Text Source: Thomas hardy, Life’s little ironies: A set of tales with some colloquial sketches entitled A few crusted characters, With a map of Wessex, Macmillan and Co., London 1925 (First Collected Edition 1894), p.205-216



by Thomas Hardy (1882)





The widely discussed possibility of an invasion of England through a Channel tunnel [1] has more than once recalled old Solomon Selby’s story to my mind.



The occasion on which I numbered myself among his audience was one evening when he was sitting in the yawning chimney-corner of the inn-kitchen, with some others who had gathered there, and I entered for shelter from the rain. Withdrawing the stem of his pipe from the dental notch in which it habitually rested, he leaned back in the recess behind him and smiled into the fire. The smile was neither mirthful nor sad, not precisely humorous nor altogether thoughtful. We who knew him recognized it in a moment: it was his narrative smile. Breaking off our few desultory remarks we drew up closer, and he thus began: —



‘My father, as you mid[2] know, was a shepherd all his life, and lived out by the Cove [3] four miles yonder, where I was born and lived likewise, till I moved here shortly afore I was married. The cottage that first knew me stood on the top of the down[4], near the sea; there was no house within a mile and a half of it; it was built o’ purpose for the farm-shepherd, and had no other use. They tell me that it is now pulled down, but that you can see where it stood by the mounds of earth and a few broken bricks that are still lying about. It was a bleak and dreary place in winter-time, but in summer it was well enough, though the garden never came to much, because we could not get up a good shelter for the vegetables and currant[5] bushes; and where there is much wind they don’t thrive.



‘Of all the years of my growing up, the ones that bide clearest in my mind were eighteen hundred and three, four, and five. This was for two reasons: I had just then grown to an age when a child’s eyes and ears take in and note down everything about him, and there was more at that date to bear in mind than there ever has been since with me. It was, as I need hardly tell ye, the time after the first peace[6], when Bonaparte was scheming his descent upon England. He had crossed the great Alp mountains, fought in Egypt, drubbed the Turks, the Austrians, and the Proossians[7], and now thought he’d have a slap at us.



On the other side of the Channel, scarce out of sight and hail of a man standing on our English shore, the French army of a hundred and sixty thousand men and fifteen thousand horses had been brought together from all parts, and were drilling every day. Bonaparte had been three years a-making his preparations; and to ferry these soldiers and cannon and horses across he had contrived a couple of thousand flat-bottomed boats. These boats were small things, but wonderfully built. A good few of ’em were so made as to have a little stable on board each for the two horses that were to haul the cannon carried at the stern. To get in order all these, and other things required, he had assembled there five or six thousand fellows that worked at trades—carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, saddlers, and what not. O 'twas a curious time!



‘Every morning Neighbour Boney [8] would muster his multitude of soldiers on the beach, draw ’em up in line, practise ’em in the manoeuvre of embarking, horses and all, till they could do it without a single hitch. My father drove a flock of ewes up into Sussex that year, and as he went along the drover’s track over the high downs thereabout he could see this drilling actually going on — the accoutrements of the rank and file[9] glittering in the sun like silver. It was thought and always said by my uncle Job, sergeant of foot (who used to know all about these matters), that Bonaparte meant to cross with oars on a calm night. The grand query with us was, Where would my gentleman land? Many of the common people thought it would be at Dover; others, who knew how unlikely it was that any skilful general would make a business of landing just where he was expected, said he’d go either east into the River Thames, or west’ard to some convenient place, most likely one of the little bays inside the Isle of Portland, between the Beal and St. Alban’s Head — and for choice the three-quarter-round Cove, screened from every mortal eye, that seemed made o’ purpose, out by where we lived, and which I’ve climbed up with two tubs of brandy across my shoulders on scores o’ dark nights in my younger days. Some had heard that a part o’ the French fleet would sail right round Scotland, and come up the Channel to a suitable haven. However, there was much doubt upon the matter; and no wonder, for after-years proved that Bonaparte himself could hardly make up his mind upon that great and very particular point, where to land. His uncertainty came about in this wise, that he could get no news as to where and how our troops lay in waiting, and that his knowledge of possible places where flat-bottomed boats might be quietly run ashore, and the men they brought marshalled in order, was dim to the last degree. Being flat-bottomed, they didn’t require a harbour for unshipping their cargo of men, but a good shelving beach away from sight, and with a fair open road toward London. How the question posed that great Corsican tyrant (as we used to call him), what pains he took to settle it, and, above all, what a risk he ran on one particular night in trying to do so, were known only to one man here and there; and certainly to no maker of newspapers or printer of books, or my account o’t [10] would not have had so many heads shaken over it as it has by gentry who only believe what they see in printed lines.

