is owing to your modesty, Miss Everdene. But surely you must have been told by everybody of what everybody notices? and you should take their words for it.”
“They don’t say so exactly.”
“Oh yes, they must!”
“Well, I mean to my face, as you do,” she went on, allowing herself to be further lured into a conversation that intention had rigorously forbidden.
“But you know they think so?”
“No — that is — I certainly have heard Liddy say they do, but —-” She paused.
Capitulation — that was the purport of the simple reply, guarded as it was — capitulation, unknown to her-self. Never did a fragile tailless sentence convey a more perfect meaning. The careless sergeant smiled within himself, and probably too the devil smiled from a loop-hole in Tophet, for the moment was the turning-point of a career. Her tone and mien signified beyond mistake that the seed which was to lift the foundation had taken root in the chink: the remainder was a mere question of time and natural changes.
“There the truth comes out!” said the soldier, in reply. “Never tell me that a young lady can live in a buzz of admiration without knowing something about it. Ah, well, Miss Everdene, you are — pardon my blunt way — you are rather an injury to our race than other-wise.”
“How — indeed?” she said, opening her eyes.
“Oh, it is true enough. I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb (an old country saying, not of much account, but it will do for a rough soldier), and so I will speak my mind, regardless of your pleasure, and without hoping or intending to get your pardon. Why, Miss Everdene, it is in this manner that your good looks may do more harm than good in the world.” The sergeant looked down the mead in critical abstraction. “Probably some one man on an average falls in love, with each ordinary woman. She can marry him: he is content, and leads a useful life. Such women as you a hundred men always covet — your eyes will bewitch scores on scores into an unavailing fancy for you — you can only marry one of that many. Out of these say twenty will endeavour to drown the bitterness of despised love in drink; twenty more will mope away their lives without a wish or attempt to make a mark in he world, because they have no ambition apart from their attachment to you; twenty more — the susceptible person myself possibly among them — will be always draggling after you, getting where they may just see you, doing desperate things. Men are such constant fools! The rest may try to get over their passion with more or less success. But all these men will be saddened. And not only those ninety-nine men, but the ninety-nine women they might have married are saddened with them. There’s my tale. That’s why I say that a woman so charming as yourself, Miss Everdene, is hardly a blessing to her race.”
The handsome sergeant’s features were during this speech as rigid and stern as John Knox’s in addressing his gay young queen.
Seeing she made no reply, he said, “Do you read French?”
“No; I began, but when I got to the verbs, father died,” she said simply.
“I do — when I have an opportunity, which latterly has not been often (my mother was a Parisienne) — and there’s a proverb they have, QUI AIME BIEN CHATIE BIEN — ‘He chastens who loves well.’ Do you understand me?”
“Ah!” she replied, and there was even a little tremulousness in the usually cool girl’s voice; “if you can only fight half as winningly as you can talk, you are able to make a pleasure of a bayonet wound!” And then poor Bathsheba instantly perceived her slip in making this admission: in hastily trying to retrieve it, she went from bad to worse. “Don’t, however, suppose that I derive any pleasure from what you tell me.”
“I know you do not — I know it perfectly,” said Troy, with much hearty conviction on the exterior of his face: and altering the expression to moodiness; “when a dozen men are ready to speak tenderly to you, and give the admiration you deserve without adding the warning you need, it stands to reason that my poor rough-and-ready mixture of praise and blame cannot convey much pleasure. Fool as I may be, I am not so conceited as to suppose that!”
“I think you — are conceited, nevertheless,” said Bathsheba, looking askance at a reed she was fitfully pulling with one hand, having lately grown feverish under the soldier’s system of procedure — not because the nature of his cajolery was entirely unperceived, but because its vigour was overwhelming.
“I would not own it to anybody else — nor do I exactly to you. Still, there might have been some self-conceit in my foolish supposition the other night. I knew that what I said in admiration might be an opinion too often forced upon you to give any pleasure but I certainly did think that the kindness of your nature might prevent you judging an uncontrolled tongue harshly — which you have done — and thinking badly of me and wounding me this morning, when I am working hard to save your hay.”
“Well, you need not think more of that: perhaps you did not mean to be rude to me by speaking out your mind: indeed, I believe you did not,” said the shrewd woman, in painfully innocent earnest. “And I thank you for giving help here. But — but mind you don’t speak to me again in that way, or in any other, unless I speak to you.”
“Oh, Miss Bathsheba! That is too hard!”
“No, it isn’t. Why is it?”
“You will never speak to me; for I shall not be here long. I am soon going back again to the miserable monotony of drill — and perhaps our regiment will be ordered out soon. And yet you take away the one little ewe-lamb of pleasure that I have in this dull life of mine. Well, perhaps generosity is not a woman’s most marked characteristic.”
“When are you going from here?” she asked, with some interest.
“In a month.”
“But how can it give you pleasure to speak to me?”
“Can you ask Miss Everdene — knowing as you do — what my offence is based on?”
“If you do care so much for a silly trifle of that kind, then, I don’t mind doing it,” she uncertainly and doubtingly answered. “But you can’t really care for a word from me? you only say so — I think you only say so.”
“That’s unjust — but I won’t repeat the remark. I am too gratified to get such a mark of your friendship at any price to cavil at the tone. I DO Miss Everdene, care for it. You may think a man foolish to want a mere word — just a good morning. Perhaps he is — I don’t know. But you have never been a man looking upon a woman, and that woman yourself.”
“Then you know nothing of what such an experience is like — and Heaven forbid that you ever should!”
“Nonsense, flatterer! What is it like? I am interested in knowing.”
“Put shortly, it is not being able to think, hear, or look in any direction except one without wretchedness, nor there without torture.”
“Ah, sergeant, it won’t do — you are pretending!” she said, shaking her head. “Your words are too dashing to be true.”
“I am not, upon the honour of a soldier.”
“But WHY is it so? — Of course I ask for mere pastime.”
“Because you are so distracting — and I am so distracted.”
“You look like it.”
“I am indeed.”
“Why, you only saw me the other night!”
“That makes no difference. The lightning works instantaneously. I loved you then, at once — as I do now.”
Bathsheba surveyed him curiously, from the feet upward, as high as she liked to venture her glance, which was not quite so high as his eyes.
“You cannot and you don’t,” she said demurely. “There is no such sudden feeling in people. I won’t listen to you any longer. Hear me, I wish I knew what o’clock it is — I am going — I have wasted too much time here already!”
The sergeant looked at his watch and told her. “What, haven’t you a watch, miss?” he inquired.
“I have not just at present — I am about to get a new one.”
“No. You shall be given one. Yes — you shall. A gift, Miss Everdene — a gift.”
And before she knew what the young man was intending, a heavy gold watch was in her hand.
“It is an unusually good one for a man like me to possess,” he quietly said. “That watch has a history. Press the spring and open the back.”
She did so.
“What do you see?”
“A crest and a motto.”
