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I had been dead between. And now I am going home,
Mr. Oak."
Oak walked after her. "I wanted to name a small
matter to you as soon as I could." he said, with hesitation.
"Merrily about business, and I think I may just mention it
now, if you'll allow me."
"O yes, certainly."
It is that I may soon have to give up the manage-
ment of your farm, Mrs. Troy. The fact is, I am think-
ing of leaving England -- not yet, you know -- next
spring. "
"Leaving England!" she said, in surprise and
genuine disappointment." Why, Gabriel, what are you
going to do that for?"
"Well, I've thought it best." Oak stammered out.
"California is the spot I've had in my mind to try."
"But it is understood everywhere that you are going
to take poor Mr. Boldwood's farm on your own account."
"I've had the refusal o' it 'tis true; but nothing is
settled yet, and I have reasons for giving up. I shall
finish out my year there as manager for the trustees,
but no more."
"And what shall I do without you? Oh, Gabriel, I
don't think you ought to go away. You've been with
me so long -- through bright times and dark times -- such
old friends that as we are -- that it seems unkind almost. I
had fancied that if you leased the other farm as master,
you might still give a helping look across at mine. And
now going away!"
"I would have willingly."
"Yet now that I am more helpless than ever you go
away!"
"Yes, that's the ill fortune o' it." said Gabriel, in a
distressed tone. "And it is because of that very help-
lessness that I feel bound to go. Good afternoon,
ma'am" he concluded, in evident anxiety to get
away, and at once went out of the churchyard by a
path she could follow on no pretence whatever.
Bathsheba went home, her mind occupied with a
new trouble, which being rather harassing than deadly
was calculated to do good by diverting her from the
chronic gloom of her life. She was set thinking a great
deal about Oak and of his which to shun her; and there
occurred to Bathsheba several incidents of latter in-
tercourse with him, which, trivial when singly viewed
amounted together to a perceptible disinclination for
her society. It broke upon her at length as a great
pain that her last old disciple was about to forsake her
and flee. He who had believed in her and argued on
her side when all the rest of the world was against her,
had at last like the others become weary and neglectful
of the old cause, and was leaving her to fight her battles
alone.
Three weeks went on, and more evidence of his
want of interest in her was forthcoming. She noticed
that instead of entering the small parlour or office
where the farm accounts were kept, and waiting, or
leaving a memorandum as he had hitherto done during
her seclusion, Oak never came at all when she was likely
to be there, only entering at unseasonable hours when
her presence in that part of the house was least to be
expected. Whenever he wanted directions he sent a
message, or note with neither heading nor signature, to
which she was obliged to reply in the same off-hand
style. Poor Bathsheba began to suffer now from the
most torturing sting of ali-a sensation that she was
despised.
The autumn wore away gloomily enough amid these
melancholy conjectures, and Christmas-day came, com-
pleting a year of her legal widowhood, and two years
and a quarter of her life alone. On examining her
heart it appeared beyond measure strange that the sub-
ject of which the season might have been supposed
suggestive -- the event in the hall at Boldwood's -- was
not agitating her at all; but instead, an agonizing con-
viction that everybody abjured her -- for what she could
not tell -- and that Oak was the ringleader of the
recusants. Coming out of church that day she looked
round in hope that Oak, whose bass voice she had
heard rolling out from the gallery overhead in a most
unconcerned manner, might chance to linger in her path
in the old way. There he was, as usual, coming down
the path behind her. But on seeing Bathsheba turn, he
looked aside, and as soon as he got beyond the gate,
and there was the barest excuse for a divergence, he
made one, and vanished.
The next morning brought the culminating stroke;
she had been expecting it long. It was a formal notice
by letter from him that he should not renew his engage-
ment with her for the following Lady-day.
Bathsheba actually sat and cried over this letter most
bitterly. She was aggrieved and wounded that the
possession of hopeless love from Gabriel, which she had
AFTER ALL
grown to regard as her inalienable right for life, should
have been withdrawn just at his own pleasure in this
way. She was bewildered too by the prospect of having
to rely on her own resources again: it seemed to herself
that she never could again acquire energy sufficient to
go to market, barter, and sell. Since Troy's death Oak
had attended all sales and fairs for her, transacting her
business at the same time with his own. What should
she do now? Her life was becoming a desolation.
