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'It all arose, you must know, from Andrey being fond of a drop of
drink at that time--though he's a sober enough man now by all
account, so much the better for him. Jane, his bride, you see, was
somewhat older than Andrey; how much older I don't pretend to say;
she was not one of our parish, and the register alone may be able to
tell that. But, at any rate, her being a little ahead of her young
man in mortal years, coupled with other bodily circumstances--'

('Ah, poor thing!' sighed the women.)

'--made her very anxious to get the thing done before he changed his
mind; and 'twas with a joyful countenance (they say) that she, with
Andrey and his brother and sister-in-law, marched off to church one
November morning as soon as 'twas day a'most, to be made one with
Andrey for the rest of her life. He had left our place long before
it was light, and the folks that were up all waved their lanterns at
him, and flung up their hats as he went.

'The church of her parish was a mile and more from the houses, and,
as it was a wonderful fine day for the time of year, the plan was
that as soon as they were married they would make out a holiday by
driving straight off to Port Bredy, to see the ships and the sea and
the sojers, instead of coming back to a meal at the house of the
distant relation she lived wi', and moping about there all the

'Well, some folks noticed that Andrey walked with rather wambling
steps to church that morning; the truth o't was that his nearest
neighbour's child had been christened the day before, and Andrey,
having stood godfather, had stayed all night keeping up the
christening, for he had said to himself, "Not if I live to be
thousand shall I again be made a godfather one day, and a husband the
next, and perhaps a father the next, and therefore I'll make the most
of the blessing." So that when he started from home in the morning
he had not been in bed at all. The result was, as I say, that when
he and his bride-to-he walked up the church to get married, the
pa'son (who was a very strict man inside the church, whatever he was
outside) looked hard at Andrey, and said, very sharp:

'"How's this, my man? You are in liquor. And so early, too. I'm
ashamed of you!"

'"Well, that's true, sir," says Andrey. "But I can walk straight
enough for practical purposes. I can walk a chalk line," he says
(meaning no offence), "as well as some other folk: and--" (getting
hotter)--"I reckon that if you, Pa'son Billy Toogood, had kept up a
christening all night so thoroughly as I have done, you wouldn't be
able to stand at all; d- me if you would!"

'This answer made Pa'son Billy--as they used to call him--rather
spitish, not to say hot, for he was a warm-tempered man if provoked,
and he said, very decidedly:

'"Well, I cannot marry you in this state; and I will not! Go home
and get sober!' And he slapped the book together like a rat-trap.

'Then the bride burst out crying as if her heart would break, for
very fear that she would lose Andrey after all her hard work to get
him, and begged and implored the pa'son to go on with the ceremony.
But no.

'"I won't be a party to your solemnizing matrimony with a tipsy man,"
says Mr. Toogood. "It is not right and decent. I am sorry for you,
my young woman, but you'd better go home again. I wonder how you
could think of bringing him here drunk like this!"

'"But if--if he don't come drunk he won't come at all, sir!" she
says, through her sobs.

'"I can't help that," says the pa'son; and plead as she might, it did
not move him. Then she tried him another way.

'"Well, then, if you'll go home, sir, and leave us here, and come
back to the church in an hour or two, I'll undertake to say that he
shall be as sober as a judge," she cries. "We'll bide here, with
your permission; for if he once goes out of this here church
unmarried, all Van Amburgh's horses won't drag him back again!"

'"Very well," says the parson. "I'll give you two hours, and then
I'll return."

'"And please, sir, lock the door, so that we can't escape!" says she.

'"Yes," says the parson.

'"And let nobody know that we are here."

