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A Tragic News for Bathsheba

Bathsheba receives shocking news

The first Saturday after Troy’s departure she went to Casterbridge alone, a journey she had not 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 distinctly 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 person addressed.

“I have some awkward news to break to her. Her husband is drowned.”

As if endowed with the spirit of prophesy 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 overwhelmed 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 centered upon him and the unconscious Bathsheba. He lifted her bodily off the ground and smoothed down [p. 319] 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 comfortable than her own conveyance. These proposals Bathsheba gently declined, and the farmer at once departed. 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 themselves 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 Weatherbury by half an hour, and Liddy looked enquiringly into her mistress’s face. Bathsheba had nothing to say.

Explanatory note:

* phaeton: a four-wheeled open carriage drawn by two horses.

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