Part 10 out of 10
BEAUTY IN LONELINESS -- AFTER ALL
BATHSHEBA revived with the spring. The utter prostration
that had followed the low fever from which she had suffered
diminished perceptibly when all uncertainty upon every
subject had come to an end.
But she remained alone now for the greater part of her time,
and stayed in the house, or at furthest went into the
garden. She shunned every one, even Liddy, and could be
brought to make no confidences, and to ask for no sympathy.
As the summer drew on she passed more of her time in the
open air, and began to examine into farming matters from
sheer necessity, though she never rode out or personally
superintended as at former times. One Friday evening in
August she walked a little way along the road and entered
the village for the first time since the sombre event of the
preceding Christmas. None of the old colour had as yet come
to her cheek, and its absolute paleness was heightened by
the jet black of her gown, till it appeared preternatural.
When she reached a little shop at the other end of the
place, which stood nearly opposite to the churchyard,
Bathsheba heard singing inside the church, and she knew that
the singers were practising. She crossed the road, opened
the gate, and entered the graveyard, the high sills of the
church windows effectually screening her from the eyes of
those gathered within. Her stealthy walk was to the nook
wherein Troy had worked at planting flowers upon Fanny
Robin's grave, and she came to the marble tombstone.
A motion of satisfaction enlivened her face as she read the
complete inscription. First came the words of Troy himself:
ERECTED BY FRANCIS TROY
IN BELOVED MEMORY OF
WHO DIED OCTOBER 9, 18 --,
AGED 20 YEARS.
Underneath this was now inscribed in new letters: --
IN THE SAME GRAVE LIE
THE REMAINS OF THE AFORESAID
WHO DIED DECEMBER 24TH, 18 --,
AGED 26 YEARS.
Whilst she stood and read and meditated the tones of the
organ began again in the church, and she went with the same
light step round to the porch and listened. The door was
closed, and the choir was learning a new hymn. Bathsheba
was stirred by emotions which latterly she had assumed to be
altogether dead within her. The little attenuated voices of
the children brought to her ear in destinct utterance the
words they sang without thought or comprehension --
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on.
Bathsheba's feeling was always to some extent dependent upon
her whim, as is the case with many other women. Something
big came into her throat and an uprising to her eyes -- and
she thought that she would allow the imminent tears to flow
if they wished. They did flow and plenteously, and one fell
upon the stone bench beside her. Once that she had begun to
cry for she hardly knew what, she could not leave off for
crowding thoughts she knew too well. She would have given
anything in the world to be, as those children were,
unconcerned at the meaning of their words, because too
innocent to feel the necessity for any such expression. All
the impassioned scenes of her brief expenence seemed to
revive with added emotion at that moment, and those scenes
which had been without emotion during enactment had emotion
then. Yet grief came to her rather as a luxury than as the
scourge of former times.
Owing to Bathsheba's face being buried in her hands she did
not notice a form which came quietly into the porch, and on
seeing her, first moved as if to retreat, then paused and
regarded her. Bathsheba did not raise her head for some
time, and when she looked round her face was wet, and her
eyes drowned and dim. "Mr. Oak," exclaimed she,
disconcerted, "how long have you been here?"
"A few minutes, ma'am," said Oak, respectfully.
"Are you going in?" said Bathsheba; and there came from
within the church as from a prompter --
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
"I was," said Gabriel. "I am one of the bass singers, you
know. I have sung bass for several months.
"Indeed: I wasn't aware of that. I'll leave you, then."
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile,
sang the children.
"Don't let me drive you away, mistress. I think I won't go
"Oh no -- you don't drive me away."
Then they stood in a state of some embarrassment Bathsheba
trying to wipe her dreadfully drenched and inflamed face
without his noticing her. At length Oak said, I've not seen
you -- I mean spoken to you -- since ever so long, have I?"
But he feared to bring distressing memories back, and
interrupted himself with: "Were you going into church?"
