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CHAPTER XXXI



BLAME -- FURY


THE next evening Bathsheba, with the idea of getting
out of the way of Mr. Boldwood in the event of his
returning to answer her note in person, proceeded to
fulfil an engagement made with Liddy some few hours
earlier. Bathsheba's companion, as a gage of their
reconciliation, had been granted a week's holiday to
visit her sister, who was married to a thriving hurdler
and cattle-crib-maker living in a delightful labyrinth of
hazel copse not far beyond Yalbury. The arrangement
was that Miss Everdene should honour them by coming
there for a day or two to inspect some ingenious con-
trivances which this man of the woods had introduced
into his wares.
Leaving her instructions with Gabriel and Maryann,
that they were to see everything carefully locked up for
the night, she went out of the house just at the close of
a timely thunder-shower, which had refined the air, and
daintily bathed the coat of the land, though all beneath
was dry as ever. Freshness was exhaled in an essence
from the varied contours of bank and hollow, as if the
earth breathed maiden breath; and the pleased birds
were hymning to the scene. Before her, among the
clouds, there was a contrast in the shape of lairs of
fierce light which showed themselves in the neighbour-
hood of a hidden sun, lingering on to the farthest north-
west corner of the heavens that this midsummer season
allowed.
She had walked nearly two miles of her journey,
watching how the day was retreating, and thinking how
the time of deeds was quietly melting into the time of
thought, to give place in its turn to the time of prayer
and sleep, when she beheld advancing over Yalbury hill
the very man she sought so anxiously to elude. Boldwood
was stepping on, not with that quiet tread of reserved
strength which was his customary gait, in which he
always seemed to be balancing two thoughts. His
manner was stunned and sluggish now.
Boldwood had for the first time been awakened to
woman's privileges in tergiversation even when it involves
another person's possible blight. That Bathsheba was
a firm and positive girl, far less inconsequent than her
fellows, had been the very lung of his hope; for he had
held that these qualities would lead her to adhere to a
straight course for consistency's sake, and accept him,
though her fancy might not flood him with the iridescent
hues of uncritical love. But the argument now came
back as sorry gleams from a broken mirror. The dis-
covery was no less a scourge than a surprise.
He came on looking upon the ground, and did not
see Bathsheba till they were less than a stone's throw
apart. He looked up at the sound of her pit-pat, and
his changed appearance sufficiently denoted to her the
depth and strength of the feelings paralyzed by her
letter.
"Oh; is it you, Mr. Boldwood?" she faltered, a guilty
warmth pulsing in her face.
Those who have the power of reproaching in silence
may find it a means more effective than words. There
are accents in the eye which are not on the tongue, and
more tales come from pale lips than can enter an ear.
It is both the grandeur and the pain of the remoter
moods that they avoid the pathway of sound. Bold-
wood's look was unanswerable.
Seeing she turned a little aside, he said, "What, are
you afraid of me?"
Why should you say that?" said Bathsheba.
"I fancied you looked so." said he. "And it is most
strange, because of its contrast with my feeling for you.
She regained self-possession, fixed her eyes calmly,
and waited.
"You know what that feeling is." continued Boldwood,
deliberately. "A thing strong as death. No dismissal
by a hasty letter affects that."
"I wish you did not feel so strongly about me." she
murmured. "It is generous of you, and more than I
deserve, but I must not hear it now."
"Hear it? What do you think I have to say, then?
I am not to marry you, and that's enough. Your letter
was excellently plain. I want you to hear nothing --
not I."
Bathsheba was unable to direct her will into any
definite groove for freeing herself from this fearfully
and was moving on. Boldwood walked up to her heavily
and dully.
"Bathsheba -- darling -- is it final indeed?"
"Indeed it is."
"O, Bathsheba -- have pity upon me!" Boldwood
burst out. "God's sake, yes -- I am come to that low,
lowest stage -- to ask a woman for pity! Still, she is
you -- she is you."
