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CHAPTER XLVIII



DOUBTS ARISE -- DOUBTS LINGER


BATHSHEBA underwent the enlargement of her
Husband's absence from hours to days with a slight
feeling of surprise, and a slight feeling of relief; yet
neither sensation rose at any time far above the level
commonly designated as indifference. She belonged to
him: the certainties of that position were so well defined,
and the reasonable probabilities of its issue so bounded
that she could not speculate on contingencies. Taking
no further interest in herself as a splendid woman, she
acquired the indifferent feelings of an outsider in contem-
plating her probable fate as a singular wretch; for Bath-
sheba drew herself and her future in colours that no
reality could exceed for darkness. Her original vigorous
pride of youth had sickened, and with it had declined
all her anxieties about coming years, since anxiety
recognizes a better and a worse alternative, and Bath-
sheba had made up her mind that alternatives on any
noteworthy scale had ceased for her. Soon, or later --
and that not very late -- her husband would be home
again. And then the days of their tenancy of the
Upper Farm would be numbered. There had origin-
ally been shown by the agent to the estate some distrust
of Bathsheba's tenure as James Everdene's successor,
on the score of her sex, and her youth, and her beauty;
but the peculiar nature of her uncle's will, his own
frequent testimony before his death to her cleverness
in such a pursuit, and her vigorous marshalling of the
numerous flocks and herds which came suddenly into
her hands before negotiations were concluded, had won
confidence in her powers, and no further objections had
been raised. She had latterly been in great doubt as
to what the legal effects of her marriage would be upon
her position; but no notice had been taken as yet of
her change of name, and only one point was clear -- that
in the event of her own or her husband's inability to
meet the agent at the forthcoming January rent-day,
very little consideration would be shown, and, for that
matter, very little would be deserved. Once out of the
farm, the approach of poverty would be sure.
Hence Bathsheba lived in a perception that her
purposes were broken of. She was not a woman who
could hope on without good materials for the process,
differing thus from the less far-Sighted and energetic,
though more petted ones of the sex, with whom hope
goes on as a sort of clockwork which the merest food
and shelter are sufficient to wind up; and perceiving
clearly that her mistake had been a fatal one, she
accepted her position, and waited coldly for the end.
The first Saturday after Troy's departure she went
to Casterbridge alone, a journey she had not before
taken since her marriage. On this Saturday Bathsheba
was passing slowly on foot through the crowd of rural
business-men gathered as usual in front of the market-
house, who were as usual gazed upon by the burghers
with feelings that those healthy lives were dearly paid
for by exclusion from possible aldermanship, when a
man, who had apparently been following her, said some
words to another on her left hand. Bathsheba's ears
were keen as those of any wild animal, and she dis-
tinctly heard what the speaker said, though her back
was towards him
"I am looking for Mrs. Troy. Is that she there?"
"Yes; that's the young lady, I believe." said the
the person addressed.
"I have some awkward news to break to her. Her
husband is drowned."
As if endowed with the spirit of prophecy, Bathsheba
gasped out, "No, it is not true; it cannot be true!"
Then she said and heard no more. The ice of self-
command which had latterly gathered over her was
broken, and the currents burst forth again, and over
whelmed her. A darkness came into her eyes, and she
fell.
But not to the ground. A gloomy man, who had
been observing her from under the portico of the old
corn-exchange when she passed through the group
without, stepped quickly to her side at the moment of
her exclamation, and caught her in his arms as she sank
down.
"What is it?" said Boldwood, looking up at the
bringer of the big news, as he supported her.
"Her husband was drowned this week while bathing
in Lulwind Cove. A coastguardsman found his clothes,
and brought them into Budmouth yesterday."
Thereupon a strange fire lighted up Boldwood's eye,
and his face flushed with the suppressed excitement of
an unutterable thought. Everybody's glance was now
centred upon him and the unconscious Bathsheba. He
lifted her bodily off the ground, and smoothed down
the folds of her dress as a child might have taken a
storm-beaten bird and arranged its ruffled plumes, and
bore her along the pavement to the King's Arms Inn.
Here he passed with her under the archway into a
private room; and by the time he had deposited -- so
lothly -- the precious burden upon a sofa, Bathsheba had
opened her eyes. Remembering all that had occurred,
she murmured, "I want to go home!"
Boldwood left the room. He stood for a moment in
the passage to recover his senses. The experience had
been too much for his consciousness to keep up with,
and now that he had grasped it it had gone again. For
