: Stories By English Authors: England

The other man, nothing loath, raised the mug to his lips, and drank

on and on and on, till a curious blueness overspread the countenance

of the shepherd's wife, who had regarded with no little surprise

the first stranger's free offer to the second of what did not belong

to him to dispense.

"I knew it!" said the toper to the shepherd, with much satisfaction.

"When I walked up your garden afore coming in, a
d saw the hives

all of a row, I said to myself, 'Where there's bees there's honey,

and where there's honey there's mead.' But mead of such a truly

comfortable sort as this I really didn't expect to meet in my

older days." He took yet another pull at the mug, till it assumed

an ominous horizontality.

"Glad you enjoy it!" said the shepherd, warmly.

"It is goodish mead," assented Mrs. Fennel, with an absence of

enthusiasm which seemed to say that it was possible to buy praise

for one's cellar at too heavy a price. "It is trouble enough to

make--and really I hardly think we shall make any more. For honey

sells well, and we can make shift with a drop o' small mead and

metheglin for common use from the comb washings."

"Oh, but you'll never have the heart!" reproachfully cried the

stranger in cinder gray, after taking up the mug a third time and

setting it down empty. "I love mead, when 't is old like this, as

I love to go to church o' Sundays or to relieve the needy any day

of the week."

"Ha, ha, ha!" said the man in the chimney-corner, who, in spite of

the taciturnity induced by the pipe of tobacco, could not or would

not refrain from this slight testimony to his comrade's humour.

Now the old mead of those days, brewed of the purest first-year or

maiden honey, four pounds to gallon,--with its due complement of

whites of eggs, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, rosemary, yeast, and

processes of working, bottling, and cellaring,--tasted remarkably

strong; but it did not taste so strong as it actually was. Hence,

presently the stranger in cinder gray at the table, moved by its

creeping influence, unbuttoned his waistcoat, threw himself back in

his chair, spread his legs, and made his presence felt in various


"Well, well, as I say," he resumed, "I am going to Casterbridge,

and to Casterbridge I must go. I should have been almost there by

this time; but the rain drove me in to ye, and I'm not sorry for


"You don't live in Casterbridge?" said the shepherd.

"Not as yet, though I shortly mean to move there."

"Going to set up in trade, perhaps?"

"No, no," said the shepherd's wife; "it is easy to see that the

gentleman is rich and don't want to work at anything."

The cinder-gray stranger paused, as if to consider whether he

would accept that definition of himself. He presently rejected it

by answering, "Rich is not quite the word for me, dame. I do work,

and I must work. And even if I only get to Casterbridge by midnight

I must begin work there at eight to-morrow morning. Yes, het or

wet, blow or snow, famine or sword, my day's work to-morrow must

be done."

"Poor man! Then, in spite o' seeming, you be worse off than we?"

replied the shepherd's wife.

"'Tis the nature of my trade, men and maidens. 'Tis the nature

of my trade more than my poverty. But really and truly, I must up

and off, or I sha'n't get a lodging in the town."

However, the speaker did not move, and directly added,

"There's time for one more draught of friendship before I go, and

I'd perform it at once if the mug were not dry."

"Here's a mug o' small," said Mrs. Fennel. "Small, we call it,

though, to be sure, 'tis only the first wash o' the combs."

"No," said the stranger, disdainfully; "I won't spoil your first

kindness by partaking o' your second.

"Certainly not," broke in Fennel. "We don't increase and multiply

every day, and I'll fill the mug again." He went away to the dark

place under the stairs where the barrel stood. The shepherdess

followed him.

"Why should you do this?" she said, reproachfully, as soon as they

were alone. "He's emptied it once, though it held enough for ten

people; and now he's not contented wi' the small, but must needs

call for more o' the strong! And a stranger unbeknown to any of

us! For my part, I don't like the look o' the man at all."

"But he's in the house, my honey, and 'tis a wet night, and a

christening. Daze it, what's a cup of mead more or less? There'll

be plenty more next bee-burning."

