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theirs. In front of him against the wet glazed surface of the lane he saw a person walking yet more slowly than himself under an umbrella. The man turned and plainly started; he was Boldwood.

“How are you this morning, sir?” said Oak.

“Yes, it is a wet day. — Oh, I am well, very well, I thank you; quite well.”

“I am glad to hear it, sir.”

Boldwood seemed to awake to the present by degrees. “You look tired and ill, Oak,” he said then, desultorily regarding his companion.

“I am tired. You look strangely altered, sir.”

“I? Not a bit of it: I am well enough. What put that into your head?”

“I thought you didn’t look quite so topping as you used to, that was all.”

“Indeed, then you are mistaken,” said Boldwood, shortly. “Nothing hurts me. My constitution is an iron one.”

“I’ve been working hard to get our ricks covered, and was barely in time. Never had such a struggle in my life…. Yours of course are safe, sir.”

“Oh yes,” Boldwood added, after an interval of silence: “What did you ask, Oak?”

“Your ricks are all covered before this time?”

“No.”

“At any rate, the large ones upon the stone staddles?”

“They are not.”

“Them under the hedge?”

“No. I forgot to tell the thatcher to set about it.”

“Nor the little one by the stile?”

“Nor the little one by the stile. I overlooked the ricks this year.”

“Then not a tenth of your corn will come to measure, sir.”

“Possibly not.”

“Overlooked them,” repeated Gabriel slowly to himself. It is difficult to describe the intensely dramatic effect that announcement had upon Oak at such a moment. All the night he had been feeling that the neglect he was labouring to repair was abnormal and isolated — the only instance of the kind within the circuit of the county. Yet at this very time, within the same parish, a greater waste had been going on, uncomplained of and disregarded. A few months earlier Boldwood’s forgetting his husbandry would have been as preposterous an idea as a sailor forgetting he was in a ship. Oak was just thinking that whatever he himself might have suffered from Bathsheba’s marriage, here was a man who had suffered more, when Boldwood spoke in a changed voice — that of one who yearned to make a confidence and relieve his heart by an outpouring.

“Oak, you know as well as I that things have gone wrong with me lately. I may as well own it. I was going to get a little settled in life; but in some way my plan has come to nothing.”

“I thought my mistress would have married you,” said Gabriel, not knowing enough of the full depths of Boldwood’s love to keep silence on the farmer’s account, and determined not to evade discipline by doing so on his own. “However, it is so sometimes, and nothing happens that we expect,” he added, with the repose of a man whom misfortune had inured rather than subdued.

“I daresay I am a joke about the parish,” said Boldwood, as if the subject came irresistibly to his tongue, and with a miserable lightness meant to express his indifference.

“Oh no — I don’t think that.”

“– But the real truth of the matter is that there was not, as some fancy, any jilting on — her part. No engagement ever existed between me and Miss Everdene. People say so, but it is untrue: she never promised me!” Boldwood stood still now and turned his wild face to Oak. “Oh, Gabriel,” he continued, “I am weak and foolish, and I don’t know what, and I can’t fend off my miserable grief! … I had some faint belief in the mercy of God till I lost that woman. Yes, He prepared a gourd to shade me, and like the prophet I thanked Him and was glad. But the next day He prepared a worm to smite the gourd and wither it; and I feel it is better to die than to live!”

A silence followed. Boldwood aroused himself from the momentary mood of confidence into which he had drifted, and walked on again, resuming his usual reserve.

“No, Gabriel,” he resumed, with a carelessness which was like the smile on the countenance of a skull: “it was made more of by other people than ever it was by us. I do feel a little regret occasionally, but no woman ever had power over me for any length of time. Well, good morning; I can trust you not to mention to others what has passed between us two here.”

CHAPTER XXXIX

COMING HOME — A CRY

ON the turnpike road, between Casterbridge and Weatherbury, and about three miles from the former place, is Yalbury Hill, one of those steep long ascents which pervade the highways of this undulating part of South Wessex. In returning from market it is usual for the farmers and other gig-gentry to alight at the bottom and walk up.

One Saturday evening in the month of October Bathsheba’s vehicle was duly creeping up this incline. She was sitting listlessly in the second seat of the gig, whilst walking beside her in farmer’s marketing suit of unusually fashionable cut was an erect, well-made young man. Though on foot, he held the reins and whip, and occasionally aimed light cuts at the horse’s ear with the end of the lash, as a recreation. This man was her husband, formerly Sergeant Troy, who, having bought his discharge with Bathsheba’s money, was gradually transforming himself into a farmer of a spirited and very modern school. People of unalterable ideas still insisted upon calling him “Sergeant” when they met him, which was in some degree owing to his having still retained the well-shaped moustache of his military days, and the soldierly bearing inseparable from his form and training.

“Yes, if it hadn’t been for that wretched rain I should have cleared two hundred as easy as looking, my love,” he was saying. “Don’t you see, it altered all the chances? To speak like a book I once read, wet weather is the narrative, and fine days are the episodes, of our country’s history; now, isn’t that true?”

“But the time of year is come for changeable weather.”

“Well, yes. The fact is, these autumn races are the ruin of everybody. Never did I see such a day as ’twas! ‘Tis a wild open place, just out of Budmouth, and a drab sea rolled in towards us like liquid misery. Wind and rain — good Lord! Dark? Why, ’twas as black as my hat before the last race was run. ‘Twas five o’clock, and you couldn’t see the horses till they were almost in, leave alone colours. The ground was as heavy as lead, and all judgment from a fellow’s experience went for nothing. Horses, riders, people, were all blown about like ships at sea. Three booths were blown over, and the wretched folk inside crawled out upon their hands and knees; and in the next field were as many as a dozen hats at one time. Ay, Pimpernel regularly stuck fast, when about sixty yards off, and when I saw Policy stepping on, it did knock my heart against the lining of my ribs, I assure you, my love!”

“And you mean, Frank,” said Bathsheba, sadly — her voice was painfully lowered from the fulness and vivacity of the previous summer — “that you have lost more than a hundred pounds in a month by this dreadful horse-racing? O, Frank, it is cruel; it is foolish of you to take away my money so. We shall have to leave the farm; that will be the end of it!”

“Humbug about cruel. Now, there ’tis again — turn on the waterworks; that’s just like you.”

“But you’ll promise me not to go to Budmouth second meeting, won’t you?” she implored. Bathsheba was at the full depth for tears, but she maintained a dry eye.

“I don’t see why I should; in fact, if it turns out to be a fine day, I was thinking of taking you.”

“Never, never! I’ll go a hundred miles the other way first. I hate the sound of the very word!”

“But the question of going to see the race or staying at home has very little to do with the matter. Bets are all booked safely enough before the race begins, you may depend. Whether it is a bad race for me or a good one, will have very little to do with our going there next Monday.”

“But you don’t mean to say that you have risked anything on this one too!” she exclaimed, with an agonized look.

“There now, don’t you be a little fool. Wait till you are told. Why, Bathsheba, you have lost all the pluck and sauciness you formerly had, and upon my life if I had known what a chicken-hearted creature you were under all your boldness, I’d never have — I know what.”

A flash of indignation might have been seen in Bathsheba’s dark eyes as she looked resolutely ahead after this reply. They moved on without further speech, some early-withered leaves from the trees which hooded the road at this spot occasionally spinning downward across their path to the earth.

A woman appeared on the brow of the hill. The ridge was in a cutting, so that she was very near the husband and wife before she became visible. Troy had turned towards the gig to remount, and whilst putting his foot on the step the woman passed behind him.

Though the overshadowing trees and the approach of eventide enveloped them in gloom, Bathsheba could see plainly enough to discern the extreme poverty of the woman’s garb, and the sadness of her face.

“Please, sir, do you know at what time Casterbridge Union- house closes at night?”

The woman said these words to Troy over his shoulder.

Troy started visibly at the sound of the voice; yet he seemed to recover presence of mind sufficient to prevent himself from giving way to his impulse to suddenly turn and face her. He said, slowly —

“I don’t know.”

The woman, on hearing him speak, quickly looked up, examined the side of his face, and recognized the soldier under the yeoman’s garb. Her face was drawn into an expression which had gladness and agony both among its elements. She uttered an hysterical cry, and fell down.

“Oh, poor thing!” exclaimed Bathsheba, instantly preparing to alight.

“Stay where you are, and attend to the horse!” said Troy, peremptorily throwing her the reins and the whip. “Walk the horse to the top: I’ll see to the woman.”

“But I —-”

“Do you hear? Clk — Poppet!”

The horse, gig, and Bathsheba moved on.

“How on earth did you come here? I thought you were miles away, or dead! Why didn’t you write to me?” said Troy to the woman, in a strangely gentle, yet hurried voice, as he lifted her up.

“I feared to.”

“Have you any money?”

“None.”