So desolate was Bathsheba this evening, that in an
absolute hunger for pity and sympathy, and miserable in
that she appeared to have outlived the only true friend-
ship she had ever owned, she put on her bonnet and
cloak and went down to Oak's house just after sunset,
guided on her way by the pale primrose rays of a
crescent moon a few days old.
A lively firelight shone from the window, but nobody
was visible in the room. She tapped nervously, and
then thought it doubtful if it were right for a single
woman to call upon a bachelor who lived alone, although
he was her manager, and she might be supposed to call
on business without any real impropriety. Gabriel
opened the door, and the moon shone upon his fore-
haad.
"Mr. Oak." said Bathsheba, faintly.
"Yes; I am Mr. Oak." said Gabriel. "Who have I
the honour -- O how stupid of me, not to know you,
mistress!"
"I shall not be your mistress much longer, shall I
Gabriel?" she said, in pathetic tones.
"Well, no. I suppose -- But come in, ma'am. Oh --
and I'll get a light." Oak replied, with some awkwardness.
"No; not on my account."
"It is so seldom that I get a lady visitor that I'm
afraid I haven't proper accommodation. Will you sit
down, please? Here's a chair, and there's one, too.
I am sorry that my chairs all have wood seats, and are
rather hard, but I was thinking of getting some new
ones." Oak placed two or three for her.
"They are quite easy enough for me."
So down she sat, and down sat he, the fire dancing
in their faces, and upon the old furniture
all a-sheenen
Wi' long years o' handlen,
that formed Oak's array of household possessions, which
sent back a dancing reflection in reply. It was very
odd to these two persons, who knew each other passing
well, that the mere circumstance of their meeting in a
new place and in a new way should make them so
awkward and constrained. In the fields, or at her house,
there had never been any embarrassment; but now that
Oak had become the entertainer their lives seemed to be
moved back again to the days when they were strangers.
"You'll think it strange that I have come, but -- "
"O no; not at all."
"But I thought -- Gabriel, I have been uneasy in the
belief that I have offended you, and that you are going
away on that account. It grieved me very much and
I couldn't help coming."
"Offended me! As if you could do that, Bathsheba!"
"Haven't I?" she asked, gladly. "But, what are you
going away for else?"
"I am not going to emigrate, you know; I wasn't
aware that you would wish me not to when I told 'ee or I
shouldn't ha' thought of doing it." he said, simply. "I
have arranged for Little Weatherbury Farm and shall
have it in my own hands at Lady-day. You know I've
had a share in it for some time. Still, that wouldn't
prevent my attending to your business as before, hadn't
it been that things have been said about us."
"What?" said Bathsheba, in surprise. "Things said
about you and me! What are they?"
"I cannot tell you."
"It would be wiser if you were to, I think. You have
played the part of mentor to me many times, and I don't
see why you should fear to do it now."
"It is nothing that you have done, this time. The
top and tail o't is this -- that I am sniffing about here,
and waiting for poor Boldwood's farm, with a thought
of getting you some day."
"Getting me! What does that mean?"
"Marrying o' 'ee, in plain British. You asked me to
tell, so you mustn't blame me."
Bathsheba did not look quite so alarmed as if a
cannon had been discharged by her ear, which was what
Oak had expected. "Marrying me! I didn't know it
was that you meant." she said, quietly. "Such a thing
as that is too absurd -- too soon -- to think of, by far!"
"Yes; of course, it is too absurd. I don't desire any
such thing; I should think that was plain enough by
this time. Surely, surely you be the last person in the
world I think of marrying. It is too absurd, as you say
"Too -- s-s-soon" were the words I used."
"I must beg your pardon for correcting you, but you
said, "too absurd," and so do I."