“A coronet with five points, and beneath, CEDIT AMOR REBUS — “Love yields to circumstance.” It’s the motto of the Earls of Severn. That watch belonged to the last lord, and was given to my mother’s husband, a medical man, for his use till I came of age, when it was to be given to me. It was all the fortune that ever I inherited. That watch has regulated imperial interests in its time — the stately ceremonial, the courtly assignation, pompous travels, and lordly sleeps. Now it is yours.
“But, Sergeant Troy, I cannot take this — I cannot!” she exclaimed, with round-eyed wonder. “A gold watch! What are you doing? Don’t be such a dissembler!”
The sergeant retreated to avoid receiving back his gift, which she held out persistently towards him. Bathsheba followed as he retired.
“Keep it — do, Miss Everdene — keep it!” said the erratic child of impulse. “The fact of your possessing it makes it worth ten times as much to me. A more plebeian one will answer my purpose just as well, and the pleasure of knowing whose heart my old one beats against — well, I won’t speak of that. It is in far worthier hands than ever it has been in before.”
“But indeed I can’t have it!” she said, in a perfect simmer of distress. “Oh, how can you do such a thing; that is if you really mean it! Give me your dead father’s watch, and such a valuable one! You should not be so reckless, indeed, Sergeant Troy!”
“I loved my father: good; but better, I love you more. That’s how I can do it,” said the sergeant, with an intonation of such exquisite fidelity to nature that it was evidently not all acted now. Her beauty, which, whilst it had been quiescent, he had praised in jest, had in its animated phases moved him to earnest; and though his seriousness was less than she imagined, it was probably more than he imagined himself.
Bathsheba was brimming with agitated bewilderment, and she said, in half-suspicious accents of feeling, “Can it be! Oh, how can it be, that you care for me, and so suddenly! You have seen so little of me: I may not be really so — so nice-looking as I seem to you. Please, do take it; Oh, do! I cannot and will not have it. Believe me, your generosity is too great. I have never done you a single kindness, and why should you be so kind to me?”
A factitious reply had been again upon his lips, but it was again suspended, and he looked at her with an arrested eye. The truth was, that as she now stood — excited, wild, and honest as the day — her alluring beauty bore out so fully the epithets he had bestowed upon it that he was quite startled at his temerity in advancing them as false. He said mechanically, “Ah, why?” and continued to look at her.
“And my workfolk see me following you about the field, and are wondering. Oh, this is dreadful!” she went on, unconscious of the transmutation she was effecting.
“I did not quite mean you to accept it at first, for it was my one poor patent of nobility,” he broke out, bluntly; “but, upon my soul, I wish you would now. Without any shamming, come! Don’t deny me the happiness of wearing it for my sake? But you are too lovely even to care to be kind as others are.”
“No, no; don’t say so! I have reasons for reserve which I cannot explain.”
“Let it be, then, let it be,” he said, receiving back the watch at last; “I must be leaving you now. And will you speak to me for these few weeks of my stay?”
“Indeed I will. Yet, I don’t know if I will! Oh, why did you come and disturb me so!”
“Perhaps in setting a gin, I have caught myself. Such things have happened. Well, will you let me work in your fields?” he coaxed.
“Yes, I suppose so; if it is any pleasure to you.”
“Miss Everdene, I thank you.”
The sergeant brought his hand to the cap on the slope of his head, saluted, and returned to the distant group of haymakers.
Bathsheba could not face the haymakers now. Her heart erratically flitting hither and thither from perplexed excitement, hot, and almost tearful, she retreated homeward, murmuring, Oh, what have I done! What does it mean! I wish I knew how much of it was true!
HIVING THE BEES
THE Weatherbury bees were late in their swarming this year. It was in the latter part of June, and the day after the interview with Troy in the hayfield, that Bathsheba was standing in her garden, watching a swarm in the air and guessing their probable settling place. Not only were they late this year, but unruly. Sometimes throughout a whole season all the swarms would alight on the lowest attainable bough — such as part of a currant-bush or espalier apple- tree; next year they would, with just the same unanimity, make straight off to the uppermost member of some tall, gaunt costard, or quarrenden, and there defy all invaders who did not come armed with ladders and staves to take them.
This was the case at present. Bathsheba’s eyes, shaded by one hand, were following the ascending multitude against the unexplorable stretch of blue till they ultimately halted by one of the unwieldy trees spoken of. A process somewhat analogous to that of alleged formations of the universe, time and times ago, was observable. The bustling swarm had swept the sky in a scattered and uniform haze, which now thickened to a nebulous centre: this glided on to a bough and grew still denser, till it formed a solid black spot upon the light.
The men and women being all busily engaged in saving the hay — even Liddy had left the house for the purpose of lending a hand — Bathsheba resolved to hive the bees herself, if possible. She had dressed the hive with herbs and honey, fetched a ladder, brush, and crook, made herself impregnable with armour of leather gloves, straw hat, and large gauze veil — once green but now faded to snuff colour — and ascended a dozen rungs of the ladder. At once she heard, not ten yards off, a voice that was beginning to have a strange power in agitating her.
“Miss Everdene, let me assist you; you should not attempt such a thing alone.”
Troy was just opening the garden gate.
Bathsheba flung down the brush, crook, and empty hive, pulled the skirt of her dress tightly round her ankles in a tremendous flurry, and as well as she could slid down the ladder. By the time she reached the bottom Troy was there also, and he stooped to pick up the hive.
“How fortunate I am to have dropped in at this moment!” exclaimed the sergeant.
She found her voice in a minute. “What! and will you shake them in for me?” she asked, in what, for a defiant girl, was a faltering way; though, for a timid girl, it would have seemed a brave way enough.
“Will I!” said Troy. “Why, of course I will. How blooming you are to-day!” Troy flung down his cane and put his foot on the ladder to ascend.
“But you must have on the veil and gloves, or you’ll be stung fearfully!”
“Ah, yes. I must put on the veil and gloves. Will you kindly show me how to fix them properly?”
“And you must have the broad-brimmed hat, too, for your cap has no brim to keep the veil off, and they’d reach your face.”
“The broad-brimmed hat, too, by all means.”
So a whimsical fate ordered that her hat should be taken off — veil and all attached — and placed upon his head, Troy tossing his own into a gooseberry bush. Then the veil had to be tied at its lower edge round his collar and the gloves put on him.
He looked such an extraordinary object in this guise that, flurried as she was, she could not avoid laughing outright. It was the removal of yet another stake from the palisade of cold manners which had kept him off.
Bathsheba looked on from the ground whilst he was busy sweeping and shaking the bees from the tree, holding up the hive with the other hand for them to fall into. She made use of an unobserved minute whilst his attention was absorbed in the operation to arrange her plumes a little. He came down holding the hive at arm’s length, behind which trailed a cloud of bees.
“Upon my life,” said Troy, through the veil, “holding up this hive makes one’s arm ache worse than a week of sword- exercise.” When the manoeuvre was complete he approached her. “Would you be good enough to untie me and let me out? I am nearly stifled inside this silk cage.”
