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I shall never speak of it again, after these days
are over. I know you will not, either.' He shook hands with her; and
they never named the subject again, the one to the other.

Norah went home to Alice the next day. Not a word was said on the
cause of her abrupt departure a day or two before. Alice had been
charged by her husband, in his letter, not to allude to the supposed
theft of the brooch; so she, implicitly obedient to those whom she
loved both by nature and habit, was entirely silent on the subject,
only treated Norah with the most tender respect, as if to make up for
unjust suspicion.

Nor did Alice inquire into the reason why Mr Openshaw had been absent
during his uncle and aunt's visit, after he had once said that it was
unavoidable. He came back grave and quiet; and from that time forth
was curiously changed. More thoughtful, and perhaps less active;
quite as decided in conduct, but with new and different rules for the
guidance of that conduct. Towards Alice he could hardly be more kind
than he had always been; but he now seemed to look upon her as someone
sacred, and to be treated with reverence, as well as tenderness. He
throve in business, and made a large fortune, one half of which was
settled upon her.

Long years after these events--a few months after her mother
died--Ailsie and her 'father' (as she always called Mr Openshaw)
drove to a cemetery a little way out of town, and she was carried to
a certain mound by her maid, who was then sent back to the carriage.
There was a headstone, with F.W. and a date upon it. That was all.
Sitting by the grave, Mr Openshaw told her the story; and for the sad
fate of that poor father whom she had never seen, he shed the only
tears she ever saw fall from his eyes.




_Thomas Hardy_

A MERE INTERLUDE

(_The Bolton Weekly Journal_, 17 and 24 October 1885)


I


The traveller in school-books, who vouched in dryest tones for the
fidelity to fact of the following narrative, used to add a ring of
truth to it by opening with a nicety of criticism on the heroine's
personality. People were wrong, he declared, when they surmised
that Baptista Trewthen was a young woman with scarcely emotions or
character. There was nothing in her to love, and nothing to hate--so
ran the general opinion. That she showed few positive qualities was
true. The colours and tones which changing events paint on the faces
of active womankind were looked for in vain upon hers. But still
waters run deep; and no crisis had come in the years of her early
maidenhood to demonstrate what lay hidden within her, like metal in a
mine.

She was the daughter of a small farmer in St Maria's, one of the Isles
of Lyonesse beyond Off-Wessex, who had spent a large sum, as there
understood, on her education, by sending her to the mainland for
two years. At nineteen she was entered at the Training College for
Teachers, and at twenty-one nominated to a school in the country, near
Tor-upon-Sea, whither she proceeded after the Christmas examination
and holidays.

The months passed by from winter to spring and summer, and Baptista
applied herself to her new duties as best she could, till an
uneventful year had elapsed. Then an air of abstraction pervaded her
bearing as she walked to and fro, twice a day, and she showed the
traits of a person who had something on her mind. A widow, by name
Mrs Wace, in whose house Baptista Trewthen had been provided with a
sitting-room and bedroom till the schoolhouse should be built, noticed
this change in her youthful tenant's manner, and at last ventured to
press her with a few questions.

'It has nothing to do with the place, nor with you,' said Miss
Trewthen.

'Then it is the salary?'

'No, nor the salary.'

'Then it is something you have heard from home, my dear.'

Baptista was silent for a few moments. 'It is Mr Heddegan,' she
murmured. 'Him they used to call David Heddegan before he got his
money.'

'And who is the Mr Heddegan they used to call David?'

'An old bachelor at Giant's Town, St Maria's, with no relations
whatever, who lives about a stone's throw from father's. When I was a
child he used to take me on his knee and say he'd marry me some day.
Now I am a woman the jest has turned earnest, and he is anxious to do
it. And father and mother say I can't do better than have him.'

'He's well off?'

'Yes--he's the richest man we know--as a friend and neighbour.'

'How much older did you say he was than yourself?'

'I didn't say. Twenty years at least.'

'And an unpleasant man in the bargain perhaps?'

'No--he's not unpleasant.'

'Well, child, all I can say is that I'd resist any such engagement
if it's not palatable to 'ee. You are comfortable here, in my little
house, I hope. All the parish like 'ee: and I've never been so
cheerful, since my poor husband left me to wear his wings, as I've
been with 'ee as my lodger.'

