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Chapter 2


He found that it had its origin in a building standing alone
in a field; and though the evening was not yet dark without,
lights shone from the windows. In a few moments Somerset
stood before the edifice. Being just then en rapport with
ecclesiasticism by reason of his recent occupation, he could
not help murmuring, 'Shade of Pugin, what a monstrosity!'

Perhaps this exclamation (rather out of date since the
discovery that Pugin himself often nodded amazingly) would not
have been indulged in by Somerset but for his new
architectural resolves, which caused professional opinions to
advance themselves officiously to his lips whenever occasion
offered. The building was, in short, a recently-erected
chapel of red brick, with pseudo-classic ornamentation, and
the white regular joints of mortar could be seen streaking its
surface in geometrical oppressiveness from top to bottom. The
roof was of blue slate, clean as a table, and unbroken from
gable to gable; the windows were glazed with sheets of plate
glass, a temporary iron stovepipe passing out near one of
these, and running up to the height of the ridge, where it was
finished by a covering like a parachute. Walking round to the
end, he perceived an oblong white stone let into the wall just
above the plinth, on which was inscribed in deep letters:--


Erected 187-,

AT THE SOLE EXPENSE OF

JOHN POWER, ESQ., M.P.


The 'New Sabbath' still proceeded line by line, with all the
emotional swells and cadences that had of old characterized
the tune: and the body of vocal harmony that it evoked
implied a large congregation within, to whom it was plainly as
familiar as it had been to church-goers of a past generation.
With a whimsical sense of regret at the secession of his once
favourite air Somerset moved away, and would have quite
withdrawn from the field had he not at that moment observed
two young men with pitchers of water coming up from a stream
hard by, and hastening with their burdens into the chapel
vestry by a side door. Almost as soon as they had entered
they emerged again with empty pitchers, and proceeded to the
stream to fill them as before, an operation which they
repeated several times. Somerset went forward to the stream,
and waited till the young men came out again.

'You are carrying in a great deal of water,' he said, as each
dipped his pitcher.

One of the young men modestly replied, 'Yes: we filled the
cistern this morning; but it leaks, and requires a few
pitcherfuls more.'

'Why do you do it?'

'There is to be a baptism, sir.'

Somerset was not sufficiently interested to develop a further
conversation, and observing them in silence till they had
again vanished into the building, he went on his way.
Reaching the brow of the hill he stopped and looked back. The
chapel was still in view, and the shades of night having
deepened, the lights shone from the windows yet more brightly
than before. A few steps further would hide them and the
edifice, and all that belonged to it from his sight, possibly
for ever. There was something in the thought which led him to
linger. The chapel had neither beauty, quaintness, nor
congeniality to recommend it: the dissimilitude between the
new utilitarianism of the place and the scenes of venerable
Gothic art which had occupied his daylight hours could not
well be exceeded. But Somerset, as has been said, was an
instrument of no narrow gamut: he had a key for other touches
than the purely aesthetic, even on such an excursion as this.
His mind was arrested by the intense and busy energy which
must needs belong to an assembly that required such a glare of
light to do its religion by; in the heaving of that tune there
was an earnestness which made him thoughtful, and the shine of
those windows he had characterized as ugly reminded him of the
shining of the good deed in a naughty world. The chapel and
its shabby plot of ground, from which the herbage was all
trodden away by busy feet, had a living human interest that
the numerous minsters and churches knee-deep in fresh green
grass, visited by him during the foregoing week, had often
lacked. Moreover, there was going to be a baptism: that
meant the immersion of a grown-up person; and he had been told
that Baptists were serious people and that the scene was most
impressive. What manner of man would it be who on an ordinary
plodding and bustling evening of the nineteenth century could
single himself out as one different from the rest of the
inhabitants, banish all shyness, and come forward to undergo
such a trying ceremony? Who was he that had pondered, gone
into solitudes, wrestled with himself, worked up his courage
and said, I will do this, though few else will, for I believe
it to be my duty?

Whether on account of these thoughts, or from the circumstance
that he had been alone amongst the tombs all day without
communion with his kind, he could not tell in after years
(when he had good reason to think of the subject); but so it
was that Somerset went back, and again stood under the chapel-
wall.

Instead of entering he passed round to where the stove-chimney
came through the bricks, and holding on to the iron stay he
put his toes on the plinth and looked in at the window. The
building was quite full of people belonging to that vast
majority of society who are denied the art of articulating
their higher emotions, and crave dumbly for a fugleman--
respectably dressed working people, whose faces and forms were
worn and contorted by years of dreary toil. On a platform at
the end of the chapel a haggard man of more than middle age,
with grey whiskers ascetically cut back from the fore part of
his face so far as to be almost banished from the countenance,
stood reading a chapter. Between the minister and the
congregation was an open space, and in the floor of this was
sunk a tank full of water, which just made its surface visible
above the blackness of its depths by reflecting the lights
overhead.