"I beg your pardon too! she returned, with tears
in her eyes. ""Too soon" was what I said. But it
doesn't matter a bit -- not at ali-but I only meant,
"too soon" Indeed, I didn't, Mr. Oak, and you must
believe me!"
Gabriel looked her long in the face, but the firelight
being faint there was not much to be seen. "Bathsheba,"
he said, tenderly and in surprise, and coming closer:
"if I only knew one thing -- whether you would allow me
to love you and win you, and marry you after ali-if I
only knew that!"
"But you never will know." she murmured.
"Why?"
"Because you never ask.
"Oh -- Oh!" said Gabriel, with a low laugh of joyous-
ness. "My own dear -- "
"You ought not to have sent me that harsh letter
this morning." she interrupted. "It shows you didn't
care a bit about me, and were ready to desert me like
all the rest of them! It was very cruel of you, consider-
ing I was the first sweetheart that you ever had, and
you were the first I ever had; and I shall not forget it!"
"Now, Bathsheba, was ever anybody so provoking
he said, laughing. "You know it was purely that I, as
an unmarried man, carrying on a business for you as a
very taking young woman, had a proper hard part to
play -- more particular that people knew I had a sort
of feeling for'ee; and I fancied, from the way we were
mentioned together, that it might injure your good name.
Nobody knows the heat and fret I have been caused
by it."
"And was that all?"
"All."
"Oh, how glad I am I came!" she exclaimed, thank-
fully, as she rose from her seat. "I have thought so
much more of you since I fancied you did not want
even to see me again. But I must be going now, or I
shall be missed. Why Gabriel." she said, with a slight
laugh, as they went to the door, "it seems exactly as if
I had come courting you -- how dreadful!"
"And quite right too." said Oak. "I've danced at
your skittish heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a
long mile, and many a long day; and it is hard to be-
grudge me this one visit."
He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her
the details of his forthcoming tenure of the other farm.
They spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty
phrases and warm expressions being probably un-
necessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that
substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all)
when the two who are thrown together begin first by
knowing the rougher sides of each other's character,
and not the best till further on, the romance growing
up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.
This good-fellowship -- CAMARADERIE -- usually occurring
through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom
superadded to love between the sexes, because men and
women associate, not in their labours, but in their
pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance
permits its development, the compounded feeling proves
itself to be the only love which is strong as death -- that
love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods
drown, beside which the passion usually called by the
name is evanescent as steam.

CHAPTER LVII

A FOGGY NIGHT AND MORNING -- CONCLUSION

"THE most private, secret, plainest wedding that it is
possible to have."
Those had been Bathsheba's words to Oak one
evening, some time after the event of the preceding
chapter, and he meditated a full hour by the clock upon
how to carry out her wishes to the letter.
"A licence -- O yes, it must be a licence." he said
to himself at last. "Very well, then; first, a license."
On a dark night, a few days later, Oak came with
mysterious steps from the surrogate's door, in Caster-
bridge. On the way home he heard a heavy tread in
front of him, and, overtaking the man, found him to be
Coggan. They walked together into the village until
they came to a little lane behind the church, leading
down to the cottage of Laban Tall, who had lately been
installed as clerk of the parish, and was yet in mortal
terror at church on Sundays when he heard his lone
voice among certain hard words of the Psalms, whither
no man ventured to follow him.
"Well, good-night, Coggan." said Oak, "I'm going
down this way."
"Oh!" said Coggan, surprised; "what's going on to-
night then, make so bold Mr. Oak?"
It seemed rather ungenerous not to tell Coggan,
under the circumstances, for Coggan had been true as
steel all through the time of Gabriel's unhappiness about
Bathsheba, and Gabriel said, " You can keep a secret,
Coggan?"
"You've proved me, and you know."
"Yes, I have, and I do know. Well, then, mistress
and I mean to get married to-morrow morning."
"Heaven's high tower! And yet I've thought of
such a thing from time to time; true, I have. But
keeping it so close! Well, there, 'tis no consarn of
amine, and I wish 'ee joy o' her."
