'The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion' by Thomas Hardy

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IHere stretch the downs, high and breezy and green, absolutelyunchanged since those eventful days.A plough has never disturbed the turf,and the sod that was uppermost then is uppermost now.Here stood thecamp; here are distinct traces of the banks thrown up for the horses of thecavalry, and spots where the midden-heaps lay are still to be observed.Atnight, when I walk across the lonely place, it is impossible to avoid hearing,amid the scourings of the wind over the grass-bents and thistles, the oldtrumpet and bugle calls, the rattle of the halters; to help seeing rows ofspectral tents and the impedimenta of the soldiery.From within thecanvases come guttural syllables of foreign tongues, and broken songs of thefatherland; for they were mainly regiments of the King's German Legion thatslept round the tent-poles hereabout at that time.It was nearly ninety years ago.The British uniform of the period, withits immense epaulettes, queer cocked-hat, breeches, gaiters, ponderouscartridge-box, buckled shoes, and what not, would look strange andbarbarous now.Ideas have changed; invention has followed invention. Soldiers were monumental objects then.A divinity still hedged kings hereand there; and war was considered a glorious thing.Secluded old manor-houses and hamlets lie in the ravines and hollowsamong these hills, where a stranger had hardly ever been seen till the Kingchose to take the baths yearly at the sea-side watering-place a few miles tothe south; as a consequence of which battalions descended in a cloud uponthe open country around.Is it necessary to add that the echoes of manycharacteristic tales, dating from that picturesque time, still linger about herein more or less fragmentary form, to be caught by the attentive ear?Someof them I have repeated; most of them I have forgotten; one I have neverrepeated, and assuredly can never forget.Phyllis told me the story with her own lips.She was then an old ladyof seventy-five, and her auditor a lad of fifteen.She enjoined silence as toher share in the incident, till she should be 'dead, buried, and forgotten.' Herlife was prolonged twelve years after the day of her narration, and she hasnow been dead nearly twenty.The oblivion which in her modesty andhumility she courted for herself has only partially fallen on her, with theunfortunate result of inflicting an injustice upon her memory; since suchfragments of her story as got abroad at the time, and have been kept aliveever since, are precisely those which are most unfavourable to hercharacter.It all began with the arrival of the York Hussars, one of the foreignregiments above alluded to.Before that day scarcely a soul had been seennear her father's house for weeks.When a noise like the brushing skirt of avisitor was heard on the doorstep, it proved to be a scudding leaf; when acarriage seemed to be nearing the door, it was her father grinding his sickleon the stone in the garden for his favourite relaxation of trimmimg thebox-tree borders to the plots.A sound like luggage thrown down from thecoach was a gun far away at sea; and what looked like a tall man by thegate at dusk was a yew bush cut into a quaint and attenuated shape.Thereis no such solitude in country places now as there was in those old days.Yet all the while King George and his court were at his favouritesea-side resort, not more than five miles off.The daughter's seclusion was great, but beyond the seclusion of thegirllay the seclusion of the father.If her social condition was twilight, hiswas darkness.Yet he enjoyed his darkness, while her twilight oppressedher.Dr. Grove had been a professional man whose taste for lonelymeditation over metaphysical questions had diminished his practice till it nolonger paid him to keep it going; after which he had relinquished it and hiredat a nominal rent the small, dilapidated, half farm half manor-house of thisobscure inland nook, to make a sufficiency of an income which in a townwould have been inadequate.He stayed in his garden the greater part ofthe day, growing more and more irritable with the lapse of time, and theincreasing perception that he had wasted his life in the pursuit of illusions. He saw his friends less and less frequently.Phyllis became so shy that if shemet a stranger anywhere in her short rambles she felt ashamed at his gaze,walked awkwardly, and blushed to her shoulders.Yet Phyllis was discovered even here by an admirer, and her handmost unexpectedly asked in marriage.The King, as aforesaid, was at the neighbouring town, where he hadtaken up his abode at Gloucester Lodge; and his presence in the townnaturally brought many county people thither. Among these idlers-many ofwhom professed to have connections and interests with the Court-was oneHumphrey Gould, a bachelor; a personage neither young nor old; neithergood-looking nor positively plain.Too steady-going to be 'a buck ' (as fastand unmarried men were then called), he was an approximately fashionableman of a mild type.This bachelor of thirty found his way to the village onthe down: beheld Phyllis; made her father's acquaintance in order to makehers; and by some means or other she sufficiently inflamed his heart to leadhim in that direction almost daily; till he became engaged to marry her.As he was of an old local family, some of whose members were held inrespect in the county, Phyllis, in