Footsteps were heard in the passage, combining in their character the qualities both of weight and measure, rather at the expense of velocity.
(All.) `Here's Billy Smallbury come from Casterbridge.'
`And what's the news?' said Bathsheba, as William, after marching to the middle of the hall, took a handkerchief from his hat and wiped his forehead from its centre to its remoter boundaries.
`I should have been sooner, miss,' he said, `if it hadn't been for the weather.' He then stamped with each foot severely, and on looking down his boots were perceived to be clogged with snow.
`Come at last, is it?' said Henery.
`Well, what about Fanny?' said Bathsheba.
`Well, ma'am, in round numbers, she's run away with the soldiers,' said William.
`No; not a steady girl like Fanny!'
`I'll tell ye all particulars. `When I got to Casterbridge Barracks, they said, "The Eleventh Dragoon Guards be gone away, and new troops have come." The Eleventh left last week for Melchester and onwards. The Route came from Government like a thief in the night," as is his nature to, and afore the Eleventh knew it almost, they were on the march. They passed near here.'
Gabriel had listened with interest. `I saw them go' he said.
`Yes,' continued William, `they pranced down the street playing "The Girl I Left Behind Me", so 'tis said, in glorious notes of triumph. Every looker-on's inside shook with the blows of the great drum to his deepest vitals, and there was not a dry eye throughout the town among the public-house people and the nameless women!'
`But they're not gone to any war?'
`No' ma'am; but they be gone to take the places of them who may, which is very close connected. And so I said to myself, Fanny's young man was one of the regiment, and she's gone after him. There, ma'am, that's it in black and white.'
`Did you find out his name?'
`No, nobody knew it. I believe he was higher in rank than a private.'
Gabriel remained musing and said nothing, for he was in doubt.
`Well, we are not likely to know more to-night, at any rate,' said Bathsheba. `But one of you had better run across to Farmer Boldwood's and tell him that much.'
She then rose; but before retiring, addressed a few words to them with a pretty dignity, to which her mourning dress added a soberness that was hardly to be found in the words themselves:
`Now mind, you have a mistress instead of a master. I don't yet know my powers or my talents in farming; but I shall do my best, and if you serve me well, so shall I serve you. Don't any unfair ones among you (if there are any such, but I hope not) suppose that because I'm a woman I don't understand the difference between bad goings-on and good.'
(Liddy.) `Excellent well said.'
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