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17

Farmer Boldwood begins to hope

 

When Troy did not return,Bathsheba felt neither happiness nor sadness. She had no hope for the fu-ture. She was sure that one day he would return,and spend the rest of her money. Then they would have to sell the farm. She could do nothing to prevent it.

One Saturday at Casterbridge market,a stranger came up to her. ‘I must tell you,ma'am,’he said,‘your husband is dead. ’

No,it can't be true!’gasped Bathsheba. Darkness came over her eyes,and she fell. But not to the ground. Boldwood,who had been standing in a corner watching her,ran forward to catch her.

Tell me more,’he said to the stranger,as he held the unconscious girl gently in his arms.

The police found her husband's clothes on the beach. He must have been swimming,and drowned off the Budmouth coast. ’

There was a strange excitement in Boldwood's face,but he said nothing. He carried her to a private room at the hotel,where she could rest until she felt well enough to ride home.

When she arrived home,still feeling weak and confused,Liddy had already heard the news. ‘Shall we get some black clothes made for you,ma'am?’said the maid,hesitating a little.

No,Liddy. It isn't necessary. You see,I think he may still be alive. I feel—I think I'm sure he's alive!’

But the following Monday Troy's death was reported in the local newspaper. A witness had seen him in deep water,shouting and waving for help. And when his clothes and his watch,found on the beach,were delivered to the farmhouse,Bathsheba began to doubt that he was alive. She opened the back of his watch case and took out the curl of golden hair.

He was Fanny's and she was his,’she said to herself. ‘They should be together. I mean nothing to either of them. Why should I keep her hair?’She held the curl over the fire. ‘No,I won't burn it,I'll keep it in memory of her,poor thing!’

Through the autumn and winter Bathsheba's life was more peaceful She no longer took such an interest in the farm,and very sensibly appointed Gabriel Oak her farm manager. He had already been doing the job unofficially,and now would be paid for it. At last his good qualities were being recognized. Gabriel's luck had certainly changed. Boldwood could not concentrate on farming these days either. His wheat and hay had all been so damaged by the rain that it was worthless. Weatherbury people were shocked by the changes they had no-ticed recently in Farmer Boldwood. Soon he himself realized that something must be done,and arranged for Gabriel to manage his farm too. So Gabriel was responsible for both the important farms in the area,while their owners sat alone in their lonely farmhouses.

After a time Boldwood started to hope that one day,if Bathsheba remarried at all,she would marry him. He tried to maintain a friendly,businesslike relationship with her,keeping his love for her out of sight,until the right moment came to propose again. He had no idea how long he would have to wait to marry her,but he was prepared to wait for the rest of his life.

The right moment did not come until the following summer when most of the Weatherbury people attended the great sheep fair at. Greenhill. Gabriel was there with Bathsheba's and Boldwood's sheep,and so were both his employers. This year a travelling circus put up its tent and offered the public a horse-riding show. Most of Bathsheba's farm workers were already in the tent,when Bathsheba herself arrived to see the show. At the back of the tent,behind a curtain,were the circus riders,and one of them,pulling on his boots,was Sergeant Troy.

After being rescued,Troy had decided to stay on the ship and work as a sailor,but he was not happy with this travelling life,and finally returned to England. He hesitated to go back to Bathsheba and a comfortable life on the farm. Perhaps Bathsheba would fail at farming and then he would be respon-sible for her. And anyway,perhaps she would not welcome him back. For the moment he was working as actor and horse-rider with the circus. So it was with no plans for the future that Troy found himself at Greenhill fair,dangerously close to Weatherbury.

When he looked through a hole in the curtain to see the audience,he was horrified to see his wife. She looked more beautiful than he remembered. Perhaps she would laugh at him,a nobleman's son,working in a circus!As he rode into the tent,he was careful to keep his face away from her,and remain wrapped in his cloak. She did not seem to recognize him.

When the show was over,Troy went out into the darkness. In the large tent where meals and drinks were being served,he saw Bathsheba talking to a man. Was she forgetting her husband so soon?thought Troy angrily. He decided to listen to their conversation,and knelt down outside the tent,making a little hole with his knife in the heavy cotton so that he could see the two people inside.

She was drinking a cup of tea,which Boldwood had just brought her. Troy watched her every movement. She was as handsome as ever,and she belonged to him. After a few moments Troy got up and walked slowly from the tent. He was considering what to do next.

Meanwhile Boldwood had offered to ride back to Weather-bury with Bathsheba,as it was getting late,and she accepted. Her pity for the man she had hurt so deeply made her behave more kindly towards him than was perhaps sensible. Her kind-ness made poor Boldwood dream of their future marriage,and suddenly,unable to stop himself,he said,‘Mrs Troy,will you marry again some day?’

You forget that my husband's death has never been proved,so I may not really be a widow,’she said,confused. ‘I've a feeling he's alive,and I'm not thinking of marrying anyone else. ’

Do you know,Bathsheba,that according to the lawyers,you can remarry seven years after your husband's supposed death,that is,six years from now?Could you—promise to marry me then?’

I don't know. Six years is too far away. I'm bitterly sorry I behaved so stupidly towards you,but—I can promise I'll never marry another man while you want me to be your wife,but—’

You could put right the mistake you made by promising to be my wife in six years’time!’There was wild hope in his eyes.

Oh,what shall I do?I don't love you,but if I can give you happiness by just promising,then I will—consider—and promise—soon. Shall we say,by Christmas?’

You'll promise at Christmas. Well,I'll say no more. ’

As Christmas came nearer,Bathsheba became more anxious,and one day she confessed her difficulty to Gabriel.

The saddest reason of all for agreeing to his proposal,’she said,‘is that if I don't,I'm afraid he'll go mad. His feelings are so extreme. I don't say that because I'm vain,but I believe I hold that man's future in my hands. Oh Gabriel,it's a terrible worry!’

Then why don't you promise,ma'am?I don't think people would think it wrong. The only thing that makes it wrong in my view is that you don't love him. ’

That is my punishment,Gabriel,for playing that foolish trick with the valentine on him. ’Gabriel had given her a reasonable,sensible answer,as she knew he would,but she felt annoyed with his cool advice. Not once had he spoken of his love for her,or said that he could wait for her too. She would have refused him of course,but at least it would have shown that he still admired her.

 


 

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