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Enter A Dragoon
by [?]

Before the fire the young woman in question was now seated on a low stool, in the stillness of reverie, and a toddling boy played about the floor around her.

‘Ah, Mrs. Stone!’ said Selina, rising slowly. ‘How kind of you to come in. You’ll bide to supper? Mother has told you the strange news, of course?’

‘No. But I heard it outside, that is, that you’d had a letter from Mr. Clark–Sergeant-Major Clark, as they say he is now–and that he’s coming to make it up with ‘ee.’

‘Yes; coming to-night–all the way from the north of England where he’s quartered. I don’t know whether I’m happy or–frightened at it. Of course I always believed that if he was alive he’d come and keep his solemn vow to me. But when it is printed that a man is killed–what can you think?’

‘It was printed?’

‘Why, yes. After the Battle of the Alma the book of the names of the killed and wounded was nailed up against Casterbridge Town Hall door. ‘Twas on a Saturday, and I walked there o’ purpose to read and see for myself; for I’d heard that his name was down. There was a crowd of people round the book, looking for the names of relations; and I can mind that when they saw me they made way for me–knowing that we’d been just going to be married–and that, as you may say, I belonged to him. Well, I reached up my arm, and turned over the farrels of the book, and under the “killed” I read his surname, but instead of “John” they’d printed “James,” and I thought ’twas a mistake, and that it must be he. Who could have guessed there were two nearly of one name in one regiment.’

‘Well–he’s coming to finish the wedding of ‘ee as may be said; so never mind, my dear. All’s well that ends well.’

‘That’s what he seems to say. But then he has not heard yet about Mr. Miller; and that’s what rather terrifies me. Luckily my marriage with him next week was to have been by licence, and not banns, as in John’s case; and it was not so well known on that account. Still, I don’t know what to think.’

‘Everything seems to come just ‘twixt cup and lip with ‘ee, don’t it now, Miss Paddock. Two weddings broke off–’tis odd! How came you to accept Mr. Miller, my dear?’

‘He’s been so good and faithful! Not minding about the child at all; for he knew the rights of the story. He’s dearly fond o’ Johnny, you know–just as if ’twere his own–isn’t he, my duck? Do Mr. Miller love you or don’t he?’

‘Iss! An’ I love Mr. Miller,’ said the toddler.

‘Well, you see, Mrs. Stone, he said he’d make me a comfortable home; and thinking ‘twould be a good thing for Johnny, Mr. Miller being so much better off than me, I agreed at last, just as a widow might–which is what I have always felt myself; ever since I saw what I thought was John’s name printed there. I hope John will forgive me!’

‘So he will forgive ‘ee, since ’twas no manner of wrong to him. He ought to have sent ‘ee a line, saying ’twas another man.’

Selina’s mother entered. ‘We’ve not known of this an hour, Mrs. Stone,’ she said. ‘The letter was brought up from Lower Mellstock Post-office by one of the school children, only this afternoon. Mr. Miller was coming here this very night to settle about the wedding doings. Hark! Is that your father? Or is it Mr. Miller already come?’

The footsteps entered the porch; there was a brushing on the mat, and the door of the room sprung back to disclose a rubicund man about thirty years of age, of thriving master-mechanic appearance and obviously comfortable temper. On seeing the child, and before taking any notice whatever of the elders, the comer made a noise like the crowing of a cock and flapped his arms as if they were wings, a method of entry which had the unqualified admiration of Johnny.