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  • 1874
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delightedly with a nice sense of dramatic contrast between our hero, who coolly leaps the gate, and halting justice in the form of his enemies, who must needs pull up cumbersomely and wait to be let through. At the death of Tom King, he could not refrain from seizing Coggan by the hand, and whispering, with tears in his eyes, “Of course he’s not really shot, Jan — only seemingly!” And when the last sad scene came on, and the body of the gallant and faithful Bess had to be carried out on a shutter by twelve volunteers from among the spectators, nothing could restrain Poorgrass from lending a hand, exclaiming, as he asked Jan to join him, “Twill be something to tell of at Warren’s in future years, Jan, and hand down to our children.” For many a year in Weatherbury, Joseph told, with the air of a man who had had experiences in his time, that he touched with his own hand the hoof of Bess as she lay upon the board upon his shoulder. If, as some thinkers hold, immortality consists in being enshrined in others’ memories, then did Black Bess become immortal that day if she never had done so before.

Meanwhile Troy had added a few touches to his ordinary make- up for the character, the more effectually to disguise himself, and though he had felt faint qualms on first entering, the metamorphosis effected by judiciously “lining” his face with a wire rendered him safe from the eyes of Bathsheba and her men. Nevertheless, he was relieved when it was got through.

There a second performance in the evening, and the tent was lighted up. Troy had taken his part very quietly this time, venturing to introduce a few speeches on occasion; and was just concluding it when, whilst standing at the edge of the circle contiguous to the first row of spectators, he observed within a yard of him the eye of a man darted keenly into his side features. Troy hastily shifted his position, after having recognized in the scrutineer the knavish bailiff Pennyways, his wife’s sworn enemy, who still hung about the outskirts of Weatherbury.

At first Troy resolved to take no notice and abide by circumstances. That he had been recognized by this man was highly probable; yet there was room for a doubt. Then the great objection he had felt to allowing news of his proximity to precede him to Weatherbury in the event of his return, based on a feeling that knowledge of his present occupation would discredit him still further in his wife’s eyes, returned in full force. Moreover, should he resolve not to return at all, a tale of his being alive and being in the neighbourhood would be awkward; and he was anxious to acquire a knowledge of his wife’s temporal affairs before deciding which to do.

In this dilemma Troy at once went out to reconnoitre. It occurred to him that to find Pennyways, and make a friend of him if possible, would be a very wise act. He had put on a thick beard borrowed from the establishment, and in this he wandered about the fair-field. It was now almost dark, and respectable people were getting their carts and gigs ready to go home.

The largest refreshment booth in the fair was provided by an innkeeper from a neighbouring town. This was considered an unexceptionable place for obtaining the necessary food and rest: Host Trencher (as he was jauntily called by the local newspaper) being a substantial man of high repute for catering through all the country round. The tent was divided into first and second-class compartments, and at the end of the first-class division was a yet further enclosure for the most exclusive, fenced off from the body of the tent by a luncheon-bar, behind which the host himself stood bustling about in white apron and shirt-sleeves, and looking as if he had never lived anywhere but under canvas all his life. In these penetralia were chairs and a table, which, on candles being lighted, made quite a cozy and luxurious show, with an urn, plated tea and coffee pots, china teacups, and plum cakes.

Troy stood at the entrance to the booth, where a gipsy-woman was frying pancakes over a little fire of sticks and selling them at a penny a-piece, and looked over the heads of the people within. He could see nothing of Pennyways, but he soon discerned Bathsheba through an opening into the reserved space at the further end. Troy thereupon retreated, went round the tent into the darkness, and listened. He could hear Bathsheba’s voice immediately inside the canvas; she was conversing with a man. A warmth overspread his face: surely she was not so unprincipled as to flirt in a fair! He wondered if, then, she reckoned upon his death as an absolute certainty. To get at the root of the matter, Troy took a penknife from his pocket and softly made two little cuts crosswise in the cloth, which, by folding back the corners left a hole the size of a wafer. Close to this he placed his face, withdrawing it again in a movement of surprise; for his eye had been within twelve inches of the top of Bathsheba’s head. It was too near to be convenient. He made another hole a little to one side and lower down, in a shaded place beside her chair, from which it was easy and safe to survey her by looking horizontally.

Troy took in the scene completely now. She was leaning back, sipping a cup of tea that she held in her hand, and the owner of the male voice was Boldwood, who had apparently just brought the cup to her, Bathsheba, being in a negligent mood, leant so idly against the canvas that it was pressed to the shape of her shoulder, and she was, in fact, as good as in Troy’s arms; and he was obliged to keep his breast carefully backward that she might not feel its warmth through the cloth as he gazed in.

Troy found unexpected chords of feeling to be stirred again within him as they had been stirred earlier in the day. She was handsome as ever, and she was his. It was some minutes before he could counteract his sudden wish to go in, and claim her. Then he thought how the proud girl who had always looked down upon him even whilst it was to love him, would hate him on discovering him to be a strolling player. Were he to make himself known, that chapter of his life must at all risks be kept for ever from her and from the Weatherbury people, or his name would be a byword throughout the parish. He would be nicknamed “Turpin” as long as he lived. Assuredly before he could claim her these few past months of his existence must be entirely blotted out.

“Shall I get you another cup before you start, ma’am?” said Farmer Boldwood.

“Thank you,” said Bathsheba. “But I must be going at once. It was great neglect in that man to keep me waiting here till so late. I should have gone two hours ago, if it had not been for him. I had no idea of coming in here; but there’s nothing so refreshing as a cup of tea, though I should never have got one if you hadn’t helped me.”

Troy scrutinized her cheek as lit by the candles, and watched each varying shade thereon, and the white shell-like sinuosities of her little ear. She took out her purse and was insisting to Boldwood on paying for her tea for herself, when at this moment Pennyways entered the tent. Troy trembled: here was his scheme for respectability endangered at once. He was about to leave his hole of espial, attempt to follow Pennyways, and find out if the ex-bailiff had recognized him, when he was arrested by the conversation, and found he was too late.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” said Pennyways; “I’ve some private information for your ear alone.”

“I cannot hear it now,” she said, coldly. That Bathsheba could not endure this man was evident; in fact, he was continually coming to her with some tale or other, by which he might creep into favour at the expense of persons maligned.

“I’ll write it down,” said Pennyways, confidently. He stooped over the table, pulled a leaf from a warped pocket- book, and wrote upon the paper, in a round hand —

“YOUR HUSBAND IS HERE. I’VE SEEN HIM. WHO’S THE FOOL NOW?”

This he folded small, and handed towards her. Bathsheba would not read it; she would not even put out her hand to take it. Pennyways, then, with a laugh of derision, tossed it into her lap, and, turning away, left her.

From the words and action of Pennyways, Troy, though he had not been able to see what the ex-bailiff wrote, had not a moment’s doubt that the note referred to him. Nothing that he could think of could be done to check the exposure. “Curse my luck!” he whispered, and added imprecations which rustled in the gloom like a pestilent wind. Meanwhile Boldwood said, taking up the note from her lap —

“Don’t you wish to read it, Mrs. Troy? If not, I’ll destroy it.”

“Oh, well,” said Bathsheba, carelessly, “perhaps it is unjust not to read it; but I can guess what it is about. He wants me to recommend him, or it is to tell me of some little scandal or another connected with my work-people. He’s always doing that.”

Bathsheba held the note in her right hand. Boldwood handed towards her a plate of cut bread-and-butter; when, in order to take a slice, she put the note into her left hand, where she was still holding the purse, and then allowed her hand to drop beside her close to the canvas. The moment had come for saving his game, and Troy impulsively felt that he would play the card. For yet another time he looked at the fair hand, and saw the pink finger-tips, and the blue veins of the wrist, encircled by a bracelet of coral chippings which she wore: how familiar it all was to him! Then, with the lightning action in which he was such an adept, he noiselessly slipped his hand under the bottom of the tent- cloth, which was far from being pinned tightly down, lifted it a little way, keeping his eye to the hole, snatched the note from her fingers, dropped the canvas, and ran away in the gloom towards the bank and ditch, smiling at the scream of astonishment which burst from her. Troy then slid down on the outside of the rampart, hastened round in the bottom of the entrenchment to a distance of a hundred yards, ascended again, and crossed boldly in a slow walk towards the front entrance of the tent. His object was now to get to Pennyways, and prevent a repetition of the announcement until such time as he should choose.

Troy reached the tent door, and standing among the groups there gathered, looked anxiously for Pennyways, evidently not wishing to make himself prominent by inquiring for him. One or two men were speaking of a daring attempt that had just been made to rob a young lady by lifting the canvas of the tent beside her. It was supposed that the rogue had imagined a slip of paper which she held in her hand to be a bank note, for he had seized it, and made off with it, leaving her purse behind. His chagrin and disappointment at discovering its worthlessness would be a good joke, it was said. However, the occurrence seemed to have become known to few, for it had not interrupted a fiddler, who had lately begun playing by the door of the tent, nor the four bowed old men with grim countenances and walking-sticks in hand, who were dancing “Major Malley’s Reel” to the tune. Behind these stood Pennyways. Troy glided up to him, beckoned, and whispered a few words; and with a mutual glance of concurrence the two men went into the night together.