"Very well--this time, then," she answered, looking wistfully at

the barrel. "But what is the man's calling, and where is he one

of, that he should come in and join us like this?"

"I don't know. I'll ask him again."

The catastrophe of having the mug drained dry at one pull by the

stranger in cinder gray was effectually guarded against this time

by Mrs. Fennel. She poured out his allowance in a small cup, keeping

the large one at a discreet distance from him. When he had tossed

off his portion the shepherd renewed his inquiry about the stranger's


The latter did not immediately reply, and the man in the

chimney-corner, with sudden demonstrativeness, said, "Anybody may

know my trade --I'm a wheelwright."

"A very good trade for these parts," said the shepherd.

"And anybody may know mine-if they've the sense to find it out,"

said the stranger in cinder gray.

"You may generally tell what a man is by his claws," observed the

hedge-carpenter, looking at his hands. "My fingers be as full of

thorns as an old pincushion is of pins."

The hands of the man in the chimney-corner instinctively sought

the shade, and he gazed into the fire as he resumed his pipe. The

man at the table took up the hedge-carpenter's remark, and added

smartly, "True; but the oddity of my trade is that, instead of

setting a mark upon me, it sets a mark upon my customers."

No observation being offered by anybody in elucidation of this

enigma, the shepherd's wife once more called for a song. The same

obstacles presented themselves as at the former time: one had

no voice, another had forgotten the first verse. The stranger at

the table, whose soul had now risen to a good working temperature,

relieved the difficulty by exclaiming that, to start the company,

he would sing himself. Thrusting one thumb into the armhole of

his waistcoat, he waved the other hand in the air, and, with an

extemporising gaze at the shining sheep-crooks above the mantelpiece,


"Oh, my trade it is the rarest one,

Simple shepherds all,

My trade is a sight to see;

For my customers I tie, and take them up on high,

And waft 'em to a far countree."

The room was silent when he had finished the verse, with one exception,

that of the man in the chimney-corner, who, at the singer's word,

"Chorus!" joined him in a deep bass voice of musical relish:

"And waft 'em to a far countree."

Oliver Giles, John Pitcher, the dairyman, the parish clerk, the

engaged man of fifty, the row of young women against the wall,

seemed lost in thought not of the gayest kind. The shepherd looked

meditatively on the ground; the shepherdess gazed keenly at the

singer, and with some suspicion; she was doubting whether this

stranger was merely singing an old song from recollection, or

composing one there and then for the occasion. All were as perplexed

at the obscure revelation as the guests at Belshazzar's feast,

except the man in the chimney-corner, who quietly said, "Second

verse, stranger," and smoked on.

The singer thoroughly moistened himself from his lips inward, and

went on with the next stanza, as requested:

"My tools are but common ones,

Simple shepherds all,

My tools are no sight to see:

A little hempen string, and a post whereon to swing,

Are implements enough for me."

Shepherd Fennel glanced round. There was no longer any doubt that

the stranger was answering his question rhythmically. The guests

one and all started back with surpressed exclamations. The young

woman engaged to the man of fifty fainted half-way, and would have

proceeded, but, finding him wanting in alacrity for catching her,

she sat down trembling.

"Oh, he's the--" whispered the people in the background, mentioning

the name of an ominous public officer. "He's come to do it. 'T is

to be at Casterbridge gaol to-morrow--the man for sheep-stealing--the

poor clock-maker we heard of, who used to live away at Anglebury and

had no work to do--Timothy Sommers, whose family were a-starving,

and so he went out of Anglebury by the highroad, and took a sheep

in open daylight, defying the farmer and the farmer's wife and the

farmer's man and every man Jack among 'em. He" (and they nodded

toward the stranger of the terrible trade) "is come from up the

country to do it because there's not enough to do in his own county

town, and he's got the place here, now our own county man's dead;

he's going to live in the same cottage under the prison wall."

