In the days when the fastest traffic on the Great North Road were the mail-coaches, one of the
coachman, Tom Driffield, was engaged to marry Nance, the daughter of a farmer at Sheriff
Hutton in Yorkshire. The day was fixed for the third Sunday in May; the farmer had contracted
with the local builder to build them a cottage in one of his fields standing back from the road, and
Nance and her mother and sister were spending every spare minute sewing her trousseau.
Nance was some fifteen years younger than her husband-to-be, but she had no doubts on
that score. He was handsome and strong, and no driver of the mails could match him in skill
between Edinburgh and London. But it was neither his looks nor his strength nor his skill which
had won the heart of Nance. It was the warm kindness that shone from his great brown eyes, the
quiet kindness of his deep soft voice and the gentle kindness in the caresses of his broad hands.
The banns were to be called for the first time on the last Sunday in April.
'It's a pity you can't be at the church to hear them,' Nance had said when Tom had told
her that on that day he would be carrying the mails from York to London. 'But I'll go and I'll
think of you all the time, dear Tom.'
She had arrived at the church for matins that Sunday morning with her father and mother,
brothers and sisters, with few other thoughts besides those she had of Tom. But as the fiveminute
bell began to toll, there came striding down the aisle a young stranger. His jet black hair,
shining with pommard, was drawn tightly down over his head into a queue in the nape of his
slender neck, held in place by a splendid bow of crimson velvet. His coat sat with elegance upon
his well-formed body; the calves encased in flashing white stockings were perfectly proportioned
with swelling thighs and tapering ankles; his feet in their leather pumps glistening with silver
buckles were the neatest to be seen on any man; the frills at his wrists, and the jabot at his throat,
were of the finest Brussels lace; while on the long slender index-finger of his right hand
scintillated a diamond the size of a hedge-sparrow's egg, the only piece of jewelry about him.
The beadle, taking him to be gentry, conducted him to pews reserved for distinguished
strangers, on the left side of the chancel steps which looked inwards and faced the squire's pews.
He bowed to the beadle, who closed the door of the pew after him, then placing his black tricorne
he was carrying on the seat, he knelt with his face in his hands for some seconds, before sitting
back and allowing his gaze to wander over the congregation.
Presently his eyes came to rest on Nance, who had been regarding him frankly since the
moment of his appearance. He held her gaze for a time, until a nudge from her younger sister
brought her to her senses.
'You're staring, Nance,' Prue scolded. 'It's not polite.'
'Who is he?' Nance whispered, lowering her eyes.
'Some London gentleman,' Prue told her. 'Been staying at the inn since Thursday.'
(Prue was being courted by Dick Driver, son of the inn-keeper, and was always the first of
the Tucker family to learn any news.)
The organ struck up, the choir emerged from the vestry, and soon matins were in full
swing. Nance, staring hard at her prayer-book, did her best to concentrate on versicles, psalms
and responses, but every so often she felt her gaze going across the aisle, and each time she
up she saw that his eyes were on her. Only when she heard the Rector call Tom's name with hers
as he read the banns did she remember to think of her future spouse, and she felt a spasm of
shame. It was short-lived, however, for when she looked up, blushing, the young gentleman's
eyes were still on her.
When the service was over, many of their neighbors in the village had waited by the porch
to give their good wishes for her happiness. She thanked them demurely, leaving her mother to
do the talking. And while they stood there, he came out of the church.
Seeing her he smiled, and in great trepidation she watched him coming towards her. His
tricorne pressed lightly to his chest, he leaned forward in a bow.
'Ma'am,' he said. 'I believe I have the honor and great pleasure of addressing the
fortunate young lady whose banns were called for the first time this morning?'
'Sir,' she said, bobbing a curtsy. Then turning to Mrs. Tucker, she went on, 'My mother,
He bowed again, and Mrs. Tucker curtsied.
'Ma'am,' he said, 'may a stranger offer one of the prettiest girls he's ever set eyes on his
most cordial wishes. Your future husband is the most fortunate of men.'
'You are kind, sir,' replied Mrs. Tucker. 'My daughter thanks you.'
Once more he inclined towards her, smiled broadly at Nance, put on his tricorne and
strode off down the path back to the inn.
'Fine manners these gentlemen have!' Mrs. Tucker sniffed, 'if many of them have little