bringing him to her feet, had accomplishedwhat was considered a brilliant move for one in her constrained position. How she had done it was not quite known to Phyllis herself.In those daysunequal marriages were regarded rather as a violation of the laws of naturethan as a mere infringement of convention, the more modern view, andhence when Phyllis, of the watering-place bourgeoisie, was chosen by such agentlemanly fellow, it was as if she were going to be taken to heaven,though perhaps the uninformed would have seen no great difference in therespective positions of the pair, the said Gould being as poor as a crow.This pecuniary condition was his excuse-probably a true one-forpostponing their union, and as the winter drew nearer, and the Kingdeparted for the season, Mr. Humphrey Gould set out for Bath, promising toreturn to Phyllis in a few weeks.The winter arrived, the date of his promisepassed, yet Gould postponed his coming, on the ground that he could notvery easily leave his father in the city of their sojourn, the elder having noother relative near him.Phyllis, though lonely in the extreme, was content. The man who had asked her in marriage was a desirable husband for her inmany ways; her father highly approved of his suit; but this neglect of herwas awkward, if not painful, for Phyllis. Love him in the true sense of theword she assured me she never did, but she had a genuine regard for him;admired a certain methodical and dogged way in which he sometimes tookhis pleasure; valued hisknowledge of what the Court was doing, had done,or was about to do; and she was not without a feeling of pride that he hadchosen her when he might have exercised a more ambitious choice.But he did not come; and the spring developed.His letters wereregular though formal; and it is not to be wondered that the uncertainty ofher position, linked with the fact that there was not much passion in herthoughts of Humphrey, bred an indescribable dreariness in the heart ofPhyllis Grove.The spring was soon summer, and the summer brought theKing; but still no Humphrey Gould.All this while the engagement by letterwas maintained intact.At this point of time a golden radiance flashed in upon the lives ofpeople here, and charged all youthful thought with emotional interest.Thisradiance was the aforesaid York Hussars.
The present generation has probably but a very dim notion of thecelebrated York Hussars of ninety years ago. They were one of theregiments of the King's German Legion, and (though they somewhatdegenerated later on) their brilliant uniform, their splendid horses, andabove all, their foreign air and mustachios (rare appendages then), drewcrowds of admirers of both sexes wherever they went. These with otherregiments had come to encamp on the downs and pastures, because of thepresence of the King in the neighbouring town.The spot was high and airy, and the view extensive, commandingPortland-the Isle of Slingers-in front, and reaching to St. Aldhelm's Headeastward, and almost to the Start on the west.Phyllis, though not precisely a girl of the village, was as interested asany of them in this military investment. Her father's home stood somewhat apart, and on the highest point of ground to which the lane ascended, sothat it was almost level with the top of the church tower in the lower part ofthe parish. Immediately from the outside of the garden-wall the grassspread away to a great distance, and it was crossed by a path which cameclose to the wall. Ever since her childhood it had been Phyllis's pleasure toclamber up this fence and sit on the top-a feat not so difficult as it mayseem, the walls in this district being built of rubble, without mortar, so thatthere were plenty of crevices for small toes.She was sitting up here one day, listlessly surveying the pasturewithout, when her attention was arrested by a solitary figure walking alongthe path. It was one of the renowned German Hussars, and he movedonward with his eyes on the ground, and with the manner of one who wishedto escape company. His head would probably have been bent like his eyesbut for his stiff neck-gear. On nearer view she perceived that his face wasmarked with deep sadness. Without observing her, he advanced by thefootpath till it brought him almost immediately under the wall.Phyllis was much surprised to see a fine, tall soldier in such a mood asthis. Her theory of the military, and of the York Hussars in particular(derived entirely from hearsay, for she had never talked to a soldier in herlife), was that their hearts were as gay as their accoutrements.At this moment the Hussar lifted his eyes and noticed her on herperch, the white muslin neckerchief which covered her shoulders and neckwhere left bare by her low gown, and her white raiment in general, showingconspicuously in the bright sunlight of this summer day. He blushed a littleat the suddenness of the encounter, and without halting a moment from hispace passed on.All that day the foreigner's face haunted Phyllis; its aspect was sostriking, so handsome, and his eyes were so blue, and sad, and abstracted. It was perhaps only natural that on some following day at the same hour sheshould look over that wall again, and wait till he had passed a second time. On this occasion he was reading a letter, and at the sight of her his mannerwas that of one who had half expected or hoped to discover her. He almoststopped, smiled, and made a courteous salute. The end of the meeting wasthat they