‘But you wanted to ask me something?’ he added.
’Yes. You know we are trying in Budmouth to raise some money for your sufferers; and the way we have thought of is by a dramatic performance. They want me to take a part.’
His face saddened. ’I have known so much of that sort of thing, and all that accompanies it! I wish you had thought of some other way.’
She said lightly that she was afraid it was all settled. ’You object to my taking a part, then? Of course—’
He told her that he did not like to say he positively objected. He wished they had chosen an oratorio, or lecture, or anything more in keeping with the necessity it was to relieve.
‘But,’ said she impatiently, ’people won’t come to oratorios or lectures! They will crowd to comedies and farces.’
’Well, I cannot dictate to Budmouth how it shall earn the money it is going to give us. Who is getting up this performance?’
‘The boys of the —–st.’
‘Ah, yes; our old game!’ replied Mr. Maumbry. ’The grief of Casterbridge is the excuse for their frivolity. Candidly, dear Laura, I wish you wouldn’t play in it. But I don’t forbid you to. I leave the whole to your judgment.’
The interview ended, and they went their ways northward and southward. Time disclosed to all concerned that Mrs. Maumbry played in the comedy as the heroine, the lover’s part being taken by Mr. Vannicock.
Thus was helped on an event which the conduct of the mutually-attracted ones had been generating for some time.
It is unnecessary to give details. The —–st Foot left for Bristol, and this precipitated their action. After a week of hesitation she agreed to leave her home at Creston and meet Vannicock on the ridge hard by, and to accompany him to Bath, where he had secured lodgings for her, so that she would be only about a dozen miles from his quarters.
Accordingly, on the evening chosen, she laid on her dressing-table a note for her husband, running thus:-
Dear Jack—I am unable to endure this life any longer, and I have resolved to put an end to it. I told you I should run away if you persisted in being a clergyman, and now I am doing it. One cannot help one’s nature. I have resolved to throw in my lot with Mr. Vannicock, and I hope rather than expect you will forgive me.—L.
Then, with hardly a scrap of luggage, she went, ascending to the ridge in the dusk of early evening. Almost on the very spot where her husband had stood at their last tryst she beheld the outline of Vannicock, who had come all the way from Bristol to fetch her.
‘I don’t like meeting here—it is so unlucky!’ she cried to him. ’For God’s sake let us have a place of our own. Go back to the milestone, and I’ll come on.’
He went back to the milestone that stands on the north slope of the ridge, where the old and new roads diverge, and she joined him there.