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12

Bathsheba makes her choice

 

On the same day that Bathsheba arrived home, Mr Boldwood went to apologize to her for speaking so violently the last time he had seen her. He knew nothing of her trip to Bath,and supposed she had only been to visit Liddy. But at her door he was told he could not see her,and he realized she had not forgiven him.

On his way home through Weatherbury he saw the coach from Bath. It stopped at the usual place,and a soldier in a red and gold uniform jumped down. Sergeant Troy picked up his bag and was about to take the road to Bathsheba's house,when Boldwood stepped forward.

Sergeant Troy?I am William Boldwood. ’

Indeed?’said Troy,showing little interest.

I want to speak to you—about two women. ’

Troy saw the heavy stick Boldwood was holding,and real-ized how determined he was. He decided it was worth being polite.

I'll listen with pleasure,but do speak quietly. ’

Well then,I've heard about your relationship with Fanny Robin,and I think you ought to marry her. ’

I suppose I ought. Indeed,I want to,but I cannot. ’

Why can't you?’

Troy was going to reply immediately,but he stopped him-self. ‘I am too poor,’he said,looking quickly at Boldwood to see if the farmer believed him. Boldwood did not notice the look.

I don't want to talk about right or wrong,I just want to discuss business with you. I was engaged to Miss Everdene,when you came and—’

Not engaged,’said Troy.

More or less engaged,’insisted Boldwood. ‘If you hadn't come,she would certainly have accepted my proposal by now. Well,her position in society is so much higher than yours that you can't hope to marry her. So all I ask is that you don't bother her any more,and marry Fanny. ’

Why should I?’asked Troy carelessly.

I'll pay you. If you leave Weatherbury today,I'll give you fifty pounds Fanny will have fifty pounds for wedding clothes,and I'll give her five hundred pounds the day she marries you. ’Boldwood's manner showed that he was a little ashamed of offering money,but he was prepared to do almost anything to prevent Troy marrying Bathsheba.

Troy appeared to consider the offer. ‘It's true I like Fanny best,although she's only a maid. Fifty pounds now,you said?’

Here's the money,’said Boldwood,handing the soldier a purse of gold coins.

Stop,listen!’said Troy in a whisper. Light footsteps could be heard on the road,coming from Bathsheba's house.

It's Bathsheba!She's expecting me. I must go and speak to 132 her,and say goodbye to her,as you and I have arranged. ’

Why do you need to speak to her?’

She'll look for me if I don't. Don't worry,you'll hear every word I say to her. It may help you in your courting,when I've gone!Stand over there behind the tree,and listen. ’

Troy stepped forward and whistled a double note.

Frank,darling,is that you?’It was Bathsheba's voice.

Oh God!’said Boldwood,unheard behind the tree.

Yes,it's me,’replied Troy.

You'rs so late,Frank,’she continued. ‘The coach arrived a long time ago!Frank,it's so lucky!There's nobody in my house except me tonight,so nobody will know about your visit. ’

Excellent,’said Troy. ‘But I'll just have to cdlect my bag,so you run home and I promise to be there in ten minutes. ’

Yes,Frank. ’She ran back to her house.

Troy turned to Boldwood,who had stepped out from behind the tree,his face white and his whole body trembling.

Shall I tell her I cannot marry her?’laughed the soldier.

No,no,wait!I have more to say to you!whispered Boldwood,the muscles in his face strangely out of control.

Now,’said Troy,‘you see my problem. I can't marry them both. But I have two reasons for choosing Fanny. First,I like her best,I think,and second,you're paying me for it. ’

At that moment Boldwood lost control. He attacked Troy fiercely,holding his neck with botn hands.

Wait,’gasped Troy,who had not expected this,‘let me breathe!If you kill me,you injure the woman you love!’

What do you mean?’cried the farmer. ‘I should kill you like a dog!’But he let go of Troy's neck,and listened.

You heard how Bathsheba loves me and expects me to visit her tonight Soon the whole village will know this. The only way to save her good name,and her position in Weatherbury,is for me to marry her. ’

True,true,’agreed Boldwood after a pause. ‘Troy,marry her!Poor,weak woman!She must love you madly to give herself so completely to you!’

But what about Fanny?’asked the soldier cleverly.

Don't desert her,Troy,I beg you!I don't mean Fanny,I'm speaking of Bathsheba!How can I persuade you?I know!I'll pay you five hundred pounds on the day you marry Bathsheba!’

Troy was secretly shocked at Boldwood's wild offer.

And I'll receive something now as well?’he asked.

Yes,all the money I have with me!’He counted the coins in his pocket. ‘Twenty-one pounds—it's all for you!’

Give me the money,and we'll go to her house. I'll ask her to marry me. Of course I won't say anything about the money. ’

They went along the road to the farmhouse,and Boldwood waited outside while Troy entered. He returned in a moment with a piece cut out of a Bath newspaper.

Here,read this first,’he said,smiling. And Boldwood read:

MARRIAGES:On the 17th,in Bath,Frank Troy,Sergeant,to Bathsheba Everdene of Weatherbury.

The paper fell from Boldwood's hands,as the soldier began to laugh. ‘Fifty pounds to marry Fanny. Twenty-one pounds not to marry Fanny,but Bathsheba. And now you see I'm already Bathsheba's husband. You're a fool,Boldwood. Although I may be a bad man,I'd never bribe anyone to mar-ry,as you've tried to. And Fanny?She left me long ago,and I don't know where she is. I've searched everywhere for her. Now take your money back!I don't want it!’and Troy threw the gold coins into the road.

You black-hearted dog!I'll punish you one day,remember that!’cried the broken man. Troy laughed loudly as he closed Bathsheba's front door.

Through the whole of the long night that followed,Boldwood's dark figure could be seen walking over the hills of Weatherbury like a ghost.

Just before the clock struck five the next morning,Gabriel and Coggan were walking to the hayfields past their mistress's house,when they saw a surprising sight. Bathsheba's bedroom window was open,and looking out of it was a hand-some man,with his red jacket undone. It was Sergeant Troy.

She's married him!’whispered Coggan. Gabriel said nothing,but he felt so ill that he had to rest on the gate for a moment. He thought with pity of her future,as he knew her marriage to Troy could not be happy for long.

Good morning,friends!’shouted Troy cheerfully to the men.

We must be polite to him,’whispered Coggan,‘if he's married the mistress. ’

Good morning,Sergeant Troy,’said Gabriel miserably.

Now that I've left the army,I'll soon be down in the fields with you again,’said Troy lightly. ‘My new position won't change that,and I'll be friendly with you all,just as before. Drink to my health,men. ’And he threw a coin towards Gabriel,who refused to pick it up. Coggan,however,put it in his pocket.

As they went on their way,they noticed Mr Boldwood riding past them. Gabriel forgot his own sadness when he saw the bitterness and deep despair on the farmer's face.

 


 

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