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  • CHAPTER I

  • On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from

  • Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore, or Blackmoor.

  • The pair of legs that carried him were rickety, and there was a bias in his gait

  • which inclined him somewhat to the left of a straight line.

  • He occasionally gave a smart nod, as if in confirmation of some opinion, though he was

  • not thinking of anything in particular.

  • An empty egg-basket was slung upon his arm, the nap of his hat was ruffled, a patch

  • being quite worn away at its brim where his thumb came in taking it off.

  • Presently he was met by an elderly parson astride on a gray mare, who, as he rode,

  • hummed a wandering tune. "Good night t'ee," said the man with the

  • basket.

  • "Good night, Sir John," said the parson. The pedestrian, after another pace or two,

  • halted, and turned round.

  • "Now, sir, begging your pardon; we met last market-day on this road about this time,

  • and I said 'Good night,' and you made reply 'Good night, Sir John,' as now."

  • "I did," said the parson.

  • "And once before that--near a month ago." "I may have."

  • "Then what might your meaning be in calling me 'Sir John' these different times, when I

  • be plain Jack Durbeyfield, the haggler?"

  • The parson rode a step or two nearer.

  • "It was only my whim," he said; and, after a moment's hesitation: "It was on account

  • of a discovery I made some little time ago, whilst I was hunting up pedigrees for the

  • new county history.

  • I am Parson Tringham, the antiquary, of Stagfoot Lane.

  • Don't you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the

  • ancient and knightly family of the d'Urbervilles, who derive their descent

  • from Sir Pagan d'Urberville, that renowned

  • knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey

  • Roll?" "Never heard it before, sir!"

  • "Well it's true.

  • Throw up your chin a moment, so that I may catch the profile of your face better.

  • Yes, that's the d'Urberville nose and chin- -a little debased.

  • Your ancestor was one of the twelve knights who assisted the Lord of Estremavilla in

  • Normandy in his conquest of Glamorganshire.

  • Branches of your family held manors over all this part of England; their names

  • appear in the Pipe Rolls in the time of King Stephen.

  • In the reign of King John one of them was rich enough to give a manor to the Knights

  • Hospitallers; and in Edward the Second's time your forefather Brian was summoned to

  • Westminster to attend the great Council there.

  • You declined a little in Oliver Cromwell's time, but to no serious extent, and in

  • Charles the Second's reign you were made Knights of the Royal Oak for your loyalty.

  • Aye, there have been generations of Sir Johns among you, and if knighthood were

  • hereditary, like a baronetcy, as it practically was in old times, when men were

  • knighted from father to son, you would be Sir John now."

  • "Ye don't say so!"

  • "In short," concluded the parson, decisively smacking his leg with his

  • switch, "there's hardly such another family in England."

  • "Daze my eyes, and isn't there?" said Durbeyfield.

  • "And here have I been knocking about, year after year, from pillar to post, as if I

  • was no more than the commonest feller in the parish...

  • And how long hev this news about me been knowed, Pa'son Tringham?"

  • The clergyman explained that, as far as he was aware, it had quite died out of

  • knowledge, and could hardly be said to be known at all.

  • His own investigations had begun on a day in the preceding spring when, having been

  • engaged in tracing the vicissitudes of the d'Urberville family, he had observed

  • Durbeyfield's name on his waggon, and had

  • thereupon been led to make inquiries about his father and grandfather till he had no

  • doubt on the subject.

  • "At first I resolved not to disturb you with such a useless piece of information,"

  • said he. "However, our impulses are too strong for

  • our judgement sometimes.

  • I thought you might perhaps know something of it all the while."

  • "Well, I have heard once or twice, 'tis true, that my family had seen better days

  • afore they came to Blackmoor.

  • But I took no notice o't, thinking it to mean that we had once kept two horses where

  • we now keep only one.

  • I've got a wold silver spoon, and a wold graven seal at home, too; but, Lord, what's

  • a spoon and seal?... And to think that I and these noble

  • d'Urbervilles were one flesh all the time.

  • 'Twas said that my gr't-granfer had secrets, and didn't care to talk of where

  • he came from...

  • And where do we raise our smoke, now, parson, if I may make so bold; I mean,

  • where do we d'Urbervilles live?" "You don't live anywhere.

  • You are extinct--as a county family."

  • "That's bad." "Yes--what the mendacious family chronicles

  • call extinct in the male line--that is, gone down--gone under."

  • "Then where do we lie?"

  • "At Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill: rows and rows of you in your vaults, with your effigies

  • under Purbeck-marble canopies." "And where be our family mansions and

  • estates?"

