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In the book The Trumpet Major, by Thomas Hardy, there is the following paragraph:

That was Budmouth postmaster, and he says there's a letter for me. Ah, I now call to mind that there was a letter in the candle three days ago this very night - a large red one; but foolish-like I thought nothing o't. Who can that letter be from?

What is the meaning of candle in this text?

That is the only occurrence of the word candle in that chapter.

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

This is the explanatory note from the Oxford World Classics edition:

. . . the "letter" is a bright spark visible within the body of the flame, and is caused by the irregular burning of the wick. The person who sees it must thump the table; if the spark disappears immediately, the letter is in the post; if several thumps are necessary, that number of days must elapse before the letter arrives.

The source for this information is Firor, Ruth A., Folkways in Thomas Hardy (1931; reprinted New York: A. S. Barnes & Company, 1962)

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Oh! So it is a literal candle then. – Kit Z. Fox Apr 12 '13 at 16:47
@KitFox♦. It seems so. – Barrie England Apr 12 '13 at 16:48
Note that the miller, who saw the letter "in the candle", constantly busies himself with lighting and snuffing candles. – StoneyB Apr 12 '13 at 17:29
These are the things you miss when you don't have a physical book in front of you! I wonder if when it was written, it would not even have to be explained to the reader, because they knew what it meant from experience. – Sal Apr 12 '13 at 17:46
Life was full of these mini-predictors once. A tea leaf that floated was a visitor - fish it out and count how many times you have to tap it to move it from one hand to the other to get days until the visit, and so on. I wouldn't expect a book to explain that any more than one written 10 years ago would explain how a fax machine works. – Kate Gregory Apr 12 '13 at 17:50

protected by RegDwigнt Apr 14 '13 at 10:51

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