Bathsheba commanded herself well. But she could
hardly get a clear voice for what came instinctively to
her lips: "There is little honour to the woman in that
speech." It was only whispered, for something unutter-
ably mournful no less than distressing in this spectacle
of a man showing himself to be so entirely the vane of a
passion enervated the feminine instinct for punctilios.
"I am beyond myself about this, and am mad." he
said. "I am no stoic at all to he supplicating here; but
I do supplicate to you. I wish you knew what is in
me of devotion to you; but it is impossible, that. In
bare human mercy to a lonely man, don't throw me off
now!"
"I don't throw you off -- indeed, how can I? I never
had you." In her noon-clear sense that she had never
loved him she forgot for a moment her thoughtless angle
on that day in February.
"But there was a time when you turned to me,
before I thought of you! I don't reproach you, for
even now I feel that the ignorant and cold darkness
that I should have lived in if you had not attracted me
by that letter -- valentine you call it -- would have been
worse than my knowledge of you, though it has brought
this misery. But, I say, there was a time when I knew
nothing of you, and cared nothing for you, and yet you
drew me on. And if you say you gave me no en-
couragement, I cannot but contradict you."
"What you call encouragement was the childish
game of an idle minute. I have bitterly repented of it
-- ay, bitterly, and in tears. Can you still go on re-
minding me?"
"I don't accuse you of it -- I deplore it. I took for
earnest what you insist was jest, and now this that I
pray to be jest you say is awful, wretched earnest. Our
moods meet at wrong places. I wish your feeling was
more like mine, or my feeling more like yours! O,
could I but have foreseen the torture that trifling trick
was going to lead me into, how I should have cursed
you; but only having been able to see it since, I cannot
do that, for I love you too well! But it is weak, idle
drivelling to go on like this.... Bathsheba, you are
the first woman of any shade or nature that I have ever
looked at to love, and it is the having been so near
claiming you for my own that makes this denial so hard
to bear. How nearly you promised me! But I don't
speak now to move your heart, and make you grieve
because of my pain; it is no use, that. I must bear it;
my pain would get no less by paining you."
"But I do pity you -- deeply -- O so deeply!" she
earnestly said.
"Do no such thing -- do no such thing. Your dear
love, Bathsheba, is such a vast thing beside your pity,
that the loss of your pity as well as your love is no great
addition to my sorrow, nor does the gain of your pity
make it sensibly less. O sweet -- how dearly you
spoke to me behind the spear-bed at the washing-pool,
and in the barn at the shearing, and that dearest last
time in the evening at your home! Where are your
pleasant words all gone -- your earnest hope to be able
to love me? Where is your firm conviction that you
would get to care for me very much? Really forgotten?
-- really?"
She checked emotion, looked him quietly and clearly
in the face, and said in her low, firm voice, " Mr. Bold-
wood, I promised you nothing. Would you have had
me a woman of clay when you paid me that furthest,
highest compliment a man can pay a woman -- telling
her he loves her? I was bound to show some feeling,
if l would not be a graceless shrew. Yet each of those
pleasures was just for the day -- the day just for the
pleasure. How was I to know that what is a pastime
to all other men was death to you? Have reason, do,
and think more kindly of me!"
"Well, never mind arguing -- never mind. One
thing is sure: you were all but mine, and now you are
not nearly mine. Everything is changed, and that by
you alone, remember. You were nothing to me once,
and I was contented; you are now nothing to me again,
and how different the second nothing is from the first!
Would to God you had never taken me up, since it was
only to throw me down!"
Bathsheba, in spite of her mettle, began to feel un-
mistakable signs that she was inherently the weaker
vessel. She strove miserably against this feminity
which would insist upon supplying unbidden emotions
in stronger and stronger current. She had tried to
elude agitation by fixing her mind on the trees, sky, any
trivial object before her eyes, whilst his reproaches fell,
but ingenuity could not save her now.