those few heavenly, golden moments she had been in his
arms. What did it matter about her not knowing it? She
had been close to his breast; he had been close to hers.
He started onward again, and sending a woman to
her, went out to ascertain all the facts of the case.
These appeared to be limited to what he had already
heard. He then ordered her horse to be put into the
gig, and when all was ready returned to inform her.
He found that, though still pale and unwell, she had in
the meantime sent for the Budmouth man who brought
the tidings, and learnt from him all there was to know.
Being hardly in a condition to drive home as she
had driven to town, Boldwood, with every delicacy of
manner and feeling, offered to get her a driver, or to
give her a seat in his phaeton, which was more com-
fortable than her own conveyance. These proposals
Bathsheba gently declined, and the farmer at once de-
parted.
About half-an-hour later she invigorated herself by
an effort, and took her seat and the reins as usual-in
external appearance much as if nothing had happened.
She went out of the town by a tortuous back street, and
drove slowly along, unconscious of the road and the
scene. The first shades of evening were showing them-
selves when Bathsheba reached home, where, silently
alighting and leaving the horse in the hands of the boy,
she proceeded at once upstairs. Liddy met her on the
landing. The news had preceded Bathsheba to Weather-
bury by half-an-hour, and Liddy looked inquiringly into
her mistress's face. Bathsheba had nothing to say.
She entered her bedroom and sat by the window, and
thought and thought till night enveloped her, and the
extreme lines only of her shape were visible. Somebody
came to the door, knocked, and opened it.
"Well, what is it, Liddy?" she said.
"I was thinking there must be something got for you
to wear." said Liddy, with hesitation.
"What do you mean?"
"Mourning."
"No, no, no." said Bathsheba, hurriedly.
"But I suppose there must be something done for
poor -- -- "
"Not at present, I think. It is not necessary."
"Why not, ma'am?"
"Because he's still alive."
"How do you know that?" said Liddy, amazed.
"I don't know it. But wouldn't it have been different,
or shouldn't I have heard more, or wouldn't they have
found him, Liddy? -- or-i don't know how it is, but
death would have been different from how this is. I am
perfectly convinced that he is still alive!"
Bathsheba remained firm in this opinion till Monday,
when two circumstances conjoined to shake it. The
first was a short paragraph in the local newspaper, which,
beyond making by a methodizing pen formidable pre-
sumptive evidence of Troy's death by drowning, con-
tained the important testimony of a young Mr. Barker,
M.D., of Budmouth, who spoke to being an eyewitness
of the accident, in a letter to the editor. In this he
stated that he was passing over the cliff on the remoter
side of the cove just as the sun was setting. At that
time he saw a bather carried along in the current outside
the mouth of the cove, and guessed in an instant that
there was but a poor chance for him unless he should
be possessed of unusual muscular powers. He drifted
behind a projection of the coast, and Mr. Barker followed
along the shore in the same direction. But by the time
that he could reach an elevation sufficiently great to
command a view of the sea beyond, dusk had set in, and
nothing further was to be seen.
The other circumstance was the arrival of his clothes,
when it became necessary for her to examine and identify
them -- though this had virtually been done long before
by those who inspected the letters in his pockets. It
was so evident to her in the midst of her agitation that
Troy had undressed in the full conviction of dressing
again almost immediately, that the notion that anything
but death could have prevented him was a perverse one
to entertain.
Then Bathsheba said to herself that others were
assured in their opinion; strange that she should not
be. A strange reflection occurred to her, causing her
face to flush. Suppose that Troy had followed Fanny
into another world. Had he done this intentionally, yet
contrived to make his death appear like an accident?
Nevertheless, this thought of how the apparent might
differ from the real-made vivid by her bygone jealousy
of Fanny, and the remorse he had shown that night
-- did not blind her to the perception of a likelier
difference, less tragic, but to herself far more disastrous.
When alone late that evening beside a small fire, and
much calmed down, Bathsheba took Troy's watch into
her hand, which had been restored to her with the rest
of the articles belonging to him. She opened the case
as he had opened it before her a week ago. There was
the little coil of pale hair which had been as the fuze to
this great explosion.
"He was hers and she was his; they should be gone
together." she said. "I am nothing to either of them,
and why should I keep her hair?" She took it in her
hand, and held it over the fire." No-i'll not burn it
-i'll keep it in memory of her, poor thing!" she added,
snatching back her hand.





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