To hide her embarrassment during the unwonted process of untying the string about his neck, she said: —
“I have never seen that you spoke of.”
“Ah! would you like to?” said Troy.
Bathsheba hesitated. She had heard wondrous reports from time to time by dwellers in Weatherbury, who had by chance sojourned awhile in Casterbridge, near the barracks, of this strange and glorious performance, the sword-exercise. Men and boys who had peeped through chinks or over walls into the barrack-yard returned with accounts of its being the most flashing affair conceivable; accoutrements and weapons glistening like stars — here, there, around — yet all by rule and compass. So she said mildly what she felt strongly.
“Yes; I should like to see it very much.”
“And so you shall; you shall see me go through it.”
“Let me consider.”
“Not with a walking-stick — I don’t care to see that. It must be a real sword.”
“Yes, I know; and I have no sword here; but I think I could get one by the evening. Now, will you do this?”
Troy bent over her and murmured some suggestion in a low voice.
“Oh no, indeed!” said Bathsheba, blushing. “Thank you very much, but I couldn’t on any account.”
“Surely you might? Nobody would know.”
She shook her head, but with a weakened negation. “If I were to,” she said, “I must bring Liddy too. Might I not?”
Troy looked far away. “I don’t see why you want to bring her,” he said coldly.
An unconscious look of assent in Bathsheba’s eyes betrayed that something more than his coldness had made her also feel that Liddy would be superfluous in the suggested scene. She had felt it, even whilst making the proposal.
“Well, I won’t bring Liddy — and I’ll come. But only for a very short time,” she added; “a very short time.”
“It will not take five minutes,” said Troy.
THE HOLLOW AMID THE FERNS
THE hill opposite Bathsheba’s dwelling extended, a mile off, into an uncultivated tract of land, dotted at this season with tall thickets of brake fern, plump and diaphanous from recent rapid growth, and radiant in hues of clear and untainted green.
At eight o’clock this midsummer evening, whilst the bristling ball of gold in the west still swept the tips of the ferns with its long, luxuriant rays, a soft brushing-by of garments might have been heard among them, and Bathsheba appeared in their midst, their soft, feathery arms caressing her up to her shoulders. She paused, turned, went back over the hill and half-way to her own door, whence she cast a farewell glance upon the spot she had just left, having resolved not to remain near the place after all.
She saw a dim spot of artificial red moving round the shoulder of the rise. It disappeared on the other side.
She waited one minute — two minutes — thought of Troy’s disappointment at her non-fulfilment of a promised engagement, till she again ran along the field, clambered over the bank, and followed the original direction. She was now literally trembling and panting at this her temerity in such an errant undertaking; her breath came and went quickly, and her eyes shone with an in-frequent light. Yet go she must. She reached the verge of a pit in the middle of the ferns. Troy stood in the bottom, looking up towards her.
“I heard you rustling through the fern before I saw you,” he said, coming up and giving her his hand to help her down the slope.
The pit was a saucer-shaped concave, naturally formed, with a top diameter of about thirty feet, and shallow enough to allow the sunshine to reach their heads. Standing in the centre, the sky overhead was met by a circular horizon of fern: this grew nearly to the bottom of the slope and then abruptly ceased. The middle within the belt of verdure was floored with a thick flossy carpet of moss and grass intermingled, so yielding that the foot was half-buried within it.
“Now,” said Troy, producing the sword, which, as he raised it into the sunlight, gleamed a sort of greeting, like a living thing, “first, we have four right and four left cuts; four right and four left thrusts. Infantry cuts and guards are more interesting than ours, to my mind; but they are not so swashing. They have seven cuts and three thrusts. So much as a preliminary. Well, next, our cut one is as if you were sowing your corn — so.” Bathsheba saw a sort of rainbow, upside down in the air, and Troy’s arm was still again. “Cut two, as if you were hedging — so. Three, as if you were reaping — so. Four, as if you were threshing — in that way. Then the same on the left. The thrusts are these: one, two, three, four, right; one, two, three, four, left.” He repeated them. “Have ’em again?” he said. “One, two —-”
She hurriedly interrupted: “I’d rather not; though I don’t mind your twos and fours; but your ones and threes are terrible!”
“Very well. I’ll let you off the ones and threes. Next, cuts, points and guards altogether,” Troy duly exhibited them. “Then there’s pursuing practice, in this way.” He gave the movements as before. “There, those are the stereotyped forms. The infantry have two most diabolical upward cuts, which we are too humane to use. Like this — three, four.”
“How murderous and bloodthirsty!”
“They are rather deathly. Now I’ll be more interesting, and let you see some loose play — giving all the cuts and points, infantry and cavalry, quicker than lightning, and as promiscuously — with just enough rule to regulate instinct and yet not to fetter it. You are my antagonist, with this difference from real warfare, that I shall miss you every time by one hair’s breadth, or perhaps two. Mind you don’t flinch, whatever you do.”
“I’ll be sure not to!” she said invincibly.
He pointed to about a yard in front of him.
Bathsheba’s adventurous spirit was beginning to find some grains of relish in these highly novel proceedings. She took up her position as directed, facing Troy.
“Now just to learn whether you have pluck enough to let me do what I wish, I’ll give you a preliminary test.”
He flourished the sword by way of introduction number two, and the next thing of which she was conscious was that the point and blade of the sword were darting with a gleam towards her left side, just above her hip; then of their reappearance on her right side, emerging as it were from between her ribs, having apparently passed through her body. The third item of consciousness was that of seeing the same sword, perfectly clean and free from blood held vertically in Troy’s hand (in the position technically called “recover swords”). All was as quick as electricity.
“Oh!” she cried out in affright, pressing her hand to her side. “Have you run me through? — no, you have not! Whatever have you done!”
“I have not touched you,” said Troy, quietly. “It was mere sleight of hand. The sword passed behind you. Now you are not afraid, are you? Because if you are I can’t perform. I give my word that I will not only not hurt you, but not once touch you.”
“I don’t think I am afraid. You are quite sure you will not hurt me?”
“Is the Sword very sharp?”
“O no — only stand as still as a statue. Now!”
In an instant the atmosphere was transformed to Bathsheba’s eyes. Beams of light caught from the low sun’s rays, above, around, in front of her, well-nigh shut out earth and heaven — all emitted in the marvellous evolutions of Troy’s reflecting blade, which seemed everywhere at once, and yet nowhere specially. These circling gleams were accompanied by a keen rush that was almost a whistling — also springing from all sides of her at once. In short, she was enclosed in a firmament of light, and of sharp hisses, resembling a sky-full of meteors close at hand.
Never since the broadsword became the national weapon had there been more dexterity shown in its management than by the hands of Sergeant Troy, and never had he been in such splendid temper for the performance as now in the evening sunshine among the ferns with Bathsheba. It may safely be asserted with respect to the closeness of his cuts, that had it been possible for the edge of the sword to leave in the air a permanent substance wherever it flew past, the space left untouched would have been almost a mould of Bathsheba’s figure.
