A Moment of Madness Thomas Hardy - chapter 2
A chance meeting
When the end of July arrived, Baptista was in no hurry to return home to the island. She was not planning to buy any special clothes for the wedding, and her parents were making all the other arrangements. So she did not leave Tor-upon-Sea until the Saturday before her wedding. She travelled by train to the town of Pen-zephyr, but when she arrived, she found that the boat to St Maria’s had left early, and there was no other boat until Tuesday.
‘I’ll have to stay here until then,’ she thought. ‘It’s too far to go back to Mrs Wace’s.’ She did not seem to mind this – in fact, she was almost happy to wait another three nights before seeing her future husband.
She found a room in a small hotel, took her luggage there, then went out for a walk round the town.
‘Baptista? Yes, Baptista it is!’
The words came from behind her. Turning round, she gave a jump, and stared. ‘Oh, is it really you, Charles?’ she said.
With a half-smile the newcomer looked her up and down. He appeared almost angry with her, but he said nothing.
‘I’m going home,’ she continued, ‘ but I’ve missed the boat.
He did not seem interested in this news. ‘Still teaching?’ he said. ‘What a fine teacher you make, Baptista, I’m sure!’
She knew that was not his real meaning. ‘I know I’m not very good at teaching,’ she replied. ‘That’s why I’ve stopped.’
‘Oh, you’ve stopped? You surprise me.’
‘I hate teaching.’
‘Perhaps that’s because I’m a teacher.’
‘Oh no, it isn’t. It’s because I’m starting a new life. Next week I’m going to marry Mr David Heddegan.’
At this unexpected reply, the young man took a step back. ‘Who is Mr David Heddegan?’ he said, trying to sound bored.
‘He owns a number of shops on St Maria’s, and he’s my father’s neighbour and oldest friend.’
‘So, no longer a schoolteacher, just a shopkeeper’s wife. I knew you would never succeed as a teacher. You’re like a woman who thinks she can be a great actress just because she has a beautiful face, and forgets she has to be able to act. But you found out your mistake early, didn’t you?’
‘Don’t be unpleasant to me, Charles,’ Baptista said sadly.
‘I’m not being unpleasant – I’m just saying what is true, in a friendly way – although I do have good reason to be unpleasant to you. What a hurry you’ve been in, Baptista! I do hate a woman in a hurry!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well – in a hurry to be somebody’s wife. Any husband is better than no husband for you, it seems. You couldn’t wait for me, oh no! Well, thank God, that’s all in the past for me!’
‘Wait for you? What does that mean, Charley? You never showed that you felt anything special for me.’
‘Oh really, Baptista dear!’
‘What I mean is, there was nothing that I could be sure of. I suppose you liked me a little, but I didn’t think you meant to make an honest engagement of it.’
‘That’s just it! You girls expect a man to talk about marrying after the first look! But I did mean to get engaged to you, you know.’
‘But you never said so, and a woman can’t wait forever!’
‘Baptista, I promise you that I was planning to ask you to marry me in six months’ time.’
She appeared very uncomfortable, and they walked along in silence. Soon he said, ‘Did you want to marry me then?’
And she whispered sadly back, ‘Yes!’
As they walked on, away from the town and into the fields, her shoulder and his were close together. He held her arm with a strong hand. This seemed to say, ‘Now I hold you, and you must do what I want.’
‘How strange that we should meet like this!’ said the young man. ‘You and I could be husband and wife, going on our honeymoon together. But instead of that, we’ll say goodbye in half an hour, perhaps forever. Yes, life is strange!
She stopped walking. ‘I must go back. This is too painful, Charley! You’re not being kind today.’
‘I don’t want to hurt you – you know I don’t,’ he answered more gently. ‘But it makes me angry – what you’re going to do. I don’t think you should marry him.’
‘I must do it, now that I’ve agreed.’
‘Why?’ he asked, speaking more seriously now. ‘It’s never too late to stop a wedding if you’re not happy with it. Now – you could marry me, instead of him, although you were in too much of a hurry to wait for me!’
‘Oh, it isn’t possible to think of that!’ she cried, shaking her head. ‘At home everything will be ready for the wedding!’
‘If we marry, it must be at once. This evening you can come back with me to Trufal, the town where I live. We can get married there on Tuesday, and then no Mr David Heddegan, or anyone else, can take you away from me!’
‘But I must go home on the Tuesday boat,’ she said worriedly. ‘What will they think if I don’t arrive?’
‘You can go home on that boat just the same. The only difference is that I’ll go with you. You’ll tell your parents that you’ve married a young man with a good job, someone that you met at the training college. When I meet them, they’ll accept that we’re married and it can’t be changed. And you won’t be miserable for ever as the wife of an awful old man. Now honestly, you do like me best, don’t you, Baptista?’
‘Yes,’ she whispered.
‘Then we will do what I say.’
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