“Good Heaven — I wish I had more to give you! Here’s — wretched — the merest trifle. It is every farthing I have left. I have none but what my wife gives me, you know, and I can’t ask her now.”

The woman made no answer.

“I have only another moment,” continued Troy; “and now listen. Where are you going to-night? Casterbridge Union?”

“Yes; I thought to go there.”

“You shan’t go there; yet, wait. Yes, perhaps for to-night; I can do nothing better — worse luck! Sleep there to-night, and stay there to-morrow. Monday is the first free day I have; and on Monday morning, at ten exactly, meet me on Grey’s Bridge just out of the town. I’ll bring all the money I can muster. You shan’t want — I’ll see that, Fanny; then I’ll get you a lodging somewhere. Good-bye till then. I am a brute — but good-bye!”

After advancing the distance which completed the ascent of the hill, Bathsheba turned her head. The woman was upon her feet, and Bathsheba saw her withdrawing from Troy, and going feebly down the hill by the third milestone from Casterbridge. Troy then came on towards his wife, stepped into the gig, took the reins from her hand, and without making any observation whipped the horse into a trot. He was rather agitated.

“Do you know who that woman was?” said Bathsheba, looking searchingly into his face.

“I do,” he said, looking boldly back into hers.

“I thought you did,” said she, with angry hauteur, and still regarding him. “Who is she?”

He suddenly seemed to think that frankness would benefit neither of the women.

“Nothing to either of us,” he said. “I know her by sight.”

“What is her name?”

“How should I know her name?”

“I think you do.”

“Think if you will, and be —-” The sentence was completed by a smart cut of the whip round Poppet’s flank, which caused the animal to start forward at a wild pace. No more was said.

CHAPTER XL

ON CASTERBRIDGE HIGHWAY

FOR a considerable time the woman walked on. Her steps became feebler, and she strained her eyes to look afar upon the naked road, now indistinct amid the penumbrae of night. At length her onward walk dwindled to the merest totter, and she opened a gate within which was a haystack. Underneath this she sat down and presently slept.

When the woman awoke it was to find herself in the depths of a moonless and starless night. A heavy unbroken crust of cloud stretched across the sky, shutting out every speck of heaven; and a distant halo which hung over the town of Casterbridge was visible against the black concave, the luminosity appearing the brighter by its great contrast with the circumscribing darkness. Towards this weak, soft glow the woman turned her eyes.

“If I could only get there!” she said. “Meet him the day after to-morrow: God help me! Perhaps I shall be in my grave before then.”

A manor-house clock from the far depths of shadow struck the hour, one, in a small, attenuated tone. After midnight the voice of a clock seems to lose in breadth as much as in length, and to diminish its sonorousness to a thin falsetto.

Afterwards a light — two lights — arose from the remote shade, and grew larger. A carriage rolled along the toad, and passed the gate. It probably contained some late diners-out. The beams from one lamp shone for a moment upon the crouching woman, and threw her face into vivid relief. The face was young in the groundwork, old in the finish; the general contours were flexuous and childlike, but the finer lineaments had begun to be sharp and thin.

The pedestrian stood up, apparently with revived determination, and looked around. The road appeared to be familiar to her, and she carefully scanned the fence as she slowly walked along. Presently there became visible a dim white shape; it was another milestone. She drew her fingers across its face to feel the marks.

“Two more!” she said.

She leant against the stone as a means of rest for a short interval, then bestirred herself, and again pursued her way. For a slight distance she bore up bravely, afterwards flagging as before. This was beside a lone copsewood, wherein heaps of white chips strewn upon the leafy ground showed that woodmen had been faggoting and making hurdles during the day. Now there was not a rustle, not a breeze, not the faintest clash of twigs to keep her company. The woman looked over the gate, opened it, and went in. Close to the entrance stood a row of faggots, bound and un-bound, together with stakes of all sizes.

For a few seconds the wayfarer stood with that tense stillness which signifies itself to be not the end but merely the suspension, of a previous motion. Her attitude was that of a person who listens, either to the external world of sound, or to the imagined discourse of thought. A close criticism might have detected signs proving that she was intent on the latter alternative. Moreover, as was shown by what followed, she was oddly exercising the faculty of invention upon the speciality of the clever Jacquet Droz, the designer of automatic substitutes for human limbs.

By the aid of the Casterbridge aurora, and by feeling with her hands, the woman selected two sticks from the heaps. These sticks were nearly straight to the height of three or four feet, where each branched into a fork like the letter Y. She sat down, snapped off the small upper twigs, and carried the remainder with her into the road. She placed one of these forks under each arm as a crutch, tested them, timidly threw her whole weight upon them — so little that it was — and swung herself forward. The girl had made for herself a material aid.

The crutches answered well. The pat of her feet, and the tap of her sticks upon the highway, were all the sounds that came from the traveller now. She had passed the last milestone by a good long distance, and began to look wistfully towards the bank as if calculating upon another milestone soon. The crutches, though so very useful, had their limits of power. Mechanism only transfers labour, being powerless to supersede it, and the original amount of exertion was not cleared away; it was thrown into the body and arms. She was exhausted, and each swing forward became fainter. At last she swayed sideways, and fell.

Here she lay, a shapeless heap, for ten minutes and more. The morning wind began to boom dully over the flats, and to move afresh dead leaves which had lain still since yesterday. The woman desperately turned round upon her knees, and next rose to her feet. Steadying herself by the help of one crutch, she essayed a step, then another, then a third, using the crutches now as walking-sticks only. Thus she progressed till descending Mellstock Hill another milestone appeared, and soon the beginning of an iron-railed fence came into view. She staggered across to the first post, clung to it, and looked around.

The Casterbridge lights were now individually visible, It was getting towards morning, and vehicles might be hoped for, if not expected soon. She listened. There was not a sound of life save that acme and sublimation of all dismal sounds, the bark of a fox, its three hollow notes being rendered at intervals of a minute with the precision of a funeral bell.

“Less than a mile!” the woman murmured. “No; more,” she added, after a pause. “The mile is to the county hall, and my resting-place is on the other side Casterbridge. A little over a mile, and there I am!” After an interval she again spoke. “Five or six steps to a yard — six perhaps. I have to go seventeen hundred yards. A hundred times six, six hundred. Seventeen times that. O pity me, Lord!”

Holding to the rails, she advanced, thrusting one hand forward upon the rail, then the other, then leaning over it whilst she dragged her feet on beneath.

This woman was not given to soliloquy; but extremity of feeling lessens the individuality of the weak, as it increases that of the strong. She said again in the same tone, “I’ll believe that the end lies five posts forward, and no further, and so get strength to pass them.”

This was a practical application of the principle that a half-feigned and fictitious faith is better than no faith at all.

She passed five posts and held on to the fifth.

“I’ll pass five more by believing my longed-for spot is at the next fifth. I can do it.”

She passed five more.

“It lies only five further.”

She passed five more.

“But it is five further.”

She passed them.

“That stone bridge is the end of my journey,” she said, when the bridge over the Froom was in view.

She crawled to the bridge. During the effort each breath of the woman went into the air as if never to return again.

“Now for the truth of the matter,” she said, sitting down. “The truth is, that I have less than half a mile.” Self- beguilement with what she had known all the time to be false had given her strength to come over half a mile that she would have been powerless to face in the lump. The artifice showed that the woman, by some mysterious intuition, had grasped the paradoxical truth that blindness may operate more vigorously than prescience, and the short-sighted effect more than the far-seeing; that limitation, and not comprehensiveness, is needed for striking a blow.

The half-mile stood now before the sick and weary woman like a stolid Juggernaut. It was an impassive King of her world. The road here ran across Durnover Moor, open to the road on either side. She surveyed the wide space, the lights, herself, sighed, and lay down against a guard-stone of the bridge.

Never was ingenuity exercised so sorely as the traveller here exercised hers. Every conceivable aid, method, stratagem, mechanism, by which these last desperate eight hundred yards could be overpassed by a human being unperceived, was revolved in her busy brain, and dismissed as impracticable. She thought of sticks, wheels, crawling — she even thought of rolling. But the exertion demanded by either of these latter two was greater than to walk erect. The faculty of contrivance was worn out, Hopelessness had come at last.

“No further!” she whispered, and closed her eyes.

From the stripe of shadow on the opposite side of the bridge a portion of shade seemed to detach itself and move into isolation upon the pale white of the road. It glided noiselessly towards the recumbent woman.

She became conscious of something touching her hand; it was softness and it was warmth. She opened her eye’s, and the substance touched her face. A dog was licking her cheek.

He was a huge, heavy, and quiet creature, standing darkly against the low horizon, and at least two feet higher than the present position of her eyes. Whether Newfoundland, mastiff, bloodhound, or what not, it was impossible to say. He seemed to be of too strange and mysterious a nature to belong to any variety among those of popular nomenclature. Being thus assignable to no breed, he was the ideal embodiment of canine greatness — a generalization from what was common to all. Night, in its sad, solemn, and benevolent aspect, apart from its stealthy and cruel side, was personified in this form. Darkness endows the small and ordinary ones among mankind with poetical power, and even the suffering woman threw her idea into figure.