CHAPTER LI

BATHSHEBA TALKS WITH HER OUTRIDER

THE arrangement for getting back again to Weatherbury had been that Oak should take the place of Poorgrass in Bathsheba’s conveyance and drive her home, it being discovered late in the afternoon that Joseph was suffering from his old complaint, a multiplying eye, and was, therefore, hardly trustworthy as coachman and protector to a woman. But Oak had found himself so occupied, and was full of so many cares relative to those portions of Boldwood’s flocks that were not disposed of, that Bathsheba, without telling Oak or anybody, resolved to drive home herself, as she had many times done from Casterbridge Market, and trust to her good angel for performing the journey unmolested. But having fallen in with Farmer Boldwood accidentally (on her part at least) at the refreshment-tent, she found it impossible to refuse his offer to ride on horseback beside her as escort. It had grown twilight before she was aware, but Boldwood assured her that there was no cause for uneasiness, as the moon would be up in half-an-hour.

Immediately after the incident in the tent, she had risen to go — now absolutely alarmed and really grateful for her old lover’s protection — though regretting Gabriel’s absence, whose company she would have much preferred, as being more proper as well as more pleasant, since he was her own managing-man and servant. This, however, could not be helped; she would not, on any consideration, treat Boldwood harshly, having once already illused him, and the moon having risen, and the gig being ready, she drove across the hilltop in the wending way’s which led downwards — to oblivious obscurity, as it seemed, for the moon and the hill it flooded with light were in appearance on a level, the rest of the world lying as a vast shady concave between them. Boldwood mounted his horse, and followed in close attendance behind. Thus they descended into the lowlands, and the sounds of those left on the hill came like voices from the sky, and the lights were as those of a camp in heaven. They soon passed the merry stragglers in the immediate vicinity of the hill, traversed Kingsbere, and got upon the high road.

The keen instincts of Bathsheba had perceived that the farmer’s staunch devotion to herself was still un- diminished, and she sympathized deeply. The sight had quite depressed her this evening; had reminded her of her folly; she wished anew, as she had wished many months ago, for some means of making reparation for her fault. Hence her pity for the man who so persistently loved on to his own injury and permanent gloom had betrayed Bathsheba into an injudicious considerateness of manner, which appeared almost like tenderness, and gave new vigour to the exquisite dream of a Jacob’s seven years service in poor Boldwood’s mind.

He soon found an excuse for advancing from his position in the rear, and rode close by her side. They had gone two or three miles in the moonlight, speaking desultorily across the wheel of her gig concerning the fair, farming, Oak’s usefulness to them both, and other indifferent subjects, when Boldwood said suddenly and simply —

“Mrs. Troy, you will marry again some day?”

This point-blank query unmistakably confused her, it was not till a minute or more had elapsed that she said, “I have not seriously thought of any such subject.”

“I quite understand that. Yet your late husband has been dead nearly one year, and —-”

“You forget that his death was never absolutely proved, and may not have taken place; so that I may not be really a widow,” she said, catching at the straw of escape that the fact afforded.

“Not absolutely proved, perhaps, but it was proved circumstantially. A man saw him drowning, too. No reasonable person has any doubt of his death; nor have you, ma’am, I should imagine.”

“I have none now, or I should have acted differently,” she said, gently. “I certainly, at first, had a strange unaccountable feeling that he could not have perished, but I have been able to explain that in several ways since. But though I am fully persuaded that I shall see him no more, I am far from thinking of marriage with another. I should be very contemptible to indulge in such a thought.”

They were silent now awhile, and having struck into an unfrequented track across a common, the creaks of Boldwood’s saddle and gig springs were all the sounds to be heard. Boldwood ended the pause.

“Do you remember when I carried you fainting in my arms into the King’s Arms, in Casterbridge? Every dog has his day: that was mine.”

“I know — I know it all,” she said, hurriedly.

“I, for one, shall never cease regretting that events so fell out as to deny you to me.”

“I, too, am very sorry,” she said, and then checked herself. “I mean, you know, I am sorry you thought I —-”

“I have always this dreary pleasure in thinking over those past times with you — that I was something to you before HE was anything, and that you belonged ALMOST to me. But, of course, that’s nothing. You never liked me.”

“I did; and respected you, too.”

“Do you now?”

“Yes.”

“Which?”

“How do you mean which?”

“Do you like me, or do you respect me?”

“I don’t know — at least, I cannot tell you. It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs. My treatment of you was thoughtless, inexcusable, wicked! I shall eternally regret it. If there had been anything I could have done to make amends I would most gladly have done it — there was nothing on earth I so longed to do as to repair the error. But that was not possible.”

“Don’t blame yourself — you were not so far in the wrong as you suppose. Bathsheba, suppose you had real complete proof that you are what, in fact, you are — a widow — would you repair the old wrong to me by marrying me?”

“I cannot say. I shouldn’t yet, at any rate.”

“But you might at some future time of your life?”

“Oh yes, I might at some time.”

“Well, then, do you know that without further proof of any kind you may marry again in about six years from the present — subject to nobody’s objection or blame?”

“Oh yes,” she said, quickly. “I know all that. But don’t talk of it — seven or six years — where may we all be by that time?”

“They will soon glide by, and it will seem an astonishingly short time to look back upon when they are past — much less than to look forward to now.”

“Yes, yes; I have found that in my own experience.”

“Now listen once more,” Boldwood pleaded. “If I wait that time, will you marry me? You own that you owe me amends — let that be your way of making them.”

“But, Mr. Boldwood — six years —-”

“Do you want to be the wife of any other man?”

“No indeed! I mean, that I don’t like to talk about this matter now. Perhaps it is not proper, and I ought not to allow it. Let us drop it. My husband may be living, as I said.”

“Of course, I’ll drop the subject if you wish. But propriety has nothing to do with reasons. I am a middle- aged man, willing to protect you for the remainder of our lives. On your side, at least, there is no passion or blamable haste — on mine, perhaps, there is. But I can’t help seeing that if you choose from a feeling of pity, and, as you say, a wish to make amends, to make a bargain with me for a far-ahead time — an agreement which will set all things right and make me happy, late though it may be — there is no fault to be found with you as a woman. Hadn’t I the first place beside you? Haven’t you been almost mine once already? Surely you can say to me as much as this, you will have me back again should circumstances permit? Now, pray speak! O Bathsheba, promise — it is only a little promise — that if you marry again, you will marry me!”

His tone was so excited that she almost feared him at this moment, even whilst she sympathized. It was a simple physical fear — the weak of the strong; there was no emotional aversion or inner repugnance. She said, with some distress in her voice, for she remembered vividly his outburst on the Yalbury Road, and shrank from a repetition of his anger: —

“I will never marry another man whilst you wish me to be your wife, whatever comes — but to say more — you have taken me so by surprise —-”

“But let it stand in these simple words — that in six years’ time you will be my wife? Unexpected accidents we’ll not mention, because those, of course, must be given way to. Now, this time I know you will keep your word.”

“That’s why I hesitate to give it.”

“But do give it! Remember the past, and be kind.”

She breathed; and then said mournfully: “Oh what shall I do? I don’t love you, and I much fear that I never shall love you as much as a woman ought to love a husband. If you, sir, know that, and I can yet give you happiness by a mere promise to marry at the end of six years, if my husband should not come back, it is a great honour to me. And if you value such an act of friendship from a woman who doesn’t esteem herself as she did, and has little love left, why it will —-”

“Promise!”

“– Consider, if I cannot promise soon.”

“But soon is perhaps never?”

“Oh no, it is not! I mean soon. Christmas, we’ll say.”

“Christmas!” He said nothing further till he added: “Well, I’ll say no more to you about it till that time.”

Bathsheba was in a very peculiar state of mind, which showed how entirely the soul is the slave of the body, the ethereal spirit dependent for its quality upon the tangible flesh and blood. It is hardly too much to say that she felt coerced by a force stronger than her own will, not only into the act of promising upon this singularly remote and vague matter, but into the emotion of fancying that she ought to promise. When the weeks intervening between the night of this conversation and Christmas day began perceptibly to diminish, her anxiety and perplexity increased.

One day she was led by an accident into an oddly confidential dialogue with Gabriel about her difficulty. It afforded her a little relief — of a dull and cheerless kind. They were auditing accounts, and something occurred in the course of their labours which led Oak to say, speaking of Boldwood, “He’ll never forget you, ma’am, never.”

Then out came her trouble before she was aware; and she told him how she had again got into the toils; what Boldwood had asked her, and how he was expecting her assent. “The most mournful reason of all for my agreeing to it,” she said sadly, “and the true reason why I think to do so for good or for evil, is this — it is a thing I have not breathed to a living soul as yet — I believe that if I don’t give my word, he’ll go out of his mind.”

