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CHAPTER LII



CONVERGING COURSES


I
CHRISTMAS-EVE came, and a party that Boldwood
was to give in the evening was the great subject of talk
in Weatherbury. It was not that the rarity of Christmas
parties in the parish made this one a wonder, but that
Boldwood should be the giver. The announcement
had had an abnormal and incongruous sound, as if one
should hear of croquet-playing in a cathedral aisle, or
that some much-respected judge was going upon the
stage. That the party was intended to be a truly jovial
one there was no room for doubt. A large bough of
mistletoe had been brought from the woods that day, and
suspended in the hall of the bachelor's home. Holly
and ivy had followed in armfuls. From six that morning
till past noon the huge wood fire in the kitchen roared
and sparkled at its highest, the kettle, the saucepan, and
the threelegged pot appearing in the midst of the flames
like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; moreover,
roasting and basting operations were continually
carried on in front of the genial blaze.
As it grew later the fire was made up in the large
long hall into which the staircase descended, and all
encumbrances were cleared out for dancing. The log
which was to form the back-brand of the evening fire
was the uncleft trunk of a tree, so unwieldy that it could
be neither brought nor rolled to its place; and accord-
ingly two men were to be observed dragging and heaving
it in by chains and levers as the hour of assembly drew
near.
II
In spite of all this, the spirit of revelry was wanting
In the atmosphere of the house. Such a thing had
never been attempted before by its owner, and it was
now done as by a wrench. Intended gaieties would
insist upon appearing like solemn grandeurs, the organ-
ization of the whole effort was carried out coldly, by
hirelings, and a shadow seemed to move about the
rooms, saying that the proceedings were unnatural to
the place and the lone man who lived therein, and hence
not good.
Bathsheba was at this time in her room, dressing for
the event. She had called for candles, and Liddy
entered and placed one on each side of her mistress's
glass.
"Don't go away, Liddy." said Bathsheba, almost
timidly." I am foolishly agitated-i cannot tell why.
I wish I had not been obliged to go to this dance; but
there's no escaping now. I have not spoken to Mr.
Boldwood since the autumn, when I promised to see
him at Christmas on business, but I had no idea there
was to be anything of this kind."
"But I would go now." said Liddy, who was going
with her; for Boldwood had been indiscriminate in his
invitations.
"Yes, I shall make my appearance, of course." said
Bathsheba." But I am THE CAUSE of the party, and that
upsets me! -- Don't tell, Liddy."
"O no, ma'am, You the cause of it, ma'am?"
"Yes. I am the reason of the party-i. If it had
not been for me, there would never have been one. I
can't explain any more -- there's no more to be explained.
I wish I had never seen Weatherbury."
"That's wicked of you -- to wish to be worse off than
you are."
"No, Liddy. I have never been free from trouble
since I have lived here, and this party is likely to bring
me more. Now, fetch my black silk dress, and see how
it sits upon me."
"But you will leave off that, surely, ma'am? You
have been a widowlady fourteen months, and ought to
brighten up a little on such a night as this."
"Is it necessary? No; I will appear as usual, for if
I were to wear any light dress people would say things
about me, and I should seem to he rejoicing when I am
solemn all the time. The party doesn't suit me a bit;
but never mind, stay and help to finish me off."
III
Boldwood was dressing also at this hour. A tailor
from Casterbridge was with him, assisting him in the
operation of trying on a new coat that had just been
brought home.
Never had Boldwood been so fastidious, unreasonable
about the fit, and generally difficult to please. The
tailor walked round and round him, tugged at the waist,
pulled the sleeve, pressed out the collar, and for the
first time in his experience Boldwood was not bored-
Times had been when the farmer had exclaimed against
all such niceties as childish, but now no philosophic or
hasty rebuke whatever was provoked by this man for
attaching as much importance to a crease in the coat
as to an earthquake in South America. Boldwood at
last expressed himself nearly satisfied, and paid the bill,
the tailor passing out of the door just as Oak came in
to report progress for the day.
"Oh, Oak." said Boldwood. "I shall of course see
you here to-night. Make yourself merry. I am deter-
mined that neither expense nor trouble shall be spared."
"I'll try to be here, sir, though perhaps it may not
be very early." said Gabriel, quietly. "I am glad indeed
to see such a change in 'ee from what it used to be."
"Yes-i must own it-i am bright to-night: cheerful
and more than cheerful-so much so that I am almost
sad again with the sense that all of it is passing away.
