It was a bright hot August Saturday in the market town of
Eastthorpe in the eastern Midlands in the year 1840. Eastthorpe
lay about five miles on the western side of the Fens in a very
level country on the banks of a river broad and deep but with only
just sufficient fall to enable its long-lingering waters to reach
the sea. It was an ancient market town with a six-arched stone
bridge and with a High Street from which three or four smaller and
narrower streets connected by courts and alleys diverged at right
angles. In the middle of the town was the church an immense
building big enough to hold half Eastthorpe and celebrated for its
beautiful spire and its peal of eight bells. Round the church lay
the churchyard fringed with huge elms and in the Abbey Close as
it was called which was the outer girdle of the churchyard on three
sides the fourth side of the square being the High Street there
lived in 1840 the principal doctor the lawyer the parson and two
aged gentlewomen with some property who were daughters of one of
the former partners in the bank had been born in Eastthorpe and
had scarcely ever quitted it. Here also were a young ladies'
seminary and an ancient grammar school for the education of forty
boys sons of freemen of the town. The houses in the Close were not
of the same class as the rest; they were mostly old red brick with
white sashes and they all had gardens long narrow and shady
which on the south side of the Close ran down to the river. One
of these houses was even older black-timbered gabled plastered
the sole remains saving the church of Eastthorpe as it was in the
reign of Henry the Eighth.
Just beyond the church going from the bridge the High Street was
so wide that the houses on either side were separated by a space of
over two hundred feet. This elongated space was the market-place.
In the centre was the Moot Hall a quaint little building supported
on oak pillars and in the shelter underneath the farmers assembled
on market day. All round the Moot Hall and extending far up and
down the street were cattle-pens and sheep-pens which were never
removed. Most of the shops were still bow-windowed with small
panes of glass but the first innovation indicative of the new era
at hand had just been made. The druggist as a man of science and
advanced ideas had replaced his bow-window with plate-glass had
put a cornice over it had stuccoed his bricks and had erected a
kind of balustrade of stucco so as to hide as much as possible the
attic windows which looked over meekly protesting. Nearly
opposite the Moot Hall was the Bell Inn the principal inn in the
town. There were other inns respectable enough such as the Bull
a little higher up patronised by the smaller commercial travellers
and farmers but the entrance passage to the Bull had sand on the
floor and carriers made it a house of call. To the Bell the two
coaches came which went through Eastthorpe and there they changed
horses. Both the Bull and the Bell had market dinners but at the
Bell the charge was three-and-sixpence; sherry was often drunk and
there the steward to the Honourable Mr. Eaton the principal
landowner always met the tenants. The Bell was Tory and the Bull
was Whig but no stranger of respectability Whig or Tory visiting
Eastthorpe could possibly hesitate about going to the Bell with its
large gilded device projecting over the pathway with its broad
archway at the side always freshly gravelled and its handsome
balcony on the first floor from which the Tory county candidates
during election times addressed the free and independent electors
Eastthorpe was a malting town and down by the water were two or
three large malthouses. The view from the bridge was not
particularly picturesque but it was pleasant especially in summer
when the wind was south-west. The malthouses and their cowls the
wharves and the gaily painted sailing barges alongside the fringe
of slanting willows turning the silver-gray sides of their foliage
towards the breeze the island in the middle of the river with
bigger willows the large expanse of sky the soft clouds distinct
in form almost to the far distant horizon and looking eastwards
the illimitable distance towards the fens and the sea--all this made
up a landscape more suitable perhaps to some persons than rock or
waterfall although no picture had ever been painted of it and
nobody had ever come to see it.
Such was Eastthorpe. For hundreds of years had the shadow of St.
Mary's swept slowly over the roofs underneath it and of all those
years scarcely a line of its history survived save what was
written in the churchyard or in the church registers. The town had
stood for the Parliament in the days of the Civil War and there had
been a skirmish in the place; but who fought in it who were killed
in it and what the result was nobody knew. Half a dozen old
skulls of much earlier date and of great size were once found in a
gravel pit two miles away and were the subject of much talk some
taking them for Romans some for Britons some for Saxons and some
for Danes. As it was impossible to be sure if they were Christian
they could not be put in consecrated ground; they were therefore
included in an auction of dead and live stock and were bought by
the doctor. Surnames survived in Eastthorpe with singular
pertinacity for it was remote from the world but what was the
relationship between the scores of Thaxtons for example whose
deaths were inscribed on the tombstones some of them all awry and
weather-worn and the Thaxtons of 1840 no living Thaxton could
tell every spiritual trace of them having disappeared more utterly
than their bones. Their bones indeed did not disappear and were
a source of much trouble to the sexton for in digging a new grave
they came up to the surface in quantities and had to be shovelled
in and covered up again so that the bodily remains of successive
generations were jumbled together and Puritan and Georgian Thaxtons
were mixed promiscuously with their descendants. Nevertheless
Eastthorpe had really had a history. It had known victory and
defeat love hatred intrigue hope despair and all the passions
just as Elizabeth King Charles Cromwell and Queen Anne knew them
but they were not recorded.