exchanged a few words. She asked him what he was reading, andhe readily informed her that he was re-perusing letters from his mother inGermany; he did not get them often, he said, and was forced to read the oldones a great many times. This was all that passed at the present interview,but others of the same kind followed.Phyllis used to say that his English, though not good, was quiteintelligible to her, so that their acquaintance was never hindered bydifficulties of speech. Whenever the subject became too delicate, subtle, ortender, for such words of English as were at his command, the eyes nodoubt helped out the tongue, and-though this was later on-the lips helpedout the eyes. In short this acquaintance, unguardedly made, and rashenough on her part, developed and ripened. Like Desdemona, she pitiedhim, and learnt his history.His name was Matthaus Tina, and Saarbruck his native town, wherehis mother was still living. His age was twenty-two, and he had alreadyrisen to the grade of corporal, though he had not long been in the army. Phyllis used to assert that no such refined or well-educated young man couldhave been found in the ranks of the purely English regiments, some of theseforeign soldiers having rather the graceful manner and presence of ournative officers than of our rank and file.She by degrees learnt from her foreign friend a circumstance abouthimself and his comrades which Phyllis would least have expected of theYork Hussars. So far from being as gay as its uniform, the regiment waspervaded by a dreadful melancholy, a chronic home-sickness, whichdepressed many of the men to such an extent that they could hardly attendto their drill. The worst sufferers were the younger soldiers who had notbeen over here long. They hated England and English life; they took nointerest whatever in King George and his island kingdom, and they onlywished to be out of it and never to see it any more. Their bodies were here,but their hearts and minds were always far away in their dear fatherland, ofwhich-brave men and stoical as they were in many ways-they would speakwith tears in their eyes. One of the worst of the sufferers from thishome-woe, as he called it in his own tongue, was Matthaus Tina, whosedreamy musing nature felt the gloom of exile still more intensely from thefact that he had left a lonely mother at home with nobody to cheer her.Though Phyllis, touched by all this, and interested in his history, didnot disdain her soldier's acquaintance, she declined (according to her ownaccount, at least) to permit the young man to overstep the line of merefriendship for a long while-as long, indeed, as she considered herself likely tobecome the possession of another; though it is probable that she had losther heart to Matthaus before she was herself aware. The stone wall ofnecessity made anything like intimacy difficult; and he had never venturedto come, or to ask to come, inside the garden, so that all their conversationhad been overtly conducted across this boundary.
But news reached the village from a friend of Phyllis's fatherconcerning Mr. Humphrey Gould, her remarkably cool and patient betrothed. This gentleman had been heard to say in Bath that he considered hisovertures to Miss Phyllis Grove to have reached only the stage of ahalf-understanding; and in view of his enforced absence on his father'saccount, who was too great an invalid now to attend to his affairs, hethought it best that there should be no definite promise as yet on eitherside. He was not sure, indeed, that he might not cast his eyes elsewhere.This account-though only a piece of hearsay, and as such entitled to noabsolute credit-tallied so well with the infrequency of his letters and theirlack of warmth, that Phyllis did not doubt its truth for one moment; and fromthat hour she felt herself free to bestow her heart as she should choose. Notso her father; he declared the whole story to be a fabrication. He hadknown Mr. Gould's family from his boyhood; and if there was one proverbwhich expressed the matrimonial aspect of that family well, it was 'Love melittle, love me long.' Humphrey was an honourable man, who would not thinkof treating his engagement so lightly. 'Do you wait in patience,' he said ; 'allwill be right enough in time.'From these words Phyllis at first imagined that her father was incorrespondence with Mr. Gould; and her heart sank within her; for in spite ofher original intentions she had been relieved to hear that her engagementhad come to nothing. But she presently learnt that her father had heard nomore of Humphrey Gould than she herself had done; while he would notwrite and address her affianced directly on the subject, lest it should bedeemed an imputation on that bachelor's honour.'You want an excuse for encouraging one or other of those foreignfellows to flatter you with his unmeaning attentions,' her father exclaimed,his mood having of late been a very unkind one towards her. 