"No," she said. I came to see the tombstone privately -- to
see if they had cut the inscription as I wished. Mr. Oak,
you needn't mind speaking to me, if you wish to, on the
matter which is in both our minds at this moment."
"And have they done it as you wished?" said Oak.
"Yes. Come and see it, if you have not already."
So together they went and read the tomb. "Eight months
ago!" Gabriel murmured when he saw the date. "It seems like
yesterday to me."
"And to me as if it were years ago -- long years, and I had
been dead between. And now I am going home, Mr. Oak."
Oak walked after her. "I wanted to name a small matter to
you as soon as I could," he said, with hesitation. "Merrily
about business, and I think I may just mention it now, if
you'll allow me."
"Oh yes, certainly."
It is that I may soon have to give up the management of your
farm, Mrs. Troy. The fact is, I am thinking of leaving
England -- not yet, you know -- next spring."
"Leaving England!" she said, in surprise and genuine
disappointment. "Why, Gabriel, what are you going to do
"Well, I've thought it best," Oak stammered out.
"California is the spot I've had in my mind to try."
"But it is understood everywhere that you are going to take
poor Mr. Boldwood's farm on your own account."
"I've had the refusal o' it 'tis true; but nothing is
settled yet, and I have reasons for giving up. I shall
finish out my year there as manager for the trustees, but no
"And what shall I do without you? Oh, Gabriel, I don't
think you ought to go away. You've been with me so long --
through bright times and dark times -- such old friends that
as we are -- that it seems unkind almost. I had fancied
that if you leased the other farm as master, you might still
give a helping look across at mine. And now going away!"
"I would have willingly."
"Yet now that I am more helpless than ever you go away!"
"Yes, that's the ill fortune o' it," said Gabriel, in a
distressed tone. "And it is because of that very
helplessness that I feel bound to go. Good afternoon,
ma'am" he concluded, in evident anxiety to get away, and at
once went out of the churchyard by a path she could follow
on no pretence whatever.
Bathsheba went home, her mind occupied with a new trouble,
which being rather harassing than deadly was calculated to
do good by diverting her from the chronic gloom of her life.
She was set thinking a great deal about Oak and of his wish
to shun her; and there occurred to Bathsheba several
incidents of her latter intercourse with him, which, trivial
when singly viewed amounted together to a perceptible
disinclination for her society. It broke upon her at length
as a great pain that her last old disciple was about to
forsake her and flee. He who had believed in her and argued
on her side when all the rest of the world was against her,
had at last like the others become weary and neglectful of
the old cause, and was leaving her to fight her battles
Three weeks went on, and more evidence of his want of
interest in her was forthcoming. She noticed that instead
of entering the small parlour or office where the farm
accounts were kept, and waiting, or leaving a memorandum as
he had hitherto done during her seclusion, Oak never came at
all when she was likely to be there, only entering at
unseasonable hours when her presence in that part of the
house was least to be expected. Whenever he wanted
directions he sent a message, or note with neither heading
nor signature, to which she was obliged to reply in the same
offhand style. Poor Bathsheba began to suffer now from the
most torturing sting of all -- a sensation that she was
The autumn wore away gloomily enough amid these melancholy
conjectures, and Christmas-day came, completing a year of
her legal widowhood, and two years and a quarter of her life
alone. On examining her heart it appeared beyond measure
strange that the subject of which the season might have been
supposed suggestive -- the event in the hall at Boldwood's --
was not agitating her at all; but instead, an agonizing
conviction that everybody abjured her -- for what she could
not tell -- and that Oak was the ringleader of the
recusants. Coming out of church that day she looked round
in hope that Oak, whose bass voice she had heard rolling out
from the gallery overhead in a most unconcerned manner,
might chance to linger in her path in the old way. There he
was, as usual, coming down the path behind her. But on
seeing Bathsheba turn, he looked aside, and as soon as he
got beyond the gate, and there was the barest excuse for a
divergence, he made one, and vanished.
The next morning brought the culminating stroke; she had
been expecting it long. It was a formal notice by letter
from him that he should not renew his engagement with her
for the following Lady-day.