“Really, do ye?” said Gabriel, gravely.

“I believe this,” she continued, with reckless frankness; “and Heaven knows I say it in a spirit the very reverse of vain, for I am grieved and troubled to my soul about it — I believe I hold that man’s future in my hand. His career depends entirely upon my treatment of him. O Gabriel, I tremble at my responsibility, for it is terrible!”

“Well, I think this much, ma’am, as I told you years ago,” said Oak, “that his life is a total blank whenever he isn’t hoping for ‘ee; but I can’t suppose — I hope that nothing so dreadful hangs on to it as you fancy. His natural manner has always been dark and strange, you know. But since the case is so sad and oddlike, why don’t ye give the conditional promise? I think I would.”

“But is it right? Some rash acts of my past life have taught me that a watched woman must have very much circumspection to retain only a very little credit, and I do want and long to be discreet in this! And six years — why we may all be in our graves by that time, even if Mr. Troy does not come back again, which he may not impossibly do! Such thoughts give a sort of absurdity to the scheme. Now, isn’t it preposterous, Gabriel? However he came to dream of it, I cannot think. But is it wrong? You know — you are older than I.”

“Eight years older, ma’am.”

“Yes, eight years — and is it wrong?”

“Perhaps it would be an uncommon agreement for a man and woman to make: I don’t see anything really wrong about it,” said Oak, slowly. “In fact the very thing that makes it doubtful if you ought to marry en under any condition, that is, your not caring about him — for I may suppose —-”

“Yes, you may suppose that love is wanting,” she said shortly. “Love is an utterly bygone, sorry, worn-out, miserable thing with me — for him or any one else.”

“Well, your want of love seems to me the one thing that takes away harm from such an agreement with him. If wild heat had to do wi’ it, making ye long to over-come the awkwardness about your husband’s vanishing, it mid be wrong; but a cold-hearted agreement to oblige a man seems different, somehow. The real sin, ma’am in my mind, lies in thinking of ever wedding wi’ a man you don’t love honest and true.”

“That I’m willing to pay the penalty of,” said Bathsheba, firmly. “You know, Gabriel, this is what I cannot get off my conscience — that I once seriously injured him in sheer idleness. If I had never played a trick upon him, he would never have wanted to marry me. Oh if I could only pay some heavy damages in money to him for the harm I did, and so get the sin off my soul that way!… Well, there’s the debt, which can only be discharged in one way, and I believe I am bound to do it if it honestly lies in my power, without any consideration of my own future at all. When a rake gambles away his expectations, the fact that it is an inconvenient debt doesn’t make him the less liable. I’ve been a rake, and the single point I ask you is, considering that my own scruples, and the fact that in the eye of the law my husband is only missing, will keep any man from marrying me until seven years have passed — am I free to entertain such an idea, even though ’tis a sort of penance — for it will be that? I HATE the act of marriage under such circumstances, and the class of women I should seem to belong to by doing it!”

“It seems to me that all depends upon whe’r you think, as everybody else do, that your husband is dead.”

“Yes — I’ve long ceased to doubt that. I well know what would have brought him back long before this time if he had lived.”

“Well, then, in a religious sense you will be as free to THINK o’ marrying again as any real widow of one year’s standing. But why don’t ye ask Mr. Thirdly’s advice on how to treat Mr. Boldwood?”

“No. When I want a broad-minded opinion for general enlightenment, distinct from special advice, I never go to a man who deals in the subject professionally. So I like the parson’s opinion on law, the lawyer’s on doctoring, the doctor’s on business, and my business-man’s — that is, yours — on morals.”

“And on love —-”

“My own.”

“I’m afraid there’s a hitch in that argument,” said Oak, with a grave smile.

She did not reply at once, and then saying, “Good evening, Mr. Oak.” went away.

She had spoken frankly, and neither asked nor expected any reply from Gabriel more satisfactory than that she had obtained. Yet in the centremost parts of her complicated heart there existed at this minute a little pang of disappointment, for a reason she would not allow herself to recognize. Oak had not once wished her free that he might marry her himself — had not once said, “I could wait for you as well as he.” That was the insect sting. Not that she would have listened to any such hypothesis. O no — for wasn’t she saying all the time that such thoughts of the future were improper, and wasn’t Gabriel far too poor a man to speak sentiment to her? Yet he might have just hinted about that old love of his, and asked, in a playful off-hand way, if he might speak of it. It would have seemed pretty and sweet, if no more; and then she would have shown how kind and inoffensive a woman’s “No” can sometimes be. But to give such cool advice — the very advice she had asked for — it ruffled our heroine all the afternoon.

CHAPTER LII

CONVERGING COURSES

I

CHRISTMAS-EVE came, and a party that Boldwood was to give in the evening was the great subject of talk in Weatherbury. It was not that the rarity of Christmas parties in the parish made this one a wonder, but that Boldwood should be the giver. The announcement had had an abnormal and incongruous sound, as if one should hear of croquet-playing in a cathedral aisle, or that some much-respected judge was going upon the stage. That the party was intended to be a truly jovial one there was no room for doubt. A large bough of mistletoe had been brought from the woods that day, and suspended in the hall of the bachelor’s home. Holly and ivy had followed in armfuls. From six that morning till past noon the huge wood fire in the kitchen roared and sparkled at its highest, the kettle, the saucepan, and the three- legged pot appearing in the midst of the flames like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; moreover, roasting and basting operations were continually carried on in front of the genial blaze.

As it grew later the fire was made up in the large long hall into which the staircase descended, and all encumbrances were cleared out for dancing. The log which was to form the back-brand of the evening fire was the uncleft trunk of a tree, so unwieldy that it could be neither brought nor rolled to its place; and accordingly two men were to be observed dragging and heaving it in by chains and levers as the hour of assembly drew near.

In spite of all this, the spirit of revelry was wanting in the atmosphere of the house. Such a thing had never been attempted before by its owner, and it was now done as by a wrench. Intended gaieties would insist upon appearing like solemn grandeurs, the organization of the whole effort was carried out coldly, by hirelings, and a shadow seemed to move about the rooms, saying that the proceedings were unnatural to the place and the lone man who lived therein, and hence not good.

II

Bathsheba was at this time in her room, dressing for the event. She had called for candles, and Liddy entered and placed one on each side of her mistress’s glass.

“Don’t go away, Liddy,” said Bathsheba, almost timidly. “I am foolishly agitated — I cannot tell why. I wish I had not been obliged to go to this dance; but there’s no escaping now. I have not spoken to Mr. Boldwood since the autumn, when I promised to see him at Christmas on business, but I had no idea there was to be anything of this kind.”

“But I would go now,” said Liddy, who was going with her; for Boldwood had been indiscriminate in his invitations.

“Yes, I shall make my appearance, of course,” said Bathsheba.” But I am THE CAUSE of the party, and that upsets me! — Don’t tell, Liddy.”

“Oh no, ma’am. You the cause of it, ma’am?”

“Yes. I am the reason of the party — I. If it had not been for me, there would never have been one. I can’t explain any more — there’s no more to be explained. I wish I had never seen Weatherbury.”

“That’s wicked of you — to wish to be worse off than you are.”

“No, Liddy. I have never been free from trouble since I have lived here, and this party is likely to bring me more. Now, fetch my black silk dress, and see how it sits upon me.”

“But you will leave off that, surely, ma’am? You have been a widowlady fourteen months, and ought to brighten up a little on such a night as this.”

“Is it necessary? No; I will appear as usual, for if I were to wear any light dress people would say things about me, and I should seem to be rejoicing when I am solemn all the time. The party doesn’t suit me a bit; but never mind, stay and help to finish me off.”

III

Boldwood was dressing also at this hour. A tailor from Casterbridge was with him, assisting him in the operation of trying on a new coat that had just been brought home.

Never had Boldwood been so fastidious, unreasonable about the fit, and generally difficult to please. The tailor walked round and round him, tugged at the waist, pulled the sleeve, pressed out the collar, and for the first time in his experience Boldwood was not bored. Times had been when the farmer had exclaimed against all such niceties as childish, but now no philosophic or hasty rebuke whatever was provoked by this man for attaching as much importance to a crease in the coat as to an earthquake in South America. Boldwood at last expressed himself nearly satisfied, and paid the bill, the tailor passing out of the door just as Oak came in to report progress for the day.

“Oh, Oak,” said Boldwood. “I shall of course see you here to-night. Make yourself merry. I am determined that neither expense nor trouble shall be spared.”

“I’ll try to be here, sir, though perhaps it may not be very early,” said Gabriel, quietly. “I am glad indeed to see such a change in ‘ee from what it used to be.”

