The Three Strangers and Other Stories
THE THREE STRANGERS
and Other Stories
Thomas Hardy is probably best known for his novels such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but he also wrote a great number of short stories. Many of them were based on stories told by people in the villages around where he lived in the south of England.
People are the same, whether they live in the town or the country, today or a hundred years ago. From his hut a young shepherd boy watches, wide-eyed and afraid, a secret meeting between a woman and a man who is not her husband. A young teacher, going home to marry a much older man, has a moment of madness that will change her life.
But we begin with a knock on the door at a lonely cottage. Inside, all is bright and cheerful, with music and dancing, and people enjoying themselves. Outside, the rain beats down, and the stranger following the footpath across the wild hills stares at the lighted windows. Should he go on, or can he stop for a while, to find rest and food and a seat by a warm fire?
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First published in Oxford Bookworms 2003
The story entitled A Moment of Madness was published in its original version under the title A Mere Interlude
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ISBN 978 0 19 479133 5
Word count (main text): 11,680 words
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e-Book ISBN 978 0 19 478659 1
e-Book first published 2012
The first stranger
The first stranger
In the south-west of England there are many long, low, grassy hills, which have not changed their appearance for centuries. Farmers still keep their sheep on them, and the only buildings are lonely cottages, where shepherds live.
Fifty years ago there was a shepherd’s cottage on one of these hills. It was only three miles from the market town of Casterbridge, but it was unusual for travellers to pass this way. There was no road, just two footpaths which crossed in front of the cottage door. During the long winters, snow and rain fell heavily here, which made travelling difficult.
The night of March 28th, 1825, was one of the coldest and wettest that winter, but inside the cottage all was warm and cheerful. Shepherd Fennel had invited family and friends to drink to the health of his youngest child, a recent arrival in the family. Nineteen people were at the party: married women and single girls, shepherds and farm workers, young people talking of love, and old friends talking of the past.
Shepherd Fennel had chosen his wife well. She was a farmer’s daughter from one of the valleys, and when she married, she brought fifty pounds with her in her pocket – and kept it there, for the needs of a coming family. She did not like to spend money unnecessarily, and had worried about the kind of party to give that evening. ‘At a sit-still party,’ she thought, ‘the men’ll get too comfortable and drink the house dry. But at a dancing-party people get hungry and then they’ll eat all our food! We’ll have both sitting and dancing – that’s the best way.’ And secretly she told the fiddler to play for no more than fifteen minutes at a time.