The schoolmistress assured her landlady that she could return the
sentiment. 'But here comes my perplexity,' she said. 'I don't like
keeping school. Ah, you are surprised--you didn't suspect it. That's
because I've concealed my feeling. Well, I simply hate school. I don't
care for children--they are unpleasant, troublesome little things,
whom nothing would delight so much as to hear that you had fallen
down dead. Yet I would even put up with them if it was not for the
inspector. For three months before his visit I didn't sleep soundly.
And the Committee of Council are always changing the Code, so that you
don't know what to teach, and what to leave untaught. I think father
and mother are right. They say I shall never excel as a schoolmistress
if I dislike the work so, and that therefore I ought to get settled by
marrying Mr Heddegan. Between us two, I like him better than school;
but I don't like him quite so much as to wish to marry him.'

These conversations, once begun, were continued from day to day; till
at length the young girl's elderly friend and landlady threw in her
opinion on the side of Miss Trewthen's parents. All things considered,
she declared, the uncertainty of the school, the labour, Baptista's
natural dislike for teaching, it would be as well to take what fate
offered, and make the best of matters by wedding her father's old
neighbour and prosperous friend.

The Easter holidays came round, and Baptista went to spend them as
usual in her native isle, going by train into Off-Wessex and crossing
by packet from Pen-zephyr. When she returned in the middle of April
her face wore a more settled aspect.

'Well?' said the expectant Mrs Wace.

'I have agreed to have him as my husband,' said Baptista, in an
off-hand way. 'Heaven knows if it will be for the best or not. But I
have agreed to do it, and so the matter is settled.'

Mrs Wace commended her; but Baptista did not care to dwell on the
subject; so that allusion to it was very infrequent between them.
Nevertheless, among other things, she repeated to the widow from time
to time in monosyllabic remarks that the wedding was really impending;
that it was arranged for the summer, and that she had given notice of
leaving the school at the August holidays. Later on she announced more
specifically that her marriage was to take place immediately after her
return home at the beginning of the month aforesaid.

She now corresponded regularly with Mr Heddegan. Her letters from him
were seen, at least on the outside, and in part within, by Mrs Wace.
Had she read more of their interiors than the occasional sentences
shown her by Baptista she would have perceived that the scratchy,
rusty handwriting of Miss Trewthen's betrothed conveyed little more
matter than details of their future housekeeping, and his preparations
for the same, with innumerable 'my dears' sprinkled in disconnectedly,
to show the depth of his affection without the inconveniences of
syntax.


II


It was the end of July--dry, too dry, even for the season, the
delicate green herbs and vegetables that grew in this favoured end of
the kingdom tasting rather of the watering-pot than of the pure
fresh moisture from the skies. Baptista's boxes were packed, and one
Saturday morning she departed by a waggonette to the station, and
thence by train to Pen-zephyr, from which port she was, as usual, to
cross the water immediately to her home, and become Mr Heddegan's wife
on the Wednesday of the week following.

She might have returned a week sooner. But though the wedding day had
loomed so near, and the banns were out, she delayed her departure till
this last moment, saying it was not necessary for her to be at home
long beforehand. As Mr Heddegan was older than herself, she said, she
was to be married in her ordinary summer bonnet and grey silk frock,
and there were no preparations to make that had not been amply made by
her parents and intended husband.

In due time, after a hot and tedious journey, she reached Pen-zephyr.
She here obtained some refreshment, and then went towards the pier,
where she learnt to her surprise that the little steamboat plying
between the town and the islands had left at eleven o'clock; the
usual hour of departure in the afternoon having been forestalled in
consequence of the fogs which had for a few days prevailed towards
evening, making twilight navigation dangerous.

This being Saturday, there was now no other boat till Tuesday, and it
became obvious that here she would have to remain for the three days,
unless her friends should think fit to rig out one of the island
sailing-boats and come to fetch her--a not very likely contingency,
the sea distance being nearly forty miles.

Baptista, however, had been detained in Pen-zephyr on more than one
occasion before, either on account of bad weather or some such reason
as the present, and she was therefore not in any personal alarm. But,
as she was to be married on the following Wednesday, the delay was
certainly inconvenient to a more than ordinary degree, since it would
leave less than a day's interval between her arrival and the wedding
ceremony.

Apart from this awkwardness she did not much mind the accident.



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