“Yes — I must own it — I am bright to-night: cheerful and more than cheerful — so much so that I am almost sad again with the sense that all of it is passing away. And sometimes, when I am excessively hopeful and blithe, a trouble is looming in the distance: so that I often get to look upon gloom in me with content, and to fear a happy mood. Still this may be absurd — I feel that it is absurd. Perhaps my day is dawning at last.”

“I hope it ‘ill be a long and a fair one.”

“Thank you — thank you. Yet perhaps my cheerful mess rests on a slender hope. And yet I trust my hope. It is faith, not hope. I think this time I reckon with my host. — Oak, my hands are a little shaky, or something; I can’t tie this neckerchief properly. Perhaps you will tie it for me. The fact is, I have not been well lately, you know.”

“I am sorry to hear that, sir.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I want it done as well as you can, please. Is there any late knot in fashion, Oak?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said Oak. His tone had sunk to sadness.

Boldwood approached Gabriel, and as Oak tied the neckerchief the farmer went on feverishly —

“Does a woman keep her promise, Gabriel?”

“If it is not inconvenient to her she may.”

“– Or rather an implied promise.”

“I won’t answer for her implying,” said Oak, with faint bitterness. “That’s a word as full o’ holes as a sieve with them.”

“Oak, don’t talk like that. You have got quite cynical lately — how is it? We seem to have shifted our positions: I have become the young and hopeful man, and you the old and unbelieving one. However, does a woman keep a promise, not to marry, but to enter on an engagement to marry at some time? Now you know women better than I — tell me.”

“I am afeard you honour my understanding too much. However, she may keep such a promise, if it is made with an honest meaning to repair a wrong.”

“It has not gone far yet, but I think it will soon — yes, I know it will,” he said, in an impulsive whisper. “I have pressed her upon the subject, and she inclines to be kind to me, and to think of me as a husband at a long future time, and that’s enough for me. How can I expect more? She has a notion that a woman should not marry within seven years of her husband’s disappearance — that her own self shouldn’t, I mean — because his body was not found. It may be merely this legal reason which influences her, or it may be a religious one, but she is reluctant to talk on the point. Yet she has promised — implied — that she will ratify an engagement to-night.”

“Seven years,” murmured Oak.

“No, no — it’s no such thing!” he said, with impatience. Five years, nine months, and a few days. Fifteen months nearly have passed since he vanished, and is there anything so wonderful in an engagement of little more than five years?”

“It seems long in a forward view. Don’t build too much upon such promises, sir. Remember, you have once be’n deceived. Her meaning may be good; but there — she’s young yet.”

“Deceived? Never!” said Boldwood, vehemently. “She never promised me at that first time, and hence she did not break her promise! If she promises me, she’ll marry me, Bathsheba is a woman to her word.”

IV

Troy was sitting in a corner of The White Hart tavern at Casterbridge, smoking and drinking a steaming mixture from a glass. A knock was given at the door, and Pennyways entered.

“Well, have you seen him?” Troy inquired, pointing to a chair.

“Boldwood?”

“No — Lawyer Long.”

“He wadn’ at home. I went there first, too.”

“That’s a nuisance.”

“‘Tis rather, I suppose.”

“Yet I don’t see that, because a man appears to be drowned and was not, he should be liable for anything. I shan’t ask any lawyer — not I.”

“But that’s not it, exactly. If a man changes his name and so forth, and takes steps to deceive the world and his own wife, he’s a cheat, and that in the eye of the law is ayless a rogue, and that is ayless a lammocken vagabond; and that’s a punishable situation.”

“Ha-ha! Well done, Pennyways,” Troy had laughed, but it was with some anxiety that he said, “Now, what I want to know is this, do you think there’s really anything going on between her and Boldwood? Upon my soul, I should never have believed it! How she must detest me! Have you found out whether she has encouraged him?”

“I haen’t been able to learn. There’s a deal of feeling on his side seemingly, but I don’t answer for her. I didn’t know a word about any such thing till yesterday, and all I heard then was that she was gwine to the party at his house to-night. This is the first time she has ever gone there, they say. And they say that she’ve not so much as spoke to him since they were at Greenhill Fair: but what can folk believe o’t? However, she’s not fond of him — quite offish and quite care less, I know.”

“I’m not so sure of that…. She’s a handsome woman, Pennyways, is she not? Own that you never saw a finer or more splendid creature in your life. Upon my honour, when I set eyes upon her that day I wondered what I could have been made of to be able to leave her by herself so long. And then I was hampered with that bothering show, which I’m free of at last, thank the stars.” He smoked on awhile, and then added, “How did she look when you passed by yesterday?”

“Oh, she took no great heed of me, ye may well fancy; but she looked well enough, far’s I know. Just flashed her haughty eyes upon my poor scram body, and then let them go past me to what was yond, much as if I’d been no more than a leafless tree. She had just got off her mare to look at the last wring-down of cider for the year; she had been riding, and so her colours were up and her breath rather quick, so that her bosom plimmed and fell — plimmed and fell — every time plain to my eye. Ay, and there were the fellers round her wringing down the cheese and bustling about and saying, “Ware o’ the pommy, ma’am: ’twill spoil yer gown.” “Never mind me,” says she. Then Gabe brought her some of the new cider, and she must needs go drinking it through a strawmote, and not in a nateral way at all. “Liddy,” says she, “bring indoors a few gallons, and I’ll make some cider- wine.” Sergeant, I was no more to her than a morsel of scroff in the fuel-house!”

“I must go and find her out at once — O yes, I see that — I must go. Oak is head man still, isn’t he?”

“Yes, ‘a b’lieve. And at Little Weatherbury Farm too. He manages everything.”

“‘Twill puzzle him to manage her, or any other man of his compass!”

“I don’t know about that. She can’t do without him, and knowing it well he’s pretty independent. And she’ve a few soft corners to her mind, though I’ve never been able to get into one, the devil’s in’t!”

“Ah, baily, she’s a notch above you, and you must own it: a higher class of animal — a finer tissue. However, stick to me, and neither this haughty goddess, dashing piece of womanhood, Juno-wife of mine (Juno was a goddess, you know), nor anybody else shall hurt you. But all this wants looking into, I perceive. What with one thing and another, I see that my work is well cut out for me.”

V

“How do I look to-night, Liddy?” said Bathsheba, giving a final adjustment to her dress before leaving the glass.

“I never saw you look so well before. Yes — I’ll tell you when you looked like it — that night, a year and a half ago, when you came in so wildlike, and scolded us for making remarks about you and Mr. Troy.”

“Everybody will think that I am setting myself to captivate Mr. Boldwood, I suppose,” she murmured. “At least they’ll say so. Can’t my hair be brushed down a little flatter? I dread going — yet I dread the risk of wounding him by staying away.”

“Anyhow, ma’am, you can’t well be dressed plainer than you are, unless you go in sackcloth at once. ‘Tis your excitement is what makes you look so noticeable to-night.”

“I don’t know what’s the matter, I feel wretched at one time, and buoyant at another. I wish I could have continued quite alone as I have been for the last year or so, with no hopes and no fears, and no pleasure and no grief.”

“Now just suppose Mr. Boldwood should ask you — only just suppose it — to run away with him, what would you do, ma’am?”

“Liddy — none of that,” said Bathsheba, gravely. “Mind, I won’t hear joking on any such matter. Do you hear?”

“I beg pardon, ma’am. But knowing what rum things we women be, I just said — however, I won’t speak of it again.”

“No marrying for me yet for many a year; if ever, ’twill be for reasons very, very different from those you think, or others will believe! Now get my cloak, for it is time to go.”

VI

“Oak,” said Boldwood, “before you go I want to mention what has been passing in my mind lately — that little arrangement we made about your share in the farm I mean. That share is small, too small, considering how little I attend to business now, and how much time and thought you give to it. Well, since the world is brightening for me, I want to show my sense of it by increasing your proportion in the partnership. I’ll make a memorandum of the arrangement which struck me as likely to be convenient, for I haven’t time to talk about it now; and then we’ll discuss it at our leisure. My intention is ultimately to retire from the management altogether, and until you can take all the expenditure upon your shoulders, I’ll be a sleeping partner in the stock. Then, if I marry her — and I hope — I feel I shall, why —-”

“Pray don’t speak of it, sir,” said Oak, hastily. “We don’t know what may happen. So many upsets may befall ‘ee. There’s many a slip, as they say — and I would advise you – — I know you’ll pardon me this once — not to be TOO SURE.”

“I know, I know. But the feeling I have about increasing your share is on account of what I know of you Oak, I have learnt a little about your secret: your interest in her is more than that of bailiff for an employer. But you have behaved like a man, and I, as a sort of successful rival — successful partly through your goodness of heart — should like definitely to show my sense of your friendship under what must have been a great pain to you.”

“O that’s not necessary, thank ‘ee,” said Oak, hurriedly. “I must get used to such as that; other men have, and so shall I.”

Oak then left him. He was uneasy on Boldwood’s account, for he saw anew that this constant passion of the farmer made him not the man he once had been.