In her reclining position she looked up to him just as in earlier times she had, when standing, looked up to a man. The animal, who was as homeless as she, respectfully withdrew a step or two when the woman moved, and, seeing that she did not repulse him, he licked her hand again.

A thought moved within her like lightning. “Perhaps I can make use of him — I might do it then!”

She pointed in the direction of Casterbridge, and the dog seemed to misunderstand: he trotted on. Then, finding she could not follow, he came back and whined.

The ultimate and saddest singularity of woman’s effort and invention was reached when, with a quickened breathing, she rose to a stooping posture, and, resting her two little arms upon the shoulders of the dog, leant firmly thereon, and murmured stimulating words. Whilst she sorrowed in her heart she cheered with her voice, and what was stranger than that the strong should need encouragement from the weak was that cheerfulness should be so well stimulated by such utter dejection. Her friend moved forward slowly, and she with small mincing steps moved forward beside him, half her weight being thrown upon the animal. Sometimes she sank as she had sunk from walking erect, from the crutches, from the rails. The dog, who now thoroughly understood her desire and her incapacity, was frantic in his distress on these occasions; he would tug at her dress and run forward. She always called him back, and it was now to be observed that the woman listened for human sounds only to avoid them. It was evident that she had an object in keeping her presence on the road and her forlorn state unknown.

Their progress was necessarily very slow. They reached the bottom of the town, and the Casterbridge lamps lay before them like fallen Pleiads as they turned to the left into the dense shade of a deserted avenue of chestnuts, and so skirted the borough. Thus the town was passed, and the goal was reached.

On this much-desired spot outside the town rose a picturesque building. Originally it had been a mere case to hold people. The shell had been so thin, so devoid of excrescence, and so closely drawn over the accommodation granted, that the grim character of what was beneath showed through it, as the shape of a body is visible under a winding-sheet.

Then Nature, as if offended, lent a hand. Masses of ivy grew up, completely covering the walls, till the place looked like an abbey; and it was discovered that the view from the front, over the Casterbridge chimneys, was one of the most magnificent in the county. A neighbouring earl once said that he would give up a year’s rental to have at his own door the view enjoyed by the inmates from theirs — and very probably the inmates would have given up the view for his year’s rental.

This stone edifice consisted of a central mass and two wings, whereon stood as sentinels a few slim chimneys, now gurgling sorrowfully to the slow wind. In the wall was a gate, and by the gate a bellpull formed of a hanging wire. The woman raised herself as high as possible upon her knees, and could just reach the handle. She moved it and fell forwards in a bowed attitude, her face upon her bosom.

It was getting on towards six o’clock, and sounds of movement were to be heard inside the building which was the haven of rest to this wearied soul. A little door by the large one was opened, and a man appeared inside. He discerned the panting heap of clothes, went back for a light, and came again. He entered a second time, and returned with two women.

These lifted the prostrate figure and assisted her in through the doorway. The man then closed the door.

How did she get here?” said one of the women.

“The Lord knows,” said the other.

“There is a dog outside,” murmured the overcome traveller. “Where is he gone? He helped me.”

“I stoned him away,” said the man.

The little procession then moved forward — the man in front bearing the light, the two bony women next, supporting between them the small and supple one. Thus they entered the house and disappeared.

CHAPTER XLI

SUSPICION — FANNY IS SENT FOR

BATHSHEBA said very little to her husband all that evening of their return from market, and he was not disposed to say much to her. He exhibited the unpleasant combination of a restless condition with a silent tongue. The next day, which was Sunday, passed nearly in the same manner as regarded their taciturnity, Bathsheba going to church both morning and afternoon. This was the day before the Budmouth races. In the evening Troy said, suddenly —

“Bathsheba, could you let me have twenty pounds?”

Her countenance instantly sank. “Twenty pounds?” she said.

“The fact is, I want it badly.” The anxiety upon Troy’s face was unusual and very marked. It was a culmination of the mood he had been in all the day.

“Ah! for those races to-morrow.”

Troy for the moment made no reply. Her mistake had its advantages to a man who shrank from having his mind inspected as he did now. “Well, suppose I do want it for races?” he said, at last.

“Oh, Frank!” Bathsheba replied, and there was such a volume of entreaty in the words. “Only such a few weeks ago you said that I was far sweeter than all your other pleasures put together, and that you would give them all up for me; and now, won’t you give up this one, which is more a worry than a pleasure? Do, Frank. Come, let me fascinate you by all I can do — by pretty words and pretty looks, and everything I can think of — to stay at home. Say yes to your wife — say yes!”

The tenderest and softest phases of Bathsheba’s nature were prominent now — advanced impulsively for his acceptance, without any of the disguises and defences which the wariness of her character when she was cool too frequently threw over them. Few men could have resisted the arch yet dignified entreaty of the beautiful face, thrown a little back and sideways in the well known attitude that expresses more than the words it accompanies, and which seems to have been designed for these special occasions. Had the woman not been his wife, Troy would have succumbed instantly; as it was, he thought he would not deceive her longer.

“The money is not wanted for racing debts at all,” he said.

“What is it for?” she asked. “You worry me a great deal by these mysterious responsibilities, Frank.”

Troy hesitated. He did not now love her enough to allow himself to be carried too far by her ways. Yet it was necessary to be civil. “You wrong me by such a suspicious manner,” he said. “Such strait-waistcoating as you treat me to is not becoming in you at so early a date.”

“I think that I have a right to grumble a little if I pay,” she said, with features between a smile and a pout.

“Exactly; and, the former being done, suppose we proceed to the latter. Bathsheba, fun is all very well, but don’t go too far, or you may have cause to regret something.”

She reddened. “I do that already,” she said, quickly.

“What do you regret?”

“That my romance has come to an end.”

“All romances end at marriage.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. You grieve me to my soul by being smart at my expense.”

“You are dull enough at mine. I believe you hate me.”

“Not you — only your faults. I do hate them.”

“‘Twould be much more becoming if you set yourself to cure them. Come, let’s strike a balance with the twenty pounds, and be friends.”

She gave a sigh of resignation. “I have about that sum here for household expenses. If you must have it, take it.”

“Very good. Thank you. I expect I shall have gone away before you are in to breakfast to-morrow.”

“And must you go? Ah! there was a time, Frank, when it would have taken a good many promises to other people to drag you away from me. You used to call me darling, then. But it doesn’t matter to you how my days are passed now.”

“I must go, in spite of sentiment.” Troy, as he spoke, looked at his watch, and, apparently actuated by NON LUCENDO principles, opened the case at the back, revealing, snugly stowed within it, a small coil of hair.

Bathsheba’s eyes had been accidentally lifted at that moment, and she saw the action and saw the hair. She flushed in pain and surprise, and some words escaped her before she had thought whether or not it was wise to utter them. “A woman’s curl of hair!” she said. “Oh, Frank, whose is that?”

Troy had instantly closed his watch. He carelessly replied, as one who cloaked some feelings that the sight had stirred. “Why, yours, of course. Whose should it be? I had quite forgotten that I had it.”

“What a dreadful fib, Frank!”

“I tell you I had forgotten it!” he said, loudly.

“I don’t mean that — it was yellow hair.”

“Nonsense.”

“That’s insulting me. I know it was yellow. Now whose was it? I want to know.”

“Very well I’ll tell you, so make no more ado. It is the hair of a young woman I was going to marry before I knew you.”

“You ought to tell me her name, then.”

“I cannot do that.”

“Is she married yet?”

“No.”

“Is she alive?”

“Yes.”

“Is she pretty?”

“Yes.”

“It is wonderful how she can be, poor thing, under such an awful affliction!”

“Affliction — what affliction?” he inquired, quickly.

“Having hair of that dreadful colour.”

“Oh — ho — I like that!” said Troy, recovering himself. “Why, her hair has been admired by everybody who has seen her since she has worn it loose, which has not been long. It is beautiful hair. People used to turn their heads to look at it, poor girl!”

“Pooh! that’s nothing — that’s nothing!” she exclaimed, in incipient accents of pique. “If I cared for your love as much as I used to I could say people had turned to look at mine.”

“Bathsheba, don’t be so fitful and jealous. You knew what married life would be like, and shouldn’t have entered it if you feared these contingencies.”

Troy had by this time driven her to bitterness: her heart was big in her throat, and the ducts to her eyes were painfully full. Ashamed as she was to show emotion, at last she burst out: —

“This is all I get for loving you so well! Ah! when I married you your life was dearer to me than my own. I would have died for you — how truly I can say that I would have died for you! And now you sneer at my foolishness in marrying you. O! is it kind to me to throw my mistake in my face? Whatever opinion you may have of my wisdom, you should not tell me of it so mercilessly, now that I am in your power.”