"I did not take you up -- surely I did not!" she
answered as heroically as she could. "But don't be in
this mood with me. I can endure being told I am in
the wrong, if you will only tell it me gently! O sir,
will you not kindly forgive me, and look at it
cheerfully?"
"Cheerfully! Can a man fooled to utter heart-
burning find a reason for being merry> If I have lost,
how can I be as if I had won? Heavens you must be
heartless quite! Had I known what a fearfully bitter
sweet this was to be, how would I have avoided you,
and never seen you, and been deaf of you. I tell you
all this, but what do you care! You don't care."
She returned silent and weak denials to his charges,
and swayed her head desperately, as if to thrust away
the words as they came showering about her ears from
the lips of the trembling man in the climax of life, with
his bronzed Roman face and fine frame.
"Dearest, dearest, I am wavering even now between
the two opposites of recklessly renouncing you, and
labouring humbly for you again. Forget that you have
said No, and let it be as it was! Say, Bathsheba, that
you only wrote that refusal to me in fun -- come, say it
to me!"
"It would be untrue, and painful to both of us. You
overrate my capacity for love. I don't possess half
the warmth of nature you believe me to have. An un-
protected childhood in a cold world has beaten gentle-
ness out of me."
He immediately said with more resentment: "That
may be true, somewhat; but ah, Miss Everdene, it won't
do as a reason! You are not the cold woman you
would have me believe. No, no! It isn't because you
have no feeling in you that you don't love me. You
naturally would have me think so -- you would hide from
that you have a burning heart like mine. You have
love enough, but it is turned into a new channel. I
know where."
The swift music of her heart became hubbub now,
and she throbbed to extremity. He was coming to
Troy. He did then know what had occurred! And
the name fell from his lips the next moment.
"Why did Troy not leave my treasure alone?" he
asked, fiercely. "When I had no thought of injuring
him, why did he force himself upon your notice!
Before he worried you your inclination was to have me;
when next I should have come to you your answer
would have been Yes. Can you deny it -- I ask, can
you deny it?"
She delayed the reply, but was to honest to with
hold it." I cannot." she whispered.
"I know you cannot. But he stole in in my absence
and robbed me. Why did't he win you away before,
when nobody would have been grieved? -- when nobody
would have been set tale-bearing. Now the people
sneer at me -- the very hills and sky seem to laugh at
me till I blush shamefuly for my folly. I have lost my
respect, my good name, my standing -- lost it, never to
get it again. Go and marry your man -- go on!"
"O sir -- Mr. Boldwood!"
"You may as well. I have no further claim upon you.
As for me, I had better go somewhere alone, and hide --
and pray. I loved a woman once. I am now ashamed.
When I am dead they'll say, Miserable love-sick man
that he was. Heaven -- heaven -- if I had got jilted
secretly, and the dishonour not known, and my position
kept! But no matter, it is gone, and the woman not
gained. Shame upon him -- shame!"
His unreasonable anger terrified her, and she glided
from him, without obviously moving, as she said, "I am
only a girl -- do not speak to me so!"
"All the time you knew -- how very well you knew --
that your new freak was my misery. Dazzled by brass
and scarlet -- O, Bathsheba -- this is woman's folly
indeed!"
She fired up at once. "You are taking too much
upon yourself!" she said, vehemently. "Everybody is
upon me -- everybody. It is unmanly to attack a
woman so! I have nobody in the world to fight my
battles for me; but no mercy is shown. Yet if a
thousand of you sneer and say things against me, I WILL
NOT be put down!"
"You'll chatter with him doubtless about me. Say to
him, "Boldwood would have died for me." Yes, and
you have given way to him, knowing him to be not the
man for you. He has kissed you -- claimed you as his.
Do you hear -- he has kissed you. Deny it!"
The most tragic woman is cowed by a tragic man,
and although Boldwood was, in vehemence and glow,
nearly her own self rendered into another sex,
Bathsheba's cheek quivered. She gasped," Leave me,
sir -- leave me! I am nothing to you. Let me go on!"
