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CHAPTER LVI



BEAUTY IN LONELINESS -- AFTER ALL


BATHSHEBA revived with the spring. The utter
prostration that had followed the low fever from which
she had suffered diminished perceptibly when all un-
certainty upon every subject had come to an end.
But she remained alone now for the greater part of
her time, and stayed in the house, or at furthest went
into the garden. She shunned every one, even Liddy,
and could be brought to make no confidences, and to
ask for no sympathy.
As the summer drew on she passed more of her time
in the open air, and began to examine into farming
matters from sheer necessity, though she never rode
out or personally superintended as at former times.
One Friday evening in August she walked a little way
along the road and entered the village for the first time
since the sombre event of the preceding Christmas.
None of the old colour had as yet come to her cheek,
and its absolute paleness was heightened by the jet black
of her gown, till it appeared preternatural. When she
reached a little shop at the other end of the place,
which stood nearly opposite to the churchyard, Bath-
sheba heard singing inside the church, and she knew
that the singers were practising. She crossed the road,
opened the gate, and entered the graveyard, the high
sills of the church windows effectually screening her
from the eyes of those gathered within. Her stealthy
walk was to the nook wherein Troy had worked at
planting flowers upon Fanny Robin's grave, and she
came to the marble tombstone.
A motion of satisfaction enlivened her face as she
read the complete inscription. First came the words of
Troy himself: --
ERECTED BY FRANCIS TROY
IN BELOVED MEMORY OF
FANNY ROBIN,
WHO DIED OCTOBER 9, 18 -- ,
AGED 20 YEARS.
Underneath this was now inscribed in new letters: --
IN THE SAME GRAVE LIE
THE REMAINS OF THE AFORESAID
FRANCIS TROY,
WHO DIED DECEMBER 24TH, 18 -- ,
Whilst she stood and read and meditated the tones of
the organ began again in the church, and she went
with the same light step round to the porch and listened.
The door was closed, and the choir was learning a new
hymn. Bathsheba was stirred by emotions which
latterly she had assumed to be altogether dead within
her. The little attenuated voices of the children
brought to her ear in destinct utterance the words they
sang without thought or comprehension --
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on.
Bathsheba's feeling was always to some extent de-
pendent upon her whim, as is the case with many other
women. Something big came into her throat and an
uprising to her eyes -- and she thought that she would
allow the imminent tears to flow if they wished. They
did flow and plenteously, and one fell upon the stone
bench beside her. Once that she had begun to cry for
she hardly knew what, she could not leave off for crowd-
ing thoughts she knew too well. She would have given
anything in the world to be, as those children were, un-
concerned at the meaning of their words, because too
innocent to feel the necessity for any such expression.
All the impassioned scenes of her brief expenence
seemed to revive with added emotion at that moment,
and those scenes which had been without emotion
during enactment had emotion then. Yet grief came
to her rather as a luxury than as the scourge of former
times.
Owing to Bathsheba's face being buried in her hands
she did not notice a form which came quietly into the
porch, and on seeing her, first moved as if to retreat,
then paused and regarded her. Bathsheba did not raise
her head for some time, and when she looked round
her face was wet, and her eyes drowned and dim. "Mr.
Oak." exclaimed she, disconcerted, " how long have you
been here?"
"A few minutes, ma'am." said Oak, respectfully.
"Are you going in?" said Bathsheba; and there came
from within the church as from a prompter --
l loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
"I was." said Gabriel. "I am one of the bass singers,
you know. I have sung bass for several months.
"Indeed: I wasn't aware of that. I'll leave you, then."
which I have loved long since, and lost awhile,
sang the children.
"Don't let me drive you away, mistress. I think I
won't go in to-night."
"O no -- you don't drive me away.
Then they stood in a state of some embarrassment
Bathsheba trying to wipe her dreadfully drenched and
inflamed face without his noticing her. At length Oak
said, I've not seen you-i mean spoken to you -- since
ever so long, have I?" But he feared to bring distress-
ing memories back, and interrupted himself with: "Were
you going into church?"
"No." she said. I came to see the tombstone
privately -- to see if they had cut the inscription as I
wished Mr. Oak, you needn't mind speaking to me, if
you wish to, on the matter which is in both our minds
at this moment."
"And have they done it as you wished?" said Oak.
"Yes. Come and see it, if you have not already."
So together they went and read the tomb. "Eight
months ago!" Gabriel murmured when he saw the date.
"It seems like yesterday to me."
And to me as if it were years ago-long years, and
I had been dead between. And now I am going home,
Mr. Oak."
Oak walked after her. "I wanted to name a small
matter to you as soon as I could." he said, with hesitation.
"Merrily about business, and I think I may just mention it
now, if you'll allow me."
"O yes, certainly."
It is that I may soon have to give up the manage-
ment of your farm, Mrs. Troy. The fact is, I am think-
ing of leaving England -- not yet, you know -- next
spring. "
"Leaving England!" she said, in surprise and
genuine disappointment." Why, Gabriel, what are you
going to do that for?"
