`Do you want me any longer, ma'am?' inquired Liddy, at a later hour the same evening, standing by the door with a chamber candlestick in her hand, and addressing Bathsheba, who sat cheerless and alone in the large parlour beside the first fire of the seas on.
`No more to-night, Liddy.'
`I'll sit up for master if you like, ma'am. I am not at all afraid of Fanny, if I may sit in my own room and have a candle. She was such a childlike, fresh young thing that her spirit couldn't appear to anybody if it tried, I'm quite sure.'
`O no, no! You go to bed. I'll sit up for him myself till twelve o'clock, and if he has not arrived by that time, I shall give him up and go to bed too.'
`It is half-past ten now.'
`Oh: is it?'
`Why don't you sit upstairs, ma'am?'
`Why don't I?' said Bathsheba desultorily. `It isn't worth while - there's a fire here, Liddy.' She suddenly exclaimed in an impulsive and excited whisper, `Have you heard anything strange said of Fanny?' The words had no sooner escaped her than an expres sion of unutterable regret crossed her face, and she burst into tears.
`No - not a word!' said Liddy, looking at the weeping woman with astonishment. `What is it makes you cry so, ma'am; has anything hurt you?' She came to Bathsheba's side with a face hill of sympathy.
`No, Liddy - I don't want you any more. I can hardly say why I have taken so to crying lately: I never used to cry. Good-night.'
Liddy then left the parlour and closed the door.
Bathsheba was lonely and miserable now; not lonelier actually than she had been before her marriage; but her loneliness then was to that of the present time as the solitude of a mountain is to the solitude of a cave. And within the last day or two had com e these disquieting thoughts about her husband's past. Her wayward sentiment that evening concerning Fanny's temporary resting-place had been the result of a strange complication of impulses in Bathsheba's bosom. Perhaps it would be more accurately descri bed as a determined rebellion against her prejudices, a revulsion from a lower instinct of uncharitableness, which would have withheld all sympathy from the dead woman, because in life she had preceded Bathsheba in the attentions of a man whom Bathsheba h ad by no means ceased from loving, though her love was sick to death just now with the gravity of a further misgiving.
In five or ten minutes there was another tap at the door. Liddy reappeared, and coming in a little way stood hesitating, until at length she said, `Maryann has just heard something very strange, but I know it isn't true. And we shall be sure to know the r ights of it in a day or two.'
`What is it?'
`Oh, nothing connected with you or us, ma'am. It is 'bout Fanny. That same thing you have heard.'
`I have heard nothing.'
`I mean that a wicked story is got to Weatherbury within this last hour - that------' Liddy came close to her mistress and whispered the remainder of the sentence slowly into her ear, inclining her head as she spoke in the direction of the room where Fann y lay.
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