Home again—a trickster
That same evening at dusk Gabriel was leaning over Coggan's garden-gate, taking an up-and-down survey before retiring to rest.
A vehicle of some kind was softly creeping along the grassy margin of the lane. From it spread the tones of two women talking. The tones were natural and not at all suppressed. Oak instantly knew the voices to be those of Bathsheba and Liddy.
The carriage came opposite and passed by. It was Miss Everdene's gig, and Liddy and her mistress were the only occupants of the seat. Liddy was asking questions about the city of Bath, and her companion was answering them listlessly and unconcernedly. Both Bathsheba and the horse seemed weary.
The exquisite relief of finding that she was here again, safe and sound, overpowered all reflection, and Oak could only luxuriate in the sense of it. All grave reports were forgotten.
He lingered and lingered on, till there was no difference between the eastern and western expanses of sky, and the timid hares began to limp courageously round the dim hillocks. Gabriel might have been there an additional half-hour when a dark form walked slowly by. "Good-night, Gabriel," the passer said.
It was Boldwood. "Good-night, sir," said Gabriel.
Boldwood likewise vanished up the road, and Oak shortly afterwards turned indoors to bed.
Farmer Boldwood went on towards Miss Everdene's house. He reached the front, and approaching the entrance, saw a light in the parlour. The blind was not drawn down, and inside the room was Bathsheba, looking over some papers or letters. Her back was towards Boldwood. He went to the door, knocked, and waited with tense muscles and an aching brow.
Boldwood had not been outside his garden since his meeting with Bathsheba in the road to Yalbury. Silent and alone, he had remained in moody meditation on woman's ways, deeming as essentials of the whole sex the accidents of the single one of their number he had ever closely beheld. By degrees a more charitable temper had pervaded him, and this was the reason of his sally to-night. He had come to apologize and beg forgiveness of Bathsheba with something like a sense of shame at his violence, having but just now learnt that she had returned—only from a visit to Liddy, as he supposed, the Bath escapade being quite unknown to him.
He inquired for Miss Everdene. Liddy's manner was odd, but he did not notice it. She went in, leaving him standing there, and in her absence the blind of the room containing Bathsheba was pulled down. Boldwood augured ill from that sign. Liddy came out.
"My mistress cannot see you, sir," she said.
The farmer instantly went out by the gate. He was unforgiven—that was the issue of it all. He had seen her who was to him simultaneously a delight and a torture, sitting in the room he had shared with her as a peculiarly privileged guest only a little earlier in the summer, and she had denied him an entrance there now.
Boldwood did not hurry homeward. It was ten o'clock at least, when, walking deliberately through the lower part of Weatherbury, he heard the carrier's spring van entering the village. The van ran to and from a town in a northern direction, and it was owned and driven by a Weatherbury man, at the door of whose house it now pulled up. The lamp fixed to the head of the hood illuminated a scarlet and gilded form, who was the first to alight.
"Ah!" said Boldwood to himself, "come to see her again."
Troy entered the carrier's house, which had been the place of his lodging on his last visit to his native place. Boldwood was moved by a sudden determination. He hastened home. In ten minutes he was back again, and made as if he were going to call upon Troy at the carrier's. But as he approached, some one opened the door and came out. He heard this person say "Good-night" to the inmates, and the voice was Troy's. This was strange, coming so immediately after his arrival. Boldwood, however, hastened up to him. Troy had what appeared to be a carpet-bag in his hand—the same that he had brought with him. It seemed as if he were going to leave again this very night.
Troy turned up the hill and quickened his pace. Boldwood stepped forward.
"Yes—I'm Sergeant Troy."
"Just arrived from up the country, I think?"
"Just arrived from Bath."
"I am William Boldwood."
The tone in which this word was uttered was all that had been wanted to bring Boldwood to the point.
"I wish to speak a word with you," he said.
"About her who lives just ahead there—and about a woman you have wronged."
"I wonder at your impertinence," said Troy, moving on.
"Now look here," said Boldwood, standing in front of him, "wonder or not, you are going to hold a conversation with me."