"Deny that he has kissed you."
"I shall not."
"Ha -- then he has!" came hoarsely from the farmer.
"He has," she said, slowly, and, in spite of her fear,
defiantly. "I am not ashamed to speak the truth."
"Then curse him; and curse him!" said Boldwood,
breaking into a whispered fury." Whilst I would have
given worlds to touch your hand, you have let a rake come
in without right or ceremony and -- kiss you! Heaven's
mercy -- kiss you! ... Ah, a time of his life shall come
when he will have to repent, and think wretchedly of
the pain he has caused another man; and then may he
ache, and wish, and curse, and yearn -- as I do now!"
"Don't, don't, O, don't pray down evil upon him!"
she implored in a miserable cry. "Anything but that --
anything. O, be kind to him, sir, for I love him true ."
Boldwood's ideas had reached that point of fusion at
which outline and consistency entirely disappear. The
impending night appeared to concentrate in his eye.
He did not hear her at all now.
"I'll punish him -- by my soul, that will I! I'll meet
him, soldier or no, and I'll horsewhip the untimely
stripling for this reckless theft of my one delight. If he
were a hundred men I'd horsewhip him -- --" He
dropped his voice suddenly and unnaturally. "Bath-
sheba, sweet, lost coquette, pardon me! I've been
blaming you, threatening you, behaving like a churl to
you, when he's the greatest sinner. He stole your dear
heart away with his unfathomable lies! ... lt is a
fortunate thing for him that he's gone back to his
regiment -- that he's away up the country, and not here!
I hope he may not return here just yet. I pray God
he may not come into my sight, for I may be tempted
beyond myself. O, Bathsheba, keep him away -- yes,
keep him away from me!"
For a moment Boldwood stood so inertly after this
that his soul seemed to have been entirely exhaled with
the breath of his passionate words. He turned his face
away, and withdrew, and his form was soon covered over
by the twilight as his footsteps mixed in with the low
hiss of the leafy trees.
Bathsheba, who had been standing motionless as a
model all this latter time, flung her hands to her face,
and wildly attempted to ponder on the exhibition which
had just passed away. Such astounding wells of fevered
feeling in a still man like Mr. Boldwood were incompre-
hensible, dreadful. Instead of being a man trained to
repression he was -- what she had seen him.
The force of the farmer's threats lay in their relation to a
circumstance known at present only to herself: her lover was
coming back to Weatherby in the course of the very next
day or two. Troy had not returned to his distant barracks as
Boldwood and others supposed, but had merely gone to visit
some acquaintance in Bath, and had yet a week or more
remaining to his furlough.
She felt wretchedly certain that if he revisited her just at
this nick of time, and came into contact with Boldwood,a
fierce quarrel would be the consequence. She panted with
solicitude when she thought of possible injury to Troy. The
least spark would kindle the farmer's swift feelings of rage
and jealousy; he would lose his self-mastery as he had this
evening; Troy's blitheness might become aggressive; it might
take the direction of derision, and Boldwood's anger might
then take the direction of revenge.
With almost a morbid dread of being thought a gushing
girl, this guileless woman too well concealed from the world
under a manner of carelessness the warm depths of her strong
emotions. But now there was no reserve. In fer
her distraction, instead of advancing further she
walked up and down, beating
the air with her fingers, pressing on her brow, and sobbing
brokenly to herself. Then she sat down on a heap of stones by
the wayside to think. There she remained long. Above the
dark margin of the earth appeared foreshores and promontor-
ies of coppery cloud,bounding a green and pellucid expanse
in the western sky. Amaranthine glosses came over them then,
and the unresting world wheeled her round to a contrasting
prospect eastward, in the shape of indecisive and palpitating
stars. She gazed upon their silent throes amid the shades of
space, but realised none at all. Her troubled spirit was far
away with Troy.





Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Literature
 
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