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CHAPTER XLIII



FANNY'S REVENGE


"DO you want me any longer ma'am? " inquired Liddy,
at a later hour the same evening, standing by the door
with a chamber candlestick in her hand and addressing
Bathsheba, who sat cheerless and alone in the large
parlour beside the first fire of the season.
"No more to-night, Liddy."
"I'll sit up for master if you like, ma'am. I am not
at all afraid of Fanny, if I may sit in my own room and
have a candle. She was such a childlike, nesh young
thing that her spirit couldn't appear to anybody if it
tried, I'm quite sure."
"O no, no! You go to bed. I'll sit up for him
myself till twelve o'clock, and if he has not arrived by
that time, I shall give him up and go to bed too."
It is half-past ten now."
"Oh! is it?"
Why don't you sit upstairs, ma'am?"
"Why don't I?" said Bathsheba, desultorily. "It
isn't worth while -- there's a fire here, Liddy." She
suddenly exclaimed in an impulsive and excited whisper,
Have you heard anything strange said of Fanny?"
The words had no sooner escaped her than an expres-
sion of unutterable regret crossed her face, and she
burst into tears.
"No -- not a word!" said Liddy, looking at the
weeping woman with astonishment. "What is it makes
you cry so, ma'am; has anything hurt you?" She came
to Bathsheba's side with a face full of sympathy.
"No, Liddy-i don't want you any more. I can
hardly say why I have taken to crying lately: I never
used to cry. Good-night."
Liddy then left the parlour and closed the door.
Bathsheba was lonely and miserable now; not lone-
lier actually than she had been before her marriage;
but her loneliness then was to that of the present time
as the solitude of a mountain is to the solitude of a
cave. And within the last day or two had come these
disquieting thoughts about her husband's past. Her
wayward sentiment that evening concerning Fanny's
temporary resting-place had been the result of a strange
complication of impulses in Bathsheba's bosom. Per-
haps it would be more accurately described as a
determined rebellion against her prejudices, a revulsion
from a lower instinct of uncharitableness, which would
have withheld all sympathy from the dead woman, be-
cause in life she had preceded Bathsheba in the atten-
tions of a man whom Bathsheba had by no means
ceased from loving, though her love was sick to death
just now with the gravity of a further misgiving.
In five or ten minutes there was another tap at the
door. Liddy reappeared, and coming in a little way
stood hesitating, until at length she said,!Maryann has
just heard something very strange, but I know it isn't
true. And we shall be sure to know the rights of it in
a day or two."
"What is it?"
"Oh, nothing connected with you or us, ma'am. It
is about Fanny. That same thing you have heard."
"I have heard nothing."
"I mean that a wicked story is got to Weatherbury
within this last hour -- that -- --" Liddy came close to
her mistress and whispered the remainder of the sentence
slowly into her ear, inclining her head as she spoke in
the direction of the room where Fanny lay.
Bathsheba trembled from head to foot.
"I don't believe it!" she said, excitedly. "And
there's only one name written on the coffin-cover."
"Nor I, ma'am. And a good many others don't;
for we should surely have been told more about it if it
had been true -- don't you think so, ma'am?"
"We might or we might not."
Bathsheba turned and looked into the fire, that
Liddy might not see her face. Finding that her mistress
was going to say no more, Liddy glided out, closed the
door softly, and went to bed.
Bathsheba's face, as she continued looking into the
fire that evening, might have excited solicitousness on
her account even among those who loved her least.
The sadness of Fanny Robin's fate did not make Bath-
sheba's glorious, although she was the Esther to this
poor Vashti, and their fates might be supposed to stand
in some respects as contrasts to each other. When
Liddy came into the room a second time the beautiful
eyes which met hers had worn a listless, weary look-
When she went out after telling the story they had ex-
pressed wretchedness in full activity. Her simple
country nature, fed on old-fashioned principles, was
troubled by that which would have troubled a woman
of the world very little, both Fanny and her child, if she
had one, being dead.
Bathsheba had grounds for conjecturing a connection
between her own history and the dimly suspected
tragedy of Fanny's end which Oak and Boldwood never
for a moment credited her with possessing. The
meeting with the lonely woman on the previous Saturday
night had been unwitnessed and unspoken of. Oak
may have had the best of intentions in withholding for
as many days as possible the details of what had
happened to Fanny; but had he known that Bathsheba's
perceptions had already been exercised in the matter,
he would have done nothing to lengthen the minutes of
suspense she was now undergoing, when the certainty
which must terminate it would be the worst fact suspected
after all.