Troy heard the dull determination in Boldwood's voice, looked at his stalwart frame, then at the thick cudgel he carried in his hand. He remembered it was past ten o'clock. It seemed worth while to be civil to Boldwood.
"Very well, I'll listen with pleasure," said Troy, placing his bag on the ground, "only speak low, for somebody or other may overhear us in the farmhouse there."
"Well then—I know a good deal concerning your Fanny Robin's attachment to you. I may say, too, that I believe I am the only person in the village, excepting Gabriel Oak, who does know it. You ought to marry her."
"I suppose I ought. Indeed, I wish to, but I cannot."
Troy was about to utter something hastily; he then checked himself and said, "I am too poor." His voice was changed. Previously it had had a devil-may-care tone. It was the voice of a trickster now.
Boldwood's present mood was not critical enough to notice tones. He continued, "I may as well speak plainly; and understand, I don't wish to enter into the questions of right or wrong, woman's honour and shame, or to express any opinion on your conduct. I intend a business transaction with you."
"I see," said Troy. "Suppose we sit down here."
An old tree trunk lay under the hedge immediately opposite, and they sat down.
"I was engaged to be married to Miss Everdene," said Boldwood, "but you came and—"
"Not engaged," said Troy.
"As good as engaged."
"If I had not turned up she might have become engaged to you."
"If you had not come I should certainly—yes, certainly—have been accepted by this time. If you had not seen her you might have been married to Fanny. Well, there's too much difference between Miss Everdene's station and your own for this flirtation with her ever to benefit you by ending in marriage. So all I ask is, don't molest her any more. Marry Fanny. I'll make it worth your while."
"How will you?"
"I'll pay you well now, I'll settle a sum of money upon her, and I'll see that you don't suffer from poverty in the future. I'll put it clearly. Bathsheba is only playing with you: you are too poor for her as I said; so give up wasting your time about a great match you'll never make for a moderate and rightful match you may make to-morrow; take up your carpet-bag, turn about, leave Weatherbury now, this night, and you shall take fifty pounds with you. Fanny shall have fifty to enable her to prepare for the wedding, when you have told me where she is living, and she shall have five hundred paid down on her wedding-day."
In making this statement Boldwood's voice revealed only too clearly a consciousness of the weakness of his position, his aims, and his method. His manner had lapsed quite from that of the firm and dignified Boldwood of former times; and such a scheme as he had now engaged in he would have condemned as childishly imbecile only a few months ago. We discern a grand force in the lover which he lacks whilst a free man; but there is a breadth of vision in the free man which in the lover we vainly seek. Where there is much bias there must be some narrowness, and love, though added emotion, is subtracted capacity. Boldwood exemplified this to an abnormal degree: he knew nothing of Fanny Robin's circumstances or whereabouts, he knew nothing of Troy's possibilities, yet that was what he said.
"I like Fanny best," said Troy; "and if, as you say, Miss Everdene is out of my reach, why I have all to gain by accepting your money, and marrying Fan. But she's only a servant."
"Never mind—do you agree to my arrangement?"
"Ah!" said Boldwood, in a more elastic voice. "Oh, Troy, if you like her best, why then did you step in here and injure my happiness?"
"I love Fanny best now," said Troy. "But Bathsh—Miss Everdene inflamed me, and displaced Fanny for a time. It is over now."
"Why should it be over so soon? And why then did you come here again?"
"There are weighty reasons. Fifty pounds at once, you said!"
"I did," said Boldwood, "and here they are—fifty sovereigns." He handed Troy a small packet.
"You have everything ready—it seems that you calculated on my accepting them," said the sergeant, taking the packet.
"I thought you might accept them," said Boldwood.
"You've only my word that the programme shall be adhered to, whilst I at any rate have fifty pounds."
"I had thought of that, and I have considered that if I can't appeal to your honour I can trust to your—well, shrewdness we'll call it—not to lose five hundred pounds in prospect, and also make a bitter enemy of a man who is willing to be an extremely useful friend."
"Stop, listen!" said Troy in a whisper.
A light pit-pat was audible upon the road just above them.
