A Moment of Madness by Thomas Hardy (2)
She began to cry, still standing there on the beach. She did not know what to do, or even what to think. Finally, she remembered the boat, and catching the boat home seemed the easiest thing to do. So she walked to the station, arranged for someone to carry her luggage, and went down to the boat. She did all this automatically, in a kind of dream.
Just before the boat left, she heard part of a conversation which made her sure that Charles was dead. One passenger said to another, 'A man drowned here earlier today, you know. He swam out too far, they say. A stranger, I think. Some people in a boat saw him, but they couldn't get to him in time.
The boat was a long way out to sea before Baptista realized that Mr Heddegan was on the boat with her. She saw him walking towards her and quickly took the wedding ring off her left hand.
'I hope you're well, my dear?' he said. He was a healthy, red-faced man of fifty-five. 'I wanted to come across to meet you. What bad luck that you missed the boat on Saturday!'
And Baptista had to agree, and smile, and make conversation. Mr Heddegan had spoken to her before she was ready to say anything. Now the moment had passed.
When the boat arrived, her parents were there to meet her. Her father walked home beside Mr Heddegan, while her mother walked next to Baptista, talking all the time.
'I'm so happy, my child,' said Mrs Trewthen in her loud, cheerful voice, 'that you've kept your promise to marry Mr Heddegan. How busy we've been! But now things are all ready for the wedding, and a few friends and neighbours are coming in for supper this evening.' Again, the moment for confessing had passed, and Baptista stayed silent.
When they reached home, Mrs Trewthen said, 'Now, Baptista, hurry up to your room and take off your hat, then come downstairs. I must go to the kitchen.
The young woman passively obeyed her mother's orders. The evening was a great success for all except Baptista. She had no chance to tell her parents the news, and it was already much more difficult than it had been at first. By the end of the evening, when all the neighbours had left, she found herself alone in her bedroom again. She had come home with much to say, and had said none of it. She now realized that she was not brave enough to tell her story. And as the clock struck midnight, she decided it should stay untold.
Morning came, and when she thought of Charles, it was more with fear than with love. Her mother called from downstairs, 'Baptista! Time to get up! Mr Heddegan will be at the church in three-quarters of an hour!'
Baptista got out of bed, looked out of the window, and took the easy way. She put her best clothes on, confessed nothing, and kept her promise to marry David Heddegan.
Mr Heddegan did not worry about his new wife's coldness towards him during and after the wedding. 'I know she was reluctant to marry me,' he thought, 'but that will pass. Things'll be different in a few months' time!'
During the wedding dinner, someone asked Heddegan about the honeymoon. To Baptista's horror, he answered, 'Oh, we're going to spend a few days in Pen-zephyr.'
'What!' cried Baptista. 'I know nothing of this!' Because of her late arrival, Heddegan had not been able to ask where she would like to spend the honeymoon, so he had arranged a trip to the mainland. It was difficult to change these plans at the last minute, so she had to agree, and that evening she and her new husband arrived in Pen-zephyr.
Their first problem was finding a hotel, because the fine weather had filled the town with tourists. They walked from place to place, Heddegan polite and friendly, Baptista cold and silent. Finally they found an excellent hotel, which to their surprise was empty. Kindly Mr Heddegan, who wanted to please his young wife, asked for the best room on the first floor, with a good view of the sea.
'I'm sorry,' said the landlady, 'there's a gentleman in that room.' Then, seeing Heddegan's disappointed face, and not wishing to lose a customer, she added quickly, 'But perhaps the gentleman will agree to move to another room, and then you can have the one that you want.'
'Well, if he doesn't want a view...' said Mr Heddegan.
'Oh no, I'm sure he doesn't. And if you don't mind going for a little walk, I'll have the room ready when you return.
During their walk, Baptista was careful to choose different streets from those that she had walked down with Charles, and her white face showed how difficult this visit was for her. At last they returned to the hotel, and were shown into the best bedroom. They sat at the window, drinking tea. Although Heddegan had arranged for a sea view, to please Baptista, she did not look out of the window once, but kept her eyes on the floor and walls of the room.
Suddenly she noticed a hat on the back of the door. It was just like the hat that Charles had worn. She stared harder; yes, it was the actual hat! She fell back in her chair.
Her husband jumped up, saying worriedly, 'You're not well! What can I get ye?'
'Smelling salts!' she said quickly, her voice shaking a little. 'From the shop near the station!'
He ran out of the room. Baptista rang the bell, and when a young girl came, whispered to her, 'That hat! Whose is it?'