'The pa'son then took off his clane white surplice, and went away;
and the others consulted upon the best means for keeping the matter a
secret, which it was not a very hard thing to do, the place being so
lonely, and the hour so early. The witnesses, Andrey's brother and
brother's wife, neither one o' which cared about Andrey's marrying
Jane, and had come rather against their will, said they couldn't wait
two hours in that hole of a place, wishing to get home to Longpuddle
before dinner-time. They were altogether so crusty that the clerk
said there was no difficulty in their doing as they wished. They
could go home as if their brother's wedding had actually taken place
and the married couple had gone onward for their day's pleasure jaunt
to Port Bredy as intended, he, the clerk, and any casual passer-by
would act as witnesses when the pa'son came back.

'This was agreed to, and away Andrey's relations went, nothing loath,
and the clerk shut the church door and prepared to lock in the
couple. The bride went up and whispered to him, with her eyes a-
streaming still.

'"My dear good clerk," she says, "if we bide here in the church, folk
may see us through the winders, and find out what has happened; and
'twould cause such a talk and scandal that I never should get over
it: and perhaps, too, dear Andrey might try to get out and leave me!
Will ye lock us up in the tower, my dear good clerk?" she says.
"I'll tole him in there if you will."

'The clerk had no objection to do this to oblige the poor young
woman, and they toled Andrey into the tower, and the clerk locked 'em
both up straightway, and then went home, to return at the end of the
two hours.

'Pa'son Toogood had not been long in his house after leaving the
church when he saw a gentleman in pink and top-boots ride past his
windows, and with a sudden flash of heat he called to mind that the
hounds met that day just on the edge of his parish. The pa'son was
one who dearly loved sport, and much he longed to be there.

'In short, except o' Sundays and at tide-times in the week, Pa'son
Billy was the life o' the Hunt. 'Tis true that he was poor, and that
he rode all of a heap, and that his black mare was rat-tailed and
old, and his tops older, and all over of one colour, whitey-brown,
and full o' cracks. But he'd been in at the death of three thousand
foxes. And--being a bachelor man--every time he went to bed in
summer he used to open the bed at bottom and crawl up head foremost,
to mind en of the coming winter and the good sport he'd have, and the
foxes going to earth. And whenever there was a christening at the
Squire's, and he had dinner there afterwards, as he always did, he
never failed to christen the chiel over again in a bottle of port

'Now the clerk was the parson's groom and gardener and jineral
manager, and had just got back to his work in the garden when he,
too, saw the hunting man pass, and presently saw lots more of 'em,
noblemen and gentry, and then he saw the hounds, the huntsman, Jim
Treadhedge, the whipper-in, and I don't know who besides. The clerk
loved going to cover as frantical as the pa'son, so much so that
whenever he saw or heard the pack he could no more rule his feelings
than if they were the winds of heaven. He might be bedding, or he
might be sowing--all was forgot. So he throws down his spade and
rushes in to the pa'son, who was by this time as frantical to go as

'"That there mare of yours, sir, do want exercise bad, very bad, this
morning!" the clerk says, all of a tremble. "Don't ye think I'd
better trot her round the downs for an hour, sir?"

'"To be sure, she does want exercise badly. I'll trot her round
myself," says the parson.

'"Oh--you'll trot her yerself? Well, there's the cob, sir. Really
that cob is getting oncontrollable through biding in a stable so
long! If you wouldn't mind my putting on the saddle--"

'"Very well. Take him out, certainly," says the pa'son, never caring
what the clerk did so long as he himself could get off immediately.
So, scrambling into his riding-boots and breeches as quick as he
could, he rode off towards the meet, intending to be back in an hour.
No sooner was he gone than the clerk mounted the cob, and was off
after him. When the pa'son got to the meet, he found a lot of
friends, and was as jolly as he could be: the hounds found a'most as
soon as they threw off, and there was great excitement. So,
forgetting that he had meant to go back at once, away rides the
pa'son with the rest o' the hunt, all across the fallow ground that
lies between Lippet Wood and Green's Copse; and as he galloped he
looked behind for a moment, and there was the clerk close to his

'"Ha, ha, clerk--you here?" he says.

'"Yes, sir, here be I," says t'other.