Somerset endeavoured to discover which one among the
assemblage was to be the subject of the ceremony. But nobody
appeared there who was at all out of the region of
commonplace. The people were all quiet and settled; yet he
could discern on their faces something more than attention,
though it was less than excitement: perhaps it was
expectation. And as if to bear out his surmise he heard at
that moment the noise of wheels behind him.

His gaze into the lighted chapel made what had been an evening
scene when he looked away from the landscape night itself on
looking back; but he could see enough to discover that a
brougham had driven up to the side-door used by the young
water-bearers, and that a lady in white-and-black half-
mourning was in the act of alighting, followed by what
appeared to be a waiting-woman carrying wraps. They entered
the vestry-room of the chapel, and the door was shut. The
service went on as before till at a certain moment the door
between vestry and chapel was opened, when a woman came out
clothed in an ample robe of flowing white, which descended to
her feet. Somerset was unfortunate in his position; he could
not see her face, but her gait suggested at once that she was
the lady who had arrived just before. She was rather tall
than otherwise, and the contour of her head and shoulders
denoted a girl in the heyday of youth and activity. His
imagination, stimulated by this beginning, set about filling
in the meagre outline with most attractive details.

She stood upon the brink of the pool, and the minister
descended the steps at its edge till the soles of his shoes
were moistened with the water. He turned to the young
candidate, but she did not follow him: instead of doing so
she remained rigid as a stone. He stretched out his hand, but
she still showed reluctance, till, with some embarrassment, he
went back, and spoke softly in her ear.

She approached the edge, looked into the water, and turned
away shaking her head. Somerset could for the first time see
her face. Though humanly imperfect, as is every face we see,
it was one which made him think that the best in woman-kind no
less than the best in psalm-tunes had gone over to the
Dissenters. He had certainly seen nobody so interesting in
his tour hitherto; she was about twenty or twenty-one--perhaps
twenty-three, for years have a way of stealing marches even
upon beauty's anointed. The total dissimilarity between the
expression of her lineaments and that of the countenances
around her was not a little surprising, and was productive of
hypotheses without measure as to how she came there. She was,
in fact, emphatically a modern type of maidenhood, and she
looked ultra-modern by reason of her environment: a
presumably sophisticated being among the simple ones--not
wickedly so, but one who knew life fairly well for her age.
Her hair, of good English brown, neither light nor dark, was
abundant--too abundant for convenience in tying, as it seemed;
and it threw off the lamp-light in a hazy lustre. And though
it could not be said of her features that this or that was
flawless, the nameless charm of them altogether was only
another instance of how beautiful a woman can be as a whole
without attaining in any one detail to the lines marked out as
absolutely correct. The spirit and the life were there: and
material shapes could be disregarded.

Whatever moral characteristics this might be the surface of,
enough was shown to assure Somerset that she had some
experience of things far removed from her present
circumscribed horizon, and could live, and was even at that
moment living, a clandestine, stealthy inner life which had
very little to do with her outward one. The repression of
nearly every external sign of that distress under which
Somerset knew, by a sudden intuitive sympathy, that she was
labouring, added strength to these convictions.

'And you refuse?' said the astonished minister, as she still
stood immovable on the brink of the pool. He persuasively
took her sleeve between his finger and thumb as if to draw
her; but she resented this by a quick movement of displeasure,
and he released her, seeing that he had gone too far.

'But, my dear lady,' he said, 'you promised! Consider your
profession, and that you stand in the eyes of the whole church
as an exemplar of your faith.'

'I cannot do it!'

'But your father's memory, miss; his last dying request!'

'I cannot help it,' she said, turning to get away.

'You came here with the intention to fulfil the Word?'

'But I was mistaken.'

'Then why did you come?'

She tacitly implied that to be a question she did not care to
answer. 'Please say no more to me,' she murmured, and
hastened to withdraw.

During this unexpected dialogue (which had reached Somerset's
ears through the open windows) that young man's feelings had
flown hither and thither between minister and lady in a most
capricious manner: it had seemed at one moment a rather
uncivil thing of her, charming as she was, to give the
minister and the water-bearers so much trouble for nothing;
the next, it seemed like reviving the ancient cruelties of the
ducking-stool to try to force a girl into that dark water if
she had not a mind to it. But the minister was not without
insight, and he had seen that it would be useless to say more.
The crestfallen old man had to turn round upon the
congregation and declare officially that the baptism was
postponed.