"Well, I've thought it best." Oak stammered out.
"California is the spot I've had in my mind to try."
"But it is understood everywhere that you are going
to take poor Mr. Boldwood's farm on your own account."
"I've had the refusal o' it 'tis true; but nothing is
settled yet, and I have reasons for giving up. I shall
finish out my year there as manager for the trustees,
but no more."
"And what shall I do without you? Oh, Gabriel, I
don't think you ought to go away. You've been with
me so long -- through bright times and dark times -- such
old friends that as we are -- that it seems unkind almost. I
had fancied that if you leased the other farm as master,
you might still give a helping look across at mine. And
now going away!"
"I would have willingly."
"Yet now that I am more helpless than ever you go
away!"
"Yes, that's the ill fortune o' it." said Gabriel, in a
distressed tone. "And it is because of that very help-
lessness that I feel bound to go. Good afternoon,
ma'am" he concluded, in evident anxiety to get
away, and at once went out of the churchyard by a
path she could follow on no pretence whatever.
Bathsheba went home, her mind occupied with a
new trouble, which being rather harassing than deadly
was calculated to do good by diverting her from the
chronic gloom of her life. She was set thinking a great
deal about Oak and of his which to shun her; and there
occurred to Bathsheba several incidents of latter in-
tercourse with him, which, trivial when singly viewed
amounted together to a perceptible disinclination for
her society. It broke upon her at length as a great
pain that her last old disciple was about to forsake her
and flee. He who had believed in her and argued on
her side when all the rest of the world was against her,
had at last like the others become weary and neglectful
of the old cause, and was leaving her to fight her battles
alone.
Three weeks went on, and more evidence of his
want of interest in her was forthcoming. She noticed
that instead of entering the small parlour or office
where the farm accounts were kept, and waiting, or
leaving a memorandum as he had hitherto done during
her seclusion, Oak never came at all when she was likely
to be there, only entering at unseasonable hours when
her presence in that part of the house was least to be
expected. Whenever he wanted directions he sent a
message, or note with neither heading nor signature, to
which she was obliged to reply in the same off-hand
style. Poor Bathsheba began to suffer now from the
most torturing sting of ali-a sensation that she was
despised.
The autumn wore away gloomily enough amid these
melancholy conjectures, and Christmas-day came, com-
pleting a year of her legal widowhood, and two years
and a quarter of her life alone. On examining her
heart it appeared beyond measure strange that the sub-
ject of which the season might have been supposed
suggestive -- the event in the hall at Boldwood's -- was
not agitating her at all; but instead, an agonizing con-
viction that everybody abjured her -- for what she could
not tell -- and that Oak was the ringleader of the
recusants. Coming out of church that day she looked
round in hope that Oak, whose bass voice she had
heard rolling out from the gallery overhead in a most
unconcerned manner, might chance to linger in her path
in the old way. There he was, as usual, coming down
the path behind her. But on seeing Bathsheba turn, he
looked aside, and as soon as he got beyond the gate,
and there was the barest excuse for a divergence, he
made one, and vanished.
The next morning brought the culminating stroke;
she had been expecting it long. It was a formal notice
by letter from him that he should not renew his engage-
ment with her for the following Lady-day.
Bathsheba actually sat and cried over this letter most
bitterly. She was aggrieved and wounded that the
possession of hopeless love from Gabriel, which she had
AFTER ALL
grown to regard as her inalienable right for life, should
have been withdrawn just at his own pleasure in this
way. She was bewildered too by the prospect of having
to rely on her own resources again: it seemed to herself
that she never could again acquire energy sufficient to
go to market, barter, and sell. Since Troy's death Oak
had attended all sales and fairs for her, transacting her
business at the same time with his own. What should
she do now? Her life was becoming a desolation.
So desolate was Bathsheba this evening, that in an
absolute hunger for pity and sympathy, and miserable in
that she appeared to have outlived the only true friend-
ship she had ever owned, she put on her bonnet and
cloak and went down to Oak's house just after sunset,
guided on her way by the pale primrose rays of a
crescent moon a few days old.
A lively firelight shone from the window, but nobody
was visible in the room. She tapped nervously, and
then thought it doubtful if it were right for a single
woman to call upon a bachelor who lived alone, although
he was her manager, and she might be supposed to call
on business without any real impropriety. Gabriel
opened the door, and the moon shone upon his fore-
haad.
"Mr. Oak." said Bathsheba, faintly.
"Yes; I am Mr. Oak." said Gabriel. "Who have I
the honour -- O how stupid of me, not to know you,
mistress!"
"I shall not be your mistress much longer, shall I
Gabriel?" she said, in pathetic tones.
"Well, no. I suppose -- But come in, ma'am. Oh --
and I'll get a light." Oak replied, with some awkwardness.
"No; not on my account."
"It is so seldom that I get a lady visitor that I'm
afraid I haven't proper accommodation. Will you sit
down, please? Here's a chair, and there's one, too.
