"Dame the Third: The Marchioness of Stonehenge"
Once upon a time there was a woman named Lady Caroline, "whose personal charms were so rare and unparalleled that she was courted, flattered, and spoilt by almost all the young noblemen and gentlemen in that part of Wessex" (277) because all young, eligible noblewomen are beautiful, don'tcha know.
But she was swarmed with so many handsome dudes and bombarded with so much opulence that she went, "Eh," and rather perversely elopes with some fugly looking commoner because SHE DO WHAT SHE WANT. In a really stellar example of long-term planning, they decide never to tell anyone about their marriage because her parents wouldn't allow it, so he'll keep living in his house and she'll keep living in her parents' place, and he'll sneak in through the window every night for a little sumpin' sumpin', apparently for eternity, and NOTHING COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG WITH THIS SET-UP.
Then, after a while, she gets kind of fed up with the idea of having to hide their love forever and wishes that she'd chosen someone more worth her time because, as Thomas Hardy forever inculcates, rash marriages end in tears. And *spoilers* sometimes hangings. And *spoilers* sometimes murdered children.
So one night her husband comes over for a little bow-chicka-wow-wow and afterwards she's like, "I'm just not that into you." And he says, "'O, my heart!'" and falls down dead. Damn, I wish all divorces were this clean. Now, you might think that this solves all her problems, but sister does have an unexplained dead body in her bedroom, so she's not clear yet. So she goes into full Fargo panic and says "Quickly,
to a woodchipper! to his house!" and lugs his corpse out the window and across down and dumps him on his father's lawn, like the WORST ding-dong ditch EVER.
She goes back to her house and everything is totally fine forever, the end.
Until the next day when her husband's body is found and the doctor says, "He clearly had a heart attack, but there are definitely signs of dragging on his corpse, so someone was with him when he died." And then some local dude was like, "You know what? I thought I saw a woman dragging a corpse last night, but thought my eyes were just playing tricks. Ah, that is classic me." And the doctor goes, "Okay, clearly something suspicious is happening. We are going to start some huge inquest and air everyone's dirty laundry unless someone comes forward with an explanation."
So Lady Caroline goes, "Shitshitshitshit! MUST. FIND. A. PATSY." Then she remembers that before her husband died, he told her that there was a lowly peasant girl named Milly who had a crush on him (sidebar, why do so many women like this guy if he was as ugly as Hardy says? Everyone knows that looks are the only thing that matter) but he was unswayed by her milkmaid good-looks and buxom, bucolic charm. So Lady Caroline marches down to Milly's shack and tells her the story and says, "Why don't you pretend to be the one who married him and *cough moved the body cough*. You couldn't have him as a husband in real life because, you know, he totally rejected you for me, but you can be his widow!"
And Milly says, "My life is so horrible that I will literally accept any scraps from your table. Yes, please, I would like to creepily be the widow of a man who rejected me and I will gladly tell everyone I moved the body." So Milly starts dressing in black and says she and the guy got married secretly in London and everyone believes her and Lady Caroline gets off totally free, the end.
Until Lady Caroline discovers that she's pregnant. She toys with the idea of Milly recanting, so Lady Caroline can tell everyone the truth and keep the baby. But then she eventually decides not to. She tells Milly, "Uh, hey, you're pregnant. With a baby that is in my uterus. So . . . why don't you disappear for a while, and I'll do the same, and then we'll meet up and I'll give you the baby?" And Milly goes, "I'm pregnant? HOORAY!"
And everything goes to plan perfect, and Milly raises Lady Caroline's baby boy, and Lady Caroline marries the Marquis of Stonehenge, and everyone is happy, the end.
Until the Marquis of Stonehenge dies before they can have any kids. And the baby grows up into a fine-looking young man who has a brilliant military career. He gets famous enough for Lady Caroline to hear about him and realize that she should have kept her baby, because he turned out AWESOME, and also she is lonely. So she comes back and visits Milly and her son and reveals the whole hideous truth to him. And she says, "I know it's too late for me to raise you, but could we maybe have a relationship?"
And he says, "FUCK YOU." The end.
Actually, what he says is, "'You see, my lady, you cared little for me when I was weak and helpless; why should I come to you now I am strong? . . . you were once ashamed of my poor father, who was a sincere and honest man; therefore, I am now ashamed of you'" (288).
But I wasn't kidding about this being the end. She goes home and dies of a broken heart and that's the whole story, the moral of which is: mothers who are forced into giving their children up for adoption are horrible people and should be punished by DEATH.
I'm not saying it's a good moral, people. In fact, most of the morals in these stories are pretty goddamned dubious.