She passed through the door into the vestry. During the
exciting moments of her recusancy there had been a perceptible
flutter among the sensitive members of the congregation;
nervous Dissenters seeming to be at one with nervous
Episcopalians in this at least, that they heartily disliked a
scene during service. Calm was restored to their minds by the
minister starting a rather long hymn in minims and semibreves,
amid the singing of which he ascended the pulpit. His face
had a severe and even denunciatory look as he gave out his
text, and Somerset began to understand that this meant
mischief to the young person who had caused the hitch.

'In the third chapter of Revelation and the fifteenth and
following verses, you will find these words:--

'"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I
would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art
lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my
mouth. . . . Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with
goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art
wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."'

The sermon straightway began, and it was soon apparent that
the commentary was to be no less forcible than the text. It
was also apparent that the words were, virtually, not directed
forward in the line in which they were uttered, but through
the chink of the vestry-door, that had stood slightly ajar
since the exit of the young lady. The listeners appeared to
feel this no less than Somerset did, for their eyes, one and
all, became fixed upon that vestry door as if they would
almost push it open by the force of their gazing. The
preacher's heart was full and bitter; no book or note was
wanted by him; never was spontaneity more absolute than here.
It was no timid reproof of the ornamental kind, but a direct
denunciation, all the more vigorous perhaps from the
limitation of mind and language under which the speaker
laboured. Yet, fool that he had been made by the candidate,
there was nothing acrid in his attack. Genuine flashes of
rhetorical fire were occasionally struck by that plain and
simple man, who knew what straightforward conduct was, and who
did not know the illimitable caprice of a woman's mind.

At this moment there was not in the whole chapel a person
whose imagination was not centred on what was invisibly taking
place within the vestry. The thunder of the minister's
eloquence echoed, of course, through the weak sister's cavern
of retreat no less than round the public assembly. What she
was doing inside there--whether listening contritely, or
haughtily hastening to put on her things and get away from the
chapel and all it contained--was obviously the thought of each
member. What changes were tracing themselves upon that lovely
face: did it rise to phases of Raffaelesque resignation or
sink so low as to flush and frown? was Somerset's inquiry; and
a half-explanation occurred when, during the discourse, the
door which had been ajar was gently pushed to.

Looking on as a stranger it seemed to him more than probable
that this young woman's power of persistence in her unexpected
repugnance to the rite was strengthened by wealth and position
of some sort, and was not the unassisted gift of nature. The
manner of her arrival, and her dignified bearing before the
assembly, strengthened the belief. A woman who did not feel
something extraneous to her mental self to fall back upon
would be so far overawed by the people and the crisis as not
to retain sufficient resolution for a change of mind.

The sermon ended, the minister wiped his steaming face and
turned down his cuffs, and nods and sagacious glances went
round. Yet many, even of those who had presumably passed the
same ordeal with credit, exhibited gentler judgment than the
preacher's on a tergiversation of which they had probably
recognized some germ in their own bosoms when in the lady's
situation.

For Somerset there was but one scene: the imagined scene of
the girl herself as she sat alone in the vestry. The fervent
congregation rose to sing again, and then Somerset heard a
slight noise on his left hand which caused him to turn his
head. The brougham, which had retired into the field to wait,
was back again at the door: the subject of his rumination
came out from the chapel--not in her mystic robe of white, but
dressed in ordinary fashionable costume--followed as before by
the attendant with other articles of clothing on her arm,
including the white gown. Somerset fancied that the younger
woman was drying her eyes with her handkerchief, but there was
not much time to see: they quickly entered the carriage, and
it moved on. Then a cat suddenly mewed, and he saw a white
Persian standing forlorn where the carriage had been. The
door was opened, the cat taken in, and the carriage drove
away.

The stranger's girlish form stamped itself deeply on
Somerset's soul. He strolled on his way quite oblivious to
the fact that the moon had just risen, and that the landscape
was one for him to linger over, especially if there were any
Gothic architecture in the line of the lunar rays. The
inference was that though this girl must be of a serious turn
of mind, wilfulness was not foreign to her composition: and
it was probable that her daily doings evinced without much
abatement by religion the unbroken spirit and pride of life
natural to her age.

The little village inn at which Somerset intended to pass the
night lay a mile further on, and retracing his way up to the
stile he rambled along the lane, now beginning to be streaked
like a zebra with the shadows of some young trees that edged
the road. But his attention was attracted to the other side
of the way by a hum as of a night-bee, which arose from the
play of the breezes over a single wire of telegraph running
parallel with his track on tall poles that had appeared by the
road, he hardly knew when, from a branch route, probably
leading from some town in the neighbourhood to the village he
was approaching. He did not know the population of Sleeping-
Green, as the village of his search was called, but the
presence of this mark of civilization seemed to signify that
its inhabitants were not quite so far in the rear of their age
as might be imagined; a glance at the still ungrassed heap of
earth round the foot of each post was, however, sufficient to
show that it was at no very remote period that they had made
their advance.