Bathsheba actually sat and cried over this letter most
bitterly. She was aggrieved and wounded that the possession
of hopeless love from Gabriel, which she had grown to regard
as her inalienable right for life, should have been
withdrawn just at his own pleasure in this way. She was
bewildered too by the prospect of having to rely on her own
resources again: it seemed to herself that she never could
again acquire energy sufficient to go to market, barter, and
sell. Since Troy's death Oak had attended all sales and
fairs for her, transacting her business at the same time
with his own. What should she do now? Her life was
becoming a desolation.
So desolate was Bathsheba this evening, that in an absolute
hunger for pity and sympathy, and miserable in that she
appeared to have outlived the only true friendship she had
ever owned, she put on her bonnet and cloak and went down to
Oak's house just after sunset, guided on her way by the pale
primrose rays of a crescent moon a few days old.
A lively firelight shone from the window, but nobody was
visible in the room. She tapped nervously, and then thought
it doubtful if it were right for a single woman to call upon
a bachelor who lived alone, although he was her manager, and
she might be supposed to call on business without any real
impropriety. Gabriel opened the door, and the moon shone
upon his forehead.
"Mr. Oak," said Bathsheba, faintly.
"Yes; I am Mr. Oak," said Gabriel. "Who have I the honour --
O how stupid of me, not to know you, mistress!"
"I shall not be your mistress much longer, shall I Gabriel?"
she said, in pathetic tones.
"Well, no. I suppose -- But come in, ma'am. Oh -- and I'll
get a light," Oak replied, with some awkwardness.
"No; not on my account."
"It is so seldom that I get a lady visitor that I'm afraid I
haven't proper accommodation. Will you sit down, please?
Here's a chair, and there's one, too. I am sorry that my
chairs all have wood seats, and are rather hard, but I was
thinking of getting some new ones." Oak placed two or three
"They are quite easy enough for me."
So down she sat, and down sat he, the fire dancing in their
faces, and upon the old furniture,
Wi' long years o' handlen, 
 W. Barnes.
that formed Oak's array of household possessions, which sent
back a dancing reflection in reply. It was very odd to
these two persons, who knew each other passing well, that
the mere circumstance of their meeting in a new place and in
a new way should make them so awkward and constrained. In
the fields, or at her house, there had never been any
embarrassment; but now that Oak had become the entertainer
their lives seemed to be moved back again to the days when
they were strangers.
"You'll think it strange that I have come, but ----"
"Oh no; not at all."
"But I thought -- Gabriel, I have been uneasy in the belief
that I have offended you, and that you are going away on
that account. It grieved me very much and I couldn't help
"Offended me! As if you could do that, Bathsheba!"
"Haven't I?" she asked, gladly. "But, what are you going
away for else?"
"I am not going to emigrate, you know; I wasn't aware that
you would wish me not to when I told 'ee or I shouldn't ha'
thought of doing it," he said, simply. "I have arranged for
Little Weatherbury Farm and shall have it in my own hands at
Lady-day. You know I've had a share in it for some time.
Still, that wouldn't prevent my attending to your business
as before, hadn't it been that things have been said about
"What?" said Bathsheba, in surprise. "Things said about you
and me! What are they?"
"I cannot tell you."
"It would be wiser if you were to, I think. You have played
the part of mentor to me many times, and I don't see why you
should fear to do it now."
"It is nothing that you have done, this time. The top and
tail o't is this -- that I am sniffing about here, and
waiting for poor Boldwood's farm, with a thought of getting
you some day."
"Getting me! What does that mean?"
"Marrying of 'ee, in plain British. You asked me to tell,
so you mustn't blame me."
Bathsheba did not look quite so alarmed as if a cannon had
been discharged by her ear, which was what Oak had expected.
"Marrying me! I didn't know it was that you meant," she
said, quietly. "Such a thing as that is too absurd -- too
soon -- to think of, by far!"
"Yes; of course, it is too absurd. I don't desire any such
thing; I should think that was plain enough by this time.