"By George—'tis she," he continued. "I must go on and meet her."
"Bathsheba—out alone at this time o' night!" said Boldwood in amazement, and starting up. "Why must you meet her?"
"She was expecting me to-night—and I must now speak to her, and wish her good-bye, according to your wish."
"I don't see the necessity of speaking."
"It can do no harm—and she'll be wandering about looking for me if I don't. You shall hear all I say to her. It will help you in your love-making when I am gone."
"Your tone is mocking."
"Oh no. And remember this, if she does not know what has become of me, she will think more about me than if I tell her flatly I have come to give her up."
"Will you confine your words to that one point?—Shall I hear every word you say?"
"Every word. Now sit still there, and hold my carpet bag for me, and mark what you hear."
The light footstep came closer, halting occasionally, as if the walker listened for a sound. Troy whistled a double note in a soft, fluty tone.
"Come to that, is it!" murmured Boldwood, uneasily.
"You promised silence," said Troy.
"I promise again."
Troy stepped forward.
"Frank, dearest, is that you?" The tones were Bathsheba's.
"O God!" said Boldwood.
"Yes," said Troy to her.
"How late you are," she continued, tenderly. "Did you come by the carrier? I listened and heard his wheels entering the village, but it was some time ago, and I had almost given you up, Frank."
"I was sure to come," said Frank. "You knew I should, did you not?"
"Well, I thought you would," she said, playfully; "and, Frank, it is so lucky! There's not a soul in my house but me to-night. I've packed them all off so nobody on earth will know of your visit to your lady's bower. Liddy wanted to go to her grandfather's to tell him about her holiday, and I said she might stay with them till to-morrow—when you'll be gone again."
"Capital," said Troy. "But, dear me, I had better go back for my bag, because my slippers and brush and comb are in it; you run home whilst I fetch it, and I'll promise to be in your parlour in ten minutes."
"Yes." She turned and tripped up the hill again.
During the progress of this dialogue there was a nervous twitching of Boldwood's tightly closed lips, and his face became bathed in a clammy dew. He now started forward towards Troy. Troy turned to him and took up the bag.
"Shall I tell her I have come to give her up and cannot marry her?" said the soldier, mockingly.
"No, no; wait a minute. I want to say more to you—more to you!" said Boldwood, in a hoarse whisper.
"Now," said Troy, "you see my dilemma. Perhaps I am a bad man—the victim of my impulses—led away to do what I ought to leave undone. I can't, however, marry them both. And I have two reasons for choosing Fanny. First, I like her best upon the whole, and second, you make it worth my while."
At the same instant Boldwood sprang upon him, and held him by the neck. Troy felt Boldwood's grasp slowly tightening. The move was absolutely unexpected.
"A moment," he gasped. "You are injuring her you love!"
"Well, what do you mean?" said the farmer.
"Give me breath," said Troy.
Boldwood loosened his hand, saying, "By Heaven, I've a mind to kill you!"
"And ruin her."
"Oh, how can she be saved now, unless I marry her?"
Boldwood groaned. He reluctantly released the soldier, and flung him back against the hedge. "Devil, you torture me!" said he.
Troy rebounded like a ball, and was about to make a dash at the farmer; but he checked himself, saying lightly—
"It is not worth while to measure my strength with you. Indeed it is a barbarous way of settling a quarrel. I shall shortly leave the army because of the same conviction. Now after that revelation of how the land lies with Bathsheba, 'twould be a mistake to kill me, would it not?"
"'Twould be a mistake to kill you," repeated Boldwood, mechanically, with a bowed head.
"Better kill yourself."
"I'm glad you see it."
"Troy, make her your wife, and don't act upon what I arranged just now. The alternative is dreadful, but take Bathsheba; I give her up! She must love you indeed to sell soul and body to you so utterly as she has done. Wretched woman—deluded woman—you are, Bathsheba!"
"But about Fanny?"
"Bathsheba is a woman well to do," continued Boldwood, in nervous anxiety, and, Troy, she will make a good wife; and, indeed, she is worth your hastening on your marriage with her!"