  • "You haven't any." "Oh?

  • No lands neither?"

  • "None; though you once had 'em in abundance, as I said, for you family

  • consisted of numerous branches.

  • In this county there was a seat of yours at Kingsbere, and another at Sherton, and

  • another in Millpond, and another at Lullstead, and another at Wellbridge."

  • "And shall we ever come into our own again?"

  • "Ah--that I can't tell!" "And what had I better do about it, sir?"

  • asked Durbeyfield, after a pause.

  • "Oh--nothing, nothing; except chasten yourself with the thought of 'how are the

  • mighty fallen.' It is a fact of some interest to the local

  • historian and genealogist, nothing more.

  • There are several families among the cottagers of this county of almost equal

  • lustre. Good night."

  • "But you'll turn back and have a quart of beer wi' me on the strength o't, Pa'son

  • Tringham?

  • There's a very pretty brew in tap at The Pure Drop--though, to be sure, not so good

  • as at Rolliver's." "No, thank you--not this evening,

  • Durbeyfield.

  • You've had enough already." Concluding thus, the parson rode on his

  • way, with doubts as to his discretion in retailing this curious bit of lore.

  • When he was gone, Durbeyfield walked a few steps in a profound reverie, and then sat

  • down upon the grassy bank by the roadside, depositing his basket before him.

  • In a few minutes a youth appeared in the distance, walking in the same direction as

  • that which had been pursued by Durbeyfield.

  • The latter, on seeing him, held up his hand, and the lad quickened his pace and

  • came near. "Boy, take up that basket!

  • I want 'ee to go on an errand for me."

  • The lath-like stripling frowned. "Who be you, then, John Durbeyfield, to

  • order me about and call me 'boy'? You know my name as well as I know yours!"

  • "Do you, do you?

  • That's the secret--that's the secret! Now obey my orders, and take the message

  • I'm going to charge 'ee wi'...

  • Well, Fred, I don't mind telling you that the secret is that I'm one of a noble race-

  • -it has been just found out by me this present afternoon, P.M."

  • And as he made the announcement, Durbeyfield, declining from his sitting

  • position, luxuriously stretched himself out upon the bank among the daisies.

  • The lad stood before Durbeyfield, and contemplated his length from crown to toe.

  • "Sir John d'Urberville--that's who I am," continued the prostrate man.

  • "That is if knights were baronets--which they be.

  • 'Tis recorded in history all about me. Dost know of such a place, lad, as

  • Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill?"

  • "Ees. I've been there to Greenhill Fair."

  • "Well, under the church of that city there lie--"

  • "'Tisn't a city, the place I mean; leastwise 'twaddn' when I was there--'twas

  • a little one-eyed, blinking sort o' place." "Never you mind the place, boy, that's not

  • the question before us.

  • Under the church of that there parish lie my ancestors--hundreds of 'em--in coats of

  • mail and jewels, in gr't lead coffins weighing tons and tons.

  • There's not a man in the county o' South- Wessex that's got grander and nobler

  • skillentons in his family than I." "Oh?"

  • "Now take up that basket, and goo on to Marlott, and when you've come to The Pure

  • Drop Inn, tell 'em to send a horse and carriage to me immed'ately, to carry me

  • hwome.

  • And in the bottom o' the carriage they be to put a noggin o' rum in a small bottle,

  • and chalk it up to my account.

  • And when you've done that goo on to my house with the basket, and tell my wife to

  • put away that washing, because she needn't finish it, and wait till I come hwome, as

  • I've news to tell her."

  • As the lad stood in a dubious attitude, Durbeyfield put his hand in his pocket, and

  • produced a shilling, one of the chronically few that he possessed.

  • "Here's for your labour, lad."

  • This made a difference in the young man's estimate of the position.

  • "Yes, Sir John. Thank 'ee.

  • Anything else I can do for 'ee, Sir John?"

  • "Tell 'em at hwome that I should like for supper,--well, lamb's fry if they can get

  • it; and if they can't, black-pot; and if they can't get that, well chitterlings will

  • do."

  • "Yes, Sir John." The boy took up the basket, and as he set

  • out the notes of a brass band were heard from the direction of the village.

  • "What's that?" said Durbeyfield.

  • "Not on account o' I?" "'Tis the women's club-walking, Sir John.

  • Why, your da'ter is one o' the members." "To be sure--I'd quite forgot it in my

  • thoughts of greater things!

  • Well, vamp on to Marlott, will ye, and order that carriage, and maybe I'll drive

  • round and inspect the club."