Behind the luminous streams of this AURORA MILITARIS, she could see the hue of Troy’s sword arm, spread in a scarlet haze over the space covered by its motions, like a twanged harpstring, and behind all Troy himself, mostly facing her; sometimes, to show the rear cuts, half turned away, his eye nevertheless always keenly measuring her breadth and outline, and his lips tightly closed in sustained effort. Next, his movements lapsed slower, and she could see them individually. The hissing of the sword had ceased, and he stopped entirely.
“That outer loose lock of hair wants tidying,” he said, before she had moved or spoken. “Wait: I’ll do it for you.”
An arc of silver shone on her right side: the sword had descended. The lock dropped to the ground.
“Bravely borne!” said Troy. “You didn’t flinch a shade’s thickness. Wonderful in a woman!”
“It was because I didn’t expect it. Oh, you have spoilt my hair!”
“Only once more.”
“No — no! I am afraid of you — indeed I am!” she cried.
“I won’t touch you at all — not even your hair. I am only going to kill that caterpillar settling on you. Now: still!”
It appeared that a caterpillar had come from the fern and chosen the front of her bodice as his resting place. She saw the point glisten towards her bosom, and seemingly enter it. Bathsheba closed her eyes in the full persuasion that she was killed at last. However, feeling just as usual, she opened them again.
“There it is, look,” said the sergeant, holding his sword before her eyes.
The caterpillar was spitted upon its point.
“Why, it is magic!” said Bathsheba, amazed.
“Oh no — dexterity. I merely gave point to your bosom where the caterpillar was, and instead of running you through checked the extension a thousandth of an inch short of your surface.”
“But how could you chop off a curl of my hair with a sword that has no edge?”
“No edge! This sword will shave like a razor. Look here.”
He touched the palm of his hand with the blade, and then, lifting it, showed her a thin shaving of scarf-skin dangling therefrom.
“But you said before beginning that it was blunt and couldn’t cut me!”
“That was to get you to stand still, and so make sure of your safety. The risk of injuring you through your moving was too great not to force me to tell you a fib to escape it.”
She shuddered. “I have been within an inch of my life, and didn’t know it!”
“More precisely speaking, you have been within half an inch of being pared alive two hundred and ninety-five times.”
“Cruel, cruel, ’tis of you!”
“You have been perfectly safe, nevertheless. My sword never errs.” And Troy returned the weapon to the scabbard.
Bathsheba, overcome by a hundred tumultuous feelings resulting from the scene, abstractedly sat down on a tuft of heather.
“I must leave you now,” said Troy, softly. “And I’ll venture to take and keep this in remembrance of you.”
She saw him stoop to the grass, pick up the winding lock which he had severed from her manifold tresses, twist it round his fingers, unfasten a button in the breast of his coat, and carefully put it inside. She felt powerless to withstand or deny him. He was altogether too much for her, and Bathsheba seemed as one who, facing a reviving wind, finds it blow so strongly that it stops the breath. He drew near and said, “I must be leaving you.”
He drew nearer still. A minute later and she saw his scarlet form disappear amid the ferny thicket, almost in a flash, like a brand swiftly waved.
That minute’s interval had brought the blood beating into her face, set her stinging as if aflame to the very hollows of her feet, and enlarged emotion to a compass which quite swamped thought. It had brought upon her a stroke resulting, as did that of Moses in Horeb, in a liquid stream — here a stream of tears. She felt like one who has sinned a great sin.
The circumstance had been the gentle dip of Troy’s mouth downwards upon her own. He had kissed her.
PARTICULARS OF A TWILIGHT WALK
WE now see the element of folly distinctly mingling with the many varying particulars which made up the character of Bathsheba Everdene. It was almost foreign to her intrinsic nature. Introduced as lymph on the dart of Eros, it eventually permeated and coloured her whole constitution. Bathsheba, though she had too much understanding to be entirely governed by her womanliness, had too much womanliness to use her understanding to the best advantage. Perhaps in no minor point does woman astonish her helpmate more than in the strange power she possesses of believing cajoleries that she knows to be false — except, indeed, in that of being utterly sceptical on strictures that she knows to be true.
Bathsheba loved Troy in the way that only self-reliant women love when they abandon their self-reliance. When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away. One source of her inadequacy is the novelty of the occasion. She has never had practice in making the best of such a condition. Weakness is doubly weak by being new.
Bathsheba was not conscious of guile in this matter. Though in one sense a woman of the world, it was, after all, that world of daylight coteries and green carpets wherein cattle form the passing crowd and winds the busy hum; where a quiet family of rabbits or hares lives on the other side of your party-wall, where your neighbour is everybody in the tything, and where calculation is confined to market-days. Of the fabricated tastes of good fashionable society she knew but little, and of the formulated self-indulgence of bad, nothing at all. Had her utmost thoughts in this direction been distinctly worded (and by herself they never were), they would only have amounted to such a matter as that she felt her impulses to be pleasanter guides than her discretion. Her love was entire as a child’s, and though warm as summer it was fresh as spring. Her culpability lay in her making no attempt to control feeling by subtle and careful inquiry into consciences. She could show others the steep and thorny way, but “reck’d not her own rede.”
And Troy’s deformities lay deep down from a woman’s vision, whilst his embellishments were upon the very surface; thus contrasting with homely Oak, whose defects were patent to the blindest, and whose virtues were as metals in a mine.
The difference between love and respect was markedly shown in her conduct. Bathsheba had spoken of her interest in Boldwood with the greatest freedom to Liddy, but she had only communed with her own heart concerning Troy.
All this infatuation Gabriel saw, and was troubled thereby from the time of his daily journey a-field to the time of his return, and on to the small hours of many a night. That he was not beloved had hitherto been his great sorrow; that Bathsheba was getting into the toils was now a sorrow greater than the first, and one which nearly obscured it. It was a result which paralleled the oft-quoted observation of Hippocrates concerning physical pains.
That is a noble though perhaps an unpromising love which not even the fear of breeding aversion in the bosom of the one beloved can deter from combating his or her errors. Oak determined to speak to his mistress. He would base his appeal on what he considered her unfair treatment of Farmer Boldwood, now absent from home.
An opportunity occurred one evening when she had gone for a short walk by a path through the neighbouring cornfields. It was dusk when Oak, who had not been far a-field that day, took the same path and met her returning, quite pensively, as he thought.
The wheat was now tall, and the path was narrow; thus the way was quite a sunken groove between the embowing thicket on either side. Two persons could not walk abreast without damaging the crop, and Oak stood aside to let her pass.
“Oh, is it Gabriel?” she said. “You are taking a walk too. Good-night.”
“I thought I would come to meet you, as it is rather late,” said Oak, turning and following at her heels when she had brushed somewhat quickly by him.
“Thank you, indeed, but I am not very fearful.”
“Oh no; but there are bad characters about.”
“I never meet them.”
Now Oak, with marvellous ingenuity, had been going to introduce the gallant sergeant through the channel of “bad characters.” But all at once the scheme broke down, it suddenly occurring to him that this was rather a clumsy way, and too barefaced to begin with. He tried another preamble.
