Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

Chapter 41

Suspicion — Fanny is Sent for

BATHSHEBA said very little to her husband all that evening of their return from market, and he was not disposed to say much to her. He exhibited the unpleasant combination of a restless condition with a silent tongue. The next day, which was Sunday, passed nearly in the same manner as regarded their taciturnity, Bathsheba going to church both morning and afternoon. This was the day before the Budmouth races. In the evening Troy said, suddenly —

“Bathsheba, could you let me have twenty pounds?”

Her countenance instantly sank. “Twenty pounds?” she said.

“The fact is, I want it badly.” The anxiety upon Troy’s face was unusual and very marked. It was a culmination of the mood he had been in all the day.

“Ah! for those races to-morrow.”

Troy for the moment made no reply. Her mistake had its advantages to a man who shrank from having his mind inspected as he did now. “Well, suppose I do want it for races?” he said, at last.

“Oh, Frank!” Bathsheba replied, and there was such a volume of entreaty in the words. “Only such a few weeks ago you said that I was far sweeter than all your other pleasures put together, and that you would give them all up for me; and now, won’t you give up this one, which is more a worry than a pleasure? Do, Frank. Come, let me fascinate you by all I can do — by pretty words and pretty looks, and everything I can think of — to stay at home. Say yes to your wife — say yes!”

The tenderest and softest phases of Bathsheba’s nature were prominent now — advanced impulsively for his acceptance, without any of the disguises and defences which the wariness of her character when she was cool too frequently threw over them. Few men could have resisted the arch yet dignified entreaty of the beautiful face, thrown a little back and sideways in the well known attitude that expresses more than the words it accompanies, and which seems to have been designed for these special occasions. Had the woman not been his wife, Troy would have succumbed instantly; as it was, he thought he would not deceive her longer.

“The money is not wanted for racing debts at all,” he said.

“What is it for?” she asked. “You worry me a great deal by these mysterious responsibilities, Frank.”

Troy hesitated. He did not now love her enough to allow himself to be carried too far by her ways. Yet it was necessary to be civil. “You wrong me by such a suspicious manner,” he said. “Such strait-waistcoating as you treat me to is not becoming in you at so early a date.”

“I think that I have a right to grumble a little if I pay,” she said, with features between a smile and a pout.

“Exactly; and, the former being done, suppose we proceed to the latter. Bathsheba, fun is all very well, but don’t go too far, or you may have cause to regret something.”

She reddened. “I do that already,” she said, quickly.

“What do you regret?”

“That my romance has come to an end.”

“All romances end at marriage.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. You grieve me to my soul by being smart at my expense.”

“You are dull enough at mine. I believe you hate me.”

“Not you — only your faults. I do hate them.”

“‘Twould be much more becoming if you set yourself to cure them. Come, let’s strike a balance with the twenty pounds, and be friends.”

She gave a sigh of resignation. “I have about that sum here for household expenses. If you must have it, take it.”

“Very good. Thank you. I expect I shall have gone away before you are in to breakfast to-morrow.”

“And must you go? Ah! there was a time, Frank, when it would have taken a good many promises to other people to drag you away from me. You used to call me darling, then. But it doesn’t matter to you how my days are passed now.”

“I must go, in spite of sentiment.” Troy, as he spoke, looked at his watch, and, apparently actuated by NON LUCENDO principles, opened the case at the back, revealing, snugly stowed within it, a small coil of hair.

Bathsheba’s eyes had been accidentally lifted at that moment, and she saw the action and saw the hair. She flushed in pain and surprise, and some words escaped her before she had thought whether or not it was wise to utter them. “A woman’s curl of hair!” she said. “Oh, Frank, whose is that?”

Troy had instantly closed his watch. He carelessly replied, as one who cloaked some feelings that the sight had stirred. “Why, yours, of course. Whose should it be? I had quite forgotten that I had it.”

“What a dreadful fib, Frank!”

“I tell you I had forgotten it!” he said, loudly.

“I don’t mean that — it was yellow hair.”

“Nonsense.”

“That’s insulting me. I know it was yellow. Now whose was it? I want to know.”

“Very well I’ll tell you, so make no more ado. It is the hair of a young woman I was going to marry before I knew you.”

“You ought to tell me her name, then.”

“I cannot do that.”

“Is she married yet?”

“No.”

“Is she alive?”

“Yes.”

“Is she pretty?”

“Yes.”

“It is wonderful how she can be, poor thing, under such an awful affliction!”

