The Queen is Dead

As the early wheat harvest gets under way, I head into town with Mr Manston the steward, bearing some samples of the new crop to get in some early trading.

The Corn Exchange has a different atmosphere now that the former Miss Everdene is married. The frisson of sexual tension has lessened. Who will now represent the Troy family in the round of buying and selling remains to be seen. But our assumption is that it probably won't be the lady of the house.  The Queen of the Cornmarket is no more - but who will be her successor?

On the subject of the Troys, Fanny Robin is growing larger with every day that passes.  The architect seems to be quite fond of her and has been round writing poetry again. I told him to push off and draw some gurgoyles earlier - she's enough on her hands without some dodgy architectural assistant driving her up the wall.

Fall of Troy

I should say that Hnaef took the opportunity of having a quiet word with Troy yesterday. He pointed out that we have among the dwellers in our demesne two young ladies to whom Troy owes amends - for two children in one instance, and for one on the way in the other.
Hnaef informed Troy that he, Troy, would ensure maintenance would be forthcoming for the support of said Troy-lets. And although we do not have DNA testing, we do have steel-capped boots and a signed admission of responsibility.Clearly Troy didn't understand the reference to DNA, but he certainly understands the concept of steel-capped boots.

Meanwhile, the design of Carnac II is going well.  Rather than scaling down the size of the stones to fit the whole arrangement in, we've gone for representing just a chunk of the whole - which will still provide a line of stones the length of the estate. Little Tommy Hardy's produced a lovely sketch, so now we just need the stone. Portland's too expensive even for us, so we need a cheap alternative. 

My delight

I'm afraid I caused rather a scene at last night's welcome-home soiree that I held for the former Bathsheba Everdene and her rather rakish new husband, Sgt Troy.

We had some of that faux-peasant "folk" of which the middle classes, if I can call them that, are so fond.  And someone started playing "Greensleeves".
Well, I mean to say. Greensleeves is the sort of rather rubbish folk that Drayton Parslow, weak-minded hippy liberal that he was, used to like. I'm afraid I bashed the singer over the head with his own mandolin and kicked him down the kitchen garden.

All expenses paid

Young Mr Hardy has suggested we might like to pay for him to visit Brittany, to measure up Carnac.
I've told him he can forget it.  I'll draw him a sketch map from memory and he can work out what scale he can achieve. If he wants to take working holidays on the job, he's got one coming up in about twelve years. But I've warned him it might all end in bitterness.

Maybold Drones

Some people in the 21st century look back to the Victorian era as some kind of high-point of preaching. They talk about the 30- or 40-minute sermons, the 40% church attendance.  But they forget.

We've got no telly. We've got no Internet. We've got no radio. Out here in the sticks, we've got no theatre.  We need entertainment. I mean, for goodness sake. At Christmas they're so depressed with the dark nights (and no electric light, don't forget) they put up with mummers. And what other than near-suicidal boredom could explain anyone tolerating Morris dancers?

And Sunday in South Wessex - there's no shops open, no cinema, you can't go for much of a drive. So we put up with the preaching because it's that or counting crows to pass the time.

But even with all this, Maybold still broke all records for dull preaching this morning. I tell you, if his pillow talk is as dull as his preaching it's a wonder Mrs Maybold's not pushed him in the Frome already. Maybe a few thoughts on the family life on the Assyrians is good by you, but for me - anyway, I've suggested he might like to make it a bit more "stand up" in future.

As usual, our little architectural assistant was in church this morning, Tommy Hardy, his name is. Studious, dull, and with an eye for unlikely women. He needs watching.

The New Architect

The architects in Casterbridge have sent out one of their apprentices to measure up the place and do some rough sketches for the new Carnac. Turned up yesterday  - young chap with a bit of wispy face-fuzz, as these people tend to wear to try and prove they're a bit older than they are. On the short side, as well.  But it's quite nice that he's a local lad, and we see him at church of a Sunday, mostly tutting and disagreeing with the vicar (in a quiet kind of way). 