The stranger in cinder gray took no notice of this whispered string

of observations, but again wetted his lips. Seeing that his friend

in the chimney-corner was the only one who reciprocated his joviality

in any way, he held out his cup toward that appreciative comrade,

who also held out his own. They clinked together, the eyes of the

rest of the room hanging upon the singer's actions. He parted his

lips for the third verse, but at that moment another knock was

audible upon the door. This time the knock was faint and hesitating.

The company seemed scared; the shepherd looked with consternation

toward the entrance, and it was with some effort that he resisted

his alarmed wife's deprecatory glance, and uttered for the third

time the welcoming words, "Walk in!"

The door was gently opened, and another man stood upon the mat.

He, like those who had preceded him, was a stranger. This time it

was a short, small personage, of fair complexion, and dressed in

a decent suit of dark clothes.

"Can you tell me the way to--" he began; when, gazing round the

room to observe the nature of the company among whom he had fallen,

his eyes lighted on the stranger in cinder gray. It was just at

the instant when the latter, who had thrown his mind into his song

with such a will that he scarcely heeded the interruption, silenced

all whispers and inquiries by bursting into his third verse:

"To-morrow is my working-day,

Simple shepherds all,

To-morrow is a working-day for me;

For the farmer's sheep is slain, and the lad who did it ta'en,

And on his soul may God ha' merc-y!"

The stranger in the chimney-corner, waving cup with the singer so

heartily that his mead splashed over on the hearth, repeated in

his bass voice as before:

"And on his soul may God ha' mercy!"

All this time the third stranger had been standing in the doorway.

Finding now that he did not come forward or go on speaking, the

guests particularly regarded him. They noticed, to their surprise,

that he stood before them the picture of abject terror-his knees

trembling, his hand shaking so violently that the door-latch, by

which he supported himself, rattled audibly; his white lips were

parted, and his eyes fixed on the merry officer of justice in the

middle of the room. A moment more, and he had turned, closed the

door, and fled.

"What a man can it be?" said the shepherd.

The rest, between the awfulness of their late discovery and the odd

conduct of this third visitor, looked as if they knew not what to

think, and said nothing. Instinctively they withdrew farther and

farther from the grim gentleman in their midst, whom some of them

seemed to take for the prince of darkness himself, till they formed

a remote circle, an empty space of floor being left between them

and him--

"Circulus, cujus centrum diabolus."

The room was so silent--though there were more than twenty people

in it--that nothing could be heard but the patter of the rain against

the window-shutters, accompanied by the occasional hiss of a stray

drop that fell down the chimney into the fire, and the steady

puffing of the man in the corner, who had now resumed his pipe of

long clay.

The stillness was unexpectedly broken. The distant sound of a gun

reverberated through the air, apparently from the direction of the

county town.

"Be jiggered!" cried the stranger who had sung the song, jumping


"What does that mean?" asked several.

"A prisoner escaped from the gaol--that 's what it means."

All listened. The sound was repeated, and none of them spoke but

the man in the chimney-corner, who said quietly, "I've often been

told that in this county they fire a gun at such times, but I never

heard it till now."

"I wonder if it is _my_ man?" murmured personage in cinder


"Surely it is!" said the shepherd, involuntarily. "And surely

we've seen him! That little man who looked in at the door by now,

and quivered like a leaf when he seed ye and heard your song."

"His teeth chattered, and the breath went out of his body," said

the dairyman.

"And his heart seemed to sink within him like a stone," said Oliver


"And he bolted as if he'd been shot at," said the hedge-carpenter.

"True--his teeth chattered, and his heart seemed to sink, and he

bolted as if he'd been shot at," slowly summed up the man in the


"I didn't notice it," remarked the grim songster.

"We were all a-wondering what made him run off in such a fright,"

faltered one of the women against the wall, "and now't is explained."

The firing of the alarm-gun went on at intervals, low and sullenly,

and their suspicions became a certainty. The sinister gentleman in

cinder gray roused himself. "Is there a constable here?" he asked,

in thick tones. "If so, let him step forward."