“I can’t help how things fall out,” said Troy; “upon my heart, women will be the death of me!”

“Well you shouldn’t keep people’s hair. You’ll burn it, won’t you, Frank?”

Frank went on as if he had not heard her. “There are considerations even before my consideration for you; reparations to be made — ties you know nothing of. If you repent of marrying, so do I.”

Trembling now, she put her hand upon his arm, saying, in mingled tones of wretchedness and coaxing, “I only repent it if you don’t love me better than any woman in the world! I don’t otherwise, Frank. You don’t repent because you already love somebody better than you love me, do you?”

“I don’t know. Why do you say that?”

“You won’t burn that curl. You like the woman who owns that pretty hair — yes; it is pretty — more beautiful than my miserable black mane! Well, it is no use; I can’t help being ugly. You must like her best, if you will!”

“Until to-day, when I took it from a drawer, I have never looked upon that bit of hair for several months — that I am ready to swear.”

“But just now you said ‘ties’; and then — that woman we met?”

“‘Twas the meeting with her that reminded me of the hair.”

“Is it hers, then?”

“Yes. There, now that you have wormed it out of me, I hope you are content.”

“And what are the ties?”

“Oh! that meant nothing — a mere jest.”

“A mere jest!” she said, in mournful astonishment. “Can you jest when I am so wretchedly in earnest? Tell me the truth, Frank. I am not a fool, you know, although I am a woman, and have my woman’s moments. Come! treat me fairly,” she said, looking honestly and fearlessly into his face. “I don’t want much; bare justice — that’s all! Ah! once I felt I could be content with nothing less than the highest homage from the husband I should choose. Now, anything short of cruelty will content me. Yes! the independent and spirited Bathsheba is come to this!”

“For Heaven’s sake don’t be so desperate!” Troy said, snappishly, rising as he did so, and leaving the room.

Directly he had gone, Bathsheba burst into great sobs — dry-eyed sobs, which cut as they came, without any softening by tears. But she determined to repress all evidences of feeling. She was conquered; but she would never own it as long as she lived. Her pride was indeed brought low by despairing discoveries of her spoliation by marriage with a less pure nature than her own. She chafed to and fro in rebelliousness, like a caged leopard; her whole soul was in arms, and the blood fired her face. Until she had met Troy, Bathsheba had been proud of her position as a woman; it had been a glory to her to know that her lips had been touched by no man’s on earth — that her waist had never been encircled by a lover’s arm. She hated herself now. In those earlier days she had always nourished a secret contempt for girls who were the slaves of the first goodlooking young fellow who should choose to salute them. She had never taken kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract as did the majority of women she saw about her. In the turmoil of her anxiety for her lover she had agreed to marry him; but the perception that had accompanied her happiest hours on this account was rather that of self- sacrifice than of promotion and honour. Although she scarcely knew the divinity’s name, Diana was the goddess whom Bathsheba instinctively adored. That she had never, by look, word, or sign, encouraged a man to approach her — that she had felt herself sufficient to herself, and had in the independence of her girlish heart fancied there was a certain degradation in renouncing the simplicity of a maiden existence to become the humbler half of an indifferent matrimonial whole — were facts now bitterly remembered. Oh, if she had never stooped to folly of this kind, respectable as it was, and could only stand again, as she had stood on the hill at Norcombe, and dare Troy or any other man to pollute a hair of her head by his interference!

The next morning she rose earlier than usual, and had the horse saddled for her ride round the farm in the customary way. When she came in at half-past eight — their usual hour for breakfasting — she was informed that her husband had risen, taken his breakfast, and driven off to Casterbridge with the gig and Poppet.

After breakfast she was cool and collected — quite herself in fact — and she rambled to the gate, intending to walk to another quarter of the farm, which she still personally superintended as well as her duties in the house would permit, continually, however, finding herself preceded in forethought by Gabriel Oak, for whom she began to entertain the genuine friendship of a sister. Of course, she sometimes thought of him in the light of an old lover, and had momentary imaginings of what life with him as a husband would have been like; also of life with Boldwood under the same conditions. But Bathsheba, though she could feel, was not much given to futile dreaming, and her musings under this head were short and entirely confined to the times when Troy’s neglect was more than ordinarily evident.

She saw coming up the road a man like Mr. Boldwood. It was Mr. Boldwood. Bathsheba blushed painfully, and watched. The farmer stopped when still a long way off, and held up his hand to Gabriel Oak, who was in a footpath across the field. The two men then approached each other and seemed to engage in earnest conversation.

Thus they continued for a long time. Joseph Poorgrass now passed near them, wheeling a barrow of apples up the hill to Bathsheba’s residence. Boldwood and Gabriel called to him, spoke to him for a few minutes, and then all three parted, Joseph immediately coming up the hill with his barrow.

Bathsheba, who had seen this pantomime with some surprise, experienced great relief when Boldwood turned back again. “Well, what’s the message, Joseph?” she said.

He set down his barrow, and, putting upon himself the refined aspect that a conversation with a lady required, spoke to Bathsheba over the gate.

“You’ll never see Fanny Robin no more — use nor principal — ma’am.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s dead in the Union.”

“Fanny dead — never!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What did she die from?”

“I don’t know for certain; but I should be inclined to think it was from general neshness of constitution. She was such a limber maid that ‘a could stand no hardship, even when I knowed her, and ‘a went like a candle-snoff, so ’tis said. She was took bad in the morning, and, being quite feeble and worn out, she died in the evening. She belongs by law to our parish; and Mr. Boldwood is going to send a waggon at three this afternoon to fetch her home here and bury her.”

“Indeed I shall not let Mr. Boldwood do any such thing — I shall do it! Fanny was my uncle’s servant, and, although I only knew her for a couple of days, she belongs to me. How very, very sad this is! — the idea of Fanny being in a workhouse.” Bathsheba had begun to know what suffering was, and she spoke with real feeling…. “Send across to Mr. Boldwood’s, and say that Mrs. Troy will take upon herself the duty of fetching an old servant of the family…. We ought not to put her in a waggon; we’ll get a hearse.”

“There will hardly be time, ma’am, will there?”

“Perhaps not,” she said, musingly. “When did you say we must be at the door — three o’clock?”

“Three o’clock this afternoon, ma’am, so to speak it.”

“Very well — you go with it. A pretty waggon is better than an ugly hearse, after all. Joseph, have the new spring waggon with the blue body and red wheels, and wash it very clean. And, Joseph —-”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Carry with you some evergreens and flowers to put upon her coffin — indeed, gather a great many, and completely bury her in them. Get some boughs of laurustinus, and variegated box, and yew, and boy’s-love; ay, and some hunches of chrysanthemum. And let old Pleasant draw her, because she knew him so well.”

“I will, ma’am. I ought to have said that the Union, in the form of four labouring men, will meet me when I gets to our churchyard gate, and take her and bury her according to the rites of the Board of Guardians, as by law ordained.”

“Dear me — Casterbridge Union — and is Fanny come to this?” said Bathsheba, musing. “I wish I had known of it sooner. I thought she was far away. How long has she lived there?”

“On’y been there a day or two.”

“Oh! — then she has not been staying there as a regular inmate?”

“No. She first went to live in a garrison-town t’other side o’ Wessex, and since then she’s been picking up a living at seampstering in Melchester for several months, at the house of a very respectable widow-woman who takes in work of that sort. She only got handy the Union-house on Sunday morning ‘a b’lieve, and ’tis supposed here and there that she had traipsed every step of the way from Melchester. Why she left her place, I can’t say, for I don’t know; and as to a lie, why, I wouldn’t tell it. That’s the short of the story, ma’am.”

“Ah-h!”

No gem ever flashed from a rosy ray to a white one more rapidly than changed the young wife’s countenance whilst this word came from her in a long-drawn breath. “Did she walk along our turnpike-road?” she said, in a suddenly restless and eager voice.

“I believe she did…. Ma’am, shall I call Liddy? You bain’t well, ma’am, surely? You look like a lily — so pale and fainty!”

“No; don’t call her; it is nothing. When did she pass Weatherbury?”

“Last Saturday night.”

“That will do, Joseph; now you may go.”

“Certainly, ma’am.”

“Joseph, come hither a moment. What was the colour of Fanny Robin’s hair?”

“Really, mistress, now that ’tis put to me so judge-and-jury like, I can’t call to mind, if ye’ll believe me!”

“Never mind; go on and do what I told you. Stop — well no, go on.”

She turned herself away from him, that he might no longer notice the mood which had set its sign so visibly upon her, and went indoors with a distressing sense of faintness and a beating brow. About an hour after, she heard the noise of the waggon and went out, still with a painful consciousness of her bewildered and troubled look. Joseph, dressed in his best suit of clothes, was putting in the horse to start. The shrubs and flowers were all piled in the waggon, as she had directed; Bathsheba hardly saw them now.

