saturday, didn't he?'

''A did, truly,' said Gad Weedy, at the same time taking an apple from the hopper of the mill, eating a piece, and flinging back the remainder to be ground up for cider.

'He went to church a-Sunday,' said the clerk again.

''A did.'

'And she kept her eye upon en all the service, her face flickeren between red and white, but never stoppen at either.'

Mr. Springrove nodded, and went to the press.

'Well,' said the clerk, 'you don't call her the kind o' woman to make mistakes in just trotten through the weekly service o' God? Why, as a rule she's as right as I be myself.'

Mr. Springrove nodded again, and gave a twist to the screw of the press, followed in the movement by Gad at the other side; the two grinders expressing by looks of the greatest concern that, if Miss Aldclyffe were as right at church as the clerk, she must be right indeed.

'Yes, as right in the service o' God as I be myself,' repeated the clerk. 'But last Sunday, when we were in the tenth commandment, says she, "Incline our hearts to keep this law," says she, when 'twas "Laws in our hearts, we beseech Thee," all the church through. Her eye was upon HIM--she was quite lost--"Hearts to keep this law," says she; she was no more than a mere shadder at that tenth time--a mere shadder. You mi't ha' mouthed across to her "Laws in our hearts we beseech Thee," fifty times over--she'd never ha' noticed ye. She's in love wi' the man, that's what she is.'

'Then she's a bigger stunpoll than I took her for,' said Mr. Springrove. 'Why, she's old enough to be his mother.'

'The row'll be between her and that young Curlywig, you'll see. She won't run the risk of that pretty face be-en near.'

'Clerk Crickett, I d' fancy you d' know everything about everybody,' said Gad.

'Well so's,' said the clerk modestly. 'I do know a little. It comes to me.'

'And I d' know where from.'


'That wife o' thine. She's an entertainen woman, not to speak disrespectful.'

'She is: and a winnen one. Look at the husbands she've had--God bless her!'

'I wonder you could stand third in that list, Clerk Crickett,' said Mr. Springrove.

'Well, 't has been a power o' marvel to myself oftentimes. Yes, matrimony do begin wi' "Dearly beloved," and ends wi' "Amazement," as the prayer-book says. But what could I do, naibour Springrove? 'Twas ordained to be. Well do I call to mind what your poor lady said to me when I had just married. "Ah, Mr. Crickett," says she, "your wife will soon settle you as she did her other two: here's a glass o' rum, for I shan't see your poor face this time next year." I swallered the rum, called again next year, and said, "Mrs. Springrove, you gave me a glass o' rum last year because I was going to die--here I be alive still, you see." "Well said, clerk! Here's two glasses for you now, then," says she. "Thank you, mem," I said, and swallered the rum. Well, dang my old sides, next year I thought I'd call again and get three. And call I did. But she wouldn't give me a drop o' the commonest. "No, clerk," says she, "you be too tough for a woman's pity.". . . Ah, poor soul, 'twas true enough! Here be I, that was expected to die, alive and hard as a nail, you see, and there's she moulderen in her grave.'

'I used to think 'twas your wife's fate not to have a liven husband when I zid 'em die off so,' said Gad.

'Fate? Bless thy simplicity, so 'twas her fate; but she struggled to have one, and would, and did. Fate's nothen beside a woman's schemen!'

'I suppose, then, that Fate is a He, like us, and the Lord, and the rest o' 'em up above there,' said Gad, lifting his eyes to the sky.

'Hullo! Here's the young woman comen that we were a-talken about by-now,' said a grinder, suddenly interrupting. 'She's comen up here, as I be alive!'

The two grinders stood and regarded Cytherea as if she had been a ship tacking into a harbour, nearly stopping the mill in their new interest.

'Stylish accoutrements about the head and shoulders, to my thinken,' said the clerk. 'Sheenen curls, and plenty o' em.'

'If there's one kind of pride more excusable than another in a young woman, 'tis being proud of her hair,' said Mr. Springrove.

'Dear man!--the pride there is only a small piece o' the whole. I warrant now, though she can show such a figure, she ha'n't a stick o' furniture to call her own.'

'Come, Clerk Crickett, let the maid be a maid while she is a maid,' said Farmer Springrove chivalrously.

'O,' replied the servant of the Church; 'I've nothen to say against it--O no:

'"The chimney-sweeper's daughter Sue As I have heard declare, O, Although she's neither sock nor shoe Will curl and deck her hair, O."'

Cytherea was rather disconcerted at finding that the gradual cessation of the chopping of the mill was on her account, and still more when she saw all the cider-makers' eyes fixed upon her except Mr. Springrove's, whose natural delicacy restrained him. She neared the plot of grass, but instead of advancing further, hesitated on its border.

Mr. Springrove perceived her embarrassment, which was relieved when she saw his old-established figure coming across to her, wiping his hands in his apron.

'I know your errand, missie,' he said, 'and am glad to see you, and attend to it. I'll step indoors.'

'If you are busy I am in no hurry for a minute or two,' said Cytherea.

'Then if so be you really wouldn't mind, we'll wring down this last filling to let it drain all night?'

'Not at all. I like to see you.'