As Boldwood continued awhile in his room alone — ready and dressed to receive his company — the mood of anxiety about his appearance seemed to pass away, and to be succeeded by a deep solemnity. He looked out of the window, and regarded the dim outline of the trees upon the sky, and the twilight deepening to darkness.

Then he went to a locked closet, and took from a locked drawer therein a small circular case the size of a pillbox, and was about to put it into his pocket. But he lingered to open the cover and take a momentary glance inside. It contained a woman’s finger-ring, set all the way round with small diamonds, and from its appearance had evidently been recently purchased. Boldwood’s eyes dwelt upon its many sparkles a long time, though that its material aspect concerned him little was plain from his manner and mien, which were those of a mind following out the presumed thread of that jewel’s future history.

The noise of wheels at the front of the house became audible. Boldwood closed the box, stowed it away carefully in his pocket, and went out upon the landing. The old man who was his indoor factotum came at the same moment to the foot of the stairs.

“They be coming, sir — lots of ’em — a-foot and a- driving!”

“I was coming down this moment. Those wheels I heard — is it Mrs. Troy?”

“No, sir — ’tis not she yet.”

A reserved and sombre expression had returned to Boldwood’s face again, but it poorly cloaked his feelings when he pronounced Bathsheba’s name; and his feverish anxiety continued to show its existence by a galloping motion of his fingers upon the side of his thigh as he went down the stairs.

VII

“How does this cover me?” said Troy to Pennyways, “Nobody would recognize me now, I’m sure.”

He was buttoning on a heavy grey overcoat of Noachian cut, with cape and high collar, the latter being erect and rigid, like a girdling wall, and nearly reaching to the verge of travelling cap which was pulled down over his ears.

Pennyways snuffed the candle, and then looked up and deliberately inspected Troy.

“You’ve made up your mind to go then?” he said.

“Made up my mind? Yes; of course I have.”

“Why not write to her? ‘Tis a very queer corner that you have got into, sergeant. You see all these things will come to light if you go back, and they won’t sound well at all. Faith, if I was you I’d even bide as you be — a single man of the name of Francis. A good wife is good, but the best wife is not so good as no wife at all. Now that’s my outspoke mind, and I’ve been called a long-headed feller here and there.”

“All nonsense!” said Troy, angrily. “There she is with plenty of money, and a house and farm, and horses, and comfort, and here am I living from hand to mouth — a needy adventurer. Besides, it is no use talking now; it is too late, and I am glad of it; I’ve been seen and recognized here this very afternoon. I should have gone back to her the day after the fair, if it hadn’t been for you talking about the law, and rubbish about getting a separation; and I don’t put it off any longer. What the deuce put it into my head to run away at all, I can’t think! Humbugging sentiment — that’s what it was. But what man on earth was to know that his wife would be in such a hurry to get rid of his name!”

“I should have known it. She’s bad enough for anything.”

“Pennyways, mind who you are talking to.”

“Well, sergeant, all I say is this, that if I were you I’d go abroad again where I came from — ’tisn’t too late to do it now. I wouldn’t stir up the business and get a bad name for the sake of living with her — for all that about your play-acting is sure to come out, you know, although you think otherwise. My eyes and limbs, there’ll be a racket if you go back just now — in the middle of Boldwood’s Christmasing!”

“H’m, yes. I expect I shall not be a very welcome guest if he has her there,” said the sergeant, with a slight laugh. “A sort of Alonzo the Brave; and when I go in the guests will sit in silence and fear, and all laughter and pleasure will be hushed, and the lights in the chamber burn blue, and the worms — Ugh, horrible! — Ring for some more brandy, Pennyways, I felt an awful shudder just then! Well, what is there besides? A stick — I must have a walking-stick.”

Pennyways now felt himself to be in something of a difficulty, for should Bathsheba and Troy become reconciled it would be necessary to regain her good opinion if he would secure the patronage of her husband. “I sometimes think she likes you yet, and is a good woman at bottom,” he said, as a saving sentence. “But there’s no telling to a certainty from a body’s outside. Well, you’ll do as you like about going, of course, sergeant, and as for me, I’ll do as you tell me.”

“Now, let me see what the time is,” said Troy, after emptying his glass in one draught as he stood. “Half-past six o’clock. I shall not hurry along the road, and shall be there then before nine.”

CHAPTER LIII

CONCURRITUR — HORAE MOMENTO

OUTSIDE the front of Boldwood’s house a group of men stood in the dark, with their faces towards the door, which occasionally opened and closed for the passage of some guest or servant, when a golden rod of light would stripe the ground for the moment and vanish again, leaving nothing outside but the glowworm shine of the pale lamp amid the evergreens over the door.

“He was seen in Casterbridge this afternoon — so the boy said,” one of them remarked in a whisper. “And I for one believe it. His body was never found, you know.”

“‘Tis a strange story,” said the next. “You may depend upon’t that she knows nothing about it.”

“Not a word.”

“Perhaps he don’t mean that she shall,” said another man.

“If he’s alive and here in the neighbourhood, he means mischief,” said the first. “Poor young thing: I do pity her, if ’tis true. He’ll drag her to the dogs.”

“O no; he’ll settle down quiet enough,” said one disposed to take a more hopeful view of the case.

“What a fool she must have been ever to have had anything to do with the man! She is so self-willed and independent too, that one is more minded to say it serves her right than pity her.”

“No, no. I don’t hold with ‘ee there. She was no otherwise than a girl mind, and how could she tell what the man was made of? If ’tis really true, ’tis too hard a punishment, and more than she ought to hae. — Hullo, who’s that?” This was to some footsteps that were heard approaching.

“William Smallbury,” said a dim figure in the shades, coming up and joining them. “Dark as a hedge, to-night, isn’t it? I all but missed the plank over the river ath’art there in the bottom — never did such a thing before in my life. Be ye any of Boldwood’s workfolk?” He peered into their faces.

“Yes — all o’ us. We met here a few minutes ago.”

“Oh, I hear now — that’s Sam Samway: thought I knowed the voice, too. Going in?”

“Presently. But I say, William,” Samway whispered, “have ye heard this strange tale?”

“What — that about Sergeant Troy being seen, d’ye mean, souls?” said Smallbury, also lowering his voice.

“Ay: in Casterbridge.”

“Yes, I have. Laban Tall named a hint of it to me but now — but I don’t think it. Hark, here Laban comes himself, ‘a b’lieve.” A footstep drew near.

“Laban?”

“Yes, ’tis I,” said Tall. “Have ye heard any more about that?”

“No,” said Tall, joining the group. “And I’m inclined to think we’d better keep quiet. If so be ’tis not true, ’twill flurry her, and do her much harm to repeat it; and if so be ’tis true, ’twill do no good to forestall her time o’ trouble. God send that it mid be a lie, for though Henery Fray and some of ’em do speak against her, she’s never been anything but fair to me. She’s hot and hasty, but she’s a brave girl who’ll never tell a lie however much the truth may harm her, and I’ve no cause to wish her evil.”

“She never do tell women’s little lies, that’s true; and ’tis a thing that can be said of very few. Ay, all the harm she thinks she says to yer face: there’s nothing underhand wi’ her.”

They stood silent then, every man busied with his own thoughts, during which interval sounds of merriment could be heard within. Then the front door again opened, the rays streamed out, the well-known form of Boldwood was seen in the rectangular area of light, the door closed, and Boldwood walked slowly down the path.

“‘Tis master,” one of the men whispered, as he neared them. “We’d better stand quiet — he’ll go in again directly. He would think it unseemly o’ us to be loitering here.”

Boldwood came on, and passed by the men without seeing them, they being under the bushes on the grass. He paused, leant over the gate, and breathed a long breath. They heard low words come from him.

“I hope to God she’ll come, or this night will be nothing but misery to me! Oh my darling, my darling, why do you keep me in suspense like this?”

He said this to himself, and they all distinctly heard it. Boldwood remained silent after that, and the noise from indoors was again just audible, until, a few minutes later, light wheels could be distinguished coming down the hill. They drew nearer, and ceased at the gate. Boldwood hastened back to the door, and opened it; and the light shone upon Bathsheba coming up the path.

Boldwood compressed his emotion to mere welcome: the men marked her light laugh and apology as she met him: he took her into the house; and the door closed again.

“Gracious heaven, I didn’t know it was like that with him!” said one of the men. “I thought that fancy of his was over long ago.”

“You don’t know much of master, if you thought that,” said Samway.

“I wouldn’t he should know we heard what ‘a said for the world,” remarked a third.

“I wish we had told of the report at once,” the first uneasily continued. “More harm may come of this than we know of. Poor Mr. Boldwood, it will be hard upon en. I wish Troy was in —- Well, God forgive me for such a wish! A scoundrel to play a poor wife such tricks. Nothing has prospered in Weatherbury since he came here. And now I’ve no heart to go in. Let’s look into Warren’s for a few minutes first, shall us, neighbours?”