“Whose sweetheart did you say, Joseph?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.”

“Are you quite sure?”

“Yes, ma’am, quite sure.”

“Sure of what?”

“I’m sure that all I know is that she arrived in the morning and died in the evening without further parley. What Oak and Mr. Boldwood told me was only these few words. ‘Little Fanny Robin is dead, Joseph,’ Gabriel said, looking in my face in his steady old way. I was very sorry, and I said, ‘Ah! — and how did she come to die?’ ‘Well, she’s dead in Casterbridge Union,’ he said, ‘and perhaps ’tisn’t much matter about how she came to die. She reached the Union early Sunday morning, and died in the afternoon — that’s clear enough.’ Then I asked what she’d been doing lately, and Mr. Boldwood turned round to me then, and left off spitting a thistle with the end of his stick. He told me about her having lived by seampstering in Melchester, as I mentioned to you, and that she walked therefrom at the end of last week, passing near here Saturday night in the dusk. They then said I had better just name a hint of her death to you, and away they went. Her death might have been brought on by biding in the night wind, you know, ma’am; for people used to say she’d go off in a decline: she used to cough a good deal in winter time. However, ’tisn’t much odds to us about that now, for ’tis all over.”

“Have you heard a different story at all?” She looked at him so intently that Joseph’s eyes quailed.

“Not a word, mistress, I assure ‘ee!” he said. “Hardly anybody in the parish knows the news yet.”

“I wonder why Gabriel didn’t bring the message to me himself. He mostly makes a point of seeing me upon the most trifling errand.” These words were merely murmured, and she was looking upon the ground.

“Perhaps he was busy, ma’am,” Joseph suggested. “And sometimes he seems to suffer from things upon his mind, connected with the time when he was better off than ‘a is now. ‘A’s rather a curious item, but a very understanding shepherd, and learned in books.”

“Did anything seem upon his mind whilst he was speaking to you about this?”

“I cannot but say that there did, ma’am. He was terrible down, and so was Farmer Boldwood.”

“Thank you, Joseph. That will do. Go on now, or you’ll be late.”

Bathsheba, still unhappy, went indoors again. In the course of the afternoon she said to Liddy, who had been informed of the occurrence, “What was the colour of poor Fanny Robin’s hair? Do you know? I cannot recollect — I only saw her for a day or two.”

“It was light, ma’am; but she wore it rather short, and packed away under her cap, so that you would hardly notice it. But I have seen her let it down when she was going to bed, and it looked beautiful then. Real golden hair.”

“Her young man was a soldier, was he not?”

“Yes. In the same regiment as Mr. Troy. He says he knew him very well.”

“What, Mr. Troy says so? How came he to say that?”

“One day I just named it to him, and asked him if he knew Fanny’s young man. He said, ‘Oh yes, he knew the young man as well as he knew himself, and that there wasn’t a man in the regiment he liked better.'”

“Ah! Said that, did he?”

“Yes; and he said there was a strong likeness between himself and the other young man, so that sometimes people mistook them —-”

“Liddy, for Heaven’s sake stop your talking!” said Bathsheba, with the nervous petulance that comes from worrying perceptions.

CHAPTER XLII

JOSEPH AND HIS BURDEN

A WALL bounded the site of Casterbridge Union-house, except along a portion of the end. Here a high gable stood prominent, and it was covered like the front with a mat of ivy. In this gable was no window, chimney, ornament, or protuberance of any kind. The single feature appertaining to it, beyond the expanse of dark green leaves, was a small door.

The situation of the door was peculiar. The sill was three or four feet above the ground, and for a moment one was at a loss for an explanation of this exceptional altitude, till ruts immediately beneath suggested that the door was used solely for the passage of articles and persons to and from the level of a vehicle standing on the outside. Upon the whole, the door seemed to advertise itself as a species of Traitor’s Gate translated to another sphere. That entry and exit hereby was only at rare intervals became apparent on noting that tufts of grass were allowed to flourish undisturbed in the chinks of the sill.

As the clock over the South-street Alms-house pointed to five minutes to three, a blue spring waggon, picked out with red, and containing boughs and flowers, passed the end of the street, and up towards this side of the building. Whilst the chimes were yet stammering out a shattered form of “Malbrook,” Joseph Poorgrass rang the bell, and received directions to back his waggon against the high door under the gable. The door then opened, and a plain elm coffin was slowly thrust forth, and laid by two men in fustian along the middle of the vehicle.

One of the men then stepped up beside it, took from his pocket a lump of chalk, and wrote upon the cover the name and a few other words in a large scrawling hand. (We believe that they do these things more tenderly now, and provide a plate.) He covered the whole with a black cloth, threadbare, but decent, the tailboard of the waggon was returned to its place, one of the men handed a certificate of registry to Poorgrass, and both entered the door, closing it behind them. Their connection with her, short as it had been, was over for ever.

Joseph then placed the flowers as enjoined, and the evergreens around the flowers, till it was difficult to divine what the waggon contained; he smacked his whip, and the rather pleasing funeral car crept down the hill, and along the road to Weatherbury.

The afternoon drew on apace, and, looking to the right towards the sea as he walked beside the horse, Poorgrass saw strange clouds and scrolls of mist rolling over the long ridges which girt the landscape in that quarter. They came in yet greater volumes, and indolently crept across the intervening valleys, and around the withered papery flags of the moor and river brinks. Then their dank spongy forms closed in upon the sky. It was a sudden overgrowth of atmospheric fungi which had their roots in the neighbouring sea, and by the time that horse, man, and corpse entered Yalbury Great Wood, these silent workings of an invisible hand had reached them, and they were completely enveloped, this being the first arrival of the autumn fogs, and the first fog of the series.

The air was as an eye suddenly struck blind. The waggon and its load rolled no longer on the horizontal division between clearness and opacity, but were imbedded in an elastic body of a monotonous pallor throughout. There was no perceptible motion in the air, not a visible drop of water fell upon a leaf of the beeches, birches, and firs composing the wood on either side. The trees stood in an attitude of intentness, as if they waited longingly for a wind to come and rock them. A startling quiet overhung all surrounding things — so completely, that the crunching of the waggon-wheels was as a great noise, and small rustles, which had never obtained a hearing except by night, were distinctly individualized.

Joseph Poorgrass looked round upon his sad burden as it loomed faintly through the flowering laurustinus, then at the unfathomable gloom amid the high trees on each hand, indistinct, shadowless, and spectrelike in their monochrome of grey. He felt anything but cheerful, and wished he had the company even of a child or dog. Stopping the horse, he listened. Not a footstep or wheel was audible anywhere around, and the dead silence was broken only by a heavy particle falling from a tree through the evergreens and alighting with a smart rap upon the coffin of poor Fanny. The fog had by this time saturated the trees, and this was the first dropping of water from the overbrimming leaves. The hollow echo of its fall reminded the waggoner painfully of the grim Leveller. Then hard by came down another drop, then two or three. Presently there was a continual tapping of these heavy drops upon the dead leaves, the road, and the travellers. The nearer boughs were beaded with the mist to the greyness of aged men, and the rusty-red leaves of the beeches were hung with similar drops, like diamonds on auburn hair.

At the roadside hamlet called Roy-Town, just beyond this wood, was the old inn Buck’s Head. It was about a mile and a half from Weatherbury, and in the meridian times of stage- coach travelling had been the place where many coaches changed and kept their relays of horses. All the old stabling was now pulled down, and little remained besides the habitable inn itself, which, standing a little way back from the road, signified its existence to people far up and down the highway by a sign hanging from the horizontal bough of an elm on the opposite side of the way.

Travellers — for the variety TOURIST had hardly developed into a distinct species at this date — sometimes said in passing, when they cast their eyes up to the sign-bearing tree, that artists were fond of representing the signboard hanging thus, but that they themselves had never before noticed so perfect an instance in actual working order. It was near this tree that the waggon was standing into which Gabriel Oak crept on his first journey to Weatherbury; but, owing to the darkness, the sign and the inn had been unobserved.

The manners of the inn were of the old-established type. Indeed, in the minds of its frequenters they existed as unalterable formulae: E.G. —

Rap with the bottom of your pint for more liquor. For tobacco, shout.
In calling for the girl in waiting, say, “Maid!” Ditto for the landlady, “Old Soul!” etc., etc.

It was a relief to Joseph’s heart when the friendly signboard came in view, and, stopping his horse immediately beneath it, he proceeded to fulfil an intention made a long time before. His spirits were oozing out of him quite. He turned the horse’s head to the green bank, and entered the hostel for a mug of ale.