I am sorry that my chairs all have wood seats, and are
rather hard, but I was thinking of getting some new
ones." Oak placed two or three for her.
"They are quite easy enough for me."
So down she sat, and down sat he, the fire dancing
in their faces, and upon the old furniture
all a-sheenen
Wi' long years o' handlen,
that formed Oak's array of household possessions, which
sent back a dancing reflection in reply. It was very
odd to these two persons, who knew each other passing
well, that the mere circumstance of their meeting in a
new place and in a new way should make them so
awkward and constrained. In the fields, or at her house,
there had never been any embarrassment; but now that
Oak had become the entertainer their lives seemed to be
moved back again to the days when they were strangers.
"You'll think it strange that I have come, but -- "
"O no; not at all."
"But I thought -- Gabriel, I have been uneasy in the
belief that I have offended you, and that you are going
away on that account. It grieved me very much and
I couldn't help coming."
"Offended me! As if you could do that, Bathsheba!"
"Haven't I?" she asked, gladly. "But, what are you
going away for else?"
"I am not going to emigrate, you know; I wasn't
aware that you would wish me not to when I told 'ee or I
shouldn't ha' thought of doing it." he said, simply. "I
have arranged for Little Weatherbury Farm and shall
have it in my own hands at Lady-day. You know I've
had a share in it for some time. Still, that wouldn't
prevent my attending to your business as before, hadn't
it been that things have been said about us."
"What?" said Bathsheba, in surprise. "Things said
about you and me! What are they?"
"I cannot tell you."
"It would be wiser if you were to, I think. You have
played the part of mentor to me many times, and I don't
see why you should fear to do it now."
"It is nothing that you have done, this time. The
top and tail o't is this -- that I am sniffing about here,
and waiting for poor Boldwood's farm, with a thought
of getting you some day."
"Getting me! What does that mean?"
"Marrying o' 'ee, in plain British. You asked me to
tell, so you mustn't blame me."
Bathsheba did not look quite so alarmed as if a
cannon had been discharged by her ear, which was what
Oak had expected. "Marrying me! I didn't know it
was that you meant." she said, quietly. "Such a thing
as that is too absurd -- too soon -- to think of, by far!"
"Yes; of course, it is too absurd. I don't desire any
such thing; I should think that was plain enough by
this time. Surely, surely you be the last person in the
world I think of marrying. It is too absurd, as you say
"Too -- s-s-soon" were the words I used."
"I must beg your pardon for correcting you, but you
said, "too absurd," and so do I."
"I beg your pardon too! she returned, with tears
in her eyes. ""Too soon" was what I said. But it
doesn't matter a bit -- not at ali-but I only meant,
"too soon" Indeed, I didn't, Mr. Oak, and you must
believe me!"
Gabriel looked her long in the face, but the firelight
being faint there was not much to be seen. "Bathsheba,"
he said, tenderly and in surprise, and coming closer:
"if I only knew one thing -- whether you would allow me
to love you and win you, and marry you after ali-if I
only knew that!"
"But you never will know." she murmured.
"Why?"
"Because you never ask.
"Oh -- Oh!" said Gabriel, with a low laugh of joyous-
ness. "My own dear -- "
"You ought not to have sent me that harsh letter
this morning." she interrupted. "It shows you didn't
care a bit about me, and were ready to desert me like
all the rest of them! It was very cruel of you, consider-
ing I was the first sweetheart that you ever had, and
you were the first I ever had; and I shall not forget it!"
"Now, Bathsheba, was ever anybody so provoking
he said, laughing. "You know it was purely that I, as
an unmarried man, carrying on a business for you as a
very taking young woman, had a proper hard part to
play -- more particular that people knew I had a sort
of feeling for'ee; and I fancied, from the way we were
mentioned together, that it might injure your good name.
Nobody knows the heat and fret I have been caused
by it."
"And was that all?"
"All."
"Oh, how glad I am I came!" she exclaimed, thank-
fully, as she rose from her seat. "I have thought so
much more of you since I fancied you did not want
even to see me again. But I must be going now, or I
shall be missed. Why Gabriel." she said, with a slight
laugh, as they went to the door, "it seems exactly as if
I had come courting you -- how dreadful!"
"And quite right too." said Oak. "I've danced at
your skittish heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a
long mile, and many a long day; and it is hard to be-
grudge me this one visit."
He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her
the details of his forthcoming tenure of the other farm.
They spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty
phrases and warm expressions being probably un-
necessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that
substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all)
when the two who are thrown together begin first by
knowing the rougher sides of each other's character,
and not the best till further on, the romance growing
up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.
This good-fellowship -- CAMARADERIE -- usually occurring
through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom
superadded to love between the sexes, because men and
women associate, not in their labours, but in their
pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance
permits its development, the compounded feeling proves
itself to be the only love which is strong as death -- that
love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods
drown, beside which the passion usually called by the
name is evanescent as steam.





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