“And as the man who would naturally come to meet you is away from home, too — I mean Farmer Boldwood — why, thinks I, I’ll go,” he said.
“Ah, yes.” She walked on without turning her head, and for many steps nothing further was heard from her quarter than the rustle of her dress against the heavy corn-ears. Then she resumed rather tartly —
“I don’t quite understand what you meant by saying that Mr. Boldwood would naturally come to meet me.”
I meant on account of the wedding which they say is likely to take place between you and him, miss. Forgive my speaking plainly.”
“They say what is not true.” she returned quickly. “No marriage is likely to take place between us.”
Gabriel now put forth his unobscured opinion, for the moment had come. “Well, Miss Everdene,” he said, “putting aside what people say, I never in my life saw any courting if his is not a courting of you.”
Bathsheba would probably have terminated the conversation there and then by flatly forbidding the subject, had not her conscious weakness of position allured her to palter and argue in endeavours to better it.
“Since this subject has been mentioned,” she said very emphatically, “I am glad of the opportunity of clearing up a mistake which is very common and very provoking. I didn’t definitely promise Mr. Boldwood anything. I have never cared for him. I respect him, and he has urged me to marry him. But I have given him no distinct answer. As soon as he returns I shall do so; and the answer will be that I cannot think of marrying him.”
“People are full of mistakes, seemingly.”
The other day they said you were trifling with him, and you almost proved that you were not; lately they have said that you be not, and you straightway begin to show —-”
“That I am, I suppose you mean.”
“Well, I hope they speak the truth.”
“They do, but wrongly applied. I don’t trifle with him; but then, I have nothing to do with him.”
Oak was unfortunately led on to speak of Boldwood’s rival in a wrong tone to her after all. “I wish you had never met that young Sergeant Troy, miss,” he sighed.
Bathsheba’s steps became faintly spasmodic. “Why?” she asked.
“He is not good enough for ‘ee.”
“Did any one tell you to speak to me like this?”
“Nobody at all.”
“Then it appears to me that Sergeant Troy does not concern us here,” she said, intractably. “Yet I must say that Sergeant Troy is an educated man, and quite worthy of any woman. He is well born.”
“His being higher in learning and birth than the ruck o’ soldiers is anything but a proof of his worth. It show’s his course to be down’ard.”
“I cannot see what this has to do with our conversation. Mr. Troy’s course is not by any means downward; and his superiority IS a proof of his worth!”
“I believe him to have no conscience at all. And I cannot help begging you, miss, to have nothing to do with him. Listen to me this once — only this once! I don’t say he’s such a bad man as I have fancied — I pray to God he is not. But since we don’t exactly know what he is, why not behave as if he MIGHT be bad, simply for your own safety? Don’t trust him, mistress; I ask you not to trust him so.”
“I like soldiers, but this one I do not like,” he said, sturdily. “His cleverness in his calling may have tempted him astray, and what is mirth to the neighbours is ruin to the woman. When he tries to talk to ‘ee again, why not turn away with a short “Good day”; and when you see him coming one way, turn the other. When he says anything laughable, fail to see the point and don’t smile, and speak of him before those who will report your talk as “that fantastical man,” or “that Sergeant What’s-his-name.” “That man of a family that has come to the dogs.” Don’t be unmannerly towards en, but harmless-uncivil, and so get rid of the man.”
No Christmas robin detained by a window-pane ever pulsed as did Bathsheba now.
“I say — I say again — that it doesn’t become you to talk about him. Why he should be mentioned passes me quite!” she exclaimed desperately. “I know this, th-th-that he is a thoroughly conscientious man — blunt sometimes even to rudeness — but always speaking his mind about you plain to your face!”
“He is as good as anybody in this parish! He is very particular, too, about going to church — yes, he is!”
“I am afeard nobody saw him there. I never did, certainly.”
“The reason of that is,” she said eagerly, “that he goes in privately by the old tower door, just when the service commences, and sits at the back of the gallery. He told me so.”
This supreme instance of Troy’s goodness fell upon Gabriel ears like the thirteenth stroke of crazy clock. It was not only received with utter incredulity as regarded itself, but threw a doubt on all the assurances that had preceded it.
Oak was grieved to find how entirely she trusted him. He brimmed with deep feeling as he replied in a steady voice, the steadiness of which was spoilt by the palpableness of his great effort to keep it so: —
“You know, mistress, that I love you, and shall love you always. I only mention this to bring to your mind that at any rate I would wish to do you no harm: beyond that I put it aside. I have lost in the race for money and good things, and I am not such a fool as to pretend to ‘ee now I am poor, and you have got altogether above me. But Bathsheba, dear mistress, this I beg you to consider — that, both to keep yourself well honoured among the workfolk, and in common generosity to an honourable man who loves you as well as I, you should be more discreet in your bearing towards this soldier.”
“Don’t, don’t, don’t!” she exclaimed, in a choking voice.
“Are ye not more to me than my own affairs, and even life!” he went on. “Come, listen to me! I am six years older than you, and Mr. Boldwood is ten years older than I, and consider — I do beg of ‘ee to consider before it is too late — how safe you would be in his hands!”
Oak’s allusion to his own love for her lessened, to some extent, her anger at his interference; but she could not really forgive him for letting his wish to marry her be eclipsed by his wish to do her good, any more than for his slighting treatment of Troy.
“I wish you to go elsewhere,” she commanded, a paleness of face invisible to the eye being suggested by the trembling words. “Do not remain on this farm any longer. I don’t want you — I beg you to go!”
“That’s nonsense,” said Oak, calmly. “This is the second time you have pretended to dismiss me; and what’s the use o’ it?”
“Pretended! You shall go, sir — your lecturing I will not hear! I am mistress here.”
“Go, indeed — what folly will you say next? Treating me like Dick, Tom and Harry when you know that a short time ago my position was as good as yours! Upon my life, Bathsheba, it is too barefaced. You know, too, that I can’t go without putting things in such a strait as you wouldn’t get out of I can’t tell when. Unless, indeed, you’ll promise to have an understanding man as bailiff, or manager, or something. I’ll go at once if you’ll promise that.”
“I shall have no bailiff; I shall continue to be my own manager,” she said decisively.
“Very well, then; you should be thankful to me for biding. How would the farm go on with nobody to mind it but a woman? But mind this, I don’t wish ‘ee to feel you owe me anything. Not I. What I do, I do. Sometimes I say I should be as glad as a bird to leave the place — for don’t suppose I’m content to be a nobody. I was made for better things. However, I don’t like to see your concerns going to ruin, as they must if you keep in this mind…. I hate taking my own measure so plain, but, upon my life, your provoking ways make a man say what he wouldn’t dream of at other times! I own to being rather interfering. But you know well enough how it is, and who she is that I like too well, and feel too much like a fool about to be civil to her!”