'I see morethan I say. Don't you ever set foot outside that garden-fence without mypermission. If you want to see the camp I'll take you myself some Sundayafternoon.'Phyllis had not the smallest intention of disobeying him in her actions,but she assumed herself to be independent with respect to her feelings. Sheno longer checked her fancy for the Hussar, though she was far fromregarding him as her lover in the serious sense in which an Englishmanmight have been regarded as such. The young foreign soldier was almost anideal being to her, with none of the appurtenances of an ordinaryhouse-dweller; one who had descended she knew not whence, and woulddisappear she knew not whither; the subject of a fascinating dream-nomore.They met continually now-mostly at dusk- during the brief intervalbetween the going down of the sun and the minute at which the lasttrumpet-call summoned him to his tent. Perhaps her manner had becomeless restrained latterly; at any rate that of the Hussar was so; he had grownmore tender every day, and at parting after these hurried interviews shereached down her hand from the top of the wall that he might press it. Oneevening he held it such a while that she exclaimed, 'The wall is white, andsomebody in the field may see your shape against it!'He lingered so long that night that it was with the greatest difficultythat he could run across the intervening stretch of ground and enter thecamp in time. On the next occasion of his awaiting her she did not appear inher usual place at the usual hour. His disappointment was unspeakablykeen; he remained staring blankly at the spot, like a man in a trance. Thetrumpets and tattoo sounded, and still he did not go.She had been delayed purely by an accident. When she arrived shewas anxious because of the lateness of the hour, having heard as well as hethe sounds denoting the closing of the camp. She implored him to leaveimmediately.'No,' he said gloomily. 'I shall not go in yet the moment you come - Ihave thought of your coming all day.''But you may be disgraced at being after time?' I don't mind that. I should have disappeared from the world sometime ago if it had not been for two persons-my beloved, here, and mymother in Saarbruck. I hate the army. I care more for a minute of yourcompany than for all the promotion in the world.'Thus he stayed and talked to her, and told her interesting details of hisnative place, and incidents of his childhood, till she was in a simmer ofdistress at his recklessness in remaining. It was only because she insistedon bidding him good-night and leaving the wall that he returned to hisquarters.The next time that she saw him he was without the stripes that hadadorned his sleeve. He had been broken to the level of private for hislateness that night; and as Phyllis considered herself to be the cause of hisdisgrace her sorrow was great. But the position was now reversed; it washis turn to cheer her.'Don't grieve, meine Liebliche!' he said. have got a remedy forwhatever comes. First, even supposing I regain my stripes, would yourfather allow you to marry a non-commissioned officer in the York Hussars ?'She flushed. This practical step had not been in her mind in relation tosuch an unrealistic person as he was; and a moment's reflection was enoughfor it. 'My father would not-certainly would not,' she answered unflinchingly. 'It cannot be thought of! My dear friend, please do forget me: I fear I amruining you and your prospects!''Not at all!' said he. 'You are giving this country of yours just sufficientinterest to me to make me care to keep alive in it. If my dear land werehere also, and my old parent, with you, I could be happy as I am, and woulddo my best as a soldier. But it is not so. And now listen. This is my plan. That you go with me to my own country, and be my wife there, and livethere with my mother and me. I am not a Hanoverian, as you know, thoughI entered the army as such; my country is by the Saar, and is at peace withFrance, and if I were once in it I should be free.''But how get there?' she asked. Phyllis had been rather amazed thanshocked at his proposition. Her position in her father's house was growingirksome and painful in the extreme; his parental affection seemed to bequite dried up. She was not a native of the village, like all the joyous girlsaround her; and in some way Matthaus Tina had infected her with his ownpassionate longing for his country, and mother, and home.'But how?' she repeated, finding that he did not answer. 'Will you buyyour discharge?''Ah, no,' he said. 'That's impossible in these times. No; I came hereagainst my will; why should I not escape ? Now is the time, as we shall soonbe striking camp, and I might see you no more. This is my scheme. I willask you to meet me on the highway two miles off, on some calm night nextweek that may be appointed. There will be nothing unbecoming in it, or tocause you shame; you will not fly alone with me, for I will bring with me mydevoted young friend Christoph, an Alsatian, who has lately joined theregiment, and who has agreed to assist in this enterprise. We shall havecome from yonder harbour, where we shall have examined the boats, andfound one suited to our purpose. Christoph has already a chart of theChannel, and we will then go to the harbour, and at midnight cut the boatfrom her moorings, and row away round the point out of sight; and by thenext morning we are on the coast of France, near Cherbourg. The rest iseasy, for I have saved money for the land journey, and can get a change ofclothes. I will write to my mother, who will meet us on the way.'He added details in reply to her inquiries, which left no doubt inPhyllis's mind of the feasibility of the undertaking. But its magnitude almostappalled her; and it is questionable if she would ever have gone further inthe wild adventure if, on entering the house that night, her father had notaccosted her in the most significant terms.'How about the York Hussars?' he said.'They are still at the camp; but they are soon going away, I believe.''It is useless for you to attempt to cloak your actions in that way. Youhave been meeting one of those fellows; you have been seen walking withhim foreign barbarians, not much better than the French themselves! I havemade up my mind-don't speak a word till I have done, please!