I'm not quite sure about his working style - he wandered around, paced out the distances, did a bit of sketching, then he went over to Shepherds' Cottages and spent a while watching Mercy Onmey hanging her laundry out.
He's pointed out a slight mathematical issue with my request, as the alignements de Carnac are several miles in extent, bigger even than my back garden. But I've told him that's his problem to solve.  I'm the customer, he's the expert.

Of greater concern to me is where to obtain all the stone.  Miss Tilney has kindly suggested that it might be cheaper to buy the real thing and move it.  And in these pre-Heritage days, she may well be right.  But while the average Victorian would have not the slightest concern about destroying the biggest Beaker monument in the world to brighten up their own yard, it's not really me.  I've sent Hnaef out on a stone-identifying tour of the neighbourhood.  And I've told him to leave the peasant girls alone.

Meantime, the architect's assistant has turned up (on his day off) this morning, and is down by Shepherds' Cottages, doing sketches and - as far as I can tell - writing poetry.  I can see we're going to have trouble here.

Folly to be Wise

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a large fortune, having reached a certain age, realises she needs only one thing to achieve fulfilment.

I refer, of course, to an architectural hobby. I'm getting into follies - and I'm going to do it properly. 
We already have a summer house in the form of a Grecian temple, but what we're lacking is something... something... something reminding us of antique times, and yet maybe more rustic than a temple. Now. What can I get?

Stonehenge is so 1960s, and Avebury's a bit... well, frankly, it's a bit artificial.  It's been kind of coaxed into order. So I want something a bit grander, a bit bigger and a bit more foreign.

I think I shall go for a reconstruction of Carnac. I wonder if the French will sell it to me?

Education, Education, Education

Hnaef has been helping the kids at Mellstock School.Foolishly, they've let him do science. Bearing in mind that these are peasant kids, he thinks they're understanding Darwinian Evolution quite well. But the Quantum Theory is confusing them, and they don't get the idea of "thought experiments".  Old Mr Schrodinger at Home Farm is missing a cat, and no-one's got the heart to suggest what might have happened.

News from Bath

Young Cainy Ball, back from a week's malingering in Bath with a "felon" - a whitlow, or inflamed finger-tip to the rest of us - which kept him off work at the peak of haymaking in Weatherbury.

Cainy has, we hear, seen Miss Bathsheba Everdene, out and about with our old friend Sgt Troy. I'm starting to think, if you live in Wessex, there's only so much fate you can dodge. On the bright side, Fanny Robin is safely ensconced in Shepherd's Row. On the down side, all that our brutality has achieved would appear to be a hastening of the elopement.

Somewhere in the empty skies, there is a hollow laugh. And the longer I stay here, the less I can remember who that universal humourist is.

No Popery - 18 July 1858

All sorts of tension down at St Michael's this morning.

Parson Maybold's High-Church principles seem to have really got up some people's noses. We thought when we turned up that there was a certain atmosphere about the place. And it turns out that's because somebody nipped in before the service and nicked all the candles, in a attempt to stop Maybold putting them on the Communion table again.

I don't really see why this has caused so much fuss, but Maybold was livid. I'm not sure if it was deliberate, but I noticed during the "Let us pray" section of the proceedings he referred to others generally living up to the example of "Mary the mother of...." and left it hanging in the air quite some time before concluding with "Our Lord". The Dewy clan were on edge thinking he was going to say finish it in another, far more Catholic, way.

The Angel in the House

The embodiment of Victorian femininity - the Angel in the House. A poem that's not really catching on just yet, but it will.  It will.
I found myself reflecting on this when Mrs Fancy Dewy came round today.
One of the better class of villagers, Fancy is married to Dick, who's a kind of local white-van man. Talented, well-brought up and educated, Fancy has been worn to a shadow by nearly two decades of producing children on a regular basis.
Don't get me wrong, she's a lovely woman. But I get the feeling that the piercing, intelligent eye of her youth has long since retreated behind those dark rims. Ground down, as I say, by childbirth and child-raising.