Going down into the kitchen of the inn, the floor of which was a step below the passage, which in its turn was a step below the road outside, what should Joseph see to gladden his eyes but two copper-coloured discs, in the form of the countenances of Mr. Jan Coggan and Mr. Mark Clark. These owners of the two most appreciative throats in the neighbourhood, within the pale of respectability, were now sitting face to face over a threelegged circular table, having an iron rim to keep cups and pots from being accidentally elbowed off; they might have been said to resemble the setting sun and the full moon shining VIS-A-VIS across the globe.

“Why, ’tis neighbour Poorgrass!” said Mark Clark. “I’m sure your face don’t praise your mistress’s table, Joseph.”

“I’ve had a very pale companion for the last four miles,” said Joseph, indulging in a shudder toned down by resignation. “And to speak the truth, ’twas beginning to tell upon me. I assure ye, I ha’n’t seed the colour of victuals or drink since breakfast time this morning, and that was no more than a dew-bit afield.”

“Then drink, Joseph, and don’t restrain yourself!” said Coggan, handing him a hooped mug three-quarters full.

Joseph drank for a moderately long time, then for a longer time, saying, as he lowered the jug, “‘Tis pretty drinking — very pretty drinking, and is more than cheerful on my melancholy errand, so to speak it.”

“True, drink is a pleasant delight,” said Jan, as one who repeated a truism so familiar to his brain that he hardly noticed its passage over his tongue; and, lifting the cup, Coggan tilted his head gradually backwards, with closed eyes, that his expectant soul might not be diverted for one instant from its bliss by irrelevant surroundings.

“Well, I must be on again,” said Poorgrass. “Not but that I should like another nip with ye; but the parish might lose confidence in me if I was seed here.”

“Where be ye trading o’t to to-day, then, Joseph?”

“Back to Weatherbury. I’ve got poor little Fanny Robin in my waggon outside, and I must be at the churchyard gates at a quarter to five with her.”

“Ay — I’ve heard of it. And so she’s nailed up in parish boards after all, and nobody to pay the bell shilling and the grave half-crown.”

“The parish pays the grave half-crown, but not the bell shilling, because the bell’s a luxery: but ‘a can hardly do without the grave, poor body. However, I expect our mistress will pay all.”

“A pretty maid as ever I see! But what’s yer hurry, Joseph? The pore woman’s dead, and you can’t bring her to life, and you may as well sit down comfortable, and finish another with us.”

“I don’t mind taking just the least thimbleful ye can dream of more with ye, sonnies. But only a few minutes, because ’tis as ’tis.”

“Of course, you’ll have another drop. A man’s twice the man afterwards. You feel so warm and glorious, and you whop and slap at your work without any trouble, and everything goes on like sticks a-breaking. Too much liquor is bad, and leads us to that horned man in the smoky house; but after all, many people haven’t the gift of enjoying a wet, and since we be highly favoured with a power that way, we should make the most o’t.”

“True,” said Mark Clark. “‘Tis a talent the Lord has mercifully bestowed upon us, and we ought not to neglect it. But, what with the parsons and clerks and schoolpeople and serious tea-parties, the merry old ways of good life have gone to the dogs — upon my carcase, they have!”

“Well, really, I must be onward again now,” said Joseph.

“Now, now, Joseph; nonsense! The poor woman is dead, isn’t she, and what’s your hurry?”

“Well, I hope Providence won’t be in a way with me for my doings,” said Joseph, again sitting down. “I’ve been troubled with weak moments lately, ’tis true. I’ve been drinky once this month already, and I did not go to church a-Sunday, and I dropped a curse or two yesterday; so I don’t want to go too far for my safety. Your next world is your next world, and not to be squandered offhand.”

“I believe ye to be a chapelmember, Joseph. That I do.”

“Oh, no, no! I don’t go so far as that.”

“For my part,” said Coggan, “I’m staunch Church of England.”

“Ay, and faith, so be I,” said Mark Clark.

“I won’t say much for myself; I don’t wish to,” Coggan continued, with that tendency to talk on principles which is characteristic of the barley-corn. “But I’ve never changed a single doctrine: I’ve stuck like a plaster to the old faith I was born in. Yes; there’s this to be said for the Church, a man can belong to the Church and bide in his cheerful old inn, and never trouble or worry his mind about doctrines at all. But to be a meetinger, you must go to chapel in all winds and weathers, and make yerself as frantic as a skit. Not but that chapel members be clever chaps enough in their way. They can lift up beautiful prayers out of their own heads, all about their families and shipwrecks in the newspaper.”

“They can — they can,” said Mark Clark, with corroborative feeling; “but we Churchmen, you see, must have it all printed aforehand, or, dang it all, we should no more know what to say to a great gaffer like the Lord than babes unborn.”

“Chapelfolk be more hand-in-glove with them above than we,” said Joseph, thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Coggan. “We know very well that if anybody do go to heaven, they will. They’ve worked hard for it, and they deserve to have it, such as ’tis. I bain’t such a fool as to pretend that we who stick to the Church have the same chance as they, because we know we have not. But I hate a feller who’ll change his old ancient doctrines for the sake of getting to heaven. I’d as soon turn king’s-evidence for the few pounds you get. Why, neighbours, when every one of my taties were frosted, our Parson Thirdly were the man who gave me a sack for seed, though he hardly had one for his own use, and no money to buy ’em. If it hadn’t been for him, I shouldn’t hae had a tatie to put in my garden. D’ye think I’d turn after that? No, I’ll stick to my side; and if we be in the wrong, so be it: I’ll fall with the fallen!”

“Well said — very well said,” observed Joseph. — “However, folks, I must be moving now: upon my life I must. Pa’son Thirdly will be waiting at the church gates, and there’s the woman a-biding outside in the waggon.”

“Joseph Poorgrass, don’t be so miserable! Pa’son Thirdly won’t mind. He’s a generous man; he’s found me in tracts for years, and I’ve consumed a good many in the course of a long and shady life; but he’s never been the man to cry out at the expense. Sit down.”

The longer Joseph Poorgrass remained, the less his spirit was troubled by the duties which devolved upon him this afternoon. The minutes glided by uncounted, until the evening shades began perceptibly to deepen, and the eyes of the three were but sparkling points on the surface of darkness. Coggan’s repeater struck six from his pocket in the usual still small tones.

At that moment hasty steps were heard in the entry, and the door opened to admit the figure of Gabriel Oak, followed by the maid of the inn bearing a candle. He stared sternly at the one lengthy and two round faces of the sitters, which confronted him with the expressions of a fiddle and a couple of warming-pans. Joseph Poorgrass blinked, and shrank several inches into the background.

“Upon my soul, I’m ashamed of you; ’tis disgraceful, Joseph, disgraceful!” said Gabriel, indignantly. “Coggan, you call yourself a man, and don’t know better than this.”

Coggan looked up indefinitely at Oak, one or other of his eyes occasionally opening and closing of its own accord, as if it were not a member, but a dozy individual with a distinct personality.

“Don’t take on so, shepherd!” said Mark Clark, looking reproachfully at the candle, which appeared to possess special features of interest for his eyes.

“Nobody can hurt a dead woman,” at length said Coggan, with the precision of a machine. “All that could be done for her is done — she’s beyond us: and why should a man put himself in a tearing hurry for lifeless clay that can neither feel nor see, and don’t know what you do with her at all? If she’d been alive, I would have been the first to help her. If she now wanted victuals and drink, I’d pay for it, money down. But she’s dead, and no speed of ours will bring her to life. The woman’s past us — time spent upon her is throwed away: why should we hurry to do what’s not required? Drink, shepherd, and be friends, for to-morrow we may be like her.”

“We may,” added Mark Clark, emphatically, at once drinking himself, to run no further risk of losing his chance by the event alluded to, Jan meanwhile merging his additional thoughts of to-morrow in a song: —

To-mor-row, to-mor-row!
And while peace and plen-ty I find at my board, With a heart free from sick-ness and sor-row, With my friends will I share what to-day may af-ford, And let them spread the ta-ble to-mor-row. To-mor-row’, to-mor —-

“Do hold thy horning, Jan!” said Oak; and turning upon Poorgrass, “as for you, Joseph, who do your wicked deeds in such confoundedly holy ways, you are as drunk as you can stand.”

“No, Shepherd Oak, no! Listen to reason, shepherd. All that’s the matter with me is the affliction called a multiplying eye, and that’s how it is I look double to you — I mean, you look double to me.”

“A multiplying eye is a very bad thing,” said Mark Clark.

“It always comes on when I have been in a public-house a little time,” said Joseph Poorgrass, meekly. “Yes; I see two of every sort, as if I were some holy man living in the times of King Noah and entering into the ark…. Y-y-y- yes,” he added, becoming much affected by the picture of himself as a person thrown away, and shedding tears; “I feel too good for England: I ought to have lived in Genesis by rights, like the other men of sacrifice, and then I shouldn’t have b-b-been called a d-d-drunkard in such a way!”