And sometimes, when I am excessively hopeful and
blithe, a trouble is looming in the distance: so that I
often get to look upon gloom in me with content, and
to fear a happy mood. Still this may be absurd-i feel
that it is absurd. Perhaps my day is dawning at last."
"I hope it 'ill be a long and a fair one."
"Thank you -- thank you. Yet perhaps my cheerful
mess rests on a slender hope. And yet I trust my hope.
It is faith, not hope. I think this time I reckon with
my host. -- Oak, my hands are a little shaky, or some-
thing; I can't tie this neckerchief properly. Perhaps
you will tie it for me. The fact is, I have not been well
lately, you know."
"I am sorry to hear that, sir."
"Oh, it's nothing. I want it done as well as you can,
please. Is there any late knot in fashion, Oak?"
"I don't know, sir." said Oak. His tone had sunk to
sadness.
Boldwood approached Gabriel, and as Oak tied the
neckerchief the farmer went on feverishly --
"Does a woman keep her promise, Gabriel?"
"If it is not inconvenient to her she may."
"-- Or rather an implied promise."
"I won't answer for her implying." said Oak, with
faint bitterness. "That's a word as full o' holes as a
sieve with them."
Oak, don't talk like that. You have got quite
cynical lately -- how is it? We seem to have shifted our
positions: I have become the young and hopeful man,
and you the old and unbelieving one. However, does
a woman keep a promise, not to marry, but to enter on
an engagement to marry at some time? Now you
know women better than I -- tell me."
"I am afeard you honour my understanding too much.
However, she may keep such a promise, if it is made
with an honest meaning to repair a wrong."
"It has not gone far yet, but I think it will soon --
yes, I know it will." he said, in an impulsive whisper.
"I have pressed her upon the subject, and she inclines
to be kind to me, and to think of me as a husband at
a long future time, and that's enough for me. How
can I expect more? She has a notion that a woman
should not marry within seven years of her husband's
disappearance -- that her own self shouldn't, I mean --
because his body was not found. It may be merely
this legal reason which influences her, or it may be a
religious one, but she is reluctant to talk on the point-
Yet she has promised -- implied -- that she will ratify an
engagement to-night."
"Seven years." murmured Oak.
"No, no -- it's no such thing!" he said, with im-
patience. Five years, nine months, and a few days.
Fifteen months nearly have passed since he vanished,
and is there anything so wonderful in an engagement of
little more than five years?"
"It seems long in a forward view. Don't build too
much upon such promises, sir. Remember, you have
once be'n deceived. Her meaning may be good; but
there -- she's young yet."
"Deceived? Never!" said Boldwood, vehemently.
"She never promised me at that first time, and hence
she did not break her promise! If she promises me,
she'll marry me, Bathsheba is a woman to her word."
IV
Troy was sitting in a corner of The White Hart
tavern at Casterbridge, smoking and drinking a steaming
mixture from a glass. A knock was given at the door,
and Pennyways entered.
"Well, have you seen him?" Troy inquired, pointing
to a chair.
"Boldwood?"
"No -- Lawyer Long."
"He wadn' at home. I went there first, too."
"That's a nuisance."
"'Tis rather, I suppose."
"Yet I don't see that, because a man appears to be
drowned and was not, he should be liable for anything.
I shan't ask any lawyer -- not I."
"But that's not it, exactly. If a man changes his
name and so forth, and takes steps to deceive the world
and his own wife, he's a cheat, and that in the eye of
the law is ayless a rogue, and that is ayless a lammocken
vagabond; and that's a punishable situation."
"Ha-ha! Well done, Pennyways." Troy had laughed,
but it was with some anxiety that he said, "Now, what
I want to know is this, do you think there's really
anything going on between her and Boldwood? Upon
my soul, I should never have believed it! How she.
must detest me! Have you found out whether she
has encouraged him?"
"I haen't been able to learn. There's a deal of
feeling on his side seemingly, but I don't answer for
her. I didn't know a word about any such thing till
yesterday, and all I heard then was that she was gwine
to the party at his house to-night. This is the first
time she has ever gone there, they say. And they say
that she've not so much as spoke to him since they were
at Greenhill Fair: but what can folk believe o't? How-
ever, she's not fond of him -- quite offish and quite care
less, I know."
"I'm not so sure of that.... She's a handsome
woman, Pennyways, is she not? Own that you never
saw a finer or more splendid creature in your life.
Upon my honour, when I set eyes upon her that day
I wondered what I could have been made of to be able
to leave her by herself so long. And then I was
hampered with that bothering show, which I'm free of
at last, thank the stars." He smoked on awhile, and
then added, "How did she look when you passed by
yesterday?"