She suddenly felt a longing desire to speak to some
one stronger than herself, and so get strength to sustain
her surmised position with dignity and her lurking
doubts with stoicism. Where could she find such a
friend? nowhere in the house. She was by far the
coolest of the women under her roof. Patience and
suspension of judgement for a few hours were what she
wanted to learn, and there was nobody to teach her.
Might she but go to Gabriel Oak! -- but that could not
be. What a way Oak had, she thought, of enduring
things. Boldwood, who seemed so much deeper and
higher and stronger in feeling than Gabriel, had not
yet learnt, any more than she herself, the simple
lesson which Oak showed a mastery of by every turn
and look he gave -- that among the multitude of interests
by which he was surrounded, those which affected his
personal wellbeing were not the most absorbing and
important in his eyes. Oak meditatively looked upon
the horizon of circumstances without any special regard
to his own standpoint in the midst. That was how
she would wish to be. But then Oak was not racked
by incertitude upon the inmost matter of his bosom, as
she was at this moment. Oak knew all about Fanny
that he wished to know -- she felt convinced of that.
If she were to go to him now at once and say no more
than these few words,!What is the truth of the story?"
he would feel bound in honour to tell her. It would
be an inexpressible relief. No further speech would
need to be uttered. He knew her so well that no
eccentricity of behaviour in her would alarm him.
She flung a cloak round her, went to the door and
opened it. Every blade, every twig was still. The air
was yet thick with moisture, though somewhat less dense
than during the afternoon, and a steady smack of drops
upon the fallen leaves under the boughs was almost
musical in its soothing regularity. lt seemed better to
be out of the house than within it, and Bathsheba closed
the door, and walked slowly down the lane till she came
opposite to Gabriel's cottage, where he now lived alone,
having left Coggan's house through being pinched for
room. There was a light in one window only', and that
was downstairs. The shutters were not closed, nor was
any blind or curtain drawn over the window, neither
robbery nor observation being a contingency which could
do much injury to the occupant of the domicile. Yes,
it was Gabriel himself who was sitting up: he was reading,
From her standing-place in the road she could see him
plainly, sitting quite still, his light curly head upon his
hand, and only occasionally looking up to snuff the
candle which stood beside him. At length he looked
at the clock, seemed surprised at the lateness of the
hour, closed his book, and arose. He was going to bed,
she knew, and if she tapped it must be done at once.
Alas for her resolve! She felt she could not do it,
Not for worlds now could she give a hint about her
misery to him, much less ask him plainly for information
on the cause of Fanny's death. She must suspect, and
guess, and chafe, and bear it all alone.
Like a homeless wanderer she lingered by the bank,
as if lulled and fascinated by the atmosphere of content
which seemed to spread from that little dwelling, and
was so sadly lacking in her own. Gabriel appeared in
an upper room, placed his light in the window-bench,
and then -- knelt down to pray. The contrast of the
picture with her rebellious and agitated existence at this
same time was too much for her to bear to look upon
longer. It was not for her to make a truce with
trouble by any such means. She must tread her giddy
distracting measure to its last note, as she had begun it.
With a swollen heart she went again up the lane, and
entered her own door.
More fevered now by a reaction from the first feelings
which Oak's example had raised in her, she paused in
the hall, looking at the door of the room wherein Fanny
lay. She locked her fingers, threw back her head, and
strained her hot hands rigidly across her forehead, saying,
with a hysterical sob, "Would to God you would speak
and tell me your secret, Fanny! . , . O, I hope, hope
it is not true that there are two of you! ... If I could
only look in upon you for one little minute, I should
know all!"
A few moments passed, and she added, slowly, "And
I will"
Bathsheba in after times could never gauge the mood
which carried her through the actions following this
murmured resolution on this memorable evening of her
life. She went to the lumber-closet for a screw-driver.
At the end of a short though undefined time she found
herself in the small room, quivering with emotion, a mist
before her eyes, and an excruciating pulsation in her
brain, standing beside the uncovered coffin of the girl
whose conjectured end had so entirely engrossed her, and
saying to herself in a husky voice as she gazed within --
"It was best to know the worst, and I know it now!"
