eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER XIII



SORTES SANCTORUM -- THE VALENTINE


IT was Sunday afternoon in the farmhouse, on the
thirteenth of February. Dinner being over, Bathsheba,
for want of a better companion, had asked Liddy to
come and sit with her. The mouldy pile was dreary
in winter-time before the candles were lighted and the
shutters closed; the atmosphere of the place seemed
as old as the walls; every nook behind the furniture
had a temperature of its own, for the fire was not
kindled in this part of the house early in the day;
and Bathsheba's new piano, which was an old one
in other annals, looked particularly sloping and out
of level on the warped floor before night threw a
shade over its less prominent angles and hid the
unpleasantness. Liddy, like a little brook, though
shallow, was always rippling; her presence had not so
much weight as to task thought, and yet enough to
exercise it.
On the table lay an old quarto Bible, bound in
leather. Liddy looking at it said, --
"Did you ever find out, miss, who you are going to
marry by means of the Bible and key?,
"Don't be so foolish, Liddy. As if such things
could be."
"Well, there's a good deal in it, all the same."
"Nonsense, child."
"And it makes your heart beat fearful. Some believe
in it; some don't; I do."
"Very well, let's try it." said Bathsheba, bounding
from her seat with that total disregard of consistency
which can be indulged in towards a dependent, and
entering into the spirit of divination at once. "Go and
get the front door key."
Liddy fetched it. "I wish it wasn't Sunday." she
said, on returning." Perhaps 'tis wrong."
"What's right week days is right Sundays." replied her
mistress in a tone which was a proof in itself.
The book was opened -- the leaves, drab with age,
being quite worn away at much-read verses by the fore"
fingers "of unpractised readers in former days, where they
were moved along under the line as an aid to the vision.
The special verse in the Book of Ruth was sought out
by Bathsheba, and the sublime words met her eye. They
slightly thrilled and abashed her. It was Wisdom in
the abstract facing Folly in the concrete. Folly in the
concrete blushed, persisted in her intention, and placed
the key on -the book. A rusty patch immediately upon
the verse, caused by previous pressure of an iron
substance thereon, told that this was not the first time
the old volume had been used for the purpose.
"Now keep steady, and be silent." said Bathsheba.
The 'verse was repeated; the book turned round;
Bathsheba blushed guiltily.
"Who did you try?" said Liddy curiously.
"I shall not tell you."
"Did you notice Mr. Boldwood's doings in church
this morning, miss?"Liddy continued, adumbrating by
the remark the track her thoughts had taken.
"No, indeed." said Bathsheba, with serene indifference
"His pew is exactly opposite yours, miss."
"I know it."
"And you did not see his goings on!,"
Certainly I did not, I tell you."
Liddy assumed a smaller physiognomy, and shut
her lips decisively.
This move was unexpected, and proportionately dis
concerting. "What did he do?" Bathsheba said perforce.
"Didn't turn his head to look at you once all the
service.
"Why should he?" again demanded her mistress,
wearing a nettled look. "I didn't ask him to.
"Oh no. But everybody else was noticing you; and
it was odd he didn't. There, 'tis like him. Rich and
gentlemanly, what does he care?"
Bathsheba dropped into a silence intended to ex-
press that she had opinions on the matter too abstruse
for Liddy's comprehension, rather than that she had
nothing to say.
"Dear me -- I had nearly forgotten the valentine
I bought yesterday." she exclaimed at length.
"Valentine! who for, miss?" said Liddy. "Farmer
Boldwood?"
It was the single name among all possible wrong
ones that just at this moment seemed to Bathsheba
more pertinent than the right.
"Well, no. It is only for little Teddy Coggan.
have promised him something, and this will be a pretty
surprise for him. Liddy, you may as well bring me
my desk and I'll direct it at once."
Bathsheba took from her desk a gorgeously illumin-
ated and embossed design in post-octavo, which had
been "bought on the previous market-day at the chief
stationer's in Casterbridge. In the centre was a small
oval enclosure; this was left blank, that the sender
might insert tender words more appropriate to the
special occasion than any generalities by a printer
could possibly be.
"Here's a place for writing." said Bathsheba. "What
shall I put?"
"Something of this sort, I should think', returned
Liddy promptly: --
"The rose is red,
The violet blue,
Carnation's sweet,
And so are you."
"Yes, that shall be it. It just suits itself to a chubby-
faced child like him." said Bathsheba. She inserted the
words in a small though legible handwriting; enclosed
the sheet in an envelope, and dipped her pen for the
direction.
"What fun it would be to send it to the stupid old
Boldwood, and how he would wonder!" said the
irrepressible Liddy, lifting her eyebrows, and indulging
in an awful mirth on the verge of fear as she thought
of the moral and social magnitude of the man contem-
plated.
Bathsheba paused to regard the idea at full length.
Boldwood's had begun to be a troublesome image -- a
species of Daniel in her kingdom who persisted in
kneeling eastward when reason and common sense
said that he might just as well follow suit with the
rest, and afford her the official glance of admiration
which cost nothing at all. She was far from being
seriously concerned about his nonconformity. Still,
it was faintly depressing that the most dignified and
valuable man in the parish should withhold his eyes,
and that a girl like Liddy should talk about it. So
Liddy's idea was at first rather harassing than piquant.
"No, I won't do that. He wouldn't see any humour
in it."
"He'd worry to death." said the persistent Liddy.
"Really, I don't care particularly to send it to
Teddy." remarked her mistress. "He's rather a naughty
child sometimes."
"Yes -- that he is."
"Let's toss as men do." said Bathsheba, idly. "Now
then, head, Boldwood; tail, Teddy. No, we won't toss
money on a Sunday that would be tempting the devil
indeed."
"Toss this hymn-book; there can't be no sinfulness
in that, miss."
"Very well. Open, Boldwood -- shut, Teddy. No;
it's more likely to fall open. Open, Teddy -- shut,
Boldwood."
The book went fluttering in the air and came down shut.
Bathsheba, a small yawn upon her mouth, took the
pen, and with off-hand serenity directed the missive to
Boldwood.
"Now light a candle, Liddy. Which seal shall we
use? Here's a unicorn's head -- there's nothing in
that. What's this? -- two doves -- no. It ought to be
something extraordinary, ought it not, Liddy? Here's
one with a motto -- I remember it is some funny one,
but I can't read it. We'll try this, and if it doesn't
do we'll have another."
A large red seal was duly affixed. Bathsheba looked
closely at the hot wax to discover the words.
"Capital!" she exclaimed, throwing down the letter
frolicsomely. "'Twould upset the solemnity of a parson
The same evening the letter was sent, and was duly
returned to Weatherbury again in the morning.
Of love as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge;
but of love subjectively she knew nothing.





Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Literature
 
Send this page to a friend
Nabou.com: the big site