It was a bright hot August Saturday as we have said and it was
market day. Furthermore it was half-past two in the afternoon and
the guests at Mr. Furze's had just finished their dinner. Mr. Furze
was the largest ironmonger in Eastthorpe and sold not only
ironmongery but ploughs and all kinds of agricultural implements.
At the back of the shop was a small foundry where all the foundry
work for miles round Eastthorpe was done. It was Mr. Furze's
practice always to keep a kind of open house on Saturday and on
this particular day at half-past two Mr. Bellamy Mr. Chandler
Mr. Gosford and Mr. Furze were drinking their whiskey-and-water and
smoking their pipes in Mr. Furze's parlour. The first three were
well-to-do farmers and with them the whiskey-and-water was not a
pretence. Mr. Furze was a tradesman and of a different build.
Strong tobacco and whiskey at that hour and in that heat were rather
too much for him and he played with his pipe and drank very slowly.
The conversation had subsided for a while under the influence of the
beef Yorkshire pudding beer and spirits when Mr. Bellamy
"Old Bartlett's widow still a-livin' up at the Croft?"
"Yes" said Mr. Gosford after filling his pipe again and pausing
for at least a minute "Bartlett's dead."
"Bartlett wur a slow-coach" observed Mr. Chandler after another
pause of a minute "so wur his mare. I mind me I wur behind his
mare about five years ago last Michaelmas and I wur well-nigh
perished. I wur a-goin' to give her a poke with my stick and old
Bartlett says 'Doan't hit her doan't hit her; yer can't alter
The three worthy farmers roared with laughter Mr. Furze smiling
"That was a good 'un" said Mr. Bellamy.
"Ah" replied Chandler "I mind that as well as if it wur
Mr. Bellamy at this point had to leave and Mr. Furze was obliged to
attend to his shop. Gosford and Chandler however remained and
Gosford continued the subject of Bartlett's widow.
"What's she a-stayin' on for up there?"
"Old Bartlett's left her a goodish bit."
"She wur younger than he."
A dead silence of some minutes.
"She ain't a-goin' to take the Croft on herself" observed Gosford.
"Them beasts of the squire's" replied Chandler "fetched a goodish
lot. Scaled just over ninety stone apiece."
"Why doan't you go in for the widow Chandler?"
Mr. Chandler was a widower.
"Eh!" (with a nasal tone and a smile)--"bit too much for me."
"Too much? Why there ain't above fourteen stone of her. Keep yer
warm o' nights up at your cold place."
Mr. Chandler took the pipe out of his mouth put it inside the
fender compressed his lips rubbed his chin and looked up to the
"Well I must be a-goin'."
"I suppose I must too" and they both went their ways to meet again
At five punctually all had again assembled the additions to the
party being Mrs. Furze and her daughter Catharine a young woman of
nineteen. Mrs. Furze was not an Eastthorpe lady; she came from
Cambridge and Mr. Furze had first seen her when she was on a visit
in Eastthorpe. Her father was a draper in Cambridge which was not
only a much bigger place than Eastthorpe but had a university and
Mrs. Furze talked about the university familiarly so that although
her education had been slender a university flavour clung to her
and the farmers round Eastthorpe would have been quite unable to
determine the difference between her and a senior wrangler if they
had known what a senior wrangler was.
"Ha" observed Mr. Gosford when they were seated "I wur sayin'
Mrs. Furze to Chandler as he ought to go in for old Bartlett's
widow. Now what do YOU think? Wouldn't they make a pretty pair?"
and he twisted Chandler's shoulders round a little till he faced
"Don't you be a fool Gosford" said Chandler in good temper but as
he disengaged himself he upset his tea on Mrs. Furze's carpet.
"Really Mr. Gosford" replied Mrs. Furze with some dignity and
asperity "I am no judge in such matters. They are best left to the
"No offence ma'am no offence."
Mrs. Furze was not quite a favourite with her husband's friends and
he knew it but he was extremely anxious that their dislike to her
should not damage his business relationships with them. So he
endeavoured to act as mediator.
"No doubt my dear no doubt but at the same time there is no
reason why Mr. Gosford should not make any suggestion which may be
to our friend Chandler's advantage"
But Mr. Gosford was checked and did not pursue the subject.
Catharine sat next to him.
"Mr. Gosford when may I come to Moat Farm again?"