「毎朝,隣國のボニー(ボナパルト)は,海岸へ大勢の兵隊を集めて整列させ,馬ごと乘船させる演習を,一つの問題もなく行うまでやらせた。親父は,その年,牝羊の一群をサセックスまで追ってゐた。そして彼が高い草丘の家畜追ひの道を歩いてゐた時に,彼はこの演習が實際に行われてゐるを見ることが出來た。横列と縦列の装具が太陽の光で銀のやうに光ってゐた。一般に云はれ,歩兵軍曹であったジョブ叔父さん(此れらの事柄すべてについて知っていた)が言ったやうに,ボナパルトは静かな夜にオールを漕いで(海峽を)渡る積りであった。我々の大きな疑問は,我が紳士(ナポレオン)が何處へ上陸するだらうかと云ふことであった。庶民はドーヴァーだらうと言ひ,老練な將軍が丁度敵の待ち構へた所へ上陸する可能性は低いと思ってゐる人達は,當方のテムズ川を入るか,西の方の都合の好い場所,恐らく Beal と St. Alban’s Head の岬との間の Portland 島の小さい灣の一つだらうと言ってゐた。――その選擇は,三方入江に取り圍まれた Cove の人間の目に見えないところで,丁度我々住んでゐた所に近く,僕の若い時,暗夜にブランディの樽を兩肩に擔いで攀ぢ登った所であった。或る者はフランス艦隊の一部がスコットランドを回航して,イギリス海峽の適當な港に入ったと聞いた。しかし,其の件については疑念があり,驚くなかれ,何年か後に分ったことであるが,ボナパルドは何處へ上陸するかと云ふ重大且つ特別な點で,決心ができなかった。彼の不確かさは,我が軍隊が何處でどの様に待ち伏せをしてゐるかに關して情報を得る事ができなかったことと,平底舟を静かに碇泊させ,連れてきた兵隊を整然と指揮し得る場所についての知識が頗る不確かであったことにあった。平底舟であるから,乘せて來た兵士を上陸させるのに港は要らなかったが,視界から離れた都合好く傾斜したビーチで,ロンドンに向けてよく開かれた道路が欲しかった。この問題が偉大なコルシカの暴君(我々は彼をかう呼び慣はしてゐた)を如何に困窮させたか,其れを解決するために如何に彼が苦惱したか,そして何よりも,或る晚にさうする事の危險性は,此處彼處で僅か彼一人に知られてゐた。そして新聞メーカーや本の印刷屋の誰も頷く者多数を知らず,このことは印刷された新聞の行で見た事しか信じない田舎紳士と同じであった。」(難解!)


