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CHAPTER XXXIX



COMING HOME -- A CRY


ON the turnpike road, between Casterbridge and
Weatherbury, and about three miles from the former
which pervade the highways of this undulating part of
South Wessex. I returning from market it is usual
for the farmers and other gig-gentry to alight at the
bottom and walk up.
One Saturday evening in the month of October
Bathsheba's vehicle was duly creeping up this incline.
She was sitting listlessly in the second seat of the gig,
whilst walking beside her in farmer's marketing suit
of unusually fashionable cut was an erect, well-made
young man. Though on foot, he held the reins and
whip, and occasionally aimed light cuts at the horse's
ear with the end of the lash, as a recreation. This
man was her husband, formerly Sergeant Troy, who,
having bought his discharge with Bathsheba's money,
was gradually transforming himself into a farmer of a
spirited and very modern school. People of unalter-
able ideas still insisted upon calling him "Sergeant"
hen they met him, which was in some degree owing
to his having still retained the well-shaped moustache
of his military days, and the soldierly bearing insepar-
able from his form and training.
"Yes, if it hadn't been for that wretched rain I
should have cleared two hundred as easy as looking,
my love." he was saying. "Don't you see, it altered
all the chances? To speak like a book I once read,
wet weather is the narrative, and fine days are the
episodes, of our country's history; now, isn't that
true?"
"But the time of year is come for changeable weather."
"Well, yes. The fact is, these autumn races are the
ruin of everybody. Never did I see such a day as 'twas!
'Tis a wild open place, just out of Budmouth, and a
drab sea rolled in towards us like liquid misery. Wind
and rain -- good Lord! Dark? Why, 'twas as black
as my hat before the last race was run. 'Twas five
o'clock, and you couldn't see the horses till they were
almost in, leave alone colours. The ground was as
heavy as lead, and all judgment from a fellow's experi-
ence went for nothing. Horses, riders, people, were
all blown about like ships at sea. Three booths were
blown over, and the wretched folk inside crawled out
upon their hands and knees; and in the next field
were as many as a dozen hats at one time. Aye,
Pimpernel regularly stuck fast, when about sixty yards
off, and when I saw Policy stepping on, it did knock
my heart against the lining of my ribs, I assure you,
my love!"
"And you mean, Frank." said Bathsheba, sadly --
her voice was painfully lowered from the fulness and
vivacity of the previous summer -- "that you have lost
more than a hundred pounds in a month by this
dreadful horse-racing? O, Frank, it is cruel; it is
foolish of you to take away my money so. We shall
have to leave the farm; that will be the end of it!"
"Humbug about cruel. Now, there 'tis again --
turn on the waterworks; that's just like you."
"But you'll promise me not to go to Budmouth
second meeting, won't you?" she implored. Bathsheba
was at the full depth for tears, but she maintained a
dry eye.
"I don't see why I should; in fact, if it turns out to
be a fine day, I was thinking of taking you."
"Never, never! I'll go a hundred miles the other
way first. I hate the sound of the very word!"
"But the question of going to see the race or staying
at home has very little to do with the matter. Bets are
all booked safely enough before the race begins, you
may depend. Whether it is a bad race for me or a
good one, will have very little to do with our going
there next Monday."
"But you don't mean to say that you have risked
anything on this one too!" she exclaimed, with an
agonized look.
"There now, don't you be a little fool. Wait till you
are told. Why, Bathsheba, you have lost all the pluck
and sauciness you formerly had, and upon my life if I
had known what a chicken-hearted creature you were
under all your boldness, I'd never have-i know what."
A flash of indignation might have been seen in
Bathsheba's dark eyes as she looked resolutely ahead
after this reply. They moved on without further
speech, some early-withered leaves from the trees which
hooded the road at this spot occasionally spinning
downward across their path to the earth.
A woman appeared on the brow of the hill. The
ridge was in a cutting, so that she was very near the
husband and wife before she became visible. Troy had
turned towards the gig to remount, and whilst putting
his foot on the step-the woman passed behind him.
Though the overshadowing trees and the approach
of eventide enveloped them in gloom, Bathsheba could
see plainly enough to discern the extreme poverty of
the woman's garb, and the sadness of her face.
"Please, sir, do you know at what time Casterbridge
Union-house closes at night?"
The woman said these words to Troy over his
shoulder.
Troy started visibly at the sound of the voice; yet
he seemed to recover presence of mind sufficient to
prevent himself from giving way to his impulse to
suddenly turn and face her. He said, slowly --
"I don't know."
The woman, on hearing him speak, quickly looked
up, examined the side of his face, and recognized the
soldier under the yeoman's garb. Her face was drawn
into an expression which had gladness and agony both
among its elements. She uttered an hysterical cry,
and fell down.
"O, poor thing!" exclaimed Bathsheba, instantly
preparing to alight.
"Stay where you are, and attend to the horse!"
said Troy, peremptorily throwing her the reins and
the whip. "Walk the horse to the top: I'll see to
the woman."
"But I -- "
"Do you hear? Clk -- Poppet!"
The horse, gig, and Bathsheba moved on.
"How on earth did you come here? I thought
you were miles away, or dead! Why didn't you
write to me?" said Troy to the woman, in a strangely
gentle, yet hurried voice, as he lifted her up.
"I feared to."
"Have you any money?"
"None."
"Good Heaven -- I wish I had more to give you!
Here's -- wretched -- the merest trifle. It is every
farthing I have left. I have none but what my wife
gives me, you know, and I can't ask her now."
he woman made no answer.
"I have only another moment." continued Troy;
"and now listen. Where are you going to-night?
Casterbridge Union?"
"Yes; I thought to go there."
"You shan't go there; yet, wait. Yes, perhaps for
to-night; I can do nothing better -- worse luck! Sleep
there to-night, and stay there to-morrow. Monday is
the first free day I have; and on Monday morning,
at ten exactly, meet me on Grey's Bridge just out of the
town. I'll bring all the money I can muster. You
shan't want-i'll see that, Fanny; then I'll get you a
lodging somewhere. Good-bye till then. I am a brute
-- but good-bye!"
After advancing the distance which completed the
ascent of the hill, Bathsheba turned her head. The
woman was upon her feet, and Bathsheba saw her
withdrawing from Troy, and going feebly down the
hill by the third milestone from Casterbridge. Troy
then came on towards his wife, stepped into the gig,
took the reins from her hand, and without making any
observation whipped the horse into a trot. He was
rather agitated.
"Do you know who that woman was?" said Bath-
sheba, looking searchingly into his face.
"I do." he said, looking boldly back into hers.
"I thought you did." said she, with angry hauteur,
and still regarding him. "Who is she?"
He suddenly seemed to think that frankness would
benefit neither of the women.
"Nothing to either of us." he said. "I know her
by sight."
"What is her name?"
"How should I know her name?"
"I think you do."
"Think if you will, and be -- -- " The sentence was
completed by a smart cut of the whip round Poppet's
flank, which caused the animal to start forward at a
wild pace. No more was said.





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