"But she has a will—not to say a temper, and I shall be a mere slave to her. I could do anything with poor Fanny Robin."
"Troy," said Boldwood, imploringly, "I'll do anything for you, only don't desert her; pray don't desert her, Troy."
"Which, poor Fanny?"
"No; Bathsheba Everdene. Love her best! Love her tenderly! How shall I get you to see how advantageous it will be to you to secure her at once?"
"I don't wish to secure her in any new way."
Boldwood's arm moved spasmodically towards Troy's person again. He repressed the instinct, and his form drooped as with pain.
Troy went on—
"I shall soon purchase my discharge, and then—"
"But I wish you to hasten on this marriage! It will be better for you both. You love each other, and you must let me help you to do it."
"Why, by settling the five hundred on Bathsheba instead of Fanny, to enable you to marry at once. No; she wouldn't have it of me. I'll pay it down to you on the wedding-day."
Troy paused in secret amazement at Boldwood's wild infatuation. He carelessly said, "And am I to have anything now?"
"Yes, if you wish to. But I have not much additional money with me. I did not expect this; but all I have is yours."
Boldwood, more like a somnambulist than a wakeful man, pulled out the large canvas bag he carried by way of a purse, and searched it.
"I have twenty-one pounds more with me," he said. "Two notes and a sovereign. But before I leave you I must have a paper signed—"
"Pay me the money, and we'll go straight to her parlour, and make any arrangement you please to secure my compliance with your wishes. But she must know nothing of this cash business."
"Nothing, nothing," said Boldwood, hastily. "Here is the sum, and if you'll come to my house we'll write out the agreement for the remainder, and the terms also."
"First we'll call upon her."
"But why? Come with me to-night, and go with me to-morrow to the surrogate's."
"But she must be consulted; at any rate informed."
"Very well; go on."
They went up the hill to Bathsheba's house. When they stood at the entrance, Troy said, "Wait here a moment." Opening the door, he glided inside, leaving the door ajar.
Boldwood waited. In two minutes a light appeared in the passage. Boldwood then saw that the chain had been fastened across the door. Troy appeared inside, carrying a bedroom candlestick.
"What, did you think I should break in?" said Boldwood, contemptuously.
"Oh, no, it is merely my humour to secure things. Will you read this a moment? I'll hold the light."
Troy handed a folded newspaper through the slit between door and doorpost, and put the candle close. "That's the paragraph," he said, placing his finger on a line.
Boldwood looked and read—
Marriages. On the 17th inst., at St. Ambrose's Church, Bath, by the Rev. G. Mincing, B.A., Francis Troy, only son of the late Edward Troy, Esq., M.D., of Weatherbury, and sergeant with Dragoon Guards, to Bathsheba, only surviving daughter of the late Mr. John Everdene, of Casterbridge.
"This may be called Fort meeting Feeble, hey, Boldwood?" said Troy. A low gurgle of derisive laughter followed the words.
The paper fell from Boldwood's hands. Troy continued—
"Fifty pounds to marry Fanny. Good. Twenty-one pounds not to marry Fanny, but Bathsheba. Good. Finale: already Bathsheba's husband. Now, Boldwood, yours is the ridiculous fate which always attends interference between a man and his wife. And another word. Bad as I am, I am not such a villain as to make the marriage or misery of any woman a matter of huckster and sale. Fanny has long ago left me. I don't know where she is. I have searched everywhere. Another word yet. You say you love Bathsheba; yet on the merest apparent evidence you instantly believe in her dishonour. A fig for such love! Now that I've taught you a lesson, take your money back again."
"I will not; I will not!" said Boldwood, in a hiss.
"Anyhow I won't have it," said Troy, contemptuously. He wrapped the packet of gold in the notes, and threw the whole into the road.
Boldwood shook his clenched fist at him. "You juggler of Satan! You black hound! But I'll punish you yet; mark me, I'll punish you yet!"
Another peal of laughter. Troy then closed the door, and locked himself in.
Throughout the whole of that night Boldwood's dark form might have been seen walking about the hills and downs of Weatherbury like an unhappy Shade in the Mournful Fields by Acheron.