-l have madeup my mind that you shall stay here no longer while they are on the spot. You shall go to your aunt's.'It was useless for her to protest that she had never taken a walk withany soldier or man under the sun except himself. Her protestations werefeeble, too, for though he was not literally correct in his assertion, he wasvirtually only half in error.The house of her father's sister was a prison to Phyllis. She had quiterecently undergone experience of its gloom; and when her father went on todirect her to pack what would be necessary for her to take, her heart diedwithin her. In after years she never attempted to excuse her conduct duringthis week of agitation; but the result of her self-communing was that shedecided to join in the scheme of her lover and his friend, and fly to thecountry which he had coloured with such lovely hues in her imagination. She always said that the one feature in his proposal which overcame herhesitation was the obvious purity and straightforwardness of his intentions. He showed himself to be so virtuous and kind ; he treated her with a respectto which she had never before been accustomed; and she was braced to theobvious risks of the voyage by her confidence in him.
It was on a soft, dark evening of the following week that they engagedin the adventure. Tina was to meet her at a point in the highway at whichthe lane to the village branched off Christoph was to go ahead of them to theharbour where the boat lay, row it round the Nothe-or Look-out as it wascalled in those days -and pick them up on the other side of the promontory,which they were to reach by crossing the harbourbridge on foot, andclimbing over the Look-out hill.As soon as her father had ascended to his room she left the house,and, bundle in hand, proceeded at a trot along the lane. At such an hour nota soul was afoot anywhere in the village, and she reached the junction of thelane with the highway unobserved. Here she took up her position in theobscurity formed by the angle of a fence, whence she could discern everyone who approached along the turnpike-road, without being herself seen.She had not remained thus waiting for her lover longer than aminute-though from the tension of her nerves the lapse of even that shorttime was trying when, instead of the expected footsteps, the stage-coachcould be heard descending the hill. She knew that Tina would not showhimself till the road was clear, and waited impatiently for the coach to pass. Nearing the corner where she was it slackened speed, and, instead of goingby as usual, drew up within a few yards of her. A passenger alighted, andshe heard his voice. It was Humphrey Gould's.He had brought a friend with him, and luggage. The luggage wasdeposited on the grass, and the coach went on its route to the royalwatering-place.'I wonder where that young man is with the horse and trap ?' said herformer admirer to his companion. ' I hope we shan't have to wait here long. I told him half-past nine o'clock precisely.''Have you got her present safe?''Phyllis's? O, yes. It is in this trunk. I hope it will please her.''Of course it will. What woman would not be pleased with such ahandsome peace-offering ?''Well-she deserves it. I've treated her rather badly. But she has beenin my mind these last two days much more than I should care to confess toeverybody. Ah, well; I'll say no more about that. It cannot be that she is sobad as they make out. I am quite sure that a girl of her good wit wouldknow better than to get entangled with any of those Hanoverian soldiers. Iwon't believe it of her, and there's an end on't.'More words in the same strain were casually dropped as the two menwaited; words which revealed to her, as by a sudden illumination, theenormity of her conduct. The conversation was at length cut off by thearrival of the man with the vehicle. The luggage was placed in it, and theymounted, and were driven on in the direction from which she had just come.Phyllis was so conscious-stricken that she was at first inclined to followthem; but a moment's reflection led her to feel that it would only be barejustice to Matthaus to wait till he arrived, and explain candidly that she hadchanged her mind-difficult as the struggle would be when she stood face toface with him. She bitterly reproached herself for having believed reportswhich represented Humphrey Gould as false to his engagement, when, fromwhat she now heard from his own lips, she gathered that he had been livingfull of trust in her. But she knew well enough who had won her love. Without him her life seemed a dreary prospect, yet the more she looked athis proposal the more she feared to accept it-so wild as it- was, so vague, soventuresome. She had promised Humphrey Gould, and it was only hisassumed faithlessness which had led her to treat that promise as nought. His solicitude in bringing her these gifts touched her; her promise must bekept, and esteem must take the place of love. She would preserve herself-respect. She would stay at home, and marry him, and suffer.Phyllis had thus braced herself to an exceptional fortitude when, a fewminutes later, the outline of Matthaus Tina appeared behind a