Samway, Tall, and Smallbury agreed to go to Warren’s, and went out at the gate, the remaining ones entering the house. The three soon drew near the malt-house, approaching it from the adjoining orchard, and not by way of the street. The pane of glass was illuminated as usual. Smallbury was a little in advance of the rest when, pausing, he turned suddenly to his companions and said, “Hist! See there.”

The light from the pane was now perceived to be shining not upon the ivied wall as usual, but upon some object close to the glass. It was a human face.

“Let’s come closer,” whispered Samway; and they approached on tiptoe. There was no disbelieving the report any longer. Troy’s face was almost close to the pane, and he was looking in. Not only was he looking in, but he appeared to have been arrested by a conversation which was in progress in the malt-house, the voices of the interlocutors being those of Oak and the maltster.

“The spree is all in her honour, isn’t it — hey?” said the old man. “Although he made believe ’tis only keeping up o’ Christmas?”

“I cannot say,” replied Oak.

“Oh ’tis true enough, faith. I cannot understand Farmer Boldwood being such a fool at his time of life as to ho and hanker after this woman in the way ‘a do, and she not care a bit about en.”

The men, after recognizing Troy’s features, withdrew across the orchard as quietly as they had come. The air was big with Bathsheba’s fortunes to-night: every word everywhere concerned her. When they were quite out of earshot all by one instinct paused.

“It gave me quite a turn — his face,” said Tall, breathing.

“And so it did me,” said Samway. “What’s to be done?”

“I don’t see that ’tis any business of ours,” Smallbury murmured dubiously.

“But it is! ‘Tis a thing which is everybody’s business,” said Samway. “We know very well that master’s on a wrong tack, and that she’s quite in the dark, and we should let ’em know at once. Laban, you know her best — you’d better go and ask to speak to her.”

“I bain’t fit for any such thing,” said Laban, nervously. “I should think William ought to do it if anybody. He’s oldest.”

“I shall have nothing to do with it,” said Smallbury. “‘Tis a ticklish business altogether. Why, he’ll go on to her himself in a few minutes, ye’ll see.”

“We don’t know that he will. Come, Laban.”

“Very well, if I must I must, I suppose,” Tall reluctantly answered. “What must I say?”

“Just ask to see master.”

“Oh no; I shan’t speak to Mr. Boldwood. If I tell anybody, ’twill be mistress.”

“Very well,” said Samway.

Laban then went to the door. When he opened it the hum of bustle rolled out as a wave upon a still strand — the assemblage being immediately inside the hall — and was deadened to a murmur as he closed it again. Each man waited intently, and looked around at the dark tree tops gently rocking against the sky and occasionally shivering in a slight wind, as if he took interest in the scene, which neither did. One of them began walking up and down, and then came to where he started from and stopped again, with a sense that walking was a thing not worth doing now.

“I should think Laban must have seen mistress by this time,” said Smallbury, breaking the silence. “Perhaps she won’t come and speak to him.”

The door opened. Tall appeared, and joined them.

“Well?” said both.

“I didn’t like to ask for her after all,” Laban faltered out. “They were all in such a stir, trying to put a little spirit into the party. Somehow the fun seems to hang fire, though everything’s there that a heart can desire, and I couldn’t for my soul interfere and throw damp upon it — if ’twas to save my life, I couldn’t!”

“I suppose we had better all go in together,” said Samway, gloomily. “Perhaps I may have a chance of saying a word to master.”

So the men entered the hall, which was the room selected and arranged for the gathering because of its size. The younger men and maids were at last just beginning to dance. Bathsheba had been perplexed how to act, for she was not much more than a slim young maid herself, and the weight of stateliness sat heavy upon her. Sometimes she thought she ought not to have come under any circumstances; then she considered what cold unkindness that would have been, and finally resolved upon the middle course of staying for about an hour only, and gliding off unobserved, having from the first made up her mind that she could on no account dance, sing, or take any active part in the proceedings.

Her allotted hour having been passed in chatting and looking on, Bathsheba told Liddy not to hurry herself, and went to the small parlour to prepare for departure, which, like the hall, was decorated with holly and ivy, and well lighted up.

Nobody was in the room, but she had hardly been there a moment when the master of the house entered.

“Mrs. Troy — you are not going?” he said. “We’ve hardly begun!”

“If you’ll excuse me, I should like to go now.” Her manner was restive, for she remembered her promise, and imagined what he was about to say. “But as it is not late,” she added, “I can walk home, and leave my man and Liddy to come when they choose.”

“I’ve been trying to get an opportunity of speaking to you,” said Boldwood. “You know perhaps what I long to say?”

Bathsheba silently looked on the floor.

“You do give it?” he said, eagerly.

“What?” she whispered.

“Now, that’s evasion! Why, the promise. I don’t want to intrude upon you at all, or to let it become known to anybody. But do give your word! A mere business compact, you know, between two people who are beyond the influence of passion.” Boldwood knew how false this picture was as regarded himself; but he had proved that it was the only tone in which she would allow him to approach her. “A promise to marry me at the end of five years and three- quarters. You owe it to me!”

“I feel that I do,” said Bathsheba; “that is, if you demand it. But I am a changed woman — an unhappy woman — and not — not —-”

“You are still a very beautiful woman,” said Boldwood. Honesty and pure conviction suggested the remark, unaccompanied by any perception that it might have been adopted by blunt flattery to soothe and win her.

However, it had not much effect now, for she said, in a passionless murmur which was in itself a proof of her words: “I have no feeling in the matter at all. And I don’t at all know what is right to do in my difficult position, and I have nobody to advise me. But I give my promise, if I must. I give it as the rendering of a debt, conditionally, of course, on my being a widow.”

“You’ll marry me between five and six years hence?”

“Don’t press me too hard. I’ll marry nobody else.”

“But surely you will name the time, or there’s nothing in the promise at all?”

“Oh, I don’t know, pray let me go!” she said, her bosom beginning to rise. “I am afraid what to do! I want to be just to you, and to be that seems to be wronging myself, and perhaps it is breaking the commandments. There is considerable doubt of his death, and then it is dreadful; let me ask a solicitor, Mr. Boldwood, if I ought or no!”

“Say the words, dear one, and the subject shall be dismissed; a blissful loving intimacy of six years, and then marriage — O Bathsheba, say them!” he begged in a husky voice, unable to sustain the forms of mere friendship any longer. “Promise yourself to me; I deserve it, indeed I do, for I have loved you more than anybody in the world! And if I said hasty words and showed uncalled-for heat of manner towards you, believe me, dear, I did not mean to distress you; I was in agony, Bathsheba, and I did not know what I said. You wouldn’t let a dog suffer what I have suffered, could you but know it! Sometimes I shrink from your knowing what I have felt for you, and sometimes I am distressed that all of it you never will know. Be gracious, and give up a little to me, when I would give up my life for you!”

The trimmings of her dress, as they quivered against the light, showed how agitated she was, and at last she burst out crying. “And you’ll not — press me — about anything more — if I say in five or six years?” she sobbed, when she had power to frame the words.

“Yes, then I’ll leave it to time.”

She waited a moment. “Very well. I’ll marry you in six years from this day, if we both live,” she said solemnly.

“And you’ll take this as a token from me.”

Boldwood had come close to her side, and now he clasped one of her hands in both his own, and lifted it to his breast.

“What is it? Oh I cannot wear a ring!” she exclaimed, on seeing what he held; “besides, I wouldn’t have a soul know that it’s an engagement! Perhaps it is improper? Besides, we are not engaged in the usual sense, are we? Don’t insist, Mr. Boldwood — don’t!” In her trouble at not being able to get her hand away from him at once, she stamped passionately on the floor with one foot, and tears crowded to her eyes again.

“It means simply a pledge — no sentiment — the seal of a practical compact,” he said more quietly, but still retaining her hand in his firm grasp. “Come, now!” And Boldwood slipped the ring on her finger.

“I cannot wear it,” she said, weeping as if her heart would break. “You frighten me, almost. So wild a scheme! Please let me go home!”

“Only to-night: wear it just to-night, to please me!”

Bathsheba sat down in a chair, and buried her face in her handkerchief, though Boldwood kept her hand yet. At length she said, in a sort of hopeless whisper —

“Very well, then, I will to-night, if you wish it so earnestly. Now loosen my hand; I will, indeed I will wear it to-night.”

“And it shall be the beginning of a pleasant secret courtship of six years, with a wedding at the end?”

“It must be, I suppose, since you will have it so!” she said, fairly beaten into non-resistance.

Boldwood pressed her hand, and allowed it to drop in her lap. “I am happy now,” he said. “God bless you!”

He left the room, and when he thought she might be sufficiently composed sent one of the maids to her. Bathsheba cloaked the effects of the late scene as she best could, followed the girl, and in a few moments came downstairs with her hat and cloak on, ready to go. To get to the door it was necessary to pass through the hall, and before doing so she paused on the bottom of the staircase which descended into one corner, to take a last look at the gathering.