She was conscious of having brought about this
situation by a series of actions done as by one in an
extravagant dream; of following that idea as to method,
which had burst upon her in the hall with glaring
obviousness, by gliding to the top of the stairs, assuring
herself by listening to the heavy breathing of her maids
that they were asleep, gliding down again, turning the
handle of the door within which the young girl lay, and
deliberately setting herself to do what, if she had antici-
pated any such undertaking at night and alone, would
have horrified her, but which, when done, was not so
dreadful as was the conclusive proof of her husband's
conduct which came with knowing beyond doubt the
last chapter of Fanny's story.
Bathsheba's head sank upon her bosom, and the
breath which had been bated in suspense, curiosity, and
interest, was exhaled now in the form of a whispered
wail: "Oh-h-h!" she said, and the silent room added
length to her moan.
Her tears fell fast beside the unconscious pair in the
coffin: tears of a complicated origin, of a nature inde-
scribable, almost indefinable except as other than those
of simple sorrow. Assuredly their wonted fires must
have lived in Fanny's ashes when events were so shaped
as to chariot her hither in this natural, unobtrusive, yet
effectual manner. The one feat alone -- that of dying --
by which a mean condition could be resolved into a
grand one, Fanny had achieved. And to that had
destiny subjoined this rencounter to-night, which had,
in Bathsheba's wild imagining, turned her companion's
failure to success, her humiliation to triumph, her luck-
lessness to ascendency; et had thrown over herself a
garish light of mockery, and set upon all things about
her an ironical smile.
Fanny's face was framed in by that yellow hair of
hers; and there was no longer much room for doubt as
to the origin of the curl owned by Troy. In Bath-
sheba's heated fancy the innocent white countenance
expressed a dim triumphant consciousness of the pain
she was retaliating for her pain with all the merciless
rigour of the Mosaic law: "Burning for burning; wound
for wound: strife for strife.
Bathsheba indulged in contemplations of escape from
her position by immediate death, which thought she,
though it was an inconvenient and awful way, had limits
to its inconvenience and awfulness that could not be
overpassed; whilst the shames of life were measureless.
Yet even this scheme of extinction by death was out
tamely copying her rival's method without the reasons
which had glorified it in her rival's case. She glided
rapidly up and down the room, as was mostly her habit
hen excited, her hands hanging clasped in front of her,
as she thought and in part expressed in broken words:
O, I hate her, yet I don't mean that I hate her, for
it is grievous and wicked; and yet I hate her a little!
yes, my flesh insists upon hating her, whether my spirit
is willing or no!... If she had only lived, I could
ave been angry and cruel towards her with some justifi-
cation; but to be vindictive towards a poor dead woman
recoils upon myself. O God, have mercy,! I am
miserable at all this!"
Bathsheba became at this moment so terrified at her
own state of mind that she looked around for some sort
of refuge from herself. The vision of Oak kneeling
down that night recurred to her, and with the imitative
instinct which animates women she seized upon the idea,
resolved to kneel, and, if possible, pray. Gabriel had
prayed; so would she.
She knelt beside the coffin, covered her face with her
hands, and for a time the room was silent as a tomb.
whether from a purely mechanical, or from any other
cause, when Bathsheba arose it was with a quieted spirit,
and a regret for the antagonistic instincts which had
seized upon her just before.
In her desire to make atonement she took flowers
from a vase by the window, and began laying them
around the dead girl's head. Bathsheba knew no other
way of showing kindness to persons departed than by
giving them flowers. She knew not how long she
remained engaged thus. She forgot time, life, where
she was, what she was doing. A slamming together of
the coach-house doors in the yard brought her to her-
self again. An instant after, the front door opened and
closed, steps crossed the hall, and her husband appeared
at the entrance to the room, looking in upon her.
He beheld it all by degrees, stared in stupefaction at
the scene, as if he thought it an illusion raised by some
fiendish
incantation. Bathsheba, pallid as a corpse on
end, gazed back at him in the same wild way.
So little are instinctive guesses the fruit of a legitimate
induction, that at this moment, as he stood with the
door in his hand, Troy never once thought of Fanny in
connection with what he saw. His first confused idea
was that somebody in the house had died.
"Well -- what?" said Troy, blankly.
"I must go! I must go!" said Bathsheba, to herself
more than to him. She came with a dilated eye towards
the door, to push past him.
"What's the matter, in God's name? who's dead?"
said Troy.
