FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

第146章

The miles necessary to be traversed, and other hindrances incidental to the lateness of the hour and the darkness of the night, delayed the arrival of Mr Aldritch, the surgeon; and more than three hours passed between the time at which the shot was fired and that of his entering the house.

Oak was additionally detained in Casterbridge through having to give notice to the authorities of what had happened; and he then found that Boldwood had also entered the town, and delivered himself up.

In the meantime the surgeon, having hastened into the hall at Boldwood's, found it in darkness and quite deserted. He went on to the back of the house, where he discovered in the kitchen an old man, of whom he made inquiries.

`She's had him took away to her own house, sir,' said his informant.

`Who has?' said the doctor.

`Mrs Troy. 'A was quite dead, sir.'

This was astonishing information. `She had no right to do that,' said the doctor. `There will have to be an inquest, and she should have waited to know what to do.'

`Yes, sir; it was hinted to her that she had better wait till the law was known. But she said law was nothing to her, and she wouldn't let her dear husband's corpse bide neglected for folks to stare at for all the crowners in England.'

Mr Aldritch drove at once back again up the hill to Bathsheba's. The first person he met was poor Liddy, who seemed literally to have dwindled smaller in these few latter hours. What has been done?' he said.

`I don't know, sir,' said Liddy, with suspended breath. `My mistress has done it all.'

`Where is she?'

`Upstairs with him, sir. When he was brought home and taken upstairs, she said she wanted no farther help from the men. And then she called me, and made me fill the bath, and after that told me I had better go and lie down because I looked so ill. Then she locked herself into the room alone with him, and would not let a nurse come in, or anybody at all. But I thought I'd wait in the next room in case she should want me. I heard her moving about inside for more than an hour, but she only came once, and that was for more candles, because hers had burnt down into the socket. She said we were to let her know when you or Mr Thirdly came, sir.'

Oak entered with the parson at this moment, and they all went upstairs together, preceded by Liddy Smallbury. Everything was silent as the grave when they paused on the landing. Liddy knocked, and Bathsheba's dress was heard rustling across the room: the key turned in the lock, and she opened the door. Her looks were calm and nearly rigid, like a slightly animated bust of Melpomene.

`Oh, Mr Aldritch, you have come at last,' she murmured from her lips merely, and threw back the door. `Ah, and Mr Thirdly. Well, all is done, and anybody in the world may see him now.' She then passed by him, crossed the landing, and entered another room.

Looking into the chamber of death she had vacated they saw by the light of the candles which were on the drawers a tall straight shape lying at the farther end of the bedroom, wrapped in white. Everything around was quite orderly. The doctor went in, and after a few minutes returned to the landing again, where Oak and the parson still waited.

`It is all done, indeed, as she says,' remarked Mr Aldritch, in a subdued voice. `The body has been undressed and properly laid out in grave-clothes.

Gracious Heaven - this mere girl! She must have the nerve of a stoic!'

`The heart of a wife merely,' floated in a whisper about the ears of the three, and turning they saw Bathsheba in the midst of them. Then, as if at that instant to prove that her fortitude had been more of will than of spontaneity, she silently sank down between them and was a shapeless heap of drapery on the floor. The simple consciousness that superhuman strain was no longer required had at once put a period to her power to continue it.

They took her away into a farther room, and the medical attendance which had been useless in Troy's case was invaluable in Bathsheba's, who fell into a series of fainting-fits that had a serious aspect for a time. The sufferer was got to bed, and Oak, finding from the bulletins that nothing really dreadful was to be apprehended on her score left the house. Liddy kept watch in Bathsheba's chamber, where she heard her mistress moaning in whispers through the dull slow hours of that wretched night: `O it is my fault - how can I live! O Heaven, how can I live!'

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