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The calendar at Melchester had been light, occupying the court only a
few hours; and the assizes at Casterbridge, the next county-town on
the Western Circuit, having no business for Raye, he had not gone
thither. At the next town after that they did not open till the
following Monday, trials to begin on Tuesday morning. In the natural
order of things Raye would have arrived at the latter place on Monday
afternoon; but it was not till the middle of Wednesday that his gown
and grey wig, curled in tiers, in the best fashion of Assyrian bas-
reliefs, were seen blowing and bobbing behind him as he hastily
walked up the High Street from his lodgings. But though he entered
the assize building there was nothing for him to do, and sitting at
the blue baize table in the well of the court, he mended pens with a
mind far away from the case in progress. Thoughts of unpremeditated
conduct, of which a week earlier he would not have believed himself
capable, threw him into a mood of dissatisfied depression.

He had contrived to see again the pretty rural maiden Anna, the day
after the fair, had walked out of the city with her to the earthworks
of Old Melchester, and feeling a violent fancy for her, had remained
in Melchester all Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday; by persuasion
obtaining walks and meetings with the girl six or seven times during
the interval; had in brief won her, body and soul.

He supposed it must have been owing to the seclusion in which he had
lived of late in town that he had given way so unrestrainedly to a
passion for an artless creature whose inexperience had, from the
first, led her to place herself unreservedly in his hands. Much he
deplored trifling with her feelings for the sake of a passing desire;
and he could only hope that she might not live to suffer on his

She had begged him to come to her again; entreated him; wept. He had
promised that he would do so, and he meant to carry out that promise.
He could not desert her now. Awkward as such unintentional
connections were, the interspace of a hundred miles--which to a girl
of her limited capabilities was like a thousand--would effectually
hinder this summer fancy from greatly encumbering his life; while
thought of her simple love might do him the negative good of keeping
him from idle pleasures in town when he wished to work hard. His
circuit journeys would take him to Melchester three or four times a
year; and then he could always see her.

The pseudonym, or rather partial name, that he had given her as his
before knowing how far the acquaintance was going to carry him, had
been spoken on the spur of the moment, without any ulterior intention
whatever. He had not afterwards disturbed Anna's error, but on
leaving her he had felt bound to give her an address at a stationer's
not far from his chambers, at which she might write to him under the
initials 'C. B.'

In due time Raye returned to his London abode, having called at
Melchester on his way and spent a few additional hours with his
fascinating child of nature. In town he lived monotonously every
day. Often he and his rooms were enclosed by a tawny fog from all
the world besides, and when he lighted the gas to read or write by,
his situation seemed so unnatural that he would look into the fire
and think of that trusting girl at Melchester again and again.
Often, oppressed by absurd fondness for her, he would enter the dim
religious nave of the Law Courts by the north door, elbow other
juniors habited like himself, and like him unretained; edge himself
into this or that crowded court where a sensational case was going
on, just as if he were in it, though the police officers at the door
knew as well as he knew himself that he had no more concern with the
business in hand than the patient idlers at the gallery-door outside,
who had waited to enter since eight in the morning because, like him,
they belonged to the classes that live on expectation. But he would
do these things to no purpose, and think how greatly the characters
in such scenes contrasted with the pink and breezy Anna.

An unexpected feature in that peasant maiden's conduct was that she
had not as yet written to him, though he had told her she might do so
if she wished. Surely a young creature had never before been so
reticent in such circumstances. At length he sent her a brief line,
positively requesting her to write. There was no answer by the
return post, but the day after a letter in a neat feminine hand, and
bearing the Melchester post-mark, was handed to him by the stationer.

The fact alone of its arrival was sufficient to satisfy his
imaginative sentiment. He was not anxious to open the epistle, and
in truth did not begin to read it for nearly half-an-hour,
anticipating readily its terms of passionate retrospect and tender
adjuration. When at last he turned his feet to the fireplace and
unfolded the sheet, he was surprised and pleased to find that neither
extravagance nor vulgarity was there. It was the most charming
little missive he had ever received from woman. To be sure the
language was simple and the ideas were slight; but it was so self-
possessed; so purely that of a young girl who felt her womanhood to
be enough for her dignity that he read it through twice. Four sides
were filled, and a few lines written across, after the fashion of
former days; the paper, too, was common, and not of the latest shade
and surface. But what of those things? He had received letters from
women who were fairly called ladies, but never so sensible, so human
a letter as this. He could not single out any one sentence and say
it was at all remarkable or clever; the ensemble of the letter it was
which won him; and beyond the one request that he would write or come
to her again soon there was nothing to show her sense of a claim upon

To write again and develop a correspondence was the last thing Raye
would have preconceived as his conduct in such a situation; yet he
did send a short, encouraging line or two, signed with his pseudonym,
in which he asked for another letter, and cheeringly promised that he
would try to see her again on some near day, and would never forget
how much they had been to each other during their short acquaintance.

Life's Little Ironies by Thomas Hardy
19th century fiction

Short stories
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