field-gate,over which he lightly leapt as she stepped forward. There was no evading it,he pressed her to his breast.'It is the first and last time!' she wildly thought as she stood encircledby his arms.How Phyllis got through the terrible ordeal of that night she couldnever clearly recollect. She always attributed her success in carrying out herresolve to her lover's honour, for as soon as she declared to him in feeblewords that she had changed her mind, and felt that she could not, dared not,fly with him, he forbore to urge her, grieved as he was at her decision. Unscrupulous pressure on his part, seeing how romantically she had becomeattached to him, would no doubt have turned the balance in his favour. Buthe did nothing to tempt her unduly or unfairly.On her side, fearing for his safety, she begged him to remain. This, hedeclared, could not be. 'I cannot break faith with my friend,' said he. Hadhe stood alone he would have abandoned his plan. But Christoph, with theboat and compass and chart, was waiting on the shore; the tide would soonturn; his mother had been warned of his coming; go he must.Many precious minutes were lost while he tarried, unable to tearhimself away, Phyllis held to her resolve, though it cost her many a bitterpang. At last they parted, and he went down the hill. Before his footstepshad quite died away she felt a desire to behold at least his outline oncemore, and running noiselessly after him regained view of his diminishingfigure. For one moment she was sufficiently excited to be on the point ofrushing forward and linking her fate with his. But she could not. Thecourage which at the critical instant failed Cleopatra of Egypt could scarcelybe expected of Phyllis Grove.A dark shape, similar to his own, joined him in the highway. It wasChristoph, his friend. She could see no more; they had hastened on in thedirection of the town and harbour, four miles ahead. With a feeling akin todespair she turned and slowly pursued her way homeward.Tattoo sounded in the camp; but there was no camp for her now. Itwas as dead as the camp of the Assyrians after the passage of theDestroying Angel.She noiselessly entered the house, seeing nobody, and went to bed. Grief, which kept her awake at first, ultimately wrapped her in a heavysleep. The next morning her father met her at the foot of the stairs.'Mr. Gould is come!' he said triumphantly.Humphrey was staying at the inn, and had already called to inquire forher. He had brought her a present of a very handsome looking-glass in aframe of repousse silverwork, which her father held in his hand. He hadpromised to call again in the course of an hour, to ask Phyllis to walk withhim.Pretty mirrors were rarer in country-houses at that day than they arenow, and the one before her won Phyllis's admiration. She looked into it,saw how heavy her eyes were, and endeavoured to brighten them. She wasin that wretched state of mind which leads a woman to move mechanicallyonward in what she conceives to be her allotted path. Mr. Humphrey had, inhis undemonstrative way, been adhering all along to the old understanding;it was for her to do the same, and to say not a word of her own lapse. Sheput on her bonnet and tippet, and when he arrived at the hour named shewas at the door awaiting him.
VPhyllis thanked him for his beautiful gift; but the talking was soonentirely on Humphrey's side as they walked along. He told her of the latestmovements of the world of fashion-a subject which she willingly discussed tothe exclusion of anything more personal- and his measured language helpedto still her disquieted heart and brain. Had not her own sadness been whatit was she must have observed his embarrassment. At last he abruptlychanged the subject.'I am glad you are pleased with my little present,' he said. 'The truthis that I brought it to propitiate ‘ee, and to get you to help me out of amighty difficulty.'It was inconceivable to Phyllis that this independent bachelor-whomshe admired in some respects-could have a difficulty.'Phyllis-I'll tell you my secret at once; for I have a monstrous secret toconfide before I can ask your counsel. The case is, then, that I am married:yes, I have privately married a dear young belle; and if you knew her, and Ihope you will, you would say everything in her praise. But she is not quitethe one that my father would have chose for me-you know the paternal ideaas well as I-and I have kept it secret. There will be a terrible noise, nodoubt; but I think that with your help I may get over it. If you would only dome this good turn-when I have told my father, I mean-say that you nevercould have married me, you know, or something of that sort-'pon my life itwill help to smooth the way vastly. I am so anxious to win him round to mypoint of view, and not to cause any estrangement.'What Phyllis replied she scarcely knew, or how she counselled him asto his unexpected situation. Yet the relief that his announcement broughther was perceptible. To have confided her trouble in return was what heraching heart longed to do; and had Humphrey been a woman she wouldinstantly have poured out her tale. But to him she feared to confess; andthere was a real reason for silence, till a sufficient time had elapsed to allowher lover and his comrade to get out of harm's way.As soon as she reached home again she sought a solitary place, andspent the time in half regretting that she had not gone away, and indreaming over the meetings with Matthaus Tina from