Aided by this friendly wire Somerset had no difficulty in
keeping his course, till he reached a point in the ascent of a
hill at which the telegraph branched off from the road,
passing through an opening in the hedge, to strike across an
undulating down, while the road wound round to the left. For
a few moments Somerset doubted and stood still. The wire sang
on overhead with dying falls and melodious rises that invited
him to follow; while above the wire rode the stars in their
courses, the low nocturn of the former seeming to be the
voices of those stars,


'Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim.'

Recalling himself from these reflections Somerset decided to
follow the lead of the wire. It was not the first time during
his present tour that he had found his way at night by the
help of these musical threads which the post-office
authorities had erected all over the country for quite another
purpose than to guide belated travellers. Plunging with it
across the down he came to a hedgeless road that entered a
park or chase, which flourished in all its original wildness.
Tufts of rushes and brakes of fern rose from the hollows, and
the road was in places half overgrown with green, as if it had
not been tended for many years; so much so that, where shaded
by trees, he found some difficulty in keeping it. Though he
had noticed the remains of a deer-fence further back no deer
were visible, and it was scarcely possible that there should
be any in the existing state of things: but rabbits were
multitudinous, every hillock being dotted with their seated
figures till Somerset approached and sent them limping into
their burrows. The road next wound round a clump of underwood
beside which lay heaps of faggots for burning, and then there
appeared against the sky the walls and towers of a castle,
half ruin, half residence, standing on an eminence hard by.

Somerset stopped to examine it. The castle was not
exceptionally large, but it had all the characteristics of its
most important fellows. Irregular, dilapidated, and muffled
in creepers as a great portion of it was, some part--a
comparatively modern wing--was inhabited, for a light or two
steadily gleamed from some upper windows; in others a
reflection of the moon denoted that unbroken glass yet filled
their casements. Over all rose the keep, a square solid tower
apparently not much injured by wars or weather, and darkened
with ivy on one side, wherein wings could be heard flapping
uncertainly, as if they belonged to a bird unable to find a
proper perch. Hissing noises supervened, and then a hoot,
proclaiming that a brood of young owls were residing there in
the company of older ones. In spite of the habitable and more
modern wing, neglect and decay had set their mark upon the
outworks of the pile, unfitting them for a more positive light
than that of the present hour.

He walked up to a modern arch spanning the ditch--now dry and
green--over which the drawbridge once had swung. The large
door under the porter's archway was closed and locked. While
standing here the singing of the wire, which for the last few
minutes he had quite forgotten, again struck upon his ear, and
retreating to a convenient place he observed its final course:
from the poles amid the trees it leaped across the moat, over
the girdling wall, and thence by a tremendous stretch towards
the keep where, to judge by sound, it vanished through an
arrow-slit into the interior. This fossil of feudalism, then,
was the journey's-end of the wire, and not the village of
Sleeping-Green.

There was a certain unexpectedness in the fact that the hoary
memorial of a stolid antagonism to the interchange of ideas,
the monument of hard distinctions in blood and race, of deadly
mistrust of one's neighbour in spite of the Church's teaching,
and of a sublime unconsciousness of any other force than a
brute one, should be the goal of a machine which beyond
everything may be said to symbolize cosmopolitan views and the
intellectual and moral kinship of all mankind. In that light
the little buzzing wire had a far finer significance to the
student Somerset than the vast walls which neighboured it.
But the modern fever and fret which consumes people before
they can grow old was also signified by the wire; and this
aspect of to-day did not contrast well with the fairer side of
feudalism--leisure, light-hearted generosity, intense
friendships, hawks, hounds, revels, healthy complexions,
freedom from care, and such a living power in architectural
art as the world may never again see.

Somerset withdrew till neither the singing of the wire nor the
hisses of the irritable owls could be heard any more. A clock
in the castle struck ten, and he recognized the strokes as
those he had heard when sitting on the stile. It was
indispensable that he should retrace his steps and push on to
Sleeping-Green if he wished that night to reach his lodgings,
which had been secured by letter at a little inn in the
straggling line of roadside houses called by the above name,
where his luggage had by this time probably arrived. In a
quarter of an hour he was again at the point where the wire
left the road, and following the highway over a hill he saw
the hamlet at his feet.

Thomas Hardy