A Moment of Madness Thomas Hardy - chapter 1
A wedding is arranged
Most people who knew Baptista Trewthen agreed that there was nothing in her to love, and nothing in her to hate. She did not seem to feel very strongly about anything. But still waters run deep, and nothing had yet happened to make her show what lay hidden inside her, like gold underground.
Since her birth she had lived on St Maria’s, an island off the south-west coast of England. Her father, a farmer, had spent a lot of money on sending her to school on the mainland. At nineteen she studied at a training college for teachers, and at twenty-one she found a teaching job in a town called Tor-upon-Sea, on the mainland coast.
Baptista taught the children as well as she could, but after a year had passed she seemed worried about something. Mrs Wace, her landlady, noticed the change in the young woman and asked her what the matter was.
‘It has nothing to do with the town, or you,’ replied Miss Trewthen. She seemed reluctant to say more.
‘Then is it the pay?’
‘No, it isn’t the pay.’
‘Is it something that you’ve heard from home, my dear?’
Baptista was silent for a few moments. Then she said, ‘It’s Mr Heddegan – David Heddegan. He’s an old neighbour of ours on St Maria’s, with no wife or family at all. When I was a child, he used to say he wanted to marry me one day. Now I’m a woman, it’s no longer a joke, and he really wishes to do it. And my parents say I can’t do better than have him.’
‘Has he a lot of money?’
‘Yes, he’s the richest man that we know.’
‘How much older than you is he?’
‘Twenty years, maybe more.’
‘And is he, perhaps, an unpleasant man?’
‘No, he’s not unpleasant.’
‘Well, child, all I can say is this – don’t accept this engagement if it doesn’t please you. You’re comfortable here in my house, I hope, and I like having you here.’
‘Thank you, Mrs Wace. You’re very kind to me. But here comes my difficulty. I don’t like teaching. Ah, you’re surprised. That’s because I’ve hidden it from everyone. Well, I really hate school. The children are awful little things, who make trouble all day long. But even they are not as bad as the inspector. For the three months before his visit I woke up several times every night, worrying about it. It’s so difficult knowing what to teach and what to leave untaught! I think father and mother are right. They say I’ll never be a good teacher if I don’t like the work, so I should marry Mr Heddegan and then I won’t need to work. I don’t know what to do, Mrs Wace. I like him better than teaching, but I don’t like him enough to marry him.’
These conversations were continued from day to day, until at last the landlady decided to agree with Baptista’s parents.
‘Life will be much easier for you, my dear,’ she told her young friend, ‘if you marry this rich neighbour.’
In April Baptista went home to St Maria’s for a short holiday, and when she returned, she seemed calmer.
‘I have agreed to have him as my husband, so that’s the end of it,’ she told Mrs Wace.
In the next few months letters passed between Baptista and Mr Heddegan, but the girl preferred not to discuss her engagement with Mrs Wace. Later, she told her that she was leaving her job at the end of July, and the wedding was arranged for the first Wednesday in August.
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