While exploring a cave, two boys divert the course of a stream and set off a strange chain of events.
This was Thomas Hardy's one children's story, and the circumstances of its publication are at least as interesting as the story itself. According to Richard Purdy, who apparently disinterred it, Our Exploits at West Poley was written in 1883 for serial publication in the Youth's Companion and then, despite Hardy's amenability to cutting or other alteration ("possibly the story is too juvenile for your side of the sea"), filed away and forgotten; not until 1892-93 did it appear, in the much less prominent Household - whose readers, Purdy remarks, "were not the readers" of Hardy's great recent success, Tess of the d'Urbevilles. And indeed there is more here of the formula juvenile than of the Hardy genius. Narrator Leonard, a "small boy" of 13, and his manly cousin Steve, "two or three years my senior," unwittingly discover the source of the town's stream in a cave, direct it down another hole, and, innocently but disruptively, switch its outflow from West to East Poley. The mean miller loses his source of power and also, with the work stopped, his sorely-tried apprentice Job - a clear plus for East Poley; however, one person's gain is another's loss: clearly a lesson to the boys in "the foolishness of presumption," as Steve puts it. Along with Leonard and Job, he is now trapped in the cave, with the water rising, the result of trying to direct the stream a third way. And it's in these perilous moments that Hardy-the-storyteller scores. Otherwise, though, the combination of farfetched premises and obvious moralizing relegates this to the realm of literary curiosa.
Classification: Educational literature; English literature Pages: 95