“I wish you’d show yourself a man of spirit, and not sit whining there!”

“Show myself a man of spirit? … Ah, well! let me take the name of drunkard humbly — let me be a man of contrite knees — let it be! I know that I always do say “Please God” afore I do anything, from my getting up to my going down of the same, and I be willing to take as much disgrace as there is in that holy act. Hah, yes! … But not a man of spirit? Have I ever allowed the toe of pride to be lifted against my hinder parts without groaning manfully that I question the right to do so? I inquire that query boldly?”

“We can’t say that you have, Hero Poorgrass,” admitted Jan.

“Never have I allowed such treatment to pass unquestioned! Yet the shepherd says in the face of that rich testimony that I be not a man of spirit! Well, let it pass by, and death is a kind friend!”

Gabriel, seeing that neither of the three was in a fit state to take charge of the waggon for the remainder of the journey, made no reply, but, closing the door again upon them, went across to where the vehicle stood, now getting indistinct in the fog and gloom of this mildewy time. He pulled the horse’s head from the large patch of turf it had eaten bare, readjusted the boughs over the coffin, and drove along through the unwholesome night.

It had gradually become rumoured in the village that the body to be brought and buried that day was all that was left of the unfortunate Fanny Robin who had followed the Eleventh from Casterbridge through Melchester and onwards. But, thanks to Boldwood’s reticence and Oak’s generosity, the lover she had followed had never been individualized as Troy. Gabriel hoped that the whole truth of the matter might not be published till at any rate the girl had been in her grave for a few days, when the interposing barriers of earth and time, and a sense that the events had been somewhat shut into oblivion, would deaden the sting that revelation and invidious remark would have for Bathsheba just now.

By the time that Gabriel reached the old manor-house, her residence, which lay in his way to the church, it was quite dark. A man came from the gate and said through the fog, which hung between them like blown flour —

“Is that Poorgrass with the corpse?”

Gabriel recognized the voice as that of the parson.

“The corpse is here, sir,” said Gabriel.

“I have just been to inquire of Mrs. Troy if she could tell me the reason of the delay. I am afraid it is too late now for the funeral to be performed with proper decency. Have you the registrar’s certificate?”

“No,” said Gabriel. “I expect Poorgrass has that; and he’s at the Buck’s Head. I forgot to ask him for it.”

“Then that settles the matter. We’ll put off the funeral till to-morrow morning. The body may be brought on to the church, or it may be left here at the farm and fetched by the bearers in the morning. They waited more than an hour, and have now gone home.”

Gabriel had his reasons for thinking the latter a most objectionable plan, notwithstanding that Fanny had been an inmate of the farm-house for several years in the lifetime of Bathsheba’s uncle. Visions of several unhappy contingencies which might arise from this delay flitted before him. But his will was not law, and he went indoors to inquire of his mistress what were her wishes on the subject. He found her in an unusual mood: her eyes as she looked up to him were suspicious and perplexed as with some antecedent thought. Troy had not yet returned. At first Bathsheba assented with a mien of indifference to his proposition that they should go on to the church at once with their burden; but immediately afterwards, following Gabriel to the gate, she swerved to the extreme of solicitousness on Fanny’s account, and desired that the girl might be brought into the house. Oak argued upon the convenience of leaving her in the waggon, just as she lay now, with her flowers and green leaves about her, merely wheeling the vehicle into the coach-house till the morning, but to no purpose, “It is unkind and unchristian,” she said, “to leave the poor thing in a coach-house all night.”

“Very well, then,” said the parson. “And I will arrange that the funeral shall take place early to-morrow. Perhaps Mrs. Troy is right in feeling that we cannot treat a dead fellow-creature too thoughtfully. We must remember that though she may have erred grievously in leaving her home, she is still our sister: and it is to be believed that God’s uncovenanted mercies are extended towards her, and that she is a member of the flock of Christ.”

The parson’s words spread into the heavy air with a sad yet unperturbed cadence, and Gabriel shed an honest tear. Bathsheba seemed unmoved. Mr. Thirdly then left them, and Gabriel lighted a lantern. Fetching three other men to assist him, they bore the unconscious truant indoors, placing the coffin on two benches in the middle of a little sitting-room next the hall, as Bathsheba directed.

Every one except Gabriel Oak then left the room. He still indecisively lingered beside the body. He was deeply troubled at the wretchedly ironical aspect that circumstances were putting on with regard to Troy’s wife, and at his own powerlessness to counteract them. In spite of his careful manoeuvring all this day, the very worst event that could in any way have happened in connection with the burial had happened now. Oak imagined a terrible discovery resulting from this afternoon’s work that might cast over Bathsheba’s life a shade which the interposition of many lapsing years might but indifferently lighten, and which nothing at all might altogether remove.

Suddenly, as in a last attempt to save Bathsheba from, at any rate, immediate anguish, he looked again, as he had looked before, at the chalk writing upon the coffinlid. The scrawl was this simple one, “FANNY ROBIN AND CHILD.” Gabriel took his handkerchief and carefully rubbed out the two latter words, leaving visible the inscription “FANNY ROBIN” only. He then left the room, and went out quietly by the front door.

CHAPTER XLIII

FANNY’S REVENGE

“DO you want me any longer ma’am?” inquired Liddy, at a later hour the same evening, standing by the door with a chamber candlestick in her hand and addressing Bathsheba, who sat cheerless and alone in the large parlour beside the first fire of the season.

“No more to-night, Liddy.”

“I’ll sit up for master if you like, ma’am. I am not at all afraid of Fanny, if I may sit in my own room and have a candle. She was such a childlike, nesh young thing that her spirit couldn’t appear to anybody if it tried, I’m quite sure.”

“Oh no, no! You go to bed. I’ll sit up for him myself till twelve o’clock, and if he has not arrived by that time, I shall give him up and go to bed too.”

“It is half-past ten now.”

“Oh! is it?”

“Why don’t you sit upstairs, ma’am?”

“Why don’t I?” said Bathsheba, desultorily. “It isn’t worth while — there’s a fire here, Liddy.” She suddenly exclaimed in an impulsive and excited whisper, Have you heard anything strange said of Fanny?” The words had no sooner escaped her than an expression of unutterable regret crossed her face, and she burst into tears.

“No — not a word!” said Liddy, looking at the weeping woman with astonishment. “What is it makes you cry so, ma’am; has anything hurt you?” She came to Bathsheba’s side with a face full of sympathy.

“No, Liddy — I don’t want you any more. I can hardly say why I have taken to crying lately: I never used to cry. Good-night.”

Liddy then left the parlour and closed the door.

Bathsheba was lonely and miserable now; not lonelier actually than she had been before her marriage; but her loneliness then was to that of the present time as the solitude of a mountain is to the solitude of a cave. And within the last day or two had come these disquieting thoughts about her husband’s past. Her wayward sentiment that evening concerning Fanny’s temporary resting-place had been the result of a strange complication of impulses in Bathsheba’s bosom. Perhaps it would be more accurately described as a determined rebellion against her prejudices, a revulsion from a lower instinct of uncharitableness, which would have withheld all sympathy from the dead woman, because in life she had preceded Bathsheba in the attentions of a man whom Bathsheba had by no means ceased from loving, though her love was sick to death just now with the gravity of a further misgiving.

In five or ten minutes there was another tap at the door. Liddy reappeared, and coming in a little way stood hesitating, until at length she said, “Maryann has just heard something very strange, but I know it isn’t true. And we shall be sure to know the rights of it in a day or two.”

“What is it?”

“Oh, nothing connected with you or us, ma’am. It is about Fanny. That same thing you have heard.”

“I have heard nothing.”

“I mean that a wicked story is got to Weatherbury within this last hour — that —-” Liddy came close to her mistress and whispered the remainder of the sentence slowly into her ear, inclining her head as she spoke in the direction of the room where Fanny lay.

Bathsheba trembled from head to foot.

“I don’t believe it!” she said, excitedly. “And there’s only one name written on the coffin-cover.”

“Nor I, ma’am. And a good many others don’t; for we should surely have been told more about it if it had been true — don’t you think so, ma’am?”

“We might or we might not.”

Bathsheba turned and looked into the fire, that Liddy might not see her face. Finding that her mistress was going to say no more, Liddy glided out, closed the door softly, and went to bed.

Bathsheba’s face, as she continued looking into the fire that evening, might have excited solicitousness on her account even among those who loved her least. The sadness of Fanny Robin’s fate did not make Bathsheba’s glorious, although she was the Esther to this poor Vashti, and their fates might be supposed to stand in some respects as contrasts to each other. When Liddy came into the room a second time the beautiful eyes which met hers had worn a listless, weary look. When she went out after telling the story they had expressed wretchedness in full activity. Her simple contrary nature, fed on old-fashioned principles, was troubled by that which would have troubled a woman of the world very little, both Fanny and her child, if she had one being dead.