‘The flocks my father had charge of fed all about the downs near our house, overlooking the sea and shore each way for miles. In winter and early spring father was up a deal at nights, watching and tending the lambing. Often he’d go to bed early, and turn out at twelve or one; and on the other hand, he’d sometimes stay up till twelve or one, and then turn in to bed. As soon as I was old enough I used to help him, mostly in the way of keeping an eye upon the ewes while he was gone home to rest. This is what I was doing in a particular month in either the year four or five — I can’t certainly fix which, but it was long before I was took away from the sheepkeeping to be bound prentice to a trade. Every night at that time I was at the fold, about half a mile, or it may be a little more, from our cottage, and no living thing at all with me but the ewes and young lambs. Afeard? No; I was never afeard of being alone at these times; for I had been reared in such an out-step place that the lack o’ human beings at night made me less fearful than the sight of ’em. Directly I saw a man’s shape after dark in a lonely place I was frightened out of my senses.



‘One day in that month we were surprised by a visit from my uncle Job, the sergeant in the Sixty-first foot [11], then in camp on the downs above King George’s watering-place[12], several miles to the west yonder. Uncle Job dropped in about dusk, and went up with my father to the fold for an hour or two. Then he came home, had a drop to drink from the tub of sperrits that the smugglers kept us in for housing their liquor when they’d made a run, and for burning ’em off when there was danger. After that he stretched himself out on the settle to sleep. I went to bed: at one o’clock father came home, and waking me to go and take his place, according to custom, went to bed himself. On my way out of the house I passed Uncle Job on the settle. He opened his eyes, and upon my telling him where I was going he said it was a shame that such a youngster as I should go up there all alone; and when he had fastened up his stock and waist-belt he set off along with me, taking a drop from the sperrit-tub in a little flat bottle that stood in the corner-cupboard.



‘By and by we drew up to the fold, saw that all was right, and then, to keep ourselves warm, curled up in a heap of straw that lay inside the thatched hurdles[13] we had set up to break the stroke of the wind when there was any. To-night, however, there was none. It was one of those very still nights when, if you stand on the high hills anywhere within two or three miles of the sea, you can hear the rise and fall of the tide along the shore, coming and going every few moments like a sort of great snore of the sleeping world. Over the lower ground there was a bit of a mist, but on the hill where we lay the air was clear, and the moon, then in her last quarter, flung a fairly good light on the grass and scattered straw.



‘While we lay there Uncle Job amused me by telling me strange stories of the wars he had served in and the wownds[14] he had got. He had already fought the French in the Low Countries, and hoped to fight ’em again. His stories lasted so long that at last I was hardly sure that I was not a soldier myself, and had seen such service as he told of. The wonders of his tales quite bewildered my mind, till I fell asleep and dreamed of battle, smoke, and flying soldiers, all of a kind with the doings he had been bringing up to me.

「其處で我々横になってゐる間に,ジョブ叔父さんは彼が從軍し,負傷もした戰爭の面白い話を語って僕を樂しませて呉れた。彼は既に Low Countries (ネーデルラント)でフランス兵と戰ったが,もう一度彼等と戦ひたいと言った。彼の物語は餘りにも長かったので,終には僕は自分自身が兵士になって,叔父の話した戰爭に行ったのか不確かになった。僕は叔父の話の面白さに魅せられて,熟睡し,戰爭,砲煙,驅けゆく兵士,その他,叔父が話して呉れた事柄と同じやうな夢を見た。」


‘How long my nap lasted I am not prepared to say. But some faint sounds over and above the rustle of the ewes in the straw, the bleat of the lambs, and the tinkle of the sheep-bell brought me to my waking senses. Uncle Job was still beside me; but he too had fallen asleep. I looked out from the straw, and saw what it was that had aroused me. Two men, in boat-cloaks, cocked hats[15], and swords, stood by the hurdles about twenty yards off.



‘I turned my ear thitherward to catch what they were saying, but though I heard every word o’t, not one did I understand. They spoke in a tongue that was not ours — in French, as I afterward found. But if I could not gain the meaning of a word, I was shrewd boy enough to find out a deal of the talkers’ business. By the light o’ the moon I could see that one of ’em carried a roll of paper in his hand, while every moment he spoke quick to his comrade, and pointed right and left with the other hand to spots along the shore. There was no doubt that he was explaining to the second gentleman the shapes and features of the coast. What happened soon after made this still clearer to me.