'We are only just grinding down the early pickthongs and griffins,' continued the farmer, in a half-apologetic tone for detaining by his cider-making any well-dressed woman. 'They rot as black as a chimney-crook if we keep 'em till the regulars turn in.' As he spoke he went back to the press, Cytherea keeping at his elbow. 'I'm later than I should have been by rights,' he continued, taking up a lever for propelling the screw, and beckoning to the men to come forward. 'The truth is, my son Edward had promised to come to- day, and I made preparations; but instead of him comes a letter: "London, September the eighteenth, Dear Father," says he, and went on to tell me he couldn't. It threw me out a bit.'

'Of course,' said Cytherea.

'He's got a place 'a b'lieve?' said the clerk, drawing near.

'No, poor mortal fellow, no. He tried for this one here, you know, but couldn't manage to get it. I don't know the rights o' the matter, but willy-nilly they wouldn't have him for steward. Now mates, form in line.'

Springrove, the clerk, the grinders, and Gad, all ranged themselves behind the lever of the screw, and walked round like soldiers wheeling.

'The man that the old quean hev got is a man you can hardly get upon your tongue to gainsay, by the look o' en,' rejoined Clerk Crickett.

'One o' them people that can contrive to be thought no worse o' for stealen a horse than another man for looken over hedge at en,' said a grinder.

'Well, he's all there as steward, and is quite the gentleman--no doubt about that.'

'So would my Ted ha' been, for the matter o' that,' the farmer said.

'That's true: 'a would, sir.'

'I said, I'll give Ted a good education if it do cost me my eyes, and I would have done it.'

'Ay, that you would so,' said the chorus of assistants solemnly.

'But he took to books and drawing naturally, and cost very little; and as a wind-up the womenfolk hatched up a match between him and his cousin.'

'When's the wedden to be, Mr. Springrove?'

'Uncertain--but soon, I suppose. Edward, you see, can do anything pretty nearly, and yet can't get a straightforward living. I wish sometimes I had kept him here, and let professions go. But he was such a one for the pencil.'

He dropped the lever in the hedge, and turned to his visitor.

'Now then, missie, if you'll come indoors, please.'

Gad Weedy looked with a placid criticism at Cytherea as she withdrew with the farmer.

'I could tell by the tongue o' her that she didn't take her degrees in our county,' he said in an undertone.

'The railways have left you lonely here,' she observed, when they were indoors.

Save the withered old flies, which were quite tame from the solitude, not a being was in the house. Nobody seemed to have entered it since the last passenger had been called out to mount the last stage-coach that had run by.

'Yes, the Inn and I seem almost a pair of fossils,' the farmer replied, looking at the room and then at himself.

'O, Mr. Springrove,' said Cytherea, suddenly recollecting herself; 'I am much obliged to you for recommending me to Miss Aldclyffe.' She began to warm towards the old man; there was in him a gentleness of disposition which reminded her of her own father.

'Recommending? Not at all, miss. Ted--that's my son--Ted said a fellow-draughtsman of his had a sister who wanted to be doing something in the world, and I mentioned it to the housekeeper, that's all. Ay, I miss my son very much.'

She kept her back to the window that he might not see her rising colour.

'Yes,' he continued, 'sometimes I can't help feeling uneasy about him. You know, he seems not made for a town life exactly: he gets very queer over it sometimes, I think. Perhaps he'll be better when he's married to Adelaide.'

A half-impatient feeling arose in her, like that which possesses a sick person when he hears a recently-struck hour struck again by a slow clock. She had lived further on.

'Everything depends upon whether he loves her,' she said tremulously.

'He used to--he doesn't show it so much now; but that's because he's older. You see, it was several years ago they first walked together as young man and young woman. She's altered too from what she was when he first courted her.'

'How, sir?'

'O, she's more sensible by half. When he used to write to her she'd creep up the lane and look back over her shoulder, and slide out the letter, and read a word and stand in thought looking at the hills and seeing none. Then the cuckoo would cry--away the letter would slip, and she'd start wi' fright at the mere bird, and have a red skin before the quickest man among ye could say, "Blood rush up."'

He came forward with the money and dropped it into her hand. His thoughts were still with Edward, and he absently took her little fingers in his as he said, earnestly and ingenuously--

''Tis so seldom I get a gentlewoman to speak to that I can't help speaking to you, Miss Graye, on my fears for Edward; I sometimes am afraid that he'll never get on--that he'll die poor and despised under the worst mental conditions, a keen sense of having been passed in the race by men whose brains are nothing to his own, all through his seeing too far into things--being discontented with make-shifts--thinking o' perfection in things, and then sickened that there's no such thing as perfection. I shan't be sorry to see him marry, since it may settle him down and do him good. . . . Ay, we'll hope for the best.'

He let go her hand and accompanied her to the door saying, 'If you should care to walk this way and talk to an old man once now and then, it will be a great delight to him, Miss Graye. Good-evening to ye. . . . Ah look! a thunderstorm is brewing--be quick home. Or shall I step up with you?'

'No, thank you, Mr. Springrove. Good evening,' she said in a low voice, and hurried away. One thought still possessed her; Edward had trifled with her love.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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