Surely, surely you be the last person in the world I think
of marrying. It is too absurd, as you say.
"'Too -- s-s-soon' were the words I used."
"I must beg your pardon for correcting you, but you said,
'too absurd,' and so do I."
"I beg your pardon too!" she returned, with tears in her
eyes. "'Too soon' was what I said. But it doesn't matter a
bit -- not at all -- but I only meant, 'too soon.' Indeed,
I didn't, Mr. Oak, and you must believe me!"
Gabriel looked her long in the face, but the firelight being
faint there was not much to be seen. "Bathsheba," he said,
tenderly and in surprise, and coming closer: "if I only knew
one thing -- whether you would allow me to love you and win
you, and marry you after all -- if I only knew that!"
"But you never will know," she murmured.
"Because you never ask."
"Oh -- Oh!" said Gabriel, with a low laugh of joyousness.
"My own dear ----"
"You ought not to have sent me that harsh letter this
morning," she interrupted. "It shows you didn't care a bit
about me, and were ready to desert me like all the rest of
them! It was very cruel of you, considering I was the first
sweetheart that you ever had, and you were the first I ever
had; and I shall not forget it!"
"Now, Bathsheba, was ever anybody so provoking he said,
laughing." You know it was purely that I, as an unmarried
man, carrying on a business for you as a very taking young
woman, had a proper hard part to play -- more particular
that people knew I had a sort of feeling for 'ee; and I
fancied, from the way we were mentioned together, that it
might injure your good name. Nobody knows the heat and fret
I have been caused by it."
"And was that all?"
"Oh, how glad I am I came!" she exclaimed, thankfully, as
she rose from her seat. "I have thought so much more of you
since I fancied you did not want even to see me again. But
I must be going now, or I shall be missed. Why Gabriel,"
she said, with a slight laugh, as they went to the door, "it
seems exactly as if I had come courting you -- how
"And quite right too," said Oak. "I've danced at your
skittish heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a long
mile, and many a long day; and it is hard to begrudge me
this one visit."
He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her the
details of his forthcoming tenure of the other farm. They
spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty phrases
and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such
tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which
arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown
together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each
other's character, and not the best till further on, the
romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard
prosaic reality. This good-fellowship -- CAMARADERIE --
usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is
unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes,
because men and women associate, not in their labours, but
in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy
circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling
proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death --
that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods
drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name
is evanescent as steam.
A FOGGY NIGHT AND MORNING -- CONCLUSION
"THE most private, secret, plainest wedding that it is
possible to have."
Those had been Bathsheba's words to Oak one evening, some
time after the event of the preceding chapter, and he
meditated a full hour by the clock upon how to carry out her
wishes to the letter.
"A licence -- O yes, it must be a licence," he said to
himself at last. "Very well, then; first, a license."
On a dark night, a few days later, Oak came with mysterious
steps from the surrogate's door, in Casterbridge. On the
way home he heard a heavy tread in front of him, and,
overtaking the man, found him to be Coggan. They walked
together into the village until they came to a little lane
behind the church, leading down to the cottage of Laban
Tall, who had lately been installed as clerk of the parish,
and was yet in mortal terror at church on Sundays when he
heard his lone voice among certain hard words of the Psalms,
whither no man ventured to follow him.
"Well, good-night, Coggan," said Oak, "I'm going down this
"Oh!" said Coggan, surprised; "what's going on to-night
then, make so bold Mr. Oak?"
It seemed rather ungenerous not to tell Coggan, under the
circumstances, for Coggan had been true as steel all through
the time of Gabriel's unhappiness about Bathsheba, and
Gabriel said, "You can keep a secret, Coggan?"
"You've proved me, and you know."
"Yes, I have, and I do know. Well, then, mistress and I
mean to get married to-morrow morning."
"Heaven's high tower! And yet I've thought of such a thing
from time to time; true, I have. But keeping it so close!
