BEAUTY IN LONELINESS — AFTER ALL
Bathsheba revived with the spring. The utter prostration that had followed the low fever from which she had suffered diminished perceptibly when all uncertainty upon every subject had come to an end.
But she remained alone now for the greater part of her time, and stayed in the house, or at furthest went into the garden. She shunned every one, even Liddy, and could be brought to make no confidences, and to ask for no sympathy.
As the summer drew on she passed more of her time in the open air, and began to examine into farming matters from sheer necessity, though she never rode out or personally superintended as at former times. One Friday evening in August she walked a little way along the road and entered the village for the first time since the sombre event of the preceding Christmas. None of the old colour had as yet come to her cheek, and its absolute paleness was heightened by the jet black of her gown, till it appeared preternatural. When she reached a little shop at the other end of the place, which stood nearly opposite to the churchyard, Bathsheba heard singing inside the church, and she knew that the singers were practising. She crossed the road, opened the gate, and entered the graveyard, the high sills of the church windows effectually screening her from the eyes of those gathered within. Her stealthy walk was to the nook wherein Troy had worked at planting flowers upon Fanny Robin's grave, and she came to the marble tombstone.
A motion of satisfaction enlivened her face as she read the complete inscription. First came the words of Troy himself: —
ERECTED BY FRANCIS TROY
IN BELOVED MEMORY OF
WHO DIED OCTOBER 9, 18 — ,
AGED 20 YEARS
Underneath this was now inscribed in new letters: —
IN THE SAME GRAVE LIE
THE REMAINS OF THE AFORESAID
WHO DIED DECEMBER 24TH, 18 — ,
AGED 26 YEARS
Whilst she stood and read and meditated the tones of the organ began again in the church, and she went with the same light step round to the porch and listened. The door was closed, and the choir was learning a new hymn. Bathsheba was stirred by emotions which latterly she had assumed to be altogether dead within her. The little attenuated voices of the children brought to her ear in distinct utterance the words they sang without thought or comprehension —
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on.
Bathsheba's feeling was always to some extent dependent upon her whim, as is the case with many other women. Something big came into her throat and an uprising to her eyes — and she thought that she would allow the imminent tears to flow if they wished. They did flow and plenteously, and one fell upon the stone bench beside her. Once that she had begun to cry for she hardly knew what, she could not leave off for crowding thoughts she knew too well. She would have given anything in the world to be, as those children were, unconcerned at the meaning of their words, because too innocent to feel the necessity for any such expression. All the impassioned scenes of her brief experience seemed to revive with added emotion at that moment, and those scenes which had been without emotion during enactment had emotion then. Yet grief came to her rather as a luxury than as the scourge of former times.
Owing to Bathsheba's face being buried in her hands she did not notice a form which came quietly into the porch, and on seeing her, first moved as if to retreat, then paused and regarded her. Bathsheba did not raise her head for some time, and when she looked round her face was wet, and her eyes drowned and dim. "Mr. Oak," exclaimed she, disconcerted, "how long have you been here?"
"A few minutes, ma'am," said Oak, respectfully.
"Are you going in?" said Bathsheba; and there came from within the church as from a prompter —
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
"I was," said Gabriel. "I am one of the bass singers, you know. I have sung bass for several months."
"Indeed: I wasn't aware of that. I'll leave you, then."
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile,
sang the children.
"Don't let me drive you away, mistress. I think I won't go in to-night."
"Oh no — you don't drive me away."
Then they stood in a state of some embarrassment, Bathsheba trying to wipe her dreadfully drenched and inflamed face without his noticing her. At length Oak said, "I've not seen you — I mean spoken to you — since ever so long, have I?" But he feared to bring distressing memories back, and interrupted himself with: "Were you going into church?"
"No," she said. "I came to see the tombstone privately — to see if they had cut the inscription as I wished. Mr. Oak, you needn't mind speaking to me, if you wish to, on the matter which is in both our minds at this moment."
"And have they done it as you wished?" said Oak.
"Yes. Come and see it, if you have not already."
So together they went and read the tomb. "Eight months ago!" Gabriel murmured when he saw the date. "It seems like yesterday to me."
"And to me as if it were years ago — long years, and I had been dead between. And now I am going home, Mr. Oak."
Oak walked after her. "I wanted to name a small matter to you as soon as I could," he said, with hesitation. "Merely about business, and I think I may just mention it now, if you'll allow me."
"Oh yes, certainly."
It is that I may soon have to give up the management of your farm, Mrs. Troy. The fact is, I am thinking of leaving England — not yet, you know — next spring."
"Leaving England!" she said, in surprise and genuine disappointment. "Why, Gabriel, what are you going to do that for?"