"Thank you, Coggan. But I assure 'ee that this
great hush is not what I wished for at all, or what
either of us would have wished if it hadn't been for
certain things that would make a gay wedding seem
hardly the thing. Bathsheba has a great wish that all
the parish shall not be in church, looking at her -- she's
shylike and nervous about it, in fact -- so I be doing
this to humour her."
"Ay, I see: quite right, too, I suppose I must say.
And you be now going down to the clerk."
"Yes; you may as well come with me."
"I am afeard your labour in keeping it close will be
throwed away." said Coggan, as they walked along.
"Labe Tall's old woman will horn it all over parish in
half-an-hour. "
"So she will, upon my life; I never thought of
that." said Oak, pausing. "Yet I must tell him to-
night, I suppose, for he's working so far off, and leaves
early."
"I'll tell 'ee how we could tackle her." said Coggan.
"I'll knock and ask to speak to Laban outside the door,
you standing in the background. Then he'll come out,
and you can tell yer tale. She'll never guess what I
want en for; and I'll make up a few words about the
farm-work, as a blind."
This scheme was considered feasible; and Coggan
advanced boldly, and rapped at Mrs. Tall's door. Mrs.
Tall herself opened it.
"I wanted to have a word with Laban."
"He's not at home, and won't be this side of eleven
o'clock. He've been forced to go over to Yalbury since
shutting out work. I shall do quite as well."
"I hardly think you will. Stop a moment;" and
Coggan stepped round the corner of the porch to consult
Oak.
"Who's t'other man, then?" said Mrs. Tall.
"Only a friend." said Coggan.
"Say he's wanted to meet mistress near church-hatch
to-morrow morning at ten." said Oak, in a whisper.
"That he must come without fail, and wear his best
clothes."
"The clothes will floor us as safe as houses!" said Coggan.
"It can't be helped said Oak. "Tell her."
So Coggan delivered the message. "Mind, het or
wet, blow or snow, he must come, added Jan. "'Tis
very particular, indeed. The fact is, 'tis to witness her
sign some law-work about taking shares wi' another
farmer for a long span o' years. There, that's what 'tis,
and now I've told 'ee, Mother Tall, in a way I shouldn't
ha' done if I hadn't loved 'ee so hopeless well."
Coggan retired before she could ask any further;
and next they called at the vicar's in a manner which
excited no curiosity at all. Then Gabriel went home,
and prepared for the morrow.
"Liddy." said Bathsheba, on going to bed that night,
"I want you to call me at seven o'clock to-morrow, In
case I shouldn't wake."
"But you always do wake afore then, ma'am."
"Yes, but I have something important to do, which
I'll tell you of when the time comes, and it's best to
make sure."
CONCLUSION
Bathsheba, however, awoke voluntarily at four, nor
could she by any contrivance get to sleep again. About
six, being quite positive that her watch had stopped
during the night, she could wait no longer. She went
and tapped at Liddy's door, and after some labour awoke
her.
"But I thought it was I who had to call you?" said
the bewildered Liddy. "And it isn't six yet."
Indeed it is; how can you tell such a story, Liddy?
I know it must be ever so much past seven. Come to
my room as soon as you can; I want you to give my
hair a good brushing."
When Liddy came to Bathsheba's room her mistress
was already waiting. Liddy could not understand
this extraordinary promptness. "Whatever IS going on,
ma'am?" she said.
"Well, I'll tell you." said Bathsheba, with a mischiev-
ous smile in her bright eyes. "Farmer Oak is coming
here to dine with me to-day!"
"Farmer Oak -- and nobody else? -- you two alone?"
"Yes."
"But is it safe, ma'am, after what's been said?" asked
her companion, dubiously. "A woman's good name is
such a perishable article that -- -- "
Bathsheba laughed with a flushed cheek, and
whispered in Liddy's ear, although there was nobody
present. Then Liddy stared and exclaimed, " Souls
alive, what news! It makes my heart go quite
bumpity-bump"
"It makes mine rather furious, too." said Bathsheba.
"However, there's no getting out of it now!"