  • The lad departed, and Durbeyfield lay waiting on the grass and daisies in the

  • evening sun.

  • Not a soul passed that way for a long while, and the faint notes of the band were

  • the only human sounds audible within the rim of blue hills.

  • >

  • CHAPTER II

  • The village of Marlott lay amid the north- eastern undulations of the beautiful Vale

  • of Blakemore, or Blackmoor, aforesaid, an engirdled and secluded region, for the most

  • part untrodden as yet by tourist or

  • landscape-painter, though within a four hours' journey from London.

  • It is a vale whose acquaintance is best made by viewing it from the summits of the

  • hills that surround it--except perhaps during the droughts of summer.

  • An unguided ramble into its recesses in bad weather is apt to engender dissatisfaction

  • with its narrow, tortuous, and miry ways.

  • This fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are never

  • brown and the springs never dry, is bounded on the south by the bold chalk ridge that

  • embraces the prominences of Hambledon Hill,

  • Bulbarrow, Nettlecombe-Tout, Dogbury, High Stoy, and Bubb Down.

  • The traveller from the coast, who, after plodding northward for a score of miles

  • over calcareous downs and corn-lands, suddenly reaches the verge of one of these

  • escarpments, is surprised and delighted to

  • behold, extended like a map beneath him, a country differing absolutely from that

  • which he has passed through.

  • Behind him the hills are open, the sun blazes down upon fields so large as to give

  • an unenclosed character to the landscape, the lanes are white, the hedges low and

  • plashed, the atmosphere colourless.

  • Here, in the valley, the world seems to be constructed upon a smaller and more

  • delicate scale; the fields are mere paddocks, so reduced that from this height

  • their hedgerows appear a network of dark

  • green threads overspreading the paler green of the grass.

  • The atmosphere beneath is languorous, and is so tinged with azure that what artists

  • call the middle distance partakes also of that hue, while the horizon beyond is of

  • the deepest ultramarine.

  • Arable lands are few and limited; with but slight exceptions the prospect is a broad

  • rich mass of grass and trees, mantling minor hills and dales within the major.

  • Such is the Vale of Blackmoor.

  • The district is of historic, no less than of topographical interest.

  • The Vale was known in former times as the Forest of White Hart, from a curious legend

  • of King Henry III's reign, in which the killing by a certain Thomas de la Lynd of a

  • beautiful white hart which the king had run

  • down and spared, was made the occasion of a heavy fine.

  • In those days, and till comparatively recent times, the country was densely

  • wooded.

  • Even now, traces of its earlier condition are to be found in the old oak copses and

  • irregular belts of timber that yet survive upon its slopes, and the hollow-trunked

  • trees that shade so many of its pastures.

  • The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain.

  • Many, however, linger only in a metamorphosed or disguised form.

  • The May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon under notice, in

  • the guise of the club revel, or "club- walking," as it was there called.

  • It was an interesting event to the younger inhabitants of Marlott, though its real

  • interest was not observed by the participators in the ceremony.

  • Its singularity lay less in the retention of a custom of walking in procession and

  • dancing on each anniversary than in the members being solely women.

  • In men's clubs such celebrations were, though expiring, less uncommon; but either

  • the natural shyness of the softer sex, or a sarcastic attitude on the part of male

  • relatives, had denuded such women's clubs

  • as remained (if any other did) or this their glory and consummation.

  • The club of Marlott alone lived to uphold the local Cerealia.

  • It had walked for hundreds of years, if not as benefit-club, as votive sisterhood of

  • some sort; and it walked still.

  • The banded ones were all dressed in white gowns--a gay survival from Old Style days,

  • when cheerfulness and May-time were synonyms--days before the habit of taking

  • long views had reduced emotions to a monotonous average.

  • Their first exhibition of themselves was in a processional march of two and two round

  • the parish.

  • Ideal and real clashed slightly as the sun lit up their figures against the green

  • hedges and creeper-laced house-fronts; for, though the whole troop wore white garments,

  • no two whites were alike among them.

  • Some approached pure blanching; some had a bluish pallor; some worn by the older

  • characters (which had possibly lain by folded for many a year) inclined to a

  • cadaverous tint, and to a Georgian style.

  • In addition to the distinction of a white frock, every woman and girl carried in her

  • right hand a peeled willow wand, and in her left a bunch of white flowers.

  • The peeling of the former, and the selection of the latter, had been an

  • operation of personal care.

  • There were a few middle-aged and even elderly women in the train, their silver-

  • wiry hair and wrinkled faces, scourged by time and trouble, having almost a

  • grotesque, certainly a pathetic, appearance in such a jaunty situation.