Thus was helped on an event which the conduct of the
mutually-attracted ones had been generating for some time.
It is unnecessary to give details. The —st Foot left for
Bristol, and this precipitated their action. After a week of
hesitation she agreed to leave her home at Creston and meet
Vannicock on the ridge hard by, and to accompany him to Bath, where
he had secured lodgings for her, so that she would be only about a
dozen miles from his quarters.
Accordingly, on the evening chosen, she laid on her
dressing-table a note for her husband, running thus:-
DEAR JACK—I am unable to endure this life any longer,
and I have resolved to put an end to it. I told you I should
run away if you persisted in being a clergyman, and now I am doing
it. One cannot help one’s nature. I have resolved to
throw in my lot with Mr. Vannicock, and I hope rather than expect
you will forgive me.—L.
Then, with hardly a scrap of luggage, she went, ascending to the
ridge in the dusk of early evening. Almost on the very spot
where her husband had stood at their last tryst she beheld the
outline of Vannicock, who had come all the way from Bristol to
‘I don’t like meeting here—it is so unlucky!’ she cried to
him. ‘For God’s sake let us have a place of our own. Go
back to the milestone, and I’ll come on.’
He went back to the milestone that stands on the north slope of
the ridge, where the old and new roads diverge, and she joined him
She was taciturn and sorrowful when he asked her why she would
not meet him on the top. At last she inquired how they were
going to travel.
He explained that he proposed to walk to Mellstock Hill, on the
other side of Casterbridge, where a fly was waiting to take them by
a cross-cut into the Ivell Road, and onward to that town. The
Bristol railway was open to Ivell.
This plan they followed, and walked briskly through the dull
gloom till they neared Casterbridge, which place they avoided by
turning to the right at the Roman Amphitheatre and bearing round to
Durnover Cross. Thence the way was solitary and open across
the moor to the hill whereon the Ivell fly awaited them.
‘I have noticed for some time,’ she said, ‘a lurid glare over
the Durnover end of the town. It seems to come from somewhere
about Mixen Lane.’
‘The lamps,’ he suggested.
‘There’s not a lamp as big as a rushlight in the whole
lane. It is where the cholera is worst.’
By Standfast Corner, a little beyond the Cross, they suddenly
obtained an end view of the lane. Large bonfires were burning
in the middle of the way, with a view to purifying the air; and
from the wretched tenements with which the lane was lined in those
days persons were bringing out bedding and clothing. Some was
thrown into the fires, the rest placed in wheel-barrows and wheeled
into the moor directly in the track of the fugitives.
They followed on, and came up to where a vast copper was set in
the open air. Here the linen was boiled and
disinfected. By the light of the lanterns Laura discovered
that her husband was standing by the copper, and that it was he who
unloaded the barrow and immersed its contents. The night was
so calm and muggy that the conversation by the copper reached her
‘Are there many more loads to-night?’
‘There’s the clothes o’ they that died this afternoon,
sir. But that might bide till to-morrow, for you must be
‘We’ll do it at once, for I can’t ask anybody else to undertake
it. Overturn that load on the grass and fetch the rest.’
The man did so and went off with the barrow. Maumbry
paused for a moment to wipe his face, and resumed his homely
drudgery amid this squalid and reeking scene, pressing down and
stirring the contents of the copper with what looked like an old
rolling-pin. The steam therefrom, laden with death, travelled
in a low trail across the meadow.
Laura spoke suddenly: ‘I won’t go to-night after all. He
is so tired, and I must help him. I didn’t know things were
so bad as this!’
Vannicock’s arm dropped from her waist, where it had been
resting as they walked. ‘Will you leave?’ she asked.
‘I will if you say I must. But I’d rather help too.’
There was no expostulation in his tone.
Laura had gone forward. ‘Jack,’ she said, ‘I am come to
The weary curate turned and held up the lantern. ‘O—what,
is it you, Laura?’ he asked in surprise. ‘Why did you come
into this? You had better go back—the risk is great.’
‘But I want to help you, Jack. Please let me help! I
didn’t come by myself—Mr. Vannicock kept me company. He will
make himself useful too, if he’s not gone on. Mr.
The young lieutenant came forward reluctantly. Mr. Maumbry
spoke formally to him, adding as he resumed his labour, ‘I thought
the —st Foot had gone to Bristol.’
‘We have. But I have run down again for a few things.’
The two newcomers began to assist, Vannicock placing on the
ground the small bag containing Laura’s toilet articles that he had
been carrying. The barrowman soon returned with another load,
and all continued work for nearly a half-hour, when a coachman came
out from the shadows to the north.
‘Beg pardon, sir,’ he whispered to Vannicock, ‘but I’ve waited
so long on Mellstock hill that at last I drove down to the
turnpike; and seeing the light here, I ran on to find out what had
Lieutenant Vannicock told him to wait a few minutes, and the
last barrow-load was got through. Mr. Maumbry stretched
himself and breathed heavily, saying, ‘There; we can do no
As if from the relaxation of effort he seemed to be seized with
violent pain. He pressed his hands to his sides and bent
‘Ah! I think it has got hold of me at last,’ he said with
difficulty. ‘I must try to get home. Let Mr. Vannicock
take you back, Laura.’
He walked a few steps, they helping him, but was obliged to sink
down on the grass.
‘I am—afraid—you’ll have to send for a hurdle, or shutter, or
something,’ he went on feebly, ‘or try to get me into the
But Vannicock had called to the driver of the fly, and they
waited until it was brought on from the turnpike hard by. Mr.
Maumbry was placed therein. Laura entered with him, and they
drove to his humble residence near the Cross, where he was got
Vannicock stood outside by the empty fly awhile, but Laura did
not reappear. He thereupon entered the fly and told the
driver to take him back to Ivell.