“Affliction — what affliction?” he inquired, quickly.

“Having hair of that dreadful colour.”

“Oh — ho — I like that!” said Troy, recovering himself. “Why, her hair has been admired by everybody who has seen her since she has worn it loose, which has not been long. It is beautiful hair. People used to turn their heads to look at it, poor girl!”

“Pooh! that’s nothing — that’s nothing!” she exclaimed, in incipient accents of pique. “If I cared for your love as much as I used to I could say people had turned to look at mine.”

“Bathsheba, don’t be so fitful and jealous. You knew what married life would be like, and shouldn’t have entered it if you feared these contingencies.”

Troy had by this time driven her to bitterness: her heart was big in her throat, and the ducts to her eyes were painfully full. Ashamed as she was to show emotion, at last she burst out:—

“This is all I get for loving you so well! Ah! when I married you your life was dearer to me than my own. I would have died for you — how truly I can say that I would have died for you! And now you sneer at my foolishness in marrying you. O! is it kind to me to throw my mistake in my face? Whatever opinion you may have of my wisdom, you should not tell me of it so mercilessly, now that I am in your power.”

“I can’t help how things fall out,” said Troy; “upon my heart, women will be the death of me!”

“Well you shouldn’t keep people’s hair. You’ll burn it, won’t you, Frank?”

Frank went on as if he had not heard her. “There are considerations even before my consideration for you; reparations to be made — ties you know nothing of. If you repent of marrying, so do I.”

Trembling now, she put her hand upon his arm, saying, in mingled tones of wretchedness and coaxing, “I only repent it if you don’t love me better than any woman in the world! I don’t otherwise, Frank. You don’t repent because you already love somebody better than you love me, do you?”

“I don’t know. Why do you say that?”

“You won’t burn that curl. You like the woman who owns that pretty hair — yes; it is pretty — more beautiful than my miserable black mane! Well, it is no use; I can’t help being ugly. You must like her best, if you will!”

“Until to-day, when I took it from a drawer, I have never looked upon that bit of hair for several months — that I am ready to swear.”

“But just now you said ‘ties’; and then — that woman we met?”

“’Twas the meeting with her that reminded me of the hair.”

“Is it hers, then?”

“Yes. There, now that you have wormed it out of me, I hope you are content.”

“And what are the ties?”

“Oh! that meant nothing — a mere jest.”

“A mere jest!” she said, in mournful astonishment. “Can you jest when I am so wretchedly in earnest? Tell me the truth, Frank. I am not a fool, you know, although I am a woman, and have my woman’s moments. Come! treat me fairly,” she said, looking honestly and fearlessly into his face. “I don’t want much; bare justice — that’s all! Ah! once I felt I could be content with nothing less than the highest homage from the husband I should choose. Now, anything short of cruelty will content me. Yes! the independent and spirited Bathsheba is come to this!”

“For Heaven’s sake don’t be so desperate!” Troy said, snappishly, rising as he did so, and leaving the room.

Directly he had gone, Bathsheba burst into great sobs — dry-eyed sobs, which cut as they came, without any softening by tears. But she determined to repress all evidences of feeling. She was conquered; but she would never own it as long as she lived. Her pride was indeed brought low by despairing discoveries of her spoliation by marriage with a less pure nature than her own. She chafed to and fro in rebelliousness, like a caged leopard; her whole soul was in arms, and the blood fired her face. Until she had met Troy, Bathsheba had been proud of her position as a woman; it had been a glory to her to know that her lips had been touched by no man’s on earth — that her waist had never been encircled by a lover’s arm. She hated herself now. In those earlier days she had always nourished a secret contempt for girls who were the slaves of the first goodlooking young fellow who should choose to salute them. She had never taken kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract as did the majority of women she saw about her. In the turmoil of her anxiety for her lover she had agreed to marry him; but the perception that had accompanied her happiest hours on this account was rather that of self-sacrifice than of promotion and honour. Although she scarcely knew the divinity’s name, Diana was the goddess whom Bathsheba instinctively adored. That she had never, by look, word, or sign, encouraged a man to approach her — that she had felt herself sufficient to herself, and had in the independence of her girlish heart fancied there was a certain degradation in renouncing the simplicity of a maiden existence to become the humbler half of an indifferent matrimonial whole — were facts now bitterly remembered. Oh, if she had never stooped to folly of this kind, respectable as it was, and could only stand again, as she had stood on the hill at Norcombe, and dare Troy or any other man to pollute a hair of her head by his interference!