‘All this time I had not waked Uncle Job, but now I began to be afeared that they might light upon us, because uncle breathed so heavily through’s nose. I put my mouth to his ear and whispered, “Uncle Job.”



‘ “What is it, my boy?” he said, just as if he hadn’t been asleep at all.



‘ “Hush !” says I. “Two French generals —”

「『しっ!』 僕は言った,『二人のフランスのの將校が――。』」


‘ “French ?” says he.



‘ “Yes,” says I. “Come to see where to land their army!”



‘I pointed ’em out; but I could say no more, for the pair were coming at that moment much nearer to where we lay. As soon as they got as near as eight or ten yards, the officer with a roll in his hand stooped down to a slanting hurdle, unfastened his roll upon it, and spread it out. Then suddenly he sprung a dark lantern open on the paper, and showed it to be a map.



‘ “What be they looking at?” I whispered to Uncle Job.



‘ “A chart of the Channel,” says the sergeant (knowing about such things).



‘The other French officer now stooped likewise, and over the map they had a long consultation, as they pointed here and there on the paper, and then hither and thither at places along the shore beneath us. I noticed that the manner of one officer was very respectful toward the other, who seemed much his superior, the second in rank calling him by a sort of title that I did not know the sense of. The head one, on the other hand, was quite familiar with his friend, and more than once clapped him on the shoulder.



‘Uncle Job had watched as well as I, but though the map had been in the lantern-light, their faces had always been in shade. But when they rose from stooping over the chart the light flashed upward, and fell smart upon one of ’em’s features. No sooner had this happened than Uncle Job gasped, and sank down as if he'd been in a fit.



‘ “What is it-what is it, Uncle Job?” said I.



‘ “O good God !’!” says he, under the straw.



‘ “What?” says I.



‘ “Boney!” he groaned out.



‘ “Who?" says I.



‘ “Bonaparty,” he said. “The Corsican ogre. O that I had got but my new-flinted firelock[16], and that there man must live. So lie low, as you value your life!”



‘I did lie low, as you mid [17] suppose. But I couldn’t help peeping. And then I too, lad as I was, knew that it was the face of Bonaparte. Not know Boney? I should think I did know Boney. I should have known him by half the light o’ that lantern. If I had seen a picture of his features once, I had seen it a hundred times. There was his bullet head, his short neck, his round yaller cheeks and chin, his gloomy face, and his great glowing eyes. He took off his hat to blow himself a bit, and there was the forelock in the middle of his forehead, as in all the draughts of him. In moving, his cloak fell a little open, and I could see for a moment his white-fronted jacket and one of his epaulets.



‘But none of this lasted long. In a minute he and his general had rolled up the map, shut the lantern, and turned to go down toward the shore.



‘Then Uncle Job came to himself a bit. “Slipped across in the night-time to see how to put his men ashore,” he said. “The like o’ that man’s coolness eyes will never again see! Nephew, I must act in this, and immediate, or England’s lost!”



‘When they were over the brow, we crope out, and went some little way to look after them. Half-way down they were joined by two others, and six or seven minutes brought them to the shore. Then, from behind a rock, a boat came out into the weak moonlight of the Cove, and they jumped in; it put off instantly, and vanished in a few minutes between the two rocks that stand at the mouth of the Cove as we all know. We climmed back to where we had been before, and I could see, a little way out, a larger vessel, though still not very large. The little boat drew up alongside, was made fast at the stern as I suppose, for the largest sailed away, and we saw no more.

