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INCIDENT IN THE LIFE OF MR. GEORGE CROOKHILL



'One day,' the registrar continued, 'Georgy was ambling out of
Melchester on a miserable screw, the fair being just over, when he
saw in front of him a fine-looking young farmer riding out of the
town in the same direction. He was mounted on a good strong handsome
animal, worth fifty guineas if worth a crown. When they were going
up Bissett Hill, Georgy made it his business to overtake the young
farmer. They passed the time o' day to one another; Georgy spoke of
the state of the roads, and jogged alongside the well-mounted
stranger in very friendly conversation. The farmer had not been
inclined to say much to Georgy at first, but by degrees he grew quite
affable too--as friendly as Georgy was toward him. He told Crookhill
that he had been doing business at Melchester fair, and was going on
as far as Shottsford-Forum that night, so as to reach Casterbridge
market the next day. When they came to Woodyates Inn they stopped to
bait their horses, and agreed to drink together; with this they got
more friendly than ever, and on they went again. Before they had
nearly reached Shottsford it came on to rain, and as they were now
passing through the village of Trantridge, and it was quite dark,
Georgy persuaded the young farmer to go no further that night; the
rain would most likely give them a chill. For his part he had heard
that the little inn here was comfortable, and he meant to stay. At
last the young farmer agreed to put up there also; and they
dismounted, and entered, and had a good supper together, and talked
over their affairs like men who had known and proved each other a
long time. When it was the hour for retiring they went upstairs to a
double-bedded room which Georgy Crookhill had asked the landlord to
let them share, so sociable were they.

'Before they fell asleep they talked across the room about one thing
and another, running from this to that till the conversation turned
upon disguises, and changing clothes for particular ends. The farmer
told Georgy that he had often heard tales of people doing it; but
Crookhill professed to be very ignorant of all such tricks; and soon
the young farmer sank into slumber.

'Early in the morning, while the tall young farmer was still asleep
(I tell the story as 'twas told me), honest Georgy crept out of his
bed by stealth, and dressed himself in the farmer's clothes, in the
pockets of the said clothes being the farmer's money. Now though
Georgy particularly wanted the farmer's nice clothes and nice horse,
owing to a little transaction at the fair which made it desirable
that he should not be too easily recognized, his desires had their
bounds: he did not wish to take his young friend's money, at any
rate more of it than was necessary for paying his bill. This he
abstracted, and leaving the farmer's purse containing the rest on the
bedroom table, went downstairs. The inn folks had not particularly
noticed the faces of their customers, and the one or two who were up
at this hour had no thought but that Georgy was the farmer; so when
he had paid the bill very liberally, and said he must be off, no
objection was made to his getting the farmer's horse saddled for
himself; and he rode away upon it as if it were his own.

'About half an hour after the young farmer awoke, and looking across
the room saw that his friend Georgy had gone away in clothes which
didn't belong to him, and had kindly left for himself the seedy ones
worn by Georgy. At this he sat up in a deep thought for some time,
instead of hastening to give an alarm. "The money, the money is
gone," he said to himself, "and that's bad. But so are the clothes."

'He then looked upon the table and saw that the money, or most of it,
had been left behind.

'"Ha, ha, ha!" he cried, and began to dance about the room. "Ha, ha,
ha!" he said again, and made beautiful smiles to himself in the
shaving glass and in the brass candlestick; and then swung about his
arms for all the world as if he were going through the sword
exercise.

'When he had dressed himself in Georgy's clothes and gone downstairs,
he did not seem to mind at all that they took him for the other; and
even when he saw that he had been left a bad horse for a good one, he
was not inclined to cry out. They told him his friend had paid the
bill, at which he seemed much pleased, and without waiting for
breakfast he mounted Georgy's horse and rode away likewise, choosing
the nearest by-lane in preference to the high-road, without knowing
that Georgy had chosen that by-lane also.

'He had not trotted more than two miles in the personal character of
Georgy Crookhill when, suddenly rounding a bend that the lane made
thereabout, he came upon a man struggling in the hands of two village
constables. It was his friend Georgy, the borrower of his clothes
and horse. But so far was the young farmer from showing any alacrity
in rushing forward to claim his property that he would have turned
the poor beast he rode into the wood adjoining, if he had not been
already perceived.