their beginning to theirend. In his own country, amongst his own countrywomen, he would possiblysoon forget her, even to her very name.Her listlessness was such that she did not go out of the house forseveral days. There came a morning which broke in fog and mist, behindwhich the dawn could be discerned in greenish grey; and the outlines of thetents, and the rows of horses at the ropes. The smoke from the canteenfires drooped heavily.The spot at the bottom of the garden where she had been accustomedto climb the wall to meet Matthaus, was the only inch of English ground inwhich she took any interest; and in spite of the disagreeable haze prevailingshe walked out there till she reached the well-known corner. Every blade ofgrass was weighted with little liquid globes, and slugs and snails had creptout upon the plots. She could hear the usual faint noises from the camp,and in the other direction the trot of farmers on the road to the town, for itwas market-day. She observed that her frequent visits to this corner hadquite trodden down the grass in the angle of the wall, and left marks ofgarden soil on the stepping-stones by which she had mounted to look overthe top. Seldom having gone there till dusk, she had not considered that hertraces might be visible by day. Perhaps it was these which had revealed hertrysts to her father.
While she paused in melancholy regard, she fancied that thecustomary sounds from the tents were changing their character. Indifferentas Phyllis was to camp doings now, she mounted by the steps to the oldplace. What she beheld at first awed and perplexed her; then she stoodrigid, her fingers hooked to the wall, her eyes staring out of her head, andher face as if hardened to stone.On the open green stretching before her all the regiments in the campwere drawn up in line, in the mid-front of which two empty coffins lay on theground. The unwonted sounds which she had noticed came from anadvancing procession. It consisted of the band of the York-Hussars playing adead march; next two soldiers of that regiment in a mourning coach,guarded on each side, and accompanied by two priests. Behind came acrowd of rustics who had been attracted by the event. The melancholyprocession marched along the front of the line, returned to the centre, andhalted beside the coffins, where the two condemned men were blindfolded,and each placed kneeling on his coffin; a few minutes' pause was now given,while they prayed.A firing-party of twenty-four men stood ready with levelled carbines. The commanding officer, who had his sword drawn, waved it through somecuts of the sword-exercise till he reached the downward stroke, whereat thefiring party discharged their volley. The two victims fell, one upon his faceacross his coffin, the other backwards.As the volley resounded there arose a shriek from the wall of Dr.Grove's garden, and some one fell down inside; but nobody among thespectators without noticed it at the time. The two executed Hussars wereMatthaus Tina and his friend Christoph. The soldiers on guard placed thebodies in the coffins almost instantly; but the colonel of the regiment, anEnglishman, rode up and exclaimed in a stern voice: 'Turn them out-as anexample to the men!'The coffins were lifted endwise, and the dead Germans flung out upontheir faces on the grass. Then all the regiments wheeled in sections, andmarched past the spot in slow time. When the survey was over the corpseswere again coffined, and borne away.Meanwhile Dr. Grove, attracted by the noise of the volley, had rushedout into his garden, where he saw his wretched daughter lying motionlessagainst the wall. She was taken indoors, but it was long before sherecovered consciousness; and for weeks they despaired of her reason.It transpired that the luckless deserters from the York Hussars had cutthe boat from her moorings in the adjacent harbour, according to their plan,and, with two other comrades who were smarting under ill-treatment fromtheir colonel, had sailed in safety across the Channel. But mistaking theirbearings they steered into Jersey, thinking that island the French coast. Here they were perceived to be deserters, and delivered up to theauthorities. Matthaus and Christoph interceded for the other two at thecourt-martial, saying that it was entirely by the former's representations thatthese were induced to go. Their sentence was accordingly commuted toflogging, the death punishment being reserved for their leaders.The visitor to the well-known old Georgian watering-place, who maycare to ramble to the neighbouring village under the hills, and examine theregister of burials, will there find two entries in these words:-
'Matth: Tina (Corpl.) in His Majesty's Regmt. of York Hussars, and Shotfor Desertion, was Buried June 30th,1801, aged 22 years. Born in the townof Sarrbruk, Germany.'Christoph Bless, belonging to His Majesty's Regmt. of York Hussars,who was Shot for Desertion, was Buried June 30th, 1801, aged 22 years. Born at Lothaargen, Alsatia.'
Their graves were dug at the back of the little church, near the wall. There is no memorial to mark the spot, but Phyllis pointed it out to me. While she lived she used to keep their mounds neat; but now they areovergrown with nettles, and sunk nearly flat. The older villagers, however,who know of the episode from their parents, still recollect the place wherethe soldiers lie. Phyllis lies near.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion: A Tale of Tragic Love