「彼等が丘の頂を越えたとき,我々はコッテージを出て,彼等の後を少し見た。丘を半ば下った所で,彼等は別の二人と一緒になって,6,7分の間に波打際へ達した。すると,弱い月光の中,Cove の岩の背後から一艘のボートが現はれ,其れに彼等が飛び乘ると,直ちに海岸を離れた。そして數分後には,我々の良く知る Cove の口に立つ二つの岩の間に消え去った。我々は前にゐた所へ攀じ登って戻り,少し沖の方に,左程大型ではないが大きな軍艦が一艘泊ってゐるのを見た。小さなボートは横着けになると,我々が思った樣に,その舳に縛り付けられたらしい。何故なら,大きい船が出帆した後,何も見えなかったからである。」


‘My uncle Job told his officers as soon as he got back to camp; but what they thought of it I never heard–neither did he. Boney’s army never came, and a good job for me; for the Cove below my father’s house was where he meant to land, as this secret visit showed. We coast-folk should have been cut down one and all, and I should not have sat here to tell this tale.’

「ジョブ叔父さんは,露營に歸るや否や,他の士官達にその話をした。が,其れに就いて彼等がどう思ったかは,僕は――そして叔父も同様に聞かなかった。ボネィの軍隊は來なかったし,其れで良かった。何故なら,僕の親父の家の下にある Cove は,彼等の隠密の訪問が示したやうに,彼等が上陸しやうと計畫してゐた所であったからである。我々海岸の住民は一人殘らず斬られたであらうし,僕がここに坐って話をすることも無かったであろう。」


We who listened to old Selby that night have been familiar with his simple grave-stone for these ten years past. Thanks to the incredulity of the age his tale has been seldom repeated. But if anything short of the direct testimony of his own eyes could persuade an auditor that Bonaparte had examined these shores for himself with a view to a practicable landing-place, it would have been Solomon Selby’s manner of narrating the adventure which befell him on the down.



Christmas 1882.





[1] The idea to dig a tunnel under the English Channel had really been envisaged during the Napoleonic War, almost two centuries earlier before realised by the construction of Euro Tunnel, as proven by a cartoon, Divers Projets sur la descente en Angleterre (A project for invading England by means of a tunnel and balloons) , dated 1803, drawn by an anonymous cartoonist. See Figure 7 in “View reference images”.

[2] "mid": misprint of " would" ?

[3] The Cove meant “Lulworth Cove”, as verified from the description below, “the two rocks that stand at the mouth of the Cove...” See Figure 9 in  in “View reference images”.

[4] Down = Grass hill.

[5] Typically “Black currant”.

[6] Treaty of Amiens (1802). Signed in the city of Amiens on 27 March 1802 by Joseph Bonaparte and Marquess Cornwallis. The consequent peace lasted only one year (18 May 1803) and was the only period of general peace in Europe between 1793 and 1814.

[7] Proossians = Prussians.

[8] Boney = Bonaparto.

[9] rank and file = crosswise and lengthwise arrays of men.

[10] "o’t" (???)

[11] The Sixty-First Regiment of Foot, or The South Gloucestershire Regiment of Foot, An infantry regiment of the British Army, originally formed in 1758. When the Regiment was re-designated as First Battalion and moved to Malta, A Second Battalion was raised in County Durham and Northumberland in response to the threat of invasion by France and served in England and Ireland. It is recorded that the Second Battalion proceeded to the Guernsey Island in 1804 but the description in the novel that “Uncle Job fought in the Netherlands” was probably a fiction. (Richard Cannon, Historical Record of the Sixty-First, Or, the South Gloucestershire Regiment of Foot: Containing an Account of the Formation of the Regiment in 1758, and of Its Subsequent Services to 1844 , Parker, Furnivall and Parker, 1844)

[12] Gloucester Lodge. Built on the coat of Weymouth, Dorset, by the Kind George III’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester, in 1780 and bought by the king for summer.

[13] A stack of sheep hurdles with a space inside covered with a thatched roof to keep straw and other things dry in it.

[14] "wownds": must be the misprint of "wounds"

[15] A hat with the brim turned up to form two or three points.

[16] A muzzle loader that had a flintlock type of gunlock.

[17] See Footnote 1.