It was a damp disagreeable morning. Nevertheless,
at twenty minutes to ten o'clock, Oak came out of his
house, and
Went up the hill side
With that sort of stride
A man puts out when walking in search of a bride,
and knocked Bathsheba's door. Ten minutes later
a large and a smaller umbrella might have been seen
moving from the same door, and through the mist along
the road to the church. The distance was not more
than a quarter of a mile, and these two sensible persons
deemed it unnecessary to drive. An observer must have
been very close indeed to discover that the forms under
the umbrellas were those of Oak and Bathsheba, arm-in-
arm for the first time in their lives, Oak in a greatcoat
extending to his knees, and Bathsheba in a cloak that
reached her clogs. Yet, though so plainly dressed
there was a certain rejuvenated appearance about her: --
As though a rose should shut and be a bud again.
Repose had again incarnadined her cheeks; and having,
at Gabriel's request, arranged her hair this morning as
she had worn it years ago on Norcombe Hill, she seemed
in his eyes remarkably like a girl of that fascinating
dream, which, considering that she was now only three
or four-and-twenty, was perhaps not very wonderful. In
the church were Tall, Liddy, and the parson, and in a
remarkably short space of time the deed was done.
The two sat down very quietly to tea in Bathsheba's
parlour in the evening of the same day, for it had been
arranged that Farmer Oak should go there to live, since
he had as yet neither money, house, nor furniture worthy
of the name, though he was on a sure way towards them,
whilst Bathsheba was, comparatively, in a plethora of all
three.
Just as Bathsheba was pouring out a cup of tea,
their ears were greeted by the firing of a cannon,
followed by what seemed like a tremendous blowing of
trumpets, in the front of the house.
"There!" said Oak, laughing, "I knew those fellows
were up to something, by the look on their face; "
Oak took up the light and went into the porch,
followed by Bathsheba with a shawl over her head. The
rays fell upon a group of male figures gathered upon the
gravel in front, who, when they saw the newly-married
couple in the porch, set up a loud "Hurrah!" and at
the same moment bang again went the cannon in the
background, followed by a hideous clang of music from
a drum, tambourine, clarionet, serpent, hautboy, tenor-
viol, and double-bass -- the only remaining relics of the
true and original Weatherbury band -- venerable worm-
eaten instruments, which had celebrated in their own
persons the victories of Marlhorough, under the fingers
of the forefathers of those who played them now. The
performers came forward, and marched up to the
front.
"Those bright boys, Mark Clark and Jan, are at the
bottom of all this." said Oak. "Come in, souls, and
have something to eat and drink wi' me and my wife."
"Not to-night." said Mr. Clark, with evident self-
denial. "Thank ye all the same; but we'll call at a
more seemly time. However, we couldn't think of
letting the day pass without a note of admiration of
some sort. If ye could send a drop of som'at down to
Warren's, why so it is. Here's long life and happiness
to neighbour Oak and his comely bride!"
"Thank ye; thank ye all." said Gabriel. "A bit and
a drop shall be sent to Warren's for ye at once. I had
a thought that we might very likely get a salute of some
sort from our old friends, and I was saying so to my
wife but now."
"Faith." said Coggan, in a critical tone, turning to his
companions, "the man hev learnt to say "my wife"
in a wonderful naterel way, considering how very youth-
ful he is in wedlock as yet -- hey, neighbours all?"
"I never heerd a skilful old married feller of twenty
years" standing pipe "my wife" in a more used note
than 'a did." said Jacob Smallbury. "It might have been
a little more true to nater if't had been spoke a little
chillier, but that wasn't to be expected just now.
"That improvement will come wi' time." said Jan,
twirling his eye.
Then Oak laughed, and Bathsheba smiled (for she
never laughed readily now), and their friends turned to
go.
"Yes; I suppose that's the size o't." said Joseph
Poorgrass with a cheerful sigh as they moved away;
"and I wish him joy o' her; though I were once or
twice upon saying to-day with holy Hosea, in my
scripture manner, which is my second nature. "Ephraim
is joined to idols: let him alone." But since 'tis as 'tis
why, it might have been worse, and I feel my thanks
accordingly."

THE END

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