It is more than probable that she privately and unconsciously respected him a little for this grim fidelity, which had been shown in his tone even more than in his words. At any rate she murmured something to the effect that he might stay if he wished. She said more distinctly, “Will you leave me alone now? I don’t order it as a mistress — I ask it as a woman, and I expect you not to be so uncourteous as to refuse.”
“Certainly I will, Miss Everdene,” said Gabriel, gently. He wondered that the request should have come at this moment, for the strife was over, and they were on a most desolate hill, far from every human habitation, and the hour was getting late. He stood still and allowed her to get far ahead of him till he could only see her form upon the sky.
A distressing explanation of this anxiety to be rid of him at that point now ensued. A figure apparently rose from the earth beside her. The shape beyond all doubt was Troy’s. Oak would not be even a possible listener, and at once turned back till a good two hundred yards were between the lovers and himself.
Gabriel went home by way of the churchyard. In passing the tower he thought of what she had said about the sergeant’s virtuous habit of entering the church unperceived at the beginning of service. Believing that the little gallery door alluded to was quite disused, he ascended the external flight of steps at the top of which it stood, and examined it. The pale lustre yet hanging in the north-western heaven was sufficient to show that a sprig of ivy had grown from the wall across the door to a length of more than a foot, delicately tying the panel to the stone jamb. It was a decisive proof that the door had not been opened at least since Troy came back to Weatherbury.
HOT CHEEKS AND TEARFUL EYES
HALF an hour later Bathsheba entered her own house. There burnt upon her face when she met the light of the candles the flush and excitement which were little less than chronic with her now. The farewell words of Troy, who had accompanied her to the very door, still lingered in her ears. He had bidden her adieu for two days, which were so he stated, to be spent at Bath in visiting some friends. He had also kissed her a second time.
It is only fair to Bathsheba to explain here a little fact which did not come to light till a long time afterwards: that Troy’s presentation of himself so aptly at the roadside this evening was not by any distinctly preconcerted arrangement. He had hinted — she had forbidden; and it was only on the chance of his still coming that she had dismissed Oak, fearing a meeting between them just then.
She now sank down into a chair, wild and perturbed by all these new and fevering sequences. Then she jumped up with a manner of decision, and fetched her desk from a side table.
In three minutes, without pause or modification, she had written a letter to Boldwood, at his address beyond Casterbridge, saying mildly but firmly that she had well considered the whole subject he had brought before her and kindly given her time to decide upon; that her final decision was that she could not marry him. She had expressed to Oak an intention to wait till Boldwood came home before communicating to him her conclusive reply. But Bathsheba found that she could not wait.
It was impossible to send this letter till the next day; yet to quell her uneasiness by getting it out of her hands, and so, as it were, setting the act in motion at once, she arose to take it to any one of the women who might be in the kitchen.
She paused in the passage. A dialogue was going on in the kitchen, and Bathsheba and Troy were the subject of it.
“If he marry her, she’ll gie up farming.”
“‘Twill be a gallant life, but may bring some trouble between the mirth — so say I.”
“Well, I wish I had half such a husband.”
Bathsheba had too much sense to mind seriously what her servitors said about her; but too much womanly redundance of speech to leave alone what was said till it died the natural death of unminded things. She burst in upon them.
“Who are you speaking of?” she asked.
There was a pause before anybody replied. At last Liddy said frankly, “What was passing was a bit of a word about yourself, miss.”
“I thought so! Maryann and Liddy and Temperance — now I forbid you to suppose such things. You know I don’t care the least for Mr. Troy — not I. Everybody knows how much I hate him. — Yes,” repeated the froward young person, “HATE him!”
“We know you do, miss,” said Liddy; “and so do we all.”
“I hate him too,” said Maryann.
“Maryann — Oh you perjured woman! How can you speak that wicked story!” said Bathsheba, excitedly. “You admired him from your heart only this morning in the very world, you did. Yes, Maryann, you know it!”
“Yes, miss, but so did you. He is a wild scamp now, and you are right to hate him.”
“He’s NOT a wild scamp! How dare you to my face! I have no right to hate him, nor you, nor anybody. But I am a silly woman! What is it to me what he is? You know it is nothing. I don’t care for him; I don’t mean to defend his good name, not I. Mind this, if any of you say a word against him you’ll be dismissed instantly!”
She flung down the letter and surged back into the parlour, with a big heart and tearful eyes, Liddy following her.
“Oh miss!” said mild Liddy, looking pitifully into Bathsheba’s face. “I am sorry we mistook you so! I did think you cared for him; but I see you don’t now.”
“Shut the door, Liddy.”
Liddy closed the door, and went on: “People always say such foolery, miss. I’ll make answer hencefor’ard, ‘Of course a lady like Miss Everdene can’t love him’; I’ll say it out in plain black and white.”
Bathsheba burst out: “O Liddy, are you such a simpleton? Can’t you read riddles? Can’t you see? Are you a woman yourself?”
Liddy’s clear eyes rounded with wonderment.
“Yes; you must be a blind thing, Liddy!” she said, in reckless abandonment and grief. “Oh, I love him to very distraction and misery and agony! Don’t be frightened at me, though perhaps I am enough to frighten any innocent woman. Come closer — closer.” She put her arms round Liddy’s neck. “I must let it out to somebody; it is wearing me away! Don’t you yet know enough of me to see through that miserable denial of mine? O God, what a lie it was! Heaven and my Love forgive me. And don’t you know that a woman who loves at all thinks nothing of perjury when it is balanced against her love? There, go out of the room; I want to be quite alone.”
Liddy went towards the door.
“Liddy, come here. Solemnly swear to me that he’s not a fast man; that it is all lies they say about him!”
“But, miss, how can I say he is not if —-”
“You graceless girl! How can you have the cruel heart to repeat what they say? Unfeeling thing that you are…. But I’LL see if you or anybody else in the village, or town either, dare do such a thing!” She started off, pacing from fireplace to door, and back again.
“No, miss. I don’t — I know it is not true!” said Liddy, frightened at Bathsheba’s unwonted vehemence.
“I suppose you only agree with me like that to please me. But, Liddy, he CANNOT BE bad, as is said. Do you hear?”
“Yes, miss, yes.”
“And you don’t believe he is?”
“I don’t know what to say, miss,” said Liddy, beginning to cry. “If I say No, you don’t believe me; and if I say Yes, you rage at me!”
“Say you don’t believe it — say you don’t!”
“I don’t believe him to be so bad as they make out.”
“He is not bad at all…. My poor life and heart, how weak I am!” she moaned, in a relaxed, desultory way, heedless of Liddy’s presence. “Oh, how I wish I had never seen him! Loving is misery for women always. I shall never forgive God for making me a woman, and dearly am I beginning to pay for the honour of owning a pretty face.” She freshened and turned to Liddy suddenly. “Mind this, Lydia Smallbury, if you repeat anywhere a single word of what I have said to you inside this closed door, I’ll never trust you, or love you, or have you with me a moment longer — not a moment!”