But Fancy is by no means the only example of the stereotype failing in Victorian England. It goes without saying, at least round here, that practically nobody is ever a virgin when they're married. Generally speaking there's already one on the way - that way you can be sure the wedding's going to be productive. In the old days, the father was legally responsible for an illegitimate child - these days, it's the woman who pays, every time. Add to that the three-quarter of a million women working in textile factories, the prostitution - and if a prostitute catches a sexually transmitted disease, the brutal treatment - it's really not an example of Girl Power.

St Swithin's Day - 15 July 1858

If it rains on St Swithin's Day, it rains for the next forty. 
So they say, and if 'tis so then it bodes badly for us now.
Miserable blooming day. The only note of happiness is that the hay's mostly in.

That Gabriel Oak's been round again, looking at the ricks in that sinister way of his. I've been straight with him.
"Oak," I said, "I've no evidence. So I'm not going any further with this now. But just remember that arson, like sheep-stealing, murder, treason and for all I know crossing the road without looking both ways, is a capital offence. If you don't want a short drop in the Prison Yard, that rick won't catch fire."
I think he got my message. At least, he seemed speechless when I told him. Obviously couldn't believe I could read his character so well. Or maybe he was just reflecting that the ricks being damp won't help him when he gets to work with the old matches.

Everdene's Escapades - 14 July 1858

News from across the heath, where young Bathsheba Everdene has apparently disappeared. Gabriel Oak passed on the news on his way down to Casterbridge from Weatherbury. As ever, Gabriel had that look of combined solicitude, resignation and stoic loyalty that ends up looking more like constipation.  But Gabriel didn't have a look of fear on her behalf, so I suspect he may know more than he's letting on.

Relatively speaking - 13 July 1858

Odd, you know. Once again I'm telling Tommy Leaf off for being so dim (which, by the way, is his defining quality) when he turned to me and said, 
"Do you know, Lady Eileen, I'm often shocked by the sheer immensity of space and time. I mean, when you consider it - time that never started and will never end.  Space that has no beginning and no boundary. Or - do you think - maybe in a universe that is defined by the gravity of its own constituents, both time and space are bounded and finite - as if we lived on the inside of a 5-dimensional bubble? So I apologise - he! he! - if I appear slightly daft sometimes, but there's a lot to consider."
I'm going to have to think this one over.

Weeding - 12 July 1858

It's backbreaking work, is weeding. One of those jobs to do in between hay-making and wheat harvest, in the slack times. Not something the farmhands like.  But it's got to be done.

It's all right for you lot, with your fancy-dancy chemical herbicides. A nice wash of glyphosate, and a field of genetically-improved sweetcorn, and Bob's your uncle Blackadders' secret cross-dressing lover. But back here, it's mostly manual effort.  And when you're looking at whole farms, that's massive. Even in these days when steam threshing machines and what have you have driven many to the big cities to find work. I tell you, sometimes Hnaef comes in exhausted after supervising all that weeding.

And I'm busy banning the pesticides as well. I mean, when you consider that nicotine, strychnine, sulphur and cyanide were all in use in the kitchen garden... I'm sorry, if you're an Organics fan.  I personally consider that companion planting is as much use in a garden as hopping on one leg and singing a lucky song, if you want to keep your veg in good shape. But a perfect lettuce is bought at too great a price if that price is a gardener dead before his time.

Day of rest - 11 July 2020

Not that I do all that much the rest of the week. But a Victorian Sunday is a real day of rest. Nobody's really working, except of course for the servants. And even for them we try to lighten the load - only four courses to come this evening, for example.