Well, there, 'tis no consarn of of mine, and I wish 'ee joy
"Thank you, Coggan. But I assure 'ee that this great hush
is not what I wished for at all, or what either of us would
have wished if it hadn't been for certain things that would
make a gay wedding seem hardly the thing. Bathsheba has a
great wish that all the parish shall not be in church,
looking at her -- she's shylike and nervous about it, in
fact -- so I be doing this to humour her."
"Ay, I see: quite right, too, I suppose I must say. And you
be now going down to the clerk."
"Yes; you may as well come with me."
"I am afeard your labour in keeping it close will be throwed
away," said Coggan, as they walked along. "Labe Tall's old
woman will horn it all over parish in half-an-hour."
"So she will, upon my life; I never thought of that," said
Oak, pausing. "Yet I must tell him to-night, I suppose, for
he's working so far off, and leaves early."
"I'll tell 'ee how we could tackle her," said Coggan. "I'll
knock and ask to speak to Laban outside the door, you
standing in the background. Then he'll come out, and you
can tell yer tale. She'll never guess what I want en for;
and I'll make up a few words about the farm-work, as a
This scheme was considered feasible; and Coggan advanced
boldly, and rapped at Mrs. Tall's door. Mrs. Tall herself
"I wanted to have a word with Laban."
"He's not at home, and won't be this side of eleven o'clock.
He've been forced to go over to Yalbury since shutting out
work. I shall do quite as well."
"I hardly think you will. Stop a moment;" and Coggan
stepped round the corner of the porch to consult Oak.
"Who's t'other man, then?" said Mrs. Tall.
"Only a friend," said Coggan.
"Say he's wanted to meet mistress near church-hatch to-
morrow morning at ten," said Oak, in a whisper. "That he
must come without fail, and wear his best clothes."
"The clothes will floor us as safe as houses!" said Coggan.
"It can't be helped said Oak. "Tell her."
So Coggan delivered the message. "Mind, het or wet, blow or
snow, he must come," added Jan. "'Tis very particular,
indeed. The fact is, 'tis to witness her sign some law-work
about taking shares wi' another farmer for a long span o'
years. There, that's what 'tis, and now I've told 'ee,
Mother Tall, in a way I shouldn't ha' done if I hadn't loved
'ee so hopeless well."
Coggan retired before she could ask any further; and next
they called at the vicar's in a manner which excited no
curiosity at all. Then Gabriel went home, and prepared for
"Liddy," said Bathsheba, on going to bed that night, "I want
you to call me at seven o'clock to-morrow, In case I
"But you always do wake afore then, ma'am."
"Yes, but I have something important to do, which I'll tell
you of when the time comes, and it's best to make sure."
Bathsheba, however, awoke voluntarily at four, nor could she
by any contrivance get to sleep again. About six, being
quite positive that her watch had stopped during the night,
she could wait no longer. She went and tapped at Liddy's
door, and after some labour awoke her.
"But I thought it was I who had to call you?" said the
bewildered Liddy. "And it isn't six yet."
Indeed it is; how can you tell such a story, Liddy? I know
it must be ever so much past seven. Come to my room as soon
as you can; I want you to give my hair a good brushing."
When Liddy came to Bathsheba's room her mistress was already
waiting. Liddy could not understand this extraordinary
promptness. "Whatever IS going on, ma'am?" she said.
"Well, I'll tell you," said Bathsheba, with a mischievous
smile in her bright eyes. "Farmer Oak is coming here to
dine with me to-day!"
"Farmer Oak -- and nobody else? -- you two alone?"
"But is it safe, ma'am, after what's been said?" asked her
companion, dubiously. "A woman's good name is such a
perishable article that ----"
Bathsheba laughed with a flushed cheek, and whispered in
Liddy's ear, although there was nobody present. Then Liddy
stared and exclaimed, "Souls alive, what news! It makes my
heart go quite bumpity-bump"
"It makes mine rather furious, too," said Bathsheba.
"However, there's no getting out of it now!"