"I cannot say; let me go out. I want air!" she
continued.
"But no; stay, I insist!" He seized her hand, and
then volition seemed to leave her, and she went off into
a state of passivity. He, still holding her, came up the
room, and thus, hand in hand, Troy and Bathsheba
approached the coffin's side.
The candle was standing on a bureau close by them,
and the light slanted down, distinctly enkindling the
cold features of both mother and babe. Troy looked
in, dropped his wife's hand, knowledge of it all came
over him in a lurid sheen, and he stood still.
So still he remained that he could be imagined to
have left in him no motive power whatever. The
clashes of feeling in all directions confounded one
another, produced a neutrality, and there was motion in
none.
"Do you know her?" said Bathsheba, in a small
enclosed echo, as from the interior of a cell.
"I do." said Troy.
"Is it she?"
"It is."
He had originally stood perfectly erect. And now,
in the wellnigh congealed immobility of his frame
could be discerned an incipient movement, as in the
darkest night may be discerned light after a while.
He was gradually sinking forwards. The lines of his
features softened, and dismay modulated to illimitable
sadness. Bathsheba was regarding him from the other
side, still with parted lips and distracted eyes. Capacity
for intense feeling is proportionate to the general
intensity of the nature ,and perhaps in all Fanny's
sufferings, much greater relatively to her strength, there
never was a time she suffered in an absolute sense
what Bathsheba suffered now.
What Troy did was to sink upon his knees with
an indefinable union of remorse and reverence upon
his face, and, bending over Fanny Robin, gently kissed
her, as one would kiss an infant asleep to avoid
awakening it.
At the sight and sound of that, to her, unendurable
act, Bathsheba sprang towards him. All the strong
feelings which had been scattered over her existence
since she knew what feeling was, seemed gathered
together into one pulsation now. The revulsion from
her indignant mood a little earlier, when she had
meditated upon compromised honour, forestalment,
eclipse in maternity by another, was violent and entire.
All that was forgotten in the simple and still strong
attachment of wife to husband. She had sighed for
her self-completeness then, and now she cried aloud
against the severance of the union she had deplored.
She flung her arms round Troy's neck, exclaiming wildly
from the deepest deep of her heart --
"Don't -- don't kiss them! O, Frank, I can"t bear
it-i can't! I love you better than she did: kiss me
too, Frank -- kiss me! You will, Frank, kiss me too!"
There was something so abnormal and startling in
the childlike pain and simplicity of this appeal from a
woman of Bathsheba's calibre and independence, that
Troy, loosening her tightly clasped arms from his neck,
looked at her in bewilderment. It was such and unex-
pected revelation of all women being alike at heart, even
those so different in their accessories as Fanny and this
one beside him, that Troy could hardly seem to believe
her to be his proud wife Bathsheba. Fanny's own
spirit seemed to be animating her frame. But this was
the mood of a few instants only. When the momentary
"I will not kiss you!" he said pushing her away.
Had the wife now but gone no further. Yet,
perhaps. under the harrowing circumstances, to speak
out was the one wrong act which can be better under-
stood, if not forgiven in her, than the right and politic
one, her rival being now but a corpse. All the feeling
she had been betrayed into showing she drew back to
herself again by a strenuous effort of self-command.
"What have you to say as your reason?" she asked
her bitter voice being strangely low -- quite that of
another woman now.
"I have to say that I have been a bad, black-hearted
man." he answered.
less than she."
"Ah! don't taunt me, madam. This woman is more
to me, dead as she is, than ever you were, or are, or can
be. If Satan had not tempted me with that face of
yours, and those cursed coquetries, I should have
He turned to Fanny then. "But never mind, darling,
wife!"
At these words there arose from Bathsheba's lips a
long, low cry of measureless despair and indignation,
such a wail of anguish as had never before been heard
within those old-inhabited walls. It was the product*
of her union with Troy.
"If she's -- that, -- what -- am I?" she added, as a
continuation of the same cry, and sobbing pitifully:
and the rarity with her of such abandonment only made
the condition more dire.
"You are nothing to me -- nothing." said Troy,
heartlessly. "A ceremony before a priest doesn't make
a marriage. I am not morally yours."
A vehement impulse to flee from him, to run from
this place, hide, and escape his words at any price, not
stopping short of death itself, mastered Bathsheba now.
She waited not an instant, but turned to the door and
ran out.





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