'"Help, help, help!" cried the constables. "Assistance in the name
of the Crown!"

'The young farmer could do nothing but ride forward. "What's the
matter?" he inquired, as coolly as he could.

'"A deserter--a deserter!" said they. "One who's to be tried by
court-martial and shot without parley. He deserted from the Dragoons
at Cheltenham some days ago, and was tracked; but the search-party
can't find him anywhere, and we told 'em if we met him we'd hand him
on to 'em forthwith. The day after he left the barracks the rascal
met a respectable farmer and made him drunk at an inn, and told him
what a fine soldier he would make, and coaxed him to change clothes,
to see how well a military uniform would become him. This the simple
farmer did; when our deserter said that for a joke he would leave the
room and go to the landlady, to see if she would know him in that
dress. He never came back, and Farmer Jollice found himself in
soldier's clothes, the money in his pockets gone, and, when he got to
the stable, his horse gone too."

'"A scoundrel!" says the young man in Georgy's clothes. "And is this
the wretched caitiff?" (pointing to Georgy).

'"No, no!" cries Georgy, as innocent as a babe of this matter of the
soldier's desertion. "He's the man! He was wearing Farmer Jollice's
suit o' clothes, and he slept in the same room wi' me, and brought up
the subject of changing clothes, which put it into my head to dress
myself in his suit before he was awake. He's got on mine!"

'"D'ye hear the villain?" groans the tall young man to the
constables. "Trying to get out of his crime by charging the first
innocent man with it that he sees! No, master soldier--that won't
do!"

'"No, no! That won't do!" the constables chimed in. "To have the
impudence to say such as that, when we caught him in the act almost!
But, thank God, we've got the handcuffs on him at last."

'"We have, thank God," said the tall young man. "Well, I must move
on. Good luck to ye with your prisoner!" And off he went, as fast
as his poor jade would carry him.

'The constables then, with Georgy handcuffed between 'em, and leading
the horse, marched off in the other direction, toward the village
where they had been accosted by the escort of soldiers sent to bring
the deserter back, Georgy groaning: "I shall be shot, I shall be
shot!" They had not gone more than a mile before they met them.

'"Hoi, there!" says the head constable.

'"Hoi, yerself!" says the corporal in charge.

'"We've got your man," says the constable.

'"Where?" says the corporal.

'"Here, between us," said the constable. "Only you don't recognize
him out o' uniform."

'The corporal looked at Georgy hard enough; then shook his head and
said he was not the absconder.

'"But the absconder changed clothes with Farmer Jollice, and took his
horse; and this man has 'em, d'ye see!"

'"'Tis not our man," said the soldiers. "He's a tall young fellow
with a mole on his right cheek, and a military bearing, which this
man decidedly has not."

'"I told the two officers of justice that 'twas the other!" pleaded
Georgy. "But they wouldn't believe me."

'And so it became clear that the missing dragoon was the tall young
farmer, and not Georgy Crookhill--a fact which Farmer Jollice himself
corroborated when he arrived on the scene. As Georgy had only robbed
the robber, his sentence was comparatively light. The deserter from
the Dragoons was never traced: his double shift of clothing having
been of the greatest advantage to him in getting off; though he left
Georgy's horse behind him a few miles ahead, having found the poor
creature more hindrance than aid.'


The man from abroad seemed to be less interested in the questionable
characters of Longpuddle and their strange adventures than in the
ordinary inhabitants and the ordinary events, though his local
fellow-travellers preferred the former as subjects of discussion. He
now for the first time asked concerning young persons of the opposite
sex--or rather those who had been young when he left his native land.
His informants, adhering to their own opinion that the remarkable was
better worth telling than the ordinary, would not allow him to dwell
upon the simple chronicles of those who had merely come and gone.
They asked him if he remembered Netty Sargent.

'Netty Sargent--I do, just remember her. She was a young woman
living with her uncle when I left, if my childish recollection may be
trusted.'

'That was the maid. She was a oneyer, if you like, sir. Not any
harm in her, you know, but up to everything. You ought to hear how
she got the copyhold of her house extended. Oughtn't he, Mr. Day?'

'He ought,' replied the world-ignored old painter.

'Tell him, Mr. Day. Nobody can do it better than you, and you know
the legal part better than some of us.'

Day apologized, and began:-





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

Short stories
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