But we look back on a day of rejoicing, of sunshine and of singing our Tate and Brady psalms and exciting new hymns. And of two cripplingly boring sermons from Mr Maybold. If this is the standard of Victorian preaching  I can see how the C of E got it trimmed down to five minutes of platitudes by the mid-20th century.

Haymaking Supper - 10 June 1858

Everyone's been working so hard at the haymaking, we thought we'd reward them all with a haymaking supper. There's still grass drying in the fields, but it seemed a good point. And now they're all switching over to weeding for a while before the wheat harvest kicks in.
So they're all out on the lawn, gathered around the tables we've dragged out and singing traditional songs. And I've picked up a bit of news.

You know Laban Small?  Inhabitant of Weatherbury, perhaps most notable for being under the thumb of Susan, his wife, big time.
Laban passed on to Charley, who told Leaf who passed it on the Hnaef, that Bathsheba Everdene has lived up to her name by having a bath. This didn't really sound like big news, even in these parts at this time, so I asked Charley direct - thus getting the news second instead of fourth hand - and it turns out that actually Bathsheba has gone to Bath. Makes more sense, but it's all a bit of a shock to the locals. Most people round here stay in the same few villages and think a trip into Casterbridge is a bit of a once-a-year experience. That or they emigrate to Argentina or Australia. They're either one extreme or the other.

Bad Hair Dye - 9 July 1858

As the Bards of Charterhouse put it, Ripples Never come Back. A day comes when you look in the mirror and the face that looks back is not the young girl it was previously.  The coming of age is more pressing on a woman than on a man - especially, in Hardy's Wessex, once you've passed thirty.  The age where you start sitting with your back to the window to ensure, in a certain light, that you at least pass for "interesting".Or, to look at it another way, the hair dye I packed back in April has run out. I've started using the 19th Century's equivalents, but I've a nagging feeling there's probably something fairly hideous in them. Still, if I hang on till the autumn I'll maybe be able to do something more organic with horse chestnuts? I'll have to ask around where I can purchase some chemistry equipment.

Leaf in trouble

Someone really needs to keep a better eye on Thomas Leaf. He's been doing a good job of leaning over gates, sucking on a straw and talking yokel gibberish.
But he went one step too far today. We've roped him into the haymaking. Not that we let him into the fields that have  any sharp instruments, you understand.  But after too much cider for lubrication purposes, he went a bit haywire and started running round the field doing an impression of a dinosaur. 

Well, that's still rather controversial in this day and age.  Apart from it not being normal behaviour for a fully-grown half-wit in his mid 40s. Half the women in the field ran for cover while the other half ran for help. Long and short of it, before I could intervene he'd been hauled down to Casterbridge and stuck in the stocks for riotous behaviour.  He's out now, but he's not looking forward to the lecture he's going to get from the Reformed Methodists on the subject of a 6-day creation.

A long hard day - 7 July 1858

Just rushed off my feet, really.
Spent half an hour checking up on Hnaef. He's back supervising the hay-making. I would have helped, but you know how that makes one perspire.

Then ten minutes going through the books. Mr Manston is so clear in his book-keeping. Although I'm sure MS Excel would push him into a new dimension.

And finally dinner for a few local worthies and grandes dames.  Six courses, of course, and we've opened up some of the better bottles from the cellar rather than the cider we stick with when the gentry aren't around.

So anyway, I'm shattered now. Off to bed, and no chance of seeing the International Space Station this century.

The Relief of Troy - 6 July 1858

There is a kind of situation where the best thing to do is the kindest, the worst is the least logical, and on average you wish you'd done nothing.

Or, in short, I've had to let Sergeant Troy out.

In the end we didn't really know what to do. Young Fanny Robin came back this morning. We told her the situation, explained all about Troy's two children by Mercy and asked Fanny to consider what she wanted to do. I was quite surprised, really. Everything I'd heard about Fanny was that she was a quiet, meek little thing who wouldn't say "boo" to a goose. Instead she borrowed my Slazenger, nipped down to the cellar and gave Troy another whack round the ear. He's having a really bad time.