It was a damp disagreeable morning. Nevertheless, at twenty
minutes to ten o'clock, Oak came out of his house, and
Went up the hill side
With that sort of stride
A man puts out when walking in search of a bride,
and knocked Bathsheba's door. Ten minutes later a large and
a smaller umbrella might have been seen moving from the same
door, and through the mist along the road to the church.
The distance was not more than a quarter of a mile, and
these two sensible persons deemed it unnecessary to drive.
An observer must have been very close indeed to discover
that the forms under the umbrellas were those of Oak and
Bathsheba, arm-in-arm for the first time in their lives, Oak
in a greatcoat extending to his knees, and Bathsheba in a
cloak that reached her clogs. Yet, though so plainly
dressed there was a certain rejuvenated appearance about
As though a rose should shut and be a bud again.
Repose had again incarnadined her cheeks; and having, at
Gabriel's request, arranged her hair this morning as she had
worn it years ago on Norcombe Hill, she seemed in his eyes
remarkably like a girl of that fascinating dream, which,
considering that she was now only three or four-and-twenty,
was perhaps not very wonderful. In the church were Tall,
Liddy, and the parson, and in a remarkably short space of
time the deed was done.
The two sat down very quietly to tea in Bathsheba's parlour
in the evening of the same day, for it had been arranged
that Farmer Oak should go there to live, since he had as yet
neither money, house, nor furniture worthy of the name,
though he was on a sure way towards them, whilst Bathsheba
was, comparatively, in a plethora of all three.
Just as Bathsheba was pouring out a cup of tea, their ears
were greeted by the firing of a cannon, followed by what
seemed like a tremendous blowing of trumpets, in the front
of the house.
"There!" said Oak, laughing, "I knew those fellows were up
to something, by the look on their faces"
Oak took up the light and went into the porch, followed by
Bathsheba with a shawl over her head. The rays fell upon a
group of male figures gathered upon the gravel in front,
who, when they saw the newly-married couple in the porch,
set up a loud "Hurrah!" and at the same moment bang again
went the cannon in the background, followed by a hideous
clang of music from a drum, tambourine, clarionet, serpent,
hautboy, tenor-viol, and double-bass -- the only remaining
relics of the true and original Weatherbury band --
venerable worm-eaten instruments, which had celebrated in
their own persons the victories of Marlhorough, under the
fingers of the forefathers of those who played them now.
The performers came forward, and marched up to the front.
"Those bright boys, Mark Clark and Jan, are at the bottom of
all this," said Oak. "Come in, souls, and have something to
eat and drink wi' me and my wife."
"Not to-night," said Mr. Clark, with evident self-denial.
"Thank ye all the same; but we'll call at a more seemly
time. However, we couldn't think of letting the day pass
without a note of admiration of some sort. If ye could send
a drop of som'at down to Warren's, why so it is. Here's
long life and happiness to neighbour Oak and his comely
"Thank ye; thank ye all," said Gabriel. "A bit and a drop
shall be sent to Warren's for ye at once. I had a thought
that we might very likely get a salute of some sort from our
old friends, and I was saying so to my wife but now."
"Faith," said Coggan, in a critical tone, turning to his
companions, "the man hev learnt to say 'my wife' in a
wonderful naterel way, considering how very youthful he is
in wedlock as yet -- hey, neighbours all?"
"I never heerd a skilful old married feller of twenty years'
standing pipe 'my wife' in a more used note than 'a did,"
said Jacob Smallbury. "It might have been a little more
true to nater if't had been spoke a little chillier, but
that wasn't to be expected just now."
"That improvement will come wi' time," said Jan, twirling
Then Oak laughed, and Bathsheba smiled (for she never
laughed readily now), and their friends turned to go.
"Yes; I suppose that's the size o't," said Joseph Poorgrass
with a cheerful sigh as they moved away; "and I wish him joy
o' her; though I were once or twice upon saying to-day with
holy Hosea, in my scripture manner, which is my second
nature. 'Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.' But
since 'tis as 'tis why, it might have been worse, and I feel
my thanks accordingly."