“I don’t want to repeat anything,” said Liddy, with womanly dignity of a diminutive order; “but I don’t wish to stay with you. And, if you please, I’ll go at the end of the harvest, or this week, or to-day…. I don’t see that I deserve to be put upon and stormed at for nothing!” concluded the small woman, bigly.
“No, no, Liddy; you must stay!” said Bathsheba, dropping from haughtiness to entreaty with capricious inconsequence. “You must not notice my being in a taking just now. You are not as a servant — you are a companion to me. Dear, dear — I don’t know what I am doing since this miserable ache of my heart has weighted and worn upon me so! What shall I come to! I suppose I shall get further and further into troubles. I wonder sometimes if I am doomed to die in the Union. I am friendless enough, God knows!”
“I won’t notice anything, nor will I leave you!” sobbed Liddy, impulsively putting up her lips to Bathsheba’s, and kissing her.
Then Bathsheba kissed Liddy, and all was smooth again.
“I don’t often cry, do I, Lidd? but you have made tears come into my eyes,” she said, a smile shining through the moisture. “Try to think him a good man, won’t you, dear Liddy?”
“I will, miss, indeed.”
“He is a sort of steady man in a wild way, you know. That’s better than to be as some are, wild in a steady way. I am afraid that’s how I am. And promise me to keep my secret — do, Liddy! And do not let them know that I have been crying about him, because it will be dreadful for me, and no good to him, poor thing!”
“Death’s head himself shan’t wring it from me, mistress, if I’ve a mind to keep anything; and I’ll always be your friend,” replied Liddy, emphatically, at the same time bringing a few more tears into her own eyes, not from any particular necessity, but from an artistic sense of making herself in keeping with the remainder of the picture, which seems to influence women at such times. “I think God likes us to be good friends, don’t you?”
“Indeed I do.”
“And, dear miss, you won’t harry me and storm at me, will you? because you seem to swell so tall as a lion then, and it frightens me! Do you know, I fancy you would be a match for any man when you are in one o’ your takings.”
“Never! do you?” said Bathsheba, slightly laughing, though somewhat seriously alarmed by this Amazonian picture of herself. “I hope I am not a bold sort of maid — mannish?” she continued with some anxiety.
“Oh no, not mannish; but so almighty womanish that ’tis getting on that way sometimes. Ah! miss,” she said, after having drawn her breath very sadly in and sent it very sadly out, “I wish I had half your failing that way. ‘Tis a great protection to a poor maid in these illegit’mate days!”
BLAME — FURY
THE next evening Bathsheba, with the idea of getting out of the way of Mr. Boldwood in the event of his returning to answer her note in person, proceeded to fulfil an engagement made with Liddy some few hours earlier. Bathsheba’s companion, as a gauge of their reconciliation, had been granted a week’s holiday to visit her sister, who was married to a thriving hurdler and cattle-crib-maker living in a delightful labyrinth of hazel copse not far beyond Yalbury. The arrangement was that Miss Everdene should honour them by coming there for a day or two to inspect some ingenious contrivances which this man of the woods had introduced into his wares.
Leaving her instructions with Gabriel and Maryann, that they were to see everything carefully locked up for the night, she went out of the house just at the close of a timely thunder-shower, which had refined the air, and daintily bathed the coat of the land, though all beneath was dry as ever. Freshness was exhaled in an essence from the varied contours of bank and hollow, as if the earth breathed maiden breath; and the pleased birds were hymning to the scene. Before her, among the clouds, there was a contrast in the shape of lairs of fierce light which showed themselves in the neighbourhood of a hidden sun, lingering on to the farthest north-west corner of the heavens that this midsummer season allowed.
She had walked nearly two miles of her journey, watching how the day was retreating, and thinking how the time of deeds was quietly melting into the time of thought, to give place in its turn to the time of prayer and sleep, when she beheld advancing over Yalbury hill the very man she sought so anxiously to elude. Boldwood was stepping on, not with that quiet tread of reserved strength which was his customary gait, in which he always seemed to be balancing two thoughts. His manner was stunned and sluggish now.
Boldwood had for the first time been awakened to woman’s privileges in tergiversation even when it involves another person’s possible blight. That Bathsheba was a firm and positive girl, far less inconsequent than her fellows, had been the very lung of his hope; for he had held that these qualities would lead her to adhere to a straight course for consistency’s sake, and accept him, though her fancy might not flood him with the iridescent hues of uncritical love. But the argument now came back as sorry gleams from a broken mirror. The discovery was no less a scourge than a surprise.
He came on looking upon the ground, and did not see Bathsheba till they were less than a stone’s throw apart. He looked up at the sound of her pit-pat, and his changed appearance sufficiently denoted to her the depth and strength of the feelings paralyzed by her letter.
“Oh; is it you, Mr. Boldwood?” she faltered, a guilty warmth pulsing in her face.
Those who have the power of reproaching in silence may find it a means more effective than words. There are accents in the eye which are not on the tongue, and more tales come from pale lips than can enter an ear. It is both the grandeur and the pain of the remoter moods that they avoid the pathway of sound. Boldwood’s look was unanswerable.
Seeing she turned a little aside, he said, “What, are you afraid of me?”
“Why should you say that?” said Bathsheba.
“I fancied you looked so,” said he. “And it is most strange, because of its contrast with my feeling for you.”
She regained self-possession, fixed her eyes calmly, and waited.
“You know what that feeling is,” continued Boldwood, deliberately. “A thing strong as death. No dismissal by a hasty letter affects that.”
“I wish you did not feel so strongly about me,” she murmured. “It is generous of you, and more than I deserve, but I must not hear it now.”
“Hear it? What do you think I have to say, then? I am not to marry you, and that’s enough. Your letter was excellently plain. I want you to hear nothing — not I.”
Bathsheba was unable to direct her will into any definite groove for freeing herself from this fearfully and was moving on. Boldwood walked up to her heavily and dully.
“Bathsheba — darling — is it final indeed?”
“Indeed it is.”
“Oh, Bathsheba — have pity upon me!” Boldwood burst out. “God’s sake, yes — I am come to that low, lowest stage — to ask a woman for pity! Still, she is you — she is you.”
Bathsheba commanded herself well. But she could hardly get a clear voice for what came instinctively to her lips: “There is little honour to the woman in that speech.” It was only whispered, for something unutterably mournful no less than distressing in this spectacle of a man showing himself to be so entirely the vane of a passion enervated the feminine instinct for punctilios.
“I am beyond myself about this, and am mad,” he said. “I am no stoic at all to be supplicating here; but I do supplicate to you. I wish you knew what is in me of devotion to you; but it is impossible, that. In bare human mercy to a lonely man, don’t throw me off now!”
“I don’t throw you off — indeed, how can I? I never had you.” In her noon-clear sense that she had never loved him she forgot for a moment her thoughtless angle on that day in February.
“But there was a time when you turned to me, before I thought of you! I don’t reproach you, for even now I feel that the ignorant and cold darkness that I should have lived in if you had not attracted me by that letter — valentine you call it — would have been worse than my knowledge of you, though it has brought this misery. But, I say, there was a time when I knew nothing of you, and cared nothing for you, and yet you drew me on. And if you say you gave me no encouragement, I cannot but contradict you.”