So we've let him go. Neither Mercy nor Fanny wants him, so we've got him to sign a form to say he'll support the sprogs and now he's free to go where he likes. As long as it's not Weatherbury Farm. Last I heard, Hnaef was lurking in the precincts waving a shotgun he'd borrowed off Mr Boldwood.  I tell you, it's like Big Brother round here sometimes.

Sergeant Troy's Affairs Thicken - 5 July 1858

A bright day of azure skies, when the gorse blooms gorgeous on the heath, young ladies wilt in the afternoon sun and the dew hangs heavy on the forehead of the haymakers until well after nammit-time.

Sergeant Troy's still locked, in best Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley tradition, in the cellar. But young Mercy Onmey wandered in earlier to get herself a drop of milk - we let her come up to the house and grab bits of pieces, she needs the help. We told her she could nip down and grab a bottle of wine, to cheer up the humble abode. Mercy sees Troy, tied as he is to an old armoir down there, and it turns out he's the father of two of her children - little Arthur the new one, and another although she can't remember which. Of course, she didn't tell us that straight away.  We drew that information out of her after we wondered what the noise was in the cellar, and caught her kicking Troy in the regimentals.
So now we're wondering whether Troy should make an honest woman of Mercy.  But we've already got Troy lined up to do the right thing by Fanny Robin. I've sent Carl the ostler off with a spring cart to bring Fanny back from Mid Wessex so we can get the shotgun out to celebrate the forthcoming nuptials. What a problem. Maybe one of them will prefer to be single after all?

Meanwhile Miss Bathsheba Everdene's not happy with me. She's heard that I've got Troy held in durance vile, and she's concerned that with the dashing Sergeant out of the way, that drip Mr Boldwood may be round for another bash at claiming her hand in deadly wedlock. It's a web we weave, I tell you.

The super-keen Methodists - 4 July 1858

To dwellers in a scattered rustic parish, every species of humanity has its own specific trait. The workfolk drink and mutter archaic wisdom. The middle-ranking tradesmen look down on the workfolk. The clergy maintain their position against a horde of tortured agnostics and well-meaning humanists.

But there's one bunch of people in this parish who make the Vicar really very unhappy. The Reformed Methodists.
See, he can't think of any way to stop them turning up to the morning service. But after they've attended that, and normally Evensong to boot - which happens at 3pm - they then traipse into Casterbridge for another - "proper", as they put it - evening service. Sometimes they can go on for hours, singing their hymns and quivering with the fear of hell. 
Still, first thing of a Monday morning they're up and afield bright and early before the Anglicans. Who've normally had a few too many after Evensong and are busy sleeping it off. What a wonderful example the Reformed Methodists are to the rest of my workfolk. I'd think of getting them all turned chapel members, but I don't think Parson Maybold would be too happy.

It's a thing I'm generally seeing. The religious folk are becoming more religious, and the less so - increasingly less so. The more lace and candles and general mimsying around Maybold introduces, the happier the keenies are. And I'm ever so pleased with weekday Matins and Evensong, so I can't moan too much. The Methodists preach longer sermons and sing the infinitely extended hymns of Wesley. The Baptists smugly tell everyone else they're not saved.  The Catholics rejoice in their rediscovered identity.  And everyone else - and the overwhelming majority, as it turns out, in the cities - wonder what all the fuss is about. They reckon the chances of being chosen for upstairs when they die are slim anyway, and stay abed of a Sunday as it's not worth the hike to church,

Sergeant Troy and the Cricket Bat of Doom - 3 July 1858

When a young man with a dashing moustache starts flirting with a lady in her forties - albeit one who, like me, is still in possession of a full set of teeth and totally lacking in smallpox scars - you know something must be done.

I was off to reason with young Sergeant Troy.  Hnaef's concerns over Troy's dalliances with Bathsheba are neither here nor there.  After all, Hnaef himself has other reasons not to go falling in love with lively young ladies. Such as his wife, and the small hand-gun she's purchased.