'"Fine exercise for the horses!"

'"Ay, sir--hee, hee!" says the clerk.

'So they went on and on, into Green's Copse, then across to Higher
Jirton; then on across this very turnpike-road to Climmerston Ridge,
then away towards Yalbury Wood: up hill and down dale, like the very
wind, the clerk close to the pa'son, and the pa'son not far from the
hounds. Never was there a finer run knowed with that pack than they
had that day; and neither pa'son nor clerk thought one word about the
unmarried couple locked up in the church tower waiting to get j'ined.

'"These hosses of yours, sir, will be much improved by this!" says
the clerk as he rode along, just a neck behind the pa'son. "'Twas a
happy thought of your reverent mind to bring 'em out to-day. Why, it
may be frosty in a day or two, and then the poor things mid not be
able to leave the stable for weeks."

'"They may not, they may not, it is true. A merciful man is merciful
to his beast," says the pa'son.

'"Hee, hee!" says the clerk, glancing sly into the pa'son's eye.

'"Ha, ha!" says the pa'son, a-glancing back into the clerk's.
"Halloo!" he shouts, as he sees the fox break cover at that moment.

'"Halloo!" cries the clerk. "There he goes! Why, dammy, there's two

'"Hush, clerk, hush! Don't let me hear that word again! Remember
our calling."

'"True, sir, true. But really, good sport do carry away a man so,
that he's apt to forget his high persuasion!" And the next minute
the corner of the clerk's eye shot again into the corner of the
pa'son's, and the pa'son's back again to the clerk's. "Hee, hee!"
said the clerk.

'"Ha, ha!" said Pa'son Toogood.

'"Ah, sir," says the clerk again, "this is better than crying Amen to
your Ever-and-ever on a winter's morning!"

'"Yes, indeed, clerk! To everything there's a season," says Pa'son
Toogood, quite pat, for he was a learned Christian man when he liked,
and had chapter and ve'se at his tongue's end, as a pa'son should.

'At last, late in the day, the hunting came to an end by the fox
running into a' old woman's cottage, under her table, and up the
clock-case. The pa'son and clerk were among the first in at the
death, their faces a-staring in at the old woman's winder, and the
clock striking as he'd never been heard to strik' before. Then came
the question of finding their way home.

'Neither the pa'son nor the clerk knowed how they were going to do
this, for their beasts were wellnigh tired down to the ground. But
they started back-along as well as they could, though they were so
done up that they could only drag along at a' amble, and not much of
that at a time.

'"We shall never, never get there!" groaned Mr. Toogood, quite bowed

'"Never!" groans the clerk. "'Tis a judgment upon us for our

'"I fear it is," murmurs the pa'son.

'Well, 'twas quite dark afore they entered the pa'sonage gate, having
crept into the parish as quiet as if they'd stole a hammer, little
wishing their congregation to know what they'd been up to all day
long. And as they were so dog-tired, and so anxious about the
horses, never once did they think of the unmarried couple. As soon
as ever the horses had been stabled and fed, and the pa'son and clerk
had had a bit and a sup theirselves, they went to bed.

'Next morning when Pa'son Toogood was at breakfast, thinking of the
glorious sport he'd had the day before, the clerk came in a hurry to
the door and asked to see him.

'"It has just come into my mind, sir, that we've forgot all about the
couple that we was to have married yesterday!"

'The half-chawed victuals dropped from the pa'son's mouth as if he'd
been shot. "Bless my soul," says he, "so we have! How very

'"It is, sir; very. Perhaps we've ruined the 'ooman!"

'"Ah--to be sure--I remember! She ought to have been married

'"If anything has happened to her up in that there tower, and no
doctor or nuss--"

('Ah--poor thing!' sighed the women.)

'"--'twill be a quarter-sessions matter for us, not to speak of the
disgrace to the Church!"