"Oh, she took no great heed of me, ye may well
fancy; but she looked well enough, far's I know. Just
flashed her haughty eyes upon my poor scram body, and
then let them go past me to what was yond, much as if
I'd been no more than a leafless tree. She had just got
off her mare to look at the last wring-down of cider for
the year; she had been riding, and so her colours were
up and her breath rather quick, so that her bosom
plimmed and feli-plimmed and feli-every time plain
to my eye. Ay, and there were the fellers round her
wringing down the cheese and bustling about and
saying, Ware o' the pommy, ma'am: 'twill spoil yer
gown. "Never mind me," says she. Then Gabe
brought her some of the new cider, and she must
needs go drinking it through a strawmote, and not in
a nateral way at all. "Liddy," says she, "bring indoors
a few gallons, and I'll make some cider-wine." Sergeant,
I was no more to her than a morsel of scroffin the fuel
house!"
"I must go and find her out at once -- O yes, I see
that-i must go. Oak is head man still, isn't he?"
"Yes, 'a b'lieve. And at Little Weatherbury Farm
too. He manages everything."
"Twill puzzle him to manage her, or any other man
of his compass!"
"I don't know about that. She can't do without
him, and knowing it well he's pretty independent.
And she've a few soft corners to her mind, though
I've never been able to get into one, the devil's in't!"
"Ah baily she's a notch above you, and you must
own it: a higher class of animal-a finer tissue. How-
ever, stick to me, and neither this haughty goddess,
dashing piece of womanhood, Juno-wife of mine (Juno
was a goddess, you know), nor anybody else shall hurt
you. But all this wants looking into, I perceive.
What with one thing and another, I see that my work
is well cut out for me."
V
"How do I look to-night, Liddy?" said Bathsheba,
giving a final adjustment to her dress before leaving the
glass.
"I never saw you look so well before. Yes-i'll tell
you when you looked like it -- that night, a year and a
half ago, when you came in so wildlike, and scolded us
for making remarks about you and Mr. Troy."
"Everybody will think that I am setting myself to
captivate Mr. Boldwood, I suppose." she murmured.
"At least they'll say so. Can't my hair be brushed
down a little flatter? I dread going -- yet I dread the
risk of wounding him by staying away."Anyhow, ma'am, you can't well be
dressed plainer
than you are, unless you go in sackcloth at once. 'Tis
your excitement is what makes you look so noticeable
to-night."
"I don't know what's the matter, I feel wretched at
one time, and buoyant at another. I wish I could have
continued quite alone as I have been for the last year
or so, with no hopes and no fears, and no pleasure and
no grief.
"Now just suppose Mr. Boldwood should ask you
-- only just suppose it -- to run away with him, what
would you do, ma'am?"
"Liddy -- none of that." said Bathsheba, gravely.
"Mind, I won't hear joking on any such matter. Do
you hear?"
"I beg pardon, ma'am. But knowing what rum
things we women be, I just said -- however, I won't
speak of it again."
"No marrying for me yet for many a year; if ever,
"twill be for reasons very, very different from those you
think, or others will believe! Now get my cloak, for it
is time to go."
VI
"Oak, said Boldwood, "before you go I want to
mention what has been passing in my mind lately --
that little arrangement we made about your share in the
farm I mean. That share is small, too small, consider-
ing how little I attend to business now, and how much
time and thought you give to it. Well, since the world
is brightening for me, I want to show my sense of it
by increasing your proportion in the partnership. I'll
make a memorandum of the arrangement which struck
me as likely to be convenient, for I haven't time to talk
about it now; and then we'll discuss it at our leisure.
My intention is ultimately to retire from the manage-
ment altogether, and until you can take all the expendi-
ture upon your shoulders, I'll be a sleeping partner in
the stock. Then, if I marry her -- and I hope-i feel I
shall, why -- -- "
"Pray don't speak of it, sir." said Oak, hastily. "We
don't know what may happen. So many upsets may
befall 'ee. There's many a slip, as they say -- and I
would advise you-i know you'll pardon me this once --
not to be TOO SURE."
"I know, I know. But the feeling I have about in-
creasing your share is on account of what I know of you
Oak, I have learnt a little about your secret: your
interest in her is more than that of bailiff for an em-
ployer. But you have behaved like a man, and I, as a
sort of successful rival-successful partly through your
goodness of heart -- should like definitely to show my
sense of your friendship under what must have been a
great pain to you."
"O that's not necessary, thank 'ee." said Oak,
hurriedly. "I must get used to such as that; other
men have, and so shall I."