"Lord my dear whenever you like you know that. Me and Mrs. G. is
always glad to see you. WHENever you please" and Mr. Gosford
instantly recovered the good-humour which Mrs. Furze had suppressed.
"Don't forget us" chimed in Mr. Bellamy. "We'll turn out your room
and store apples in it if you don't use it oftener."
"Now Mr. Bellamy" said Catharine holding up her finger at him
"you'll be sick of me at last. You've forgotten when I had that bad
cold at your house and was in bed there for a week and what a
bother I was to Mrs. Bellamy."
"Bother!" cried Bellamy--"bother! Lord have mercy on us! why the
missus was sayin' when you talked about bother my missus says 'I'd
sooner have Catharine here and me have tea up there with her
notwithstanding there must be a fire upstairs and I've had to send
Lucy to the infirmary with a whitlow on her thumb--yes I would
than be at a many tea-parties I know.'"
Mrs. Furze gave elaborate tea-parties and was uncomfortably
uncertain whether or not the shaft was intended for her.
"My dear Catharine I shall be delighted if you go either to Mr.
Gosford's or to Mr. Bellamy's but you must consider your wardrobe a
little. You will remember that the last time on each occasion a
dress was torn in pieces."
"But mother are not dresses intended to keep thorns from our legs;
or at any rate isn't that ONE reason why we wear them?"
"Suppose it to be so my dear there is no reason why you should
plunge about in thorns."
Catharine had a provoking way of saving "yes" or "no" when she
wished to terminate a controversy. She stated her own opinion and
then if objection was raised at least by some people her father
and mother included she professed agreement by a simple
monosyllable either because she was lazy or because she saw that
there was no chance of further profit in the discussion. It was
irritating because it was always clear she meant nothing. At this
instant a servant opened the door and Alice a curly brown
retriever squeezed herself in and made straight for Catharine
putting her head on Catharine's lap.
"Catharine Catharine!" cried her mother with a little scream
"she's dripping wet. Do pray my child think of the carpet."
But Catharine put her lips to Alice's face and kissed it
deliberately giving her a piece of cake.
"Mr. Gosford my poor bitch has puppies--three of them--all as true
as their mother for we know the father."
"Ah!" replied Gosford "you're lucky then Miss Catharine for
dogs especially in a town--"
Mrs. Furze at this moment hastily rang the bell making an unusual
clatter with the crockery: Mr. Furze said the company must excuse
him and the three worthy farmers rose to take their departure.
It was Mr. Furze's custom on Sunday to go to sleep for an hour
between dinner and tea upstairs in what was called the drawing-room
while Mrs. Furze sat and read or said she read a religious book.
On hot summer afternoons Mr. Furze always took off his coat before
he had his nap and sometimes divested himself of his waistcoat.
When the coat and waistcoat were taken off Mrs. Furze invariably
drew down the blinds. She had often remonstrated with her husband
for appearing in his shirt-sleeves and objected to the neighbours
seeing him in this costume. There was a sofa in the room but it
was horsehair with high ends both alike not comfortable which
were covered with curious complications called antimacassars that
slipped off directly they were touched so that anybody who leaned
upon them was engaged continually in warfare with them picking them
up from the floor or spreading them out again. There was also an
easy chair but it was not easy for it matched the sofa in
horsehair and was so ingeniously contrived that directly a person
placed himself in it it gently shot him forwards. Furthermore it
had special antimacassars which were a work of art and Mrs. Furze
had warned Mr. Furze off them. "He would ruin them" she said "if
he put his head upon them." So a windsor chair with a high back was
always carried by Mr. Furze upstairs after dinner together with a
common kitchen chair and on these he slumbered. The room was never
used save on Sundays and when Mrs. Furze gave a tea-party. It
overlooked the market-place and although on a Sunday afternoon the
High Street was almost completely silent Mrs. Furze liked to sit so
near the window that she could peep out at the edge of the blind
when she was not dozing. It is true no master nor mistress ever
stirred at that hour but every now and then a maidservant could be
seen and she was better than nothing for the purpose of criticism.
A round table stood in the middle of the room with a pink vase on it
containing artificial flowers and on the mantelpiece were two other
pink vases and two great shells. Over the mantelpiece was a
portrait of His Majesty King George the Fourth in his robes and
exactly opposite was a picture of the Virgin Mary which was old and
valuable. Mr. Furze bought it at a sale with some other things and
did not quite like it. It savoured of Popery which he could not
abide; but the parson one day saw it and told Mrs. Furze it was
worth something; whereupon she put it in a new maple frame and had
it hung in a place of honour second to that occupied by King George
and so arranged that he and the Virgin were always looking at one
another. On the other side of the room were a likeness of Mr. Eaton
in hunting array with the dogs and a mezzotint of the Deluge.