The next morning she rose earlier than usual, and had the horse saddled for her ride round the farm in the customary way. When she came in at half-past eight — their usual hour for breakfasting — she was informed that her husband had risen, taken his breakfast, and driven off to Casterbridge with the gig and Poppet.

After breakfast she was cool and collected — quite herself in fact — and she rambled to the gate, intending to walk to another quarter of the farm, which she still personally superintended as well as her duties in the house would permit, continually, however, finding herself preceded in forethought by Gabriel Oak, for whom she began to entertain the genuine friendship of a sister. Of course, she sometimes thought of him in the light of an old lover, and had momentary imaginings of what life with him as a husband would have been like; also of life with Boldwood under the same conditions. But Bathsheba, though she could feel, was not much given to futile dreaming, and her musings under this head were short and entirely confined to the times when Troy’s neglect was more than ordinarily evident.

She saw coming up the road a man like Mr. Boldwood. It was Mr. Boldwood. Bathsheba blushed painfully, and watched. The farmer stopped when still a long way off, and held up his hand to Gabriel Oak, who was in a footpath across the field. The two men then approached each other and seemed to engage in earnest conversation.

Thus they continued for a long time. Joseph Poorgrass now passed near them, wheeling a barrow of apples up the hill to Bathsheba’s residence. Boldwood and Gabriel called to him, spoke to him for a few minutes, and then all three parted, Joseph immediately coming up the hill with his barrow.

Bathsheba, who had seen this pantomime with some surprise, experienced great relief when Boldwood turned back again. “Well, what’s the message, Joseph?” she said.

He set down his barrow, and, putting upon himself the refined aspect that a conversation with a lady required, spoke to Bathsheba over the gate.

“You’ll never see Fanny Robin no more — use nor principal — ma’am.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s dead in the Union.”

“Fanny dead — never!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What did she die from?”

“I don’t know for certain; but I should be inclined to think it was from general neshness of constitution. She was such a limber maid that ‘a could stand no hardship, even when I knowed her, and ‘a went like a candle-snoff, so ’tis said. She was took bad in the morning, and, being quite feeble and worn out, she died in the evening. She belongs by law to our parish; and Mr. Boldwood is going to send a waggon at three this afternoon to fetch her home here and bury her.”

“Indeed I shall not let Mr. Boldwood do any such thing — I shall do it! Fanny was my uncle’s servant, and, although I only knew her for a couple of days, she belongs to me. How very, very sad this is! — the idea of Fanny being in a workhouse.” Bathsheba had begun to know what suffering was, and she spoke with real feeling. . . . “Send across to Mr. Boldwood’s, and say that Mrs. Troy will take upon herself the duty of fetching an old servant of the family. . . . We ought not to put her in a waggon; we’ll get a hearse.”

“There will hardly be time, ma’am, will there?”

“Perhaps not,” she said, musingly. “When did you say we must be at the door — three o’clock?”

“Three o’clock this afternoon, ma’am, so to speak it.”

“Very well — you go with it. A pretty waggon is better than an ugly hearse, after all. Joseph, have the new spring waggon with the blue body and red wheels, and wash it very clean. And, Joseph ——”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Carry with you some evergreens and flowers to put upon her coffin — indeed, gather a great many, and completely bury her in them. Get some boughs of laurustinus, and variegated box, and yew, and boy’s-love; ay, and some hunches of chrysanthemum. And let old Pleasant draw her, because she knew him so well.”

“I will, ma’am. I ought to have said that the Union, in the form of four labouring men, will meet me when I gets to our churchyard gate, and take her and bury her according to the rites of the Board of Guardians, as by law ordained.”

“Dear me — Casterbridge Union — and is Fanny come to this?” said Bathsheba, musing. “I wish I had known of it sooner. I thought she was far away. How long has she lived there?”

“On’y been there a day or two.”

“Oh! — then she has not been staying there as a regular inmate?”

“No. She first went to live in a garrison-town t’other side o’ Wessex, and since then she’s been picking up a living at seampstering in Melchester for several months, at the house of a very respectable widow-woman who takes in work of that sort. She only got handy the Union-house on Sunday morning ‘a b’lieve, and ’tis supposed here and there that she had traipsed every step of the way from Melchester. Why she left her place, I can’t say, for I don’t know; and as to a lie, why, I wouldn’t tell it. That’s the short of the story, ma’am.”