'"Good God, clerk, don't drive me wild!" says the pa'son. "Why the
hell didn't I marry 'em, drunk or sober!" (Pa'sons used to cuss in
them days like plain honest men.) "Have you been to the church to
see what happened to them, or inquired in the village?"

'"Not I, sir! It only came into my head a moment ago, and I always
like to be second to you in church matters. You could have knocked
me down with a sparrer's feather when I thought o't, sir; I assure
'ee you could!"

'Well, the parson jumped up from his breakfast, and together they
went off to the church.

'"It is not at all likely that they are there now," says Mr. Toogood,
as they went; "and indeed I hope they are not. They be pretty sure
to have 'scaped and gone home."

'However, they opened the church-hatch, entered the churchyard, and
looking up at the tower, there they seed a little small white face at
the belfry-winder, and a little small hand waving. 'Twas the bride.

'"God my life, clerk," says Mr. Toogood, "I don't know how to face
'em!" And he sank down upon a tombstone. "How I wish I hadn't been
so cussed particular!"

'"Yes--'twas a pity we didn't finish it when we'd begun," the clerk
said. "Still, since the feelings of your holy priestcraft wouldn't
let ye, the couple must put up with it."

'"True, clerk, true! Does she look as if anything premature had took

'"I can't see her no lower down than her arm-pits, sir."

'"Well--how do her face look?"

'"It do look mighty white!"

'"Well, we must know the worst! Dear me, how the small of my back do
ache from that ride yesterday! . . . But to more godly business!"

'They went on into the church, and unlocked the tower stairs, and
immediately poor Jane and Andrey busted out like starved mice from a
cupboard, Andrey limp and sober enough now, and his bride pale and
cold, but otherwise as usual.

'"What," says the pa'son, with a great breath of relief, "you haven't
been here ever since?"

'"Yes, we have, sir!" says the bride, sinking down upon a seat in her
weakness. "Not a morsel, wet or dry, have we had since! It was
impossible to get out without help, and here we've stayed!"

'"But why didn't you shout, good souls?" said the pa'son.

'"She wouldn't let me," says Andrey.

'"Because we were so ashamed at what had led to it," sobs Jane. "We
felt that if it were noised abroad it would cling to us all our
lives! Once or twice Andrey had a good mind to toll the bell, but
then he said: "No; I'll starve first. I won't bring disgrace on my
name and yours, my dear." And so we waited and waited, and walked
round and round; but never did you come till now!"

'"To my regret!" says the parson. "Now, then, we will soon get it

'"I--I should like some victuals," said Andrey, "'twould gie me
courage if it is only a crust o' bread and a' onion; for I am that
leery that I can feel my stomach rubbing against my backbone."

'"I think we had better get it done," said the bride, a bit anxious
in manner; "since we are all here convenient, too!"

'Andrey gave way about the victuals, and the clerk called in a second
witness who wouldn't be likely to gossip about it, and soon the knot
was tied, and the bride looked smiling and calm forthwith, and Andrey
limper than ever.

'"Now," said Pa'son Toogood, "you two must come to my house, and have
a good lining put to your insides before you go a step further."

'They were very glad of the offer, and went out of the churchyard by
one path while the pa'son and clerk went out by the other, and so did
not attract notice, it being still early. They entered the rectory
as if they'd just come back from their trip to Port Bredy; and then
they knocked in the victuals and drink till they could hold no more.

'It was a long while before the story of what they had gone through
was known, but it was talked of in time, and they themselves laugh
over it now; though what Jane got for her pains was no great bargain
after all. 'Tis true she saved her name.'

'Was that the same Andrey who went to the squire's house as one of
the Christmas fiddlers?' asked the seedsman.

'No, no,' replied Mr. Profitt, the schoolmaster. 'It was his father
did that. Ay, it was all owing to his being such a man for eating
and drinking.' Finding that he had the ear of the audience, the
schoolmaster continued without delay:-

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

Short stories
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