Mr. Furze had just awaked on the Sunday afternoon following the day
of which the history is partly given in the first chapter.
"My dear" said his wife "I have been thinking a good deal of
Catharine. She is not quite what I could wish."
"No" replied Mr. Furze with a yawn.
"To begin with she uses bad language. I was really quite shocked
yesterday to hear the extremely vulgar word almost--almost--I do
not know what to call it--profane I may say which she applied to
her dog when talking of it to Mr. Gosford. Then she goes in the
foundry; and I firmly believe that all the money which has been
spent on her music is utterly thrown away."
"The thing is--what is to be done?"
"Now I have a plan."
In order to make Mrs. Furze's plan fully intelligible it may be as
well to explain that up to the year 1840 the tradesmen of
Eastthorpe had lived at their shops. But a year or two before that
date some houses had been built at the north end of the town and
called "The Terrace." A new doctor had taken one the brewer
another and a third had been taken by the grocer a man reputed to
be very well off who not only did a large retail business but
supplied the small shops in the villages round.
"Well my dear what is your plan?"
"Your connection is extending and you want more room. Now why
should you not move to the Terrace? If we were to go there
Catharine would be withdrawn from the society in which she at
present mixes. You could not continue to give market dinners and
gradually her acquaintance with the persons whom you now invite
would cease. I believe too that if we were in the Terrace Mrs.
Colston would call on us. As the wife of a brewer she cannot do so
now. Then there is just another thing which has been on my mind for
a long time. It is settled that Mr. Jennings is to leave for he
has accepted an invitation from the cause at Ely. I do not think we
shall like anybody after Mr. Jennings and it would be a good
opportunity for us to exchange the chapel for the church. We have
attended the chapel regularly but I have always felt a kind of
prejudice there against us or at least against myself and there is
no denying that the people who go to church are vastly more genteel
and so are the service and everything about it--the vespers--the
bells--somehow there is a respectability in it."
Mr. Furze was silent. At last he said "It is a very serious
matter. I must consider it in all its bearings."
It WAS a serious matter and he did consider it--but not in all its
bearings for he did nothing but think about it so that it
enveloped him and he could not put himself at such a distance that
he could see its real shape. He was now well over fifty and was the
kind of person with whom habits become firmly fixed. He was fixed
even in his dress. He always wore a white neckcloth and his shirt
was frilled--fashions which were already beginning to die out in
Eastthorpe. His manner of life was most regular: breakfast at
eight dinner at one tea at five supper at nine with a pipe
afterwards was his unvarying round. He never left Eastthorpe for a
holiday and read no books of any kind. He was a most respectable
member of a Dissenting congregation but he was not a member of the
church and was never seen at the week-night services or the prayer-
meetings. He went through the ceremony of family worship morning
and evening but he did not pray extempore as did the elect and
contented himself with reading prayers from a book called "Family
Devotions." The days were over for Eastthorpe when a man like Mr.
Furze could be denounced a man who paid his pew-rent regularly and
contributed to the missionary societies. The days were over when
any expostulations could be addressed to him or any attempts made
to bring him within the fold and Mr. Jennings therefore called on
him and religion was not mentioned. It may seem extraordinary
that without convictions based on any reasoning process Mr.
Furze's outward existence should have been so correct and so moral.
He had passed through the usually stormy period of youth without
censure. It is true he was married young but before his marriage
nobody had ever heard a syllable against him and after marriage
he never drank a drop too much and never was guilty of a single
dishonest action. Day after day passed by like all preceding days
in unbroken level succession without even the excitement of
meeting-house emotion. Naturally therefore his wife's proposals
made him uneasy and even alarmed him. He shrank from them
unconsciously and yet his aversion was perfectly wise; more so
perhaps than any action for which he could have assigned a definite
motive. With men like Mr. Furze the unconscious reason which is
partly a direction by past and forgotten experiences and partly
instinct is often more to be trusted than any mental operation
strictly so-called. An attempt to use the mind actively on subjects
which are too large or with which it has not been accustomed to
deal is pretty nearly sure to mislead. He knew or it knew
whatever we like to call it that to break him from his surroundings
meant that he himself was to be broken for they were a part of him.
His wife attacked him again the next day. She was bent upon moving
and it is only fair to her to say that she did really wish to go for
Catharine's sake. She loved the child in her own way but she also
wanted to go for many other reasons.
"Well my dear what have you to say to my little scheme?"
"How about my dinner and tea?"
"Come home to the Terrace. How far is it?"
"Ten minutes' walk."
"An hour every day in all weathers; and then there's the expense."
"As to the expense I am certain we should save in the long run
because you would not be expected to be continually asking people to