“Ah-h!”

No gem ever flashed from a rosy ray to a white one more rapidly than changed the young wife’s countenance whilst this word came from her in a long-drawn breath. “Did she walk along our turnpike-road?” she said, in a suddenly restless and eager voice.

“I believe she did. . . . Ma’am, shall I call Liddy? You bain’t well, ma’am, surely? You look like a lily — so pale and fainty!”

“No; don’t call her; it is nothing. When did she pass Weatherbury?”

“Last Saturday night.”

“That will do, Joseph; now you may go.”

“Certainly, ma’am.”

“Joseph, come hither a moment. What was the colour of Fanny Robin’s hair?”

“Really, mistress, now that ’tis put to me so judge-and-jury like, I can’t call to mind, if ye’ll believe me!”

“Never mind; go on and do what I told you. Stop — well no, go on.”

She turned herself away from him, that he might no longer notice the mood which had set its sign so visibly upon her, and went indoors with a distressing sense of faintness and a beating brow. About an hour after, she heard the noise of the waggon and went out, still with a painful consciousness of her bewildered and troubled look. Joseph, dressed in his best suit of clothes, was putting in the horse to start. The shrubs and flowers were all piled in the waggon, as she had directed; Bathsheba hardly saw them now.

“Whose sweetheart did you say, Joseph?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.”

“Are you quite sure?”

“Yes, ma’am, quite sure.”

“Sure of what?”

“I’m sure that all I know is that she arrived in the morning and died in the evening without further parley. What Oak and Mr. Boldwood told me was only these few words. ‘Little Fanny Robin is dead, Joseph,’ Gabriel said, looking in my face in his steady old way. I was very sorry, and I said, ‘Ah! — and how did she come to die?’ ‘Well, she’s dead in Casterbridge Union,’ he said, ‘and perhaps ‘tisn’t much matter about how she came to die. She reached the Union early Sunday morning, and died in the afternoon — that’s clear enough.’ Then I asked what she’d been doing lately, and Mr. Boldwood turned round to me then, and left off spitting a thistle with the end of his stick. He told me about her having lived by seampstering in Melchester, as I mentioned to you, and that she walked therefrom at the end of last week, passing near here Saturday night in the dusk. They then said I had better just name a hint of her death to you, and away they went. Her death might have been brought on by biding in the night wind, you know, ma’am; for people used to say she’d go off in a decline: she used to cough a good deal in winter time. However, ‘tisn’t much odds to us about that now, for ’tis all over.”

“Have you heard a different story at all?” She looked at him so intently that Joseph’s eyes quailed.

“Not a word, mistress, I assure ‘ee!” he said. “Hardly anybody in the parish knows the news yet.”

“I wonder why Gabriel didn’t bring the message to me himself. He mostly makes a point of seeing me upon the most trifling errand.” These words were merely murmured, and she was looking upon the ground.

“Perhaps he was busy, ma’am,” Joseph suggested. “And sometimes he seems to suffer from things upon his mind, connected with the time when he was better off than ‘a is now. ‘A’s rather a curious item, but a very understanding shepherd, and learned in books.”

“Did anything seem upon his mind whilst he was speaking to you about this?”

“I cannot but say that there did, ma’am. He was terrible down, and so was Farmer Boldwood.”

“Thank you, Joseph. That will do. Go on now, or you’ll be late.”

Bathsheba, still unhappy, went indoors again. In the course of the afternoon she said to Liddy, who had been informed of the occurrence, “What was the colour of poor Fanny Robin’s hair? Do you know? I cannot recollect — I only saw her for a day or two.”

“It was light, ma’am; but she wore it rather short, and packed away under her cap, so that you would hardly notice it. But I have seen her let it down when she was going to bed, and it looked beautiful then. Real golden hair.”

“Her young man was a soldier, was he not?”

“Yes. In the same regiment as Mr. Troy. He says he knew him very well.”

“What, Mr. Troy says so? How came he to say that?”

“One day I just named it to him, and asked him if he knew Fanny’s young man. He said, ‘Oh yes, he knew the young man as well as he knew himself, and that there wasn’t a man in the regiment he liked better.’”

“Ah! Said that, did he?”

“Yes; and he said there was a strong likeness between himself and the other young man, so that sometimes people mistook them ——”

“Liddy, for Heaven’s sake stop your talking!” said Bathsheba, with the nervous petulance that comes from worrying perceptions.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:22