Bathsheba had grounds for conjecturing a connection between her own history and the dimly suspected tragedy of Fanny’s end which Oak and Boldwood never for a moment credited her with possessing. The meeting with the lonely woman on the previous Saturday night had been unwitnessed and unspoken of. Oak may have had the best of intentions in withholding for as many days as possible the details of what had happened to Fanny; but had he known that Bathsheba’s perceptions had already been exercised in the matter, he would have done nothing to lengthen the minutes of suspense she was now undergoing, when the certainty which must terminate it would be the worst fact suspected after all.

She suddenly felt a longing desire to speak to some one stronger than herself, and so get strength to sustain her surmised position with dignity and her lurking doubts with stoicism. Where could she find such a friend? nowhere in the house. She was by far the coolest of the women under her roof. Patience and suspension of judgement for a few hours were what she wanted to learn, and there was nobody to teach her. Might she but go to Gabriel Oak! — but that could not be. What a way Oak had, she thought, of enduring things. Boldwood, who seemed so much deeper and higher and stronger in feeling than Gabriel, had not yet learnt, any more than she herself, the simple lesson which Oak showed a mastery of by every turn and look he gave — that among the multitude of interests by which he was surrounded, those which affected his personal well-being were not the most absorbing and important in his eyes. Oak meditatively looked upon the horizon of circumstances without any special regard to his own standpoint in the midst. That was how she would wish to be. But then Oak was not racked by incertitude upon the inmost matter of his bosom, as she was at this moment. Oak knew all about Fanny that he wished to know — she felt convinced of that. If she were to go to him now at once and say no more than these few words, “What is the truth of the story?” he would feel bound in honour to tell her. It would be an inexpressible relief. No further speech would need to be uttered. He knew her so well that no eccentricity of behaviour in her would alarm him.

She flung a cloak round her, went to the door and opened it. Every blade, every twig was still. The air was yet thick with moisture, though somewhat less dense than during the afternoon, and a steady smack of drops upon the fallen leaves under the boughs was almost musical in its soothing regularity. It seemed better to be out of the house than within it, and Bathsheba closed the door, and walked slowly down the lane till she came opposite to Gabriel’s cottage, where he now lived alone, having left Coggan’s house through being pinched for room. There was a light in one window only, and that was downstairs. The shutters were not closed, nor was any blind or curtain drawn over the window, neither robbery nor observation being a contingency which could do much injury to the occupant of the domicile. Yes, it was Gabriel himself who was sitting up: he was reading. From her standing-place in the road she could see him plainly, sitting quite still, his light curly head upon his hand, and only occasionally looking up to snuff the candle which stood beside him. At length he looked at the clock, seemed surprised at the lateness of the hour, closed his book, and arose. He was going to bed, she knew, and if she tapped it must be done at once.

Alas for her resolve! She felt she could not do it. Not for worlds now could she give a hint about her misery to him, much less ask him plainly for information on the cause of Fanny’s death. She must suspect, and guess, and chafe, and bear it all alone.

Like a homeless wanderer she lingered by the bank, as if lulled and fascinated by the atmosphere of content which seemed to spread from that little dwelling, and was so sadly lacking in her own. Gabriel appeared in an upper room, placed his light in the window-bench, and then — knelt down to pray. The contrast of the picture with her rebellious and agitated existence at this same time was too much for her to bear to look upon longer. It was not for her to make a truce with trouble by any such means. She must tread her giddy distracting measure to its last note, as she had begun it. With a swollen heart she went again up the lane, and entered her own door.

More fevered now by a reaction from the first feelings which Oak’s example had raised in her, she paused in the hall, looking at the door of the room wherein Fanny lay. She locked her fingers, threw back her head, and strained her hot hands rigidly across her forehead, saying, with a hysterical sob, “Would to God you would speak and tell me your secret, Fanny! … Oh, I hope, hope it is not true that there are two of you! … If I could only look in upon you for one little minute, I should know all!”

A few moments passed, and she added, slowly, “AND I WILL”

Bathsheba in after times could never gauge the mood which carried her through the actions following this murmured resolution on this memorable evening of her life. She went to the lumber-closet for a screw-driver. At the end of a short though undefined time she found herself in the small room, quivering with emotion, a mist before her eyes, and an excruciating pulsation in her brain, standing beside the uncovered coffin of the girl whose conjectured end had so entirely engrossed her, and saying to herself in a husky voice as she gazed within —

“It was best to know the worst, and I know it now!”

She was conscious of having brought about this situation by a series of actions done as by one in an extravagant dream; of following that idea as to method, which had burst upon her in the hall with glaring obviousness, by gliding to the top of the stairs, assuring herself by listening to the heavy breathing of her maids that they were asleep, gliding down again, turning the handle of the door within which the young girl lay, and deliberately setting herself to do what, if she had anticipated any such undertaking at night and alone, would have horrified her, but which, when done, was not so dreadful as was the conclusive proof of her husband’s conduct which came with knowing beyond doubt the last chapter of Fanny’s story.

Bathsheba’s head sank upon her bosom, and the breath which had been bated in suspense, curiosity, and interest, was exhaled now in the form of a whispered wail: “Oh-h-h!” she said, and the silent room added length to her moan.

Her tears fell fast beside the unconscious pair in the coffin: tears of a complicated origin, of a nature indescribable, almost indefinable except as other than those of simple sorrow. Assuredly their wonted fires must have lived in Fanny’s ashes when events were so shaped as to chariot her hither in this natural, unobtrusive, yet effectual manner. The one feat alone — that of dying — by which a mean condition could be resolved into a grand one, Fanny had achieved. And to that had destiny subjoined this rencounter to-night, which had, in Bathsheba’s wild imagining, turned her companion’s failure to success, her humiliation to triumph, her lucklessness to ascendency; it had thrown over herself a garish light of mockery, and set upon all things about her an ironical smile.

Fanny’s face was framed in by that yellow hair of hers; and there was no longer much room for doubt as to the origin of the curl owned by Troy. In Bathsheba’s heated fancy the innocent white countenance expressed a dim triumphant consciousness of the pain she was retaliating for her pain with all the merciless rigour of the Mosaic law: “Burning for burning; wound for wound: strife for strife.”

Bathsheba indulged in contemplations of escape from her position by immediate death, which, thought she, though it was an inconvenient and awful way, had limits to its inconvenience and awfulness that could not be overpassed; whilst the shames of life were measureless. Yet even this scheme of extinction by death was but tamely copying her rival’s method without the reasons which had glorified it in her rival’s case. She glided rapidly up and down the room, as was mostly her habit when excited, her hands hanging clasped in front of her, as she thought and in part expressed in broken words: “O, I hate her, yet I don’t mean that I hate her, for it is grievous and wicked; and yet I hate her a little! yes, my flesh insists upon hating her, whether my spirit is willing or no!… If she had only lived, I could have been angry and cruel towards her with some justification; but to be vindictive towards a poor dead woman recoils upon myself. O God, have mercy! I am miserable at all this!”

Bathsheba became at this moment so terrified at her own state of mind that she looked around for some sort of refuge from herself. The vision of Oak kneeling down that night recurred to her, and with the imitative instinct which animates women she seized upon the idea, resolved to kneel, and, if possible, pray. Gabriel had prayed; so would she.

She knelt beside the coffin, covered her face with her hands, and for a time the room was silent as a tomb. Whether from a purely mechanical, or from any other cause, when Bathsheba arose it was with a quieted spirit, and a regret for the antagonistic instincts which had seized upon her just before.

In her desire to make atonement she took flowers from a vase by the window, and began laying them around the dead girl’s head. Bathsheba knew no other way of showing kindness to persons departed than by giving them flowers. She knew not how long she remained engaged thus. She forgot time, life, where she was, what she was doing. A slamming together of the coach-house doors in the yard brought her to her-self again. An instant after, the front door opened and closed, steps crossed the hall, and her husband appeared at the entrance to the room, looking in upon her.

He beheld it all by degrees, stared in stupefaction at the scene, as if he thought it an illusion raised by some fiendish incantation. Bathsheba, pallid as a corpse on end, gazed back at him in the same wild way.

So little are instinctive guesses the fruit of a legitimate induction, that at this moment, as he stood with the door in his hand, Troy never once thought of Fanny in connection with what he saw. His first confused idea was that somebody in the house had died.

“Well — what?” said Troy, blankly.

“I must go! I must go!” said Bathsheba, to herself more than to him. She came with a dilated eye towards the door, to push past him.

“What’s the matter, in God’s name? who’s dead?” said Troy.

“I cannot say; let me go out. I want air!” she continued.

“But no; stay, I insist!” He seized her hand, and then volition seemed to leave her, and she went off into a state of passivity. He, still holding her, came up the room, and thus, hand in hand, Troy and Bathsheba approached the coffin’s side.

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