“What you call encouragement was the childish game of an idle minute. I have bitterly repented of it — ay, bitterly, and in tears. Can you still go on reminding me?”
“I don’t accuse you of it — I deplore it. I took for earnest what you insist was jest, and now this that I pray to be jest you say is awful, wretched earnest. Our moods meet at wrong places. I wish your feeling was more like mine, or my feeling more like yours! Oh, could I but have foreseen the torture that trifling trick was going to lead me into, how I should have cursed you; but only having been able to see it since, I cannot do that, for I love you too well! But it is weak, idle drivelling to go on like this…. Bathsheba, you are the first woman of any shade or nature that I have ever looked at to love, and it is the having been so near claiming you for my own that makes this denial so hard to bear. How nearly you promised me! But I don’t speak now to move your heart, and make you grieve because of my pain; it is no use, that. I must bear it; my pain would get no less by paining you.”
“But I do pity you — deeply — O, so deeply!” she earnestly said.
“Do no such thing — do no such thing. Your dear love, Bathsheba, is such a vast thing beside your pity, that the loss of your pity as well as your love is no great addition to my sorrow, nor does the gain of your pity make it sensibly less. O sweet — how dearly you spoke to me behind the spear-bed at the washing-pool, and in the barn at the shearing, and that dearest last time in the evening at your home! Where are your pleasant words all gone — your earnest hope to be able to love me? Where is your firm conviction that you would get to care for me very much? Really forgotten? — really?”
She checked emotion, looked him quietly and clearly in the face, and said in her low, firm voice, “Mr. Boldwood, I promised you nothing. Would you have had me a woman of clay when you paid me that furthest, highest compliment a man can pay a woman — telling her he loves her? I was bound to show some feeling, if I would not be a graceless shrew. Yet each of those pleasures was just for the day — the day just for the pleasure. How was I to know that what is a pastime to all other men was death to you? Have reason, do, and think more kindly of me!”
“Well, never mind arguing — never mind. One thing is sure: you were all but mine, and now you are not nearly mine. Everything is changed, and that by you alone, remember. You were nothing to me once, and I was contented; you are now nothing to me again, and how different the second nothing is from the first! Would to God you had never taken me up, since it was only to throw me down!”
Bathsheba, in spite of her mettle, began to feel un-mistakable signs that she was inherently the weaker vessel. She strove miserably against this femininity which would insist upon supplying unbidden emotions in stronger and stronger current. She had tried to elude agitation by fixing her mind on the trees, sky, any trivial object before her eyes, whilst his reproaches fell, but ingenuity could not save her now.
“I did not take you up — surely I did not!” she answered as heroically as she could. “But don’t be in this mood with me. I can endure being told I am in the wrong, if you will only tell it me gently! O sir, will you not kindly forgive me, and look at it cheerfully?”
“Cheerfully! Can a man fooled to utter heart-burning find a reason for being merry? If I have lost, how can I be as if I had won? Heavens you must be heartless quite! Had I known what a fearfully bitter sweet this was to be, how would I have avoided you, and never seen you, and been deaf of you. I tell you all this, but what do you care! You don’t care.”
She returned silent and weak denials to his charges, and swayed her head desperately, as if to thrust away the words as they came showering about her ears from the lips of the trembling man in the climax of life, with his bronzed Roman face and fine frame.
“Dearest, dearest, I am wavering even now between the two opposites of recklessly renouncing you, and labouring humbly for you again. Forget that you have said No, and let it be as it was! Say, Bathsheba, that you only wrote that refusal to me in fun — come, say it to me!”
“It would be untrue, and painful to both of us. You overrate my capacity for love. I don’t possess half the warmth of nature you believe me to have. An unprotected childhood in a cold world has beaten gentleness out of me.”
He immediately said with more resentment: “That may be true, somewhat; but ah, Miss Everdene, it won’t do as a reason! You are not the cold woman you would have me believe. No, no! It isn’t because you have no feeling in you that you don’t love me. You naturally would have me think so — you would hide from me that you have a burning heart like mine. You have love enough, but it is turned into a new channel. I know where.”
The swift music of her heart became hubbub now, and she throbbed to extremity. He was coming to Troy. He did then know what had occurred! And the name fell from his lips the next moment.
“Why did Troy not leave my treasure alone?” he asked, fiercely. “When I had no thought of injuring him, why did he force himself upon your notice! Before he worried you your inclination was to have me; when next I should have come to you your answer would have been Yes. Can you deny it — I ask, can you deny it?”
She delayed the reply, but was too honest to withhold it. “I cannot,” she whispered.
“I know you cannot. But he stole in in my absence and robbed me. Why didn’t he win you away before, when nobody would have been grieved? — when nobody would have been set tale-bearing. Now the people sneer at me — the very hills and sky seem to laugh at me till I blush shamefully for my folly. I have lost my respect, my good name, my standing — lost it, never to get it again. Go and marry your man — go on!”
“Oh sir — Mr. Boldwood!”
“You may as well. I have no further claim upon you. As for me, I had better go somewhere alone, and hide — and pray. I loved a woman once. I am now ashamed. When I am dead they’ll say, Miserable love-sick man that he was. Heaven — heaven — if I had got jilted secretly, and the dishonour not known, and my position kept! But no matter, it is gone, and the woman not gained. Shame upon him — shame!”
His unreasonable anger terrified her, and she glided from him, without obviously moving, as she said, “I am only a girl — do not speak to me so!”
“All the time you knew — how very well you knew — that your new freak was my misery. Dazzled by brass and scarlet — Oh, Bathsheba — this is woman’s folly indeed!”
She fired up at once. “You are taking too much upon yourself!” she said, vehemently. “Everybody is upon me — everybody. It is unmanly to attack a woman so! I have nobody in the world to fight my battles for me; but no mercy is shown. Yet if a thousand of you sneer and say things against me, I WILL NOT be put down!”
“You’ll chatter with him doubtless about me. Say to him, “Boldwood would have died for me.” Yes, and you have given way to him, knowing him to be not the man for you. He has kissed you — claimed you as his. Do you hear — he has kissed you. Deny it!”
The most tragic woman is cowed by a tragic man, and although Boldwood was, in vehemence and glow, nearly her own self rendered into another sex, Bathsheba’s cheek quivered. She gasped, “Leave me, sir — leave me! I am nothing to you. Let me go on!”
“Deny that he has kissed you.”
“I shall not.”
“Ha — then he has!” came hoarsely from the farmer.
“He has,” she said, slowly, and, in spite of her fear, defiantly. “I am not ashamed to speak the truth.”
“Then curse him; and curse him!” said Boldwood, breaking into a whispered fury. “Whilst I would have given worlds to touch your hand, you have let a rake come in without right or ceremony and — kiss you! Heaven’s mercy — kiss you! … Ah, a time of his life shall come when he will have to repent, and think wretchedly of the pain he has caused another man; and then may he ache, