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Chapter 4

On a windy afternoon in November, when more than two months
had closed over the incidents previously recorded, a number of
farmers were sitting in a room of the Lord-Quantock-Arms Inn,
Markton, that was used for the weekly ordinary. It was a
long, low apartment, formed by the union of two or three
smaller rooms, with a bow-window looking upon the street, and
at the present moment was pervaded by a blue fog from tobacco-
pipes, and a temperature like that of a kiln. The body of
farmers who still sat on there was greater than usual, owing
to the cold air without, the tables having been cleared of
dinner for some time and their surface stamped with liquid
circles by the feet of the numerous glasses.

Besides the farmers there were present several professional
men of the town, who found it desirable to dine here on
market-days for the opportunity it afforded them of increasing
their practice among the agriculturists, many of whom were men
of large balances, even luxurious livers, who drove to market
in elegant phaetons drawn by horses of supreme blood, bone,
and action, in a style never anticipated by their fathers when
jogging thither in light carts, or afoot with a butter basket
on each arm.

The buzz of groggy conversation was suddenly impinged on by
the notes of a peal of bells from the tower hard by. Almost
at the same instant the door of the room opened, and there
entered the landlord of the little inn at Sleeping-Green.
Drawing his supply of cordials from this superior house, to
which he was subject, he came here at stated times like a
prebendary to the cathedral of his diocesan, afterwards
retailing to his own humbler audience the sentiments which he
had learnt of this. But curiosity being awakened by the
church bells the usual position was for the moment reversed,
and one of the farmers, saluting him by name, asked him the
reason of their striking up at that time of day.

'My mis'ess out yonder,' replied the rural landlord, nodding
sideways, 'is coming home with her fancy-man. They have been
a-gaying together this turk of a while in foreign parts--Here,
maid!--what with the wind, and standing about, my blood's as
low as water--bring us a thimbleful of that that isn't gin and
not far from it.'

'It is true, then, that she's become Mrs. Somerset?'
indifferently asked a farmer in broadcloth, tenant of an
estate in quite another direction than hers, as he
contemplated the grain of the table immediately surrounding
the foot of his glass.

'True--of course it is,' said Havill, who was also present, in
the tone of one who, though sitting in this rubicund company,
was not of it. 'I could have told you the truth of it any day
these last five weeks.'

Among those who had lent an ear was Dairyman Jinks, an old
gnarled character who wore a white fustian coat and yellow
leggings; the only man in the room who never dressed up in
dark clothes for marketing. He now asked, 'Married abroad,
was they? And how long will a wedding abroad stand good for
in this country?'

'As long as a wedding at home.'

'Will it? Faith; I didn't know: how should I? I thought it
might be some new plan o' folks for leasing women now they be
so plentiful, so as to get rid o' 'em when the men be tired o'
'em, and hev spent all their money.'

'He won't be able to spend her money,' said the landlord of
Sleeping-Green. ''Tis her very own person's--settled upon the
hairs of her head for ever.'

'O nation! Then if I were the man I shouldn't care for such a
one-eyed benefit as that,' said Dairyman Jinks, turning away
to listen to the talk on his other hand.

'Is that true?' asked the gentleman-farmer in broadcloth.

'It is sufficiently near the truth,' said Havill. 'There is
nothing at all unusual in the arrangement; it was only settled
so to prevent any schemer making a beggar of her. If Somerset
and she have any children, which probably they will, it will
be theirs; and what can a man want more? Besides, there is a
large portion of property left to her personal use--quite as
much as they can want. Oddly enough, the curiosities and
pictures of the castle which belonged to the De Stancys are
not restricted from sale; they are hers to do what she likes
with. Old Power didn't care for articles that reminded him so
much of his predecessors.'

'Hey?' said Dairyman Jinks, turning back again, having decided
that the conversation on his right hand was, after all, the
more interesting. 'Well--why can't 'em hire a travelling chap
to touch up the picters into her own gaffers and gammers?
Then they'd be worth sommat to her.'

'Ah, here they are? I thought so,' said Havill, who had been
standing up at the window for the last few moments. 'The
ringers were told to begin as soon as the train signalled.'

As he spoke a carriage drew up to the hotel-door, followed by
another with the maid and luggage. The inmates crowded to the
bow-window, except Dairyman Jinks, who had become absorbed in
his own reflections.

'What be they stopping here for?' asked one of the previous
speakers.

'They are going to stay here to-night,' said Havill. 'They
have come quite unexpectedly, and the castle is in such a
state of turmoil that there is not a single carpet down, or
room for them to use. We shall get two or three in order by
next week.'

'Two little people like them will be lost in the chammers of
that wandering place!' satirized Dairyman Jinks. 'They will
be bound to have a randy every fortnight to keep the moth out
of the furniture!'

By this time Somerset was handing out the wife of his bosom,
and Dairyman Jinks went on: 'That's no more Miss Power that
was, than my niece's daughter Kezia is Miss Power--in short it
is a different woman altogether!'

'There is no mistake about the woman,' said the landlord; 'it
is her fur clothes that make her look so like a caterpillar on
end. Well, she is not a bad bargain! As for Captain De
Stancy, he'll fret his gizzard green.'

'He's the man she ought to ha' married,' declared the farmer
in broadcloth. 'As the world goes she ought to have been Lady
De Stancy. She gave up her chapel-going, and you might have
thought she would have given up her first young man: but she
stuck to him, though by all accounts he would soon have been
interested in another party.'

''Tis woman's nature to be false except to a man, and man's
nature to be true except to a woman,' said the landlord of
Sleeping-Green. 'However, all's well that ends well, and I
have something else to think of than new-married couples;'
saying which the speaker moved off, and the others returned to
their seats, the young pair who had been their theme vanishing
through the hotel into some private paradise to rest and dine.

By this time their arrival had become known, and a crowd soon
gathered outside, acquiring audacity with continuance there.
Raising a hurrah, the group would not leave till Somerset had
showed himself on the balcony above; and then declined to go
away till Paula also had appeared; when, remarking that her
husband seemed a quiet young man enough, and would make a very
good borough member when their present one misbehaved himself,
the assemblage good-humouredly dispersed.

Among those whose ears had been reached by the hurrahs of
these idlers was a man in silence and solitude, far out of the
town. He was leaning over a gate that divided two meads in a
watery level between Stancy Castle and Markton. He turned his
head for a few seconds, then continued his contemplative gaze
towards the towers of the castle, visible over the trees as
far as was possible in the leaden gloom of the November eve.
The military form of the solitary lounger was recognizable as
that of Sir William De Stancy, notwithstanding the failing
light and his attitude of so resting his elbows on the gate
that his hands enclosed the greater part of his face.

The scene was inexpressibly cheerless. No other human
creature was apparent, and the only sounds audible above the
wind were those of the trickling streams which distributed the
water over the meadow. A heron had been standing in one of
these rivulets about twenty yards from the officer, and they
vied with each other in stillness till the bird suddenly rose
and flew off to the plantation in which it was his custom to
pass the night with others of his tribe. De Stancy saw the
heron rise, and seemed to imagine the creature's departure
without a supper to be owing to the increasing darkness; but
in another minute he became conscious that the heron had been
disturbed by sounds too distant to reach his own ears at the
time. They were nearer now, and there came along under the
hedge a young man known to De Stancy exceedingly well.

'Ah,' he said listlessly, 'you have ventured back.'

'Yes, captain. Why do you walk out here?'

'The bells began ringing because she and he were expected, and
my thoughts naturally dragged me this way. Thank Heaven the
battery leaves Markton in a few days, and then the precious
place will know me no more!'

'I have heard of it.' Turning to where the dim lines of the
castle rose he continued: 'Well, there it stands.'

'And I am not in it.'

'They are not in it yet either.'

'They soon will be.'

'Well--what tune is that you were humming, captain?'

'ALL IS LOST NOW,' replied the captain grimly.

'O no; you have got me, and I am a treasure to any man. I
have another match in my eye for you, and shall get you well
settled yet, if you keep yourself respectable. So thank God,
and take courage!'

'Ah, Will--you are a flippant young fool--wise in your own
conceit; I say it to my sorrow! 'Twas your dishonesty spoilt
all. That lady would have been my wife by fair dealing--time
was all I required. But base attacks on a man's character
never deserve to win, and if I had once been certain that you
had made them, my course would have been very different, both
towards you and others. But why should I talk to you about
this? If I cared an atom what becomes of you I would take you
in hand severely enough; not caring, I leave you alone, to go
to the devil your own way.'

'Thank you kindly, captain. Well, since you have spoken
plainly, I will do the same. We De Stancys are a worn-out old
party--that's the long and the short of it. We represent
conditions of life that have had their day--especially me.
Our one remaining chance was an alliance with new aristocrats;
and we have failed. We are past and done for. Our line has
had five hundred years of glory, and we ought to be content.
Enfin les renards se trouvent chez le pelletier.'

'Speak for yourself, young Consequence, and leave the
destinies of old families to respectable philosophers. This
fiasco is the direct result of evil conduct, and of nothing
else at all. I have managed badly; I countenanced you too
far. When I saw your impish tendencies I should have forsworn
the alliance.'

'Don't sting me, captain. What I have told you is true. As
for my conduct, cat will after kind, you know. You should
have held your tongue on the wedding morning, and have let me
take my chance.'

'Is that all I get for saving you from jail? Gad--I alone am
the sufferer, and feel I am alone the fool!. . . Come, off
with you--I never want to see you any more.'

'Part we will, then--till we meet again. It will be a light
night hereabouts, I think, this evening.'

'A very dark one for me.'

'Nevertheless, I think it will be a light night. Au revoir!'

Dare went his way, and after a while De Stancy went his. Both
were soon lost in the shades.

Thomas Hardy