As popular today as they were during the author's lifetime, the works of Thomas Hardy captivate readers with their gripping narrative power and arresting imagery. This collection presents a trio of the author's finest and most representative short stories. "The Distracted Preacher," a flawless comedy graced with Shakespearean touches, concerns a pair of ill-matched lovers and the breakup of a little network of smugglers. "The Three Strangers" offers a celebration of the comforts and familiarities of life within a community. The title story, singled out time and again for critical praise, centers on the rivalry between a good but plain man and a charismatic villain. These tales mark Hardy's attempts to record the rapidly vanishing legends, superstitions, local customs, and lore of the Dorset region as well as his skepticism about the possibility of achieving personal and sexual satisfaction in the modern world. Alternatively humorous, ironic, and elegiac, the stories attest to the remarkable range of Hardy's storytelling gifts.