The engaged man of fifty stepped quavering out of the corner, his

betrothed beginning to sob on the back of the chair.

"You are a sworn constable?"

"I be, sir."

"Then pursue the criminal at once, with assistance, and bring him

back here. He can't have gone far."

"I will, sir, I will--when I've got my staff. I'll home and get

it, and come sharp here, and start in a body."

"Staff! never mind your staff--the man'll be gone!"

"But I can't do nothing without my staff--can I, William, and John,

and Charles Jake? No; for there's the king's royal crown a-painted

on en in yaller and gold, and the lion and the unicorn, so as when

I raise en up and hit my prisoner't is made a lawful blow thereby.

I wouldn't 'tempt to take up a man without my staff--no, not I. If

I hadn't the law to gie me courage, why, instead o' my taking him

up he might take up me!"

"Now, I'm a king's man myself, and can give you authority enough

for this," said the formidable person in cinder gray. "Now then,

all of ye, be ready. Have ye any lanterns?"

"Yes; have ye any lanterns? I demand it," said the constable.

"And the rest of you able-bodied--"

"Able-bodied men--yes--the rest of ye," said the constable.

"Have you some good stout staves and pitchforks--"

"Staves and pitchforks--in the name o' the law. And take 'em in

yer hands and go in quest, and do as we in authority tell ye."

Thus aroused, the men prepared to give chase. The evidence

was, indeed, though circumstantial, so convincing that but little

argument was needed to show the shepherd's guests that, after what

they had seen, it would look very much like connivance if they did

not instantly pursue the unhappy third stranger, who could not as

yet have gone more than a few hundred yards over such uneven country.

A shepherd is always well provided with lanterns; and, lighting

these hastily, and with hurdle-staves in their hands, they poured

out of the door, taking a direction along the crest of the hill,

away from the town, the rain having fortunately a little abated.

Disturbed by the noise, or possibly by unpleasant dreams of her

baptism, the child who had been christened began to cry heartbrokenly

in the room overhead. These notes of grief came down through the

chinks of the floor to the ears of the women below, who jumped up,

one by one, and seemed glad of the excuse to ascend and comfort

the baby; for the incidents of the last half-hour greatly oppressed

them. Thus in the space of two or three minutes the room on the

ground floor was deserted quite.

But it was not for long. Hardly had the sound of footsteps died

away when a man returned round the corner of the house from the

direction the pursuers had taken. Peeping in at the door, and seeing

nobody there, he entered leisurely. It was the stranger of the

chimney-corner, who had gone out with the rest. The motive of his

return was shown by his helping himself to a cut piece of skimmer-cake

that lay on a ledge beside where he had sat, and which he had

apparently forgotten to take with him. He also poured out half a

cup more mead from the quantity that remained, ravenously eating

and drinking these as he stood. He had not finished when another

figure came in just as quietly--the stranger in cinder gray.

"Oh, you here?" said the latter, smiling. "I thought you had gone

to help in the capture." And this speaker also revealed the object

of his return by looking solicitously round for the fascinating

mug of old mead.

"And I thought you had gone," said the other, continuing his

skimmer-cake with some effort.

"Well, on second thoughts, I felt there were enough without me,"

said the first, confidentially, "and such a night as it is, too.

Besides, 't is the business o' the government to take care of its

criminals, not mine."

"True, so it is; and I felt as you did--that were enough without


"I don't want to break my limbs running over the humps and hollows

of this wild country."

"Nor I, either, between you and me."

"These shepherd people are used to it--simpleminded souls, you

know, stirred up to anything a moment. They'll have him ready for

me before the morning, and no trouble to me at all."

"They'll have him, and we shall have saved ourselves all labour in

the matter."

"True, true. Well, my way is to Casterbridge, and't is as much as

my legs will do to take me that far. Going the same way?"

"No, I am sorry to' say. I have to get home over there" (he nodded

indefinitely to the right), "and I feel as you do--that it is quite

enough for my legs to do before bedtime."