Have you ever read a piece of literature that left you feeling melancholic yet enamored at the same time? If not, then "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" by Thomas Hardy might just do the trick. This classic prose tells the story of a young woman named Phyllis and her ill-fated love affair with a melancholy hussar from the German legion. Set in the rural countryside of Wessex, this tale explores themes of love, loss, and societal expectations.

Plot Summary

The story begins with Phyllis, a young and vibrant woman living in the small town of Overcombe. One day, while on a walk, she stumbles upon a melancholy hussar named Matthaus Tinau. The two strike up a conversation, and Phyllis is immediately drawn to his mysterious and brooding demeanor. As they continue to talk, it becomes clear that the hussar is deeply sorrowful about something in his past.

Over the course of the next few days, Phyllis and Matthaus develop a deep connection. They spend time together, sharing stories and enjoying each other's company. However, their budding romance is cut short when Matthaus is called back to his regiment. Before leaving, he promises to return to Phyllis as soon as he can.

Months go by, and Phyllis hears nothing from Matthaus. She begins to fear the worst and eventually receives word that Matthaus has died in battle. Devastated by the news, Phyllis spirals into a deep depression.

Years later, Phyllis marries a wealthy businessman named Humphrey Gould. Though she is content with her new life, she still thinks fondly of Matthaus and wonders what could have been.


At its core, "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" is a story about the power of love and the devastating consequences of societal expectations. Phyllis and Matthaus are both victims of the rigid gender and class norms of their time. Phyllis is expected to marry a wealthy man and settle down into a life of domesticity, while Matthaus is bound by his duties as a soldier.

Despite these obstacles, the two find solace in each other's company. They are able to break free from the constraints of their respective social classes and connect on a deeper level. However, their love is ultimately thwarted by the forces of fate.

Hardy's prose is beautifully melancholic, capturing the bittersweet nature of their relationship. His use of vivid imagery and symbolism adds depth and nuance to the story. For instance, the red breast that appears throughout the story can be interpreted as a symbol of love and passion. The bird serves as a reminder of the bond between Phyllis and Matthaus, even in death.

Moreover, the story explores the theme of memory and the ways in which it can haunt us. Phyllis is haunted by her memories of Matthaus, even as she tries to move on with her life. Hardy's use of flashbacks and dream sequences adds to the dreamlike quality of the story.

Overall, "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" is a timeless story of love and loss. Hardy's prose is hauntingly beautiful, capturing the emotional complexity of his characters. It is a must-read for anyone interested in literature that explores the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion is a classic prose written by Thomas Hardy, a renowned English novelist and poet. This masterpiece was first published in 1890 and has since become one of the most celebrated works of literature in the English language. The story is set in the early 19th century and revolves around the life of a young hussar named Matthaus Tina, who is stationed in England as part of the German Legion.

The story begins with a chance encounter between Matthaus and a young woman named Phyllis Grove. Phyllis is a beautiful and charming young lady who is engaged to be married to a wealthy landowner named Humphrey Gould. Despite her engagement, Phyllis is immediately drawn to Matthaus, and the two begin a secret love affair.

As the story progresses, we learn more about Matthaus and his melancholic nature. He is haunted by the memories of his past, particularly the death of his beloved sister, and struggles to find happiness in his present life. His melancholy is further exacerbated by his love for Phyllis, which he knows can never be fulfilled due to her engagement.

The story takes a dramatic turn when Humphrey Gould discovers the affair between Phyllis and Matthaus. He challenges Matthaus to a duel, and the two men meet in a secluded field to settle their differences. In a tragic turn of events, Matthaus is mortally wounded in the duel and dies in Phyllis's arms.

The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion is a powerful and poignant story that explores themes of love, loss, and the human condition. One of the most striking aspects of the story is the way in which Hardy portrays the character of Matthaus. He is a complex and multi-dimensional character who is both sympathetic and tragic. His melancholic nature is a reflection of the pain and suffering that he has experienced in his life, and his love for Phyllis is a desperate attempt to find happiness and meaning in a world that has been cruel to him.

Another notable aspect of the story is the way in which Hardy portrays the character of Phyllis. She is a strong and independent woman who is not afraid to follow her heart, even if it means going against societal norms and expectations. Her love for Matthaus is genuine and heartfelt, and she is willing to risk everything to be with him.

The story also explores the theme of class and social status. Phyllis is engaged to Humphrey Gould, a wealthy landowner who represents the upper class. Matthaus, on the other hand, is a hussar, a member of the lower class. Their love affair is a challenge to the rigid social hierarchy of the time, and their tragic end is a reflection of the harsh realities of class and social status.

In conclusion, The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion is a timeless masterpiece that continues to captivate readers to this day. Thomas Hardy's masterful storytelling and vivid characterization make this a must-read for anyone interested in literature. The story's exploration of themes such as love, loss, and the human condition make it a powerful and poignant work that will stay with readers long after they have finished reading it.

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