with great splotches, red as arterial blood, others were saffron yellow, and others tall and attenuated, with stems like macaroni. Some were leathery and of richest browns. The hollow seemed a nursery of pestilences small and great, in the immediate neighbourhood of comfort and health, and Bathsheba arose with a tremor at the thought of having passed the night on the brink of so dismal a place.
There were now other footsteps to be heard along the road. Bathsheba's nerves were still unstrung: she crouched down out of sight again, and the pedestrian came into view. He was a schoolboy, with a bag slung over his shoulder containing his dinner, and a book in his hand. He paused by the gate, and, without looking up, continued murmuring words in tones quite loud enough to reach her ears.
"`O Lord, O Lord, O Lord, O Lord, O Lord": - that I know out o' book. "Give us, give us, give us, give us, give us": - that I know. "Grace that, grace that, grace that, grace that": - that I know.' Other words followed to the same effect. The boy was of the dunce class apparently; the book was a psalter, and this was his way of learning the collect. In the worst attacks of trouble there appears to be always a superficial film of consciousness which is left disengaged and open to the notice of trifles, and Bathsheba was faintly amused at the boy's method, till he too passed on.
By this time stupor had given place to anxiety, and anxiety began to make room for hunger and thirst. A form now appeared upon the rise on the other side of the swamp, half-hidden by the mist, and came towards Bathsheba. The woman - for it was a woman - approached with her face askance, as if looking earnestly on all sides of her. When she got a little further round to the left, and drew nearer, Bathsheba could see the newcomer's profile against the sunny sky, and knew the wavy sweep from forehead to chin, with neither angle nor decisive line anywhere about it, to be the familiar contour of Liddy Smallbury.
Bathsheba's heart bounded with gratitude in the thought that she was not altogether deserted, and she jumped up. `O, Liddy!' she said, or attempted to say; but the words had only been framed by her lips; there came no sound. She had lost her voice by exposure to the clogged atmosphere all these hours of night.
`O, ma'am! I am so glad I have found you,' said the girl, as soon as she saw Bathsheba.
`You can't come across,' Bathsheba said in a whisper, which she vainly endeavoured to make loud enough to reach Liddy's ears. Liddy, not knowing this, stepped down upon the swamp, saying, as she did so, `It will bear me up, I think.'
Bathsheba never forgot that transient little picture of Liddy crossing the swamp to her there in the morning light. Iridescent bubbles of dank subterranean breath rose from the sweating sod beside the waiting- maid's feet as she trod, hissing as they burst and expanded away to join the vapoury firmament above. Liddy did not sink, as Bathsheba had anticipated.
She landed safely on the other side, and looked up at the beautiful though pale and weary face of her young mistress.
`Poor thing!' said Liddy, with tears in her eyes. `Do hearten yourself up a little, ma'am. However did--'
`I can't speak above a whisper - my voice is gone for the present,' said Bathsheba hurriedly. `I suppose the damp air from that hollow has taken it away. Liddy, don't question me, mind. Who sent you - anybody?'
`Nobody. I thought, when I found you were not at home, that something cruel had happened. I fancy I heard his voice late last night; and so, knowing something was wrong--'
`Is he at home?'
`No; he left just before I came out.'
`Is Fanny taken away?'
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