The other had by this time finished the mead in the mug, after

which, shaking hands at the door and wishing each other well, they

went their several ways.

In the meantime the company of pursuers had reached the end of the

hog's-back elevation which dominated this part of the coomb. They

had decided on no particular plan of action, and, finding that

the man of the baleful trade was no longer in their company, they

seemed quite unable to form any such plan now. They descended in all

directions down the hill, and straightway several of the parties

fell into the snare set by nature for all misguided midnight

ramblers over the lower cretaceous formation. The "lynchets," or

flint slopes, which belted the escarpment at intervals of a dozen

yards, took the less cautious ones unawares, and, losing their

footing on the rubbly steep, they slid sharply downward, the lanterns

rolling from their hands to the bottom, and there lying on their

sides till the horn was scorched through.

When they had again gathered themselves together, the shepherd, as

the man who knew the country best, took the lead, and guided them

round these treacherous inclines. The lanterns, which seemed rather

to dazzle their eyes and warn the fugitive than to assist them in

the exploration, were extinguished, due silence was observed, and

in this more rational order they plunged into the vale. It was

a grassy, briery, moist channel, affording some shelter to any

person who had sought it; but the party perambulated it in vain, and

ascended on the other side. Here they wandered apart, and after an

interval closed together again to report progress. At the second

time of closing in they found themselves near a lonely oak, the single

tree on this part of the upland, probably sown there by a passing

bird some hundred years before; and here, standing a little to one

side of the trunk, as motionless as the trunk itself, appeared the

man they were in quest of, his outline being well defined against

the sky beyond. The band noiselessly drew up and faced him.

"Your money or your life!" said the constable, sternly, to the

still figure.

"No, no," whispered John Pitcher. "'Tisn't our side ought to say

that. That's the doctrine of vagabonds like him, and we be on the

side of the law."

"Well, well," replied the constable, impatiently, "I must say something,

mustn't I? And if you had all the weight o' this undertaking upon

your mind perhaps you'd say the wrong thing too. Prisoner at the

bar, surrender, in the name of the Fath--the crown, I mane!"

The man under the tree seemed now to notice them for the first

time, and, giving them no opportunity whatever for exhibiting

their courage, he strolled slowly toward them. He was, indeed, the

little man, the third stranger, but his trepidation had in a great

measure gone.

"Well, travellers," he said, "did I hear ye speak to me?"

"You did; you've got to come and be our prisoner at once," said the

constable. "We arrest ye on the charge of not biding in Casterbridge

gaol in a decent, proper manner, to be hung to-morrow morning.

Neighbours, do your duty, and seize the culpet!"

On hearing the charge, the man seemed enlightened, and, saying

not another word, resigned himself with preternatural civility to

the search-party, who, with their staves in their hands, surrounded

him on all sides, and marched him back toward the shepherd's cottage.

It was eleven o'clock by the time they arrived. The light shining

from the open door, a sound of men's voices within, proclaimed

to them, as they approached the house, that some new events had

arisen in their absence. On entering they discovered the shepherd's

living-room to be invaded by officers from Casterbridge gaol and

a well-known magistrate who lived at the nearest country-seat,

intelligence of the escape having become generally circulated.

"Gentlemen," said the constable, "I have brought back your man--not

without risk and danger, but every one must do his duty. He is

inside this circle of able-bodied persons, who have lent me useful

aid, considering their ignorance of crown work. Men, bring forward

your prisoner." And the third stranger was led to the light.

"Who is this?" said one of the officials.

"The man," said the constable.

"Certainly not," said the other turnkey, and the first corroborated

his statement.

"But how can it be otherwise?" asked the constable. "Or why was he

so terrified at sight o' the singing instrument of the law?" Here

he related the strange behaviour of the third stranger on entering

the house.

"Can't understand it," said the officer, coolly. All I know is

that it is not the condemned man. He's quite a different character

from this one; a gauntish fellow, with dark hair and eyes, rather

good-looking, and with a musical bass voice that, if you heard it

once, you'd never mistake as long as you lived."