'Oh, I'm sorry, I'll take it away,' said the girl hurriedly. She took the hat off the door. 'It belongs to the other gentleman.
'Where is - the other gentleman?' asked Baptista.
'He's in the next room, madam. He was in here.'
'But I can't hear him! I don't think he's there.'
'He makes no noise, but he's there,' replied the girl.
Suddenly Baptista understood what the girl meant, and a cold hand lay on her heart.
'Why is he so silent?' she whispered.
'If I tell you, please don't say anything to the landlady,' begged the girl, 'or I'll lose my job! It's because he's dead. He's the young teacher who drowned yesterday. They brought his body here, and that's why there's nobody staying in the hotel. People don't like a dead body in the house. But we've changed the sheets and cleaned the room, madam!'
Just then Heddegan arrived with the smelling salts, and the girl left the room. 'Any better?' he asked Baptista.
'I don't like the hotel!' she cried. 'We'll have to leave!'
For the first time Heddegan spoke crossly to his wife.
'Now that's enough, Baptists! First you want one thing, then another! It's cost me enough, in money and words, to get this fine room, and it's too much to expect me to find another hotel at this time of the evening. We'll stay quietly here tonight, do ye hear? And find another place tomorrow.'
The young woman said no more. Her mind was cold with horror. That night she lay between the two men who she had married, David Heddegan on one side, and, on the other side through the bedroom wall, Charles Stow.
Mr and Mrs Heddegan both felt the honeymoon was not a success. They were happy to return to the island and start married life together in David Heddegan's large house. Baptista soon became as calm and passive as she had been before. She even smiled when neighbours called her Mrs Heddegan, and she began to enjoy the comfortable life that a rich husband could offer her. She did nothing at all to stop people finding out about her first marriage to Charles Stow, although there was always a danger of that happening.
One evening in September, when she was standing in her garden, a workman walked past along the road. He seemed to recognize her, and spoke to her in friendly surprise.
'What! Don't you know me?' he asked.
'I'm afraid I don't,' said Baptista.
'I was your witness, madam. I was mending the church window when you and your young man came to get married. Don't you remember? The vicar called me, to be a witness.'
Baptista looked quickly around. Heddegan was at the other end of the garden but unluckily, just at that moment, he turned and walked towards the house. 'Are you coming in, my dear?' he called out to Baptista.
The workman stared at him. 'That's not your-' he began, then he saw Baptista's face and stopped. Baptista was unable to speak, and the workman began to realize that there was a little mystery here. 'I've been unlucky since then,' he continued, still staring at Baptista's white face.
'It's hard finding enough work to buy food for my wife and myself. Perhaps you could help me, because I once helped you?'
Baptista gave him some money, and hoped never to see him again. But he was cleverer than he looked. By asking questions on the island and the mainland, he soon realized that Baptista had married one man on Tuesday, and another man on Wednesday. He visited her again two days later.
'It was a mystery to me, madam!' he said, when she opened the door. 'But now I understand it all. I want to tell you, madam, that I'm not a man to make trouble between husband and wife. But I'm going back to the mainland again, and I need a little more money. If your old man finds out about your first husband, I'm sure he won't like it, will he?'
She knew he was right, and paid him what he wanted. A week later the workman sent his wife to ask for more money, and again Baptista paid. But when there was a fourth visit, she refused to pay, and shut the door in the man's surprised face.
She knew she had to tell her husband everything. She liked him better now than she had done at first, and did not want to lose him, but her secret was no longer safe. She went to find him, and said, 'David, I have something to tell you.'
'Yes, my dear,' he said with a sigh. In the last week he had been less cheerful and had seemed worried about something.
When they were both in the sitting room, she said, 'David, perhaps you will hate me for this, but I must confess something that I've hidden from you. It happened before we were married. And it's about a lover.'
'I don't mind. In fact, I was hoping it was more than that.'
'Well, it was. I met my old lover by chance, and he asked me, and - well, I married him. We were coming here to tell you, but he drowned, and I said nothing about him, and then I married you, David, for peace and quietness. Now you'll be angry with me, I know you will!'
She spoke wildly, and expected her husband to shout and scream. But instead, the old man jumped up and began to dance happily around the room.
'Oh, wonderful! he cried. How lucky! My dear Baptista, I see a way out of my difficulty - ha-ha!'
'What do you mean?' she asked, afraid he had gone mad.
'Oh my dear, I've got something to confess too! You see, I was friendly with a woman in Pen-zephyr for many years - very friendly, you could say - and in the end I married her just before she died. I kept it secret, but people here are beginning to talk. And I've got four big girls to think of-'
'Oh David, four daughters!' she cried in horror.