There was no music or dancing in progress just now. At the lower end, which had been arranged for the work-folk specially, a group conversed in whispers, and with clouded looks. Boldwood was standing by the fireplace, and he, too, though so absorbed in visions arising from her promise that he scarcely saw anything, seemed at that moment to have observed their peculiar manner, and their looks askance.

“What is it you are in doubt about, men?” he said.

One of them turned and replied uneasily: “It was something Laban heard of, that’s all, sir.”

“News? Anybody married or engaged, born or dead?” inquired the farmer, gaily. “Tell it to us, Tall. One would think from your looks and mysterious ways that it was something very dreadful indeed.”

“Oh no, sir, nobody is dead,” said Tall.

“I wish somebody was,” said Samway, in a whisper.

“What do you say, Samway?” asked Boldwood, somewhat sharply. “If you have anything to say, speak out; if not, get up another dance.”

“Mrs. Troy has come downstairs,” said Samway to Tall. “If you want to tell her, you had better do it now.”

“Do you know what they mean?” the farmer asked Bathsheba, across the room.

“I don’t in the least,” said Bathsheba.

There was a smart rapping at the door. One of the men opened it instantly, and went outside.

“Mrs. Troy is wanted,” he said, on returning.

“Quite ready,” said Bathsheba. “Though I didn’t tell them to send.”

“It is a stranger, ma’am,” said the man by the door.

“A stranger?” she said.

“Ask him to come in,” said Boldwood.

The message was given, and Troy, wrapped up to his eyes as we have seen him, stood in the doorway.

There was an unearthly silence, all looking towards the newcomer. Those who had just learnt that he was in the neighbourhood recognized him instantly; those who did not were perplexed. Nobody noted Bathsheba. She was leaning on the stairs. Her brow had heavily contracted; her whole face was pallid, her lips apart, her eyes rigidly staring at their visitor.

Boldwood was among those who did not notice that he was Troy. “Come in, come in!” he repeated, cheerfully, “and drain a Christmas beaker with us, stranger!”

Troy next advanced into the middle of the room, took off his cap, turned down his coat-collar, and looked Boldwood in the face. Even then Boldwood did not recognize that the impersonator of Heaven’s persistent irony towards him, who had once before broken in upon his bliss, scourged him, and snatched his delight away, had come to do these things a second time. Troy began to laugh a mechanical laugh: Boldwood recognized him now.

Troy turned to Bathsheba. The poor girl’s wretchedness at this time was beyond all fancy or narration. She had sunk down on the lowest stair; and there she sat, her mouth blue and dry, and her dark eyes fixed vacantly upon him, as if she wondered whether it were not all a terrible illusion.

Then Troy spoke. “Bathsheba, I come here for you!”

She made no reply.

“Come home with me: come!”

Bathsheba moved her feet a little, but did not rise. Troy went across to her.

“Come, madam, do you hear what I say?” he said, peremptorily.

A strange voice came from the fireplace — a voice sounding far off and confined, as if from a dungeon. Hardly a soul in the assembly recognized the thin tones to be those of Boldwood. Sudden dispaire had transformed him.

“Bathsheba, go with your husband!”

Nevertheless, she did not move. The truth was that Bathsheba was beyond the pale of activity — and yet not in a swoon. She was in a state of mental GUTTA SERENA; her mind was for the minute totally deprived of light at the same time no obscuration was apparent from without.

Troy stretched out his hand to pull her her towards him, when she quickly shrank back. This visible dread of him seemed to irritate Troy, and he seized her arm and pulled it sharply. Whether his grasp pinched her, or whether his mere touch was the cause, was never known, but at the moment of his seizure she writhed, and gave a quick, low scream.

The scream had been heard but a few seconds when it was followed by sudden deafening report that echoed through the room and stupefied them all. The oak partition shook with the concussion, and the place was filled with grey smoke.

In bewilderment they turned their eyes to Boldwood. At his back, as stood before the fireplace, was a gun-rack, as is usual in farmhouses, constructed to hold two guns. When Bathsheba had cried out in her husband’s grasp, Boldwood’s face of gnashing despair had changed. The veins had swollen, and a frenzied look had gleamed in his eye. He had turned quickly, taken one of the guns, cocked it, and at once discharged it at Troy.

Troy fell. The distance apart of the two men was so small that the charge of shot did not spread in the least, but passed like a bullet into his body. He uttered a long guttural sigh — there was a contraction — an extension — then his muscles relaxed, and he lay still.

Boldwood was seen through the smoke to be now again engaged with the gun. It was double-barrelled, and he had, meanwhile, in some way fastened his hand-kerchief to the trigger, and with his foot on the other end was in the act of turning the second barrel upon himself. Samway his man was the first to see this, and in the midst of the general horror darted up to him. Boldwood had already twitched the handkerchief, and the gun exploded a second time, sending its contents, by a timely blow from Samway, into the beam which crossed the ceiling.

“Well, it makes no difference!” Boldwood gasped. “There is another way for me to die.”

Then he broke from Samway, crossed the room to Bathsheba, and kissed her hand. He put on his hat, opened the door, and went into the darkness, nobody thinking of preventing him.

CHAPTER LIV

AFTER THE SHOCK

BOLDWOOD passed into the high road and turned in the direction of Casterbridge. Here he walked at an even, steady pace over Yalbury Hill, along the dead level beyond, mounted Mellstock Hill, and between eleven and twelve o’clock crossed the Moor into the town. The streets were nearly deserted now, and the waving lamp-flames only lighted up rows of grey shop-shutters, and strips of white paving upon which his step echoed as his passed along. He turned to the right, and halted before an archway of heavy stonework, which was closed by an iron studded pair of doors. This was the entrance to the gaol, and over it a lamp was fixed, the light enabling the wretched traveller to find a bell-pull.

The small wicket at last opened, and a porter appeared. Boldwood stepped forward, and said something in a low tone, when, after a delay, another man came. Boldwood entered, and the door was closed behind him, and he walked the world no more.

Long before this time Weatherbury had been thoroughly aroused, and the wild deed which had terminated Boldwood’s merrymaking became known to all. Of those out of the house Oak was one of the first to hear of the catastrophe, and when he entered the room, which was about five minutes after Boldwood’s exit, the scene was terrible. All the female guests were huddled aghast against the walls like sheep in a storm, and the men were bewildered as to what to do. As for Bathsheba, she had changed. She was sitting on the floor beside the body of Troy, his head pillowed in her lap, where she had herself lifted it. With one hand she held her handkerchief to his breast and covered the wound, though scarcely a single drop of blood had flowed, and with the other she tightly clasped one of his. The household convulsion had made her herself again. The temporary coma had ceased, and activity had come with the necessity for it. Deeds of endurance, which seem ordinary in philosophy, are rare in conduct, and Bathsheba was astonishing all around her now, for her philosophy was her conduct, and she seldom thought practicable what she did not practise. She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made. She was indispensable to high generation, hated at tea parties, feared in shops, and loved at crises. Troy recumbent in his wife’s lap formed now the sole spectacle in the middle of the spacious room.

“Gabriel,” she said, automatically, when he entered, turning up a face of which only the wellknown lines remained to tell him it was hers, all else in the picture having faded quite. “Ride to Casterbridge instantly for a surgeon. It is, I believe, useless, but go. Mr. Boldwood has shot my husband.”

Her statement of the fact in such quiet and simple words came with more force than a tragic declamation, and had somewhat the effect of setting the distorted images in each mind present into proper focus. Oak, almost before he had comprehended anything beyond the briefest abstract of the event, hurried out of the room, saddled a horse and rode away. Not till he had ridden more than a mile did it occur to him that he would have done better by sending some other man on this errand, remaining himself in the house. What had become of Boldwood? He should have been looked after. Was he mad — had there been a quarrel? Then how had Troy got there? Where had he come from? How did this remarkable reappearance effect itself when he was supposed by many to be at the bottom of the sea? Oak had in some slight measure been prepared for the presence of Troy by hearing a rumour of his return just before entering Boldwood’s house; but before he had weighed that information, this fatal event had been superimposed. However, it was too late now to think of sending another messenger, and he rode on, in the excitement of these self-inquiries not discerning, when about three miles from Casterbridge, a square-figured pedestrian passing along under the dark hedge in the same direction as his own.

The miles necessary to be traversed, and other hindrances incidental to the lateness of the hour and the darkness of the night, delayed the arrival of Mr. Aldritch, the surgeon; and more than three hours passed between the time at which the shot was fired and that of his entering the house. Oak was additionally detained in Casterbridge through having to give notice to the authorities of what had happened; and he then found that Boldwood had also entered the town, and delivered himself up.

In the meantime the surgeon, having hastened into the hall at Boldwood’s, found it in darkness and quite deserted. He went on to the back of the house, where he discovered in the kitchen an old man, of whom he made inquiries.

“She’s had him took away to her own house, sir,” said his informant.