"Why, souls,'t was the man in the chimney-corner!"

"Hey--what?" said the magistrate, coming forward after inquiring

particulars from the shepherd in the background. "Haven't you got

the man after all?"

"Well, sir," said the constable, "he's the man we were in search

of, that's true; and yet he's not the man we were in search of.

For the man we were in search of was not the man we wanted, sir,

if you understand my every-day way; for 't was the man in the


"A pretty kettle of fish altogether!" said the magistiate. "You

had better start for the other man at once."

The prisoner now spoke for the first time. The mention of the man

in the chimney-corner seemed to have moved him as nothing else could

do. "Sir," he said, stepping forward to the magistrate, "take no

more trouble about me. The time is come when I may as well speak.

I have done nothing; my crime is that the condemned man is my brother.

Early this afternoon I left home at Anglebury to tramp it all the

way to Casterbridge gaol to bid him farewell. I was benighted, and

called here to rest and ask the way. When I opened the door I saw

before me the very man, my brother, that I thought to see in the

condemned cell at Casterbridge. He was in this chimney-corner;

and, jammed close to him, so that he could not have got out if he

had tried, was the executioner who'd come to take his life, singing

a song about it, and not knowing that it was his victim who was

close by, joining in to save appearances. My brother looked a

glance of agony at me, and I knew he meant, 'Don't reveal what you

see; my life depends on it.' I was so terror-struck that I could

hardly stand, and, not knowing what I did, I turned and hurried


The narrator's manner and tone had the stamp of truth, and his

story made a great impression on around.

"And do you know where your brother is at the present time?" asked

the magistrate.

"I do not. I have never seen him since I closed this door."

"I can testify to that, for we've been between ye ever since," said

the constable.

Where does he think to fly to? What is his occupation?"

"He's a watch- and clock-maker, sir."

"'A said 'a was a wheelwright--a wicked rogue," said the constable.

"The wheels o' clocks and watches he meant, no doubt," said Shepherd

Fennel. "I thought his hands were palish for's trade."

"Well, it appears to me that nothing can be gained by retaining

this poor man in custody," the magistrate; "your business lies with

the other unquestionably."

And so the little man was released offhand; but he looked nothing

the less sad on that account, it being beyond the power of magistrate

or constable to rase out the written troubles in his brain, for

they concerned another, whom he regarded with more solicitude than

himself. When this was done, and the man had gone his way, the

night was found to be so far advanced that it was deemed useless

to renew the search before the next morning.

Next day, accordingly, the quest for the clever sheep-stealer became

general and keen--to all appearance, at least. But the intended

punishment was cruelly disproportioned to the transgression, and

the sympathy of a great many country folk in that district was

strongly on the side of the fugitive. Moreover, his marvellous

coolness and daring under the unprecedented circumstances of the

shepherd's party won their admiration. So that it may be questioned

if all those who ostensibly made themselves so busy in exploring

woods and fields and lanes were quite so thorough when it came to

the private examination of their own lofts and outhouses. Stories

were afloat of a mysterious figure being occasionally seen in some

old overgrown trackway or other, remote from turnpike roads; but

when a search was instituted in any of these suspected quarters

nobody was found. Thus the days and weeks passed without tidings.

In brief, the bass-voiced man of the chimney-corner was never

recaptured. Some said that he went across the sea, others that he

did not, but buried himself in the depths of a populous city.

At any rate, the gentleman in cinder gray never did his morning's

work at Casterbridge, nor met anywhere at all for business purposes

the comrade with whom he had passed an hour of relaxation in the

lonely house on the coomb.

The grass has long been green on the graves of Shepherd Fennel and

his frugal wife; the guests who made up the christening-party have

mainly followed their entertainers to the tomb; the baby in whose

honour they all had met is a matron in the sear and yellow leaf;

but the arrival of the three strangers at the shepherd's that night,

and the details connected therewith, is a story as well known as

ever in the country about Higher Crowstairs.