Oak then left him. He was uneasy on Boldwood's
account, for he saw anew that this constant passion
of the farmer made him not the man he once had
been.
As Boldwood continued awhile in his room alone --
ready and dressed to receive his company -- the mood of
anxiety about his appearance seemed to pass away, and
to be succeeded by a deep solemnity. He looked out
of the window, and regarded the dim outline of the trees
upon the sky, and the twilight deepening to darkness.
Then he went to a locked closet, and took from
a locked drawer therein a small circular case the size of
a pillbox, and was about to put it into his pocket. But
he lingered to open the cover and take a momentary
glance inside. It contained a woman's finger-ring, set
all the way round with small diamonds, and from its
appearance had evidently been recently purchased.
Boldwood's eyes dwelt upon its many sparkles a long
time, though that its material aspect concerned him
little was plain from his manner and mien, which were
those of a mind following out the presumed thread of
that jewel's future history.
The noise of wheels at the front of the house became
audible. Boldwood closed the box, stowed it away
carefully in his pocket, and went out upon the landing.
The old man who was his indoor factotum came at the
same moment to the foot of the stairs.
"They be coming, sir -- lots of 'em -- a-foot and a-
driving!"
"I was coming down this moment. Those wheels I
heard -- is it Mrs. Troy?"
"No, sir -- 'tis not she yet."
A reserved and sombre expression had returned to
Boldwood's face again, but it poorly cloaked his feel-
ings when he pronounced Bathsheba's name; and his
feverish anxiety continued to show its existence by a
galloping motion of his fingers upon the side of his thigh
as he went down the stairs.
VII
"How does this cover me?" said Troy to Pennyways,
"Nobody would recognize me now, I'm sure."
He was buttoning on a heavy grey overcoat of
Noachian cut, with cape and high collar, the latter being
erect and rigid, like a girdling wall, and nearly reaching
to the verge of travelling cap which was pulled down
over his ears.
Pennyways snuffed the candle, and then looked up
and deliberately inspected Troy
"You've made up your mind to go then?" he
said.
"Made up my mind? Yes; of course I have."
"Why not write to her? 'Tis a very queer corner
that you have got into, sergeant. You see all these things
will come to light if you go back, and they won't sound
well at all. Faith, if I was you I'd even bide as you be
-- a single man of the name of Francis. A good wife is
good, but the best wife is not so good as no wife at all.
Now that's my outspoke mind, and I've been called a
long-headed feller here and there."
"All nonsense!" said Troy, angrily. "There she is
with plenty of money, and a house and farm, and
horses, and comfort, and here am I living from hand to
mouth -- a needy adventurer. Besides, it is no use
talking now; it is too late, and I am glad of it; I've been
seen and recognized here this very afternoon. I should
have gone back to her the day after the fair, if it hadn't
been for you talking about the law, and rubbish about
getting a separation; and I don't put it off any longer.
What the deuce put it into my head to run away at all,
I can't think! Humbugging sentiment -- that's what it
was. But what man on earth was to know that his wife
would be in such a hurry to get rid of his name!"
"I should have known it. She's bad enough for
anything."
"Pennyways, mind who you are talking to."
"Well, sergeant, all I say is this, that if I were you I'd
go abroad again where I came from -- 'tisn't too late to do
it now. I wouldn't stir up the business and get a bad
name for the sake of living with her -- for all that about
your play-acting is sure to come out, you know, although
you think otherwise. My eyes and limbs, there'll be a
racket if you go back just now -- in the middle of Bold-
wood's Christmasing!"
"H'm, yes. I expect I shall not be a very welcome
guest if he has her there." said the sergeant, with a slight
laugh. "A sort of Alonzo the Brave; and when I go in
the guests will sit in silence and fear, and all laughter
and pleasure will be hushed, and the lights in the
chamber burn blue, and the worms -- Ugh, horrible! --
Ring for some more brandy, Pennyways, I felt an
awful shudder just then! Well, what is there besides?
A stick-i must have a walking-stick."
Pennyways now felt himself to be in something of a
difficulty, for should Bathsheba and Troy become recon-
ciled it would be necessary to regain her good opinion
if he would secure the patronage of her husband. I
sometimes think she likes you yet, and is a good woman
at bottom." he said, as a saving sentence. "But there's
no telling to a certainty from a body's outside. Well,
you'll do as you like about going, of course, sergeant,
and as for me, I'll do as you tell me."
"Now, let me see what the time is." said Troy, after
emptying his glass in one draught as he stood. 'Half-
past six o'clock. I shall not hurry along the road, and
shall be there then before nine."





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