“Who has?” said the doctor.

“Mrs. Troy. ‘A was quite dead, sir.”

This was astonishing information. “She had no right to do that,” said the doctor. “There will have to be an inquest, and she should have waited to know what to do.”

“Yes, sir; it was hinted to her that she had better wait till the law was known. But she said law was nothing to her, and she wouldn’t let her dear husband’s corpse bide neglected for folks to stare at for all the crowners in England.”

Mr. Aldritch drove at once back again up the hill to Bathsheba’s. The first person he met was poor Liddy, who seemed literally to have dwindled smaller in these few latter hours. “What has been done?” he said.

“I don’t know, sir,” said Liddy, with suspended breath. “My mistress has done it all.”

“Where is she?”

“Upstairs with him, sir. When he was brought home and taken upstairs, she said she wanted no further help from the men. And then she called me, and made me fill the bath, and after that told me I had better go and lie down because I looked so ill. Then she locked herself into the room alone with him, and would not let a nurse come in, or anybody at all. But I thought I’d wait in the next room in case she should want me. I heard her moving about inside for more than an hour, but she only came out once, and that was for more candles, because hers had burnt down into the socket. She said we were to let her know when you or Mr. Thirdly came, sir.”

Oak entered with the parson at this moment, and they all went upstairs together, preceded by Liddy Smallbury. Everything was silent as the grave when they paused on the landing. Liddy knocked, and Bathsheba’s dress was heard rustling across the room: the key turned in the lock, and she opened the door. Her looks were calm and nearly rigid, like a slightly animated bust of Melpomene.

“Oh, Mr. Aldritch, you have come at last,” she murmured from her lips merely, and threw back the door. “Ah, and Mr. Thirdly. Well, all is done, and anybody in the world may see him now.” She then passed by him, crossed the landing, and entered another room.

Looking into the chamber of death she had vacated they saw by the light of the candles which were on the drawers a tall straight shape lying at the further end of the bedroom, wrapped in white. Everything around was quite orderly. The doctor went in, and after a few minutes returned to the landing again, where Oak and the parson still waited.

“It is all done, indeed, as she says,” remarked Mr. Aldritch, in a subdued voice. “The body has been undressed and properly laid out in grave clothes. Gracious Heaven — this mere girl! She must have the nerve of a stoic!”

“The heart of a wife merely,” floated in a whisper about the ears of the three, and turning they saw Bathsheba in the midst of them. Then, as if at that instant to prove that her fortitude had been more of will than of spontaneity, she silently sank down between them and was a shapeless heap of drapery on the floor. The simple consciousness that superhuman strain was no longer required had at once put a period to her power to continue it.

They took her away into a further room, and the medical attendance which had been useless in Troy’s case was invaluable in Bathsheba’s, who fell into a series of fainting-fits that had a serious aspect for a time. The sufferer was got to bed, and Oak, finding from the bulletins that nothing really dreadful was to be apprehended on her score, left the house. Liddy kept watch in Bathsheba’s chamber, where she heard her mistress, moaning in whispers through the dull slow hours of that wretched night: “Oh it is my fault — how can I live! O Heaven, how can I live!”

CHAPTER LV

THE MARCH FOLLOWING — “BATHSHEBA BOLDWOOD”

WE pass rapidly on into the month of March, to a breezy day without sunshine, frost, or dew. On Yalbury Hill, about midway between Weatherbury and Casterbridge, where the turnpike road passes over the crest, a numerous concourse of people had gathered, the eyes of the greater number being frequently stretched afar in a northerly direction. The groups consisted of a throng of idlers, a party of javelin- men, and two trumpeters, and in the midst were carriages, one of which contained the high sheriff. With the idlers, many of whom had mounted to the top of a cutting formed for the road, were several Weatherbury men and boys — among others Poorgrass, Coggan, and Cain Ball.

At the end of half-an-hour a faint dust was seen in the expected quarter, and shortly after a travelling-carriage, bringing one of the two judges on the Western Circuit, came up the hill and halted on the top. The judge changed carriages whilst a flourish was blown by the big-cheeked trumpeters, and a procession being formed of the vehicles and javelin-men, they all proceeded towards the town, excepting the Weatherbury men, who as soon as they had seen the judge move off returned home again to their work.

“Joseph, I seed you squeezing close to the carriage,” said Coggan, as they walked. “Did ye notice my lord judge’s face?”

“I did,” said Poorgrass. “I looked hard at en, as if I would read his very soul; and there was mercy in his eyes — or to speak with the exact truth required of us at this solemn time, in the eye that was towards me.”

“Well, I hope for the best,” said Coggan, “though bad that must be. However, I shan’t go to the trial, and I’d advise the rest of ye that bain’t wanted to bide away. ‘Twill disturb his mind more than anything to see us there staring at him as if he were a show.”

“The very thing I said this morning,” observed Joseph, “‘Justice is come to weigh him in the balances,’ I said in my reflectious way, ‘and if he’s found wanting, so be it unto him,’ and a bystander said ‘Hear, hear! A man who can talk like that ought to be heard.’ But I don’t like dwelling upon it, for my few words are my few words, and not much; though the speech of some men is rumoured abroad as though by nature formed for such.”

“So ’tis, Joseph. And now, neighbours, as I said, every man bide at home.”

The resolution was adhered to; and all waited anxiously for the news next day. Their suspense was diverted, however, by a discovery which was made in the afternoon, throwing more light on Boldwood’s conduct and condition than any details which had preceded it.

That he had been from the time of Greenhill Fair until the fatal Christmas Eve in excited and unusual moods was known to those who had been intimate with him; but nobody imagined that there had shown in him unequivocal symptoms of the mental derangement which Bathsheba and Oak, alone of all others and at different times, had momentarily suspected. In a locked closet was now discovered an extraordinary collection of articles. There were several sets of ladies’ dresses in the piece, of sundry expensive materials; silks and satins, poplins and velvets, all of colours which from Bathsheba’s style of dress might have been judged to be her favourites. There were two muffs, sable and ermine. Above all there was a case of jewellery, containing four heavy gold bracelets and several lockets and rings, all of fine quality and manufacture. These things had been bought in Bath and other towns from time to time, and brought home by stealth. They were all carefully packed in paper, and each package was labelled “Bathsheba Boldwood,” a date being subjoined six years in advance in every instance.

These somewhat pathetic evidences of a mind crazed with care and love were the subject of discourse in Warren’s malt- house when Oak entered from Casterbridge with tidings of sentence. He came in the afternoon, and his face, as the kiln glow shone upon it, told the tale sufficiently well. Boldwood, as every one supposed he would do, had pleaded guilty, and had been sentenced to death.

The conviction that Boldwood had not been morally responsible for his later acts now became general. Facts elicited previous to the trial had pointed strongly in the same direction, but they had not been of sufficient weight to lead to an order for an examination into the state of Boldwood’s mind. It was astonishing, now that a presumption of insanity was raised, how many collateral circumstances were remembered to which a condition of mental disease seemed to afford the only explanation — among others, the unprecedented neglect of his corn stacks in the previous summer.

A petition was addressed to the Home Secretary, advancing the circumstances which appeared to justify a request for a reconsideration of the sentence. It was not “numerously signed” by the inhabitants of Casterbridge, as is usual in such cases, for Boldwood had never made many friends over the counter. The shops thought it very natural that a man who, by importing direct from the producer, had daringly set aside the first great principle of provincial existence, namely that God made country villages to supply customers to county towns, should have confused ideas about the Decalogue. The prompters were a few merciful men who had perhaps too feelingly considered the facts latterly unearthed, and the result was that evidence was taken which it was hoped might remove the crime in a moral point of view, out of the category of wilful murder, and lead it to be regarded as a sheer outcome of madness.

The upshot of the petition was waited for in Weatherbury with solicitous interest. The execution had been fixed for eight o’clock on a Saturday morning about a fortnight after the sentence was passed, and up to Friday afternoon no answer had been received. At that time Gabriel came from Casterbridge Gaol, whither he had been to wish Boldwood good-bye, and turned down a by-street to avoid the town. When past the last house he heard a hammering, and lifting his bowed head he looked back for a moment. Over the chimneys he could see the upper part of the gaol entrance, rich and glowing in the afternoon sun, and some moving figures were there. They were carpenters lifting a post into a vertical position within the parapet. He withdrew his eyes quickly, and hastened on.

It was dark when he reached home, and half the village was out to meet him.

“No tidings,” Gabriel said, wearily. “And I’m afraid there’s no hope. I’ve been with him more than two hours.”

“Do ye think he REALLY was out of his mind when he did it?” said Smallbury.

“I can’t honestly say that I do,” Oak replied. “However, that we can talk of another time. Has there been any change in mistress this afternoon?”

“None at all.”

“Is she downstairs?”

“No. And getting on so nicely as she was too. She’s but very little better now again than she was at Christmas. She keeps on asking if you be come, and if there’s news, till

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