CONCURRITUR — HORAE MOMENTO
Outside the front of Boldwood's house a group of men stood in the dark, with their faces towards the door, which occasionally opened and closed for the passage of some guest or servant, when a golden rod of light would stripe the ground for the moment and vanish again, leaving nothing outside but the glowworm shine of the pale lamp amid the evergreens over the door.
"He was seen in Casterbridge this afternoon — so the boy said," one of them remarked in a whisper. "And I for one believe it. His body was never found, you know."
"'Tis a strange story," said the next. "You may depend upon't that she knows nothing about it."
"Not a word."
"Perhaps he don't mean that she shall," said another man.
"If he's alive and here in the neighbourhood, he means mischief," said the first. "Poor young thing: I do pity her, if 'tis true. He'll drag her to the dogs."
"O no; he'll settle down quiet enough," said one disposed to take a more hopeful view of the case.
"What a fool she must have been ever to have had anything to do with the man! She is so self-willed and independent too, that one is more minded to say it serves her right than pity her."
"No, no. I don't hold with 'ee there. She was no otherwise than a girl mind, and how could she tell what the man was made of? If 'tis really true, 'tis too hard a punishment, and more than she ought to hae. — Hullo, who's that?" This was to some footsteps that were heard approaching.
"William Smallbury," said a dim figure in the shades, coming up and joining them. "Dark as a hedge, to-night, isn't it? I all but missed the plank over the river ath'art there in the bottom — never did such a thing before in my life. Be ye any of Boldwood's workfolk?" He peered into their faces.
"Yes — all o' us. We met here a few minutes ago."
"Oh, I hear now — that's Sam Samway: thought I knowed the voice, too. Going in?"
"Presently. But I say, William," Samway whispered, "have ye heard this strange tale?"
"What — that about Sergeant Troy being seen, d'ye mean, souls?" said Smallbury, also lowering his voice.
"Ay: in Casterbridge."
"Yes, I have. Laban Tall named a hint of it to me but now — but I don't think it. Hark, here Laban comes himself, 'a b'lieve." A footstep drew near.
"Yes, 'tis I," said Tall.
"Have ye heard any more about that?"
"No," said Tall, joining the group. "And I'm inclined to think we'd better keep quiet. If so be 'tis not true, 'twill flurry her, and do her much harm to repeat it; and if so be 'tis true, 'twill do no good to forestall her time o' trouble. God send that it mid be a lie, for though Henery Fray and some of 'em do speak against her, she's never been anything but fair to me. She's hot and hasty, but she's a brave girl who'll never tell a lie however much the truth may harm her, and I've no cause to wish her evil."
"She never do tell women's little lies, that's true; and 'tis a thing that can be said of very few. Ay, all the harm she thinks she says to yer face: there's nothing underhand wi' her."
They stood silent then, every man busied with his own thoughts, during which interval sounds of merriment could be heard within. Then the front door again opened, the rays streamed out, the well-known form of Boldwood was seen in the rectangular area of light, the door closed, and Boldwood walked slowly down the path.
"'Tis master," one of the men whispered, as he neared them. "We'd better stand quiet — he'll go in again directly. He would think it unseemly o' us to be loitering here."
Boldwood came on, and passed by the men without seeing them, they being under the bushes on the grass. He paused, leant over the gate, and breathed a long breath. They heard low words come from him.
"I hope to God she'll come, or this night will be nothing but misery to me! Oh my darling, my darling, why do you keep me in suspense like this?"
He said this to himself, and they all distinctly heard it. Boldwood remained silent after that, and the noise from indoors was again just audible, until, a few minutes later, light wheels could be distinguished coming down the hill. They drew nearer, and ceased at the gate. Boldwood hastened back to the door, and opened it; and the light shone upon Bathsheba coming up the path.
Boldwood compressed his emotion to mere welcome: the men marked her light laugh and apology as she met him: he took her into the house; and the door closed again.
"Gracious heaven, I didn't know it was like that with him!" said one of the men. "I thought that fancy of his was over long ago."
"You don't know much of master, if you thought that," said Samway.
"I wouldn't he should know we heard what 'a said for the world," remarked a third.
"I wish we had told of the report at once," the first uneasily continued. "More harm may come of this than we know of. Poor Mr. Boldwood, it will be hard upon en. I wish Troy was in — Well, God forgive me for such a wish! A scoundrel to play a poor wife such tricks. Nothing has prospered in Weatherbury since he came here. And now I've no heart to go in. Let's look into Warren's for a few minutes first, shall us, neighbours?"
Samway, Tall, and Smallbury agreed to go to Warren's, and went out at the gate, the remaining ones entering the house. The three soon drew near the malt-house, approaching it from the adjoining orchard, and not by way of the street. The pane of glass was illuminated as usual. Smallbury was a little in advance of the rest when, pausing, he turned suddenly to his companions and said, "Hist! See there."
The light from the pane was now perceived to be shining not upon the ivied wall as usual, but upon some object close to the glass. It was a human face.
"Let's come closer," whispered Samway; and they approached on tiptoe. There was no disbelieving the report any longer. Troy's face was almost close to the pane, and he was looking in. Not only was he looking in, but he appeared to have been arrested by a conversation which was in progress in the malt-house, the voices of the interlocutors being those of Oak and the maltster.
"The spree is all in her honour, isn't it — hey?" said the old man. "Although he made believe 'tis only keeping up o' Christmas?"