But that Troy has abandoned a young lady - and one who has, as we would say in the 21st century in Bedfordshire, a bun in the oven - that upsets me.  He may not be a bachelor of this parish strictly speaking, being of the parish next door, but all the same I object to trifling with ladies' hearts and leaving them in the lurch. So I arranged to meet him out at on the heath. He knew that I was keen he should seek rapprochement  with Fanny Robin, and I think he thought that he would be able to use his dashing ways and winning tongue to persuade me to the contrary.

An odd chap, Troy. He clearly thought that, single as I am, he would be able to charm me even at the range of a score or even two dozen years. And he sought to dazzle me with the "sword drill". I dare say that I'm not the first lady to have observed this performance, but I'm pretty sure I was the oldest.

But it was quite thrilling. Apart from a momentary thought that I should perhaps be wearing safety equipment, I was relaxed at being clearly in the hands of an expert, while the sword whisked around my head to a distance of maybe a quarter of an inch.

He finished and presented arms. And I pointed over his shoulder and said "isn't that Mr Boldwood?"
Sergeant Troy made the mistake of turning to see, and I smashed him over the head with my cricket bat.

I'm glad I had my old Slazenger in the boot when we suddenly shot into the past. These Victorian bats are so much more unwieldy. Much smaller sweet spots, and would you believe they're sprung with whalebone? Ugh. So anyway, he got a few pounds of best Slazenger willow across his personal sweet spot, and fell to the ground. While he was laying there I got a few more whacks in, and then Hnaef and Charley dragged him off to the barouche. We've got him locked in the cellar - away from the wine, I hasten to add. He's still trying to persuade us to let him out at the minute but he's acutely aware he's only got another five days until his furlough comes to an end, and he could end up shot for desertion. I'm quietly confident that he's going to sign the little contract we've drawn up for him.

In the Family Way - 2 July 1858

Even though I keep discovering this, it's still a shock every time.  I don't know about you, but I'd always got the impression  that Victorian life was staid, all brides were virgins and young men had to go for a brisk run around the block if they got the faintest in the way of a carnal urge.

But no, not a bit of it. Frankly, until they click and a baby's on the way, they all seem to be at it.

Take this morning's visit to old Liz Endordfield, on the advice of Mrs Maybold.  I'll be honest, when I saw her sat there my main ambition was that she'd still be breathing when I left.  There's not much of her and what there is seems to be plagued by rheumatics.  But she's a wicked sense of humour, and appears to have a reliable set of informers.

So I now hear that the dashing Sergeant Troy, of hanging-around-haymaking and chasing after Bathsheba Everdene fame, has got a young lady in trouble and has her stashed somewhere Melchester way.  Although young Fanny Robin is a local girl, young Troy's making sure she's well out of it so as not to queer his pitch with Bathsheba.

I feel something must be done.  And I know just who's going to do it. 

Moog the Obscure - 1 July 1858

Another telling off from Eileen, I'm afraid.
She keeps telling me, if we draw do things out of the ordinary we're only going to attract attention - the Press, the Royal Society, those odd rustics in the Three Tranters who sit around all day hoping something interesting might happen.
But I just found Mrs Maybold's harmonium so boring. And you have to keep pumping the foot-pedal. So it's hard work as well. And I wanted something a bit more modern.
So I ripped the electronics and the sound system out of the Porsche Cayenne, picked up a second-hand organ keyboard, and knocked it all together into a nice little synth.
After a couple of hours' practice I had the choir joining in to a nice bit of hip-hop, featuring a little sample loop of "When I survey" to Rockingham. And I was teaching Charley the lyrics to "Are 'Friends' Electric?" But Eileen got very grumpy. So I had to go and lock it up in the cellar. I sneak down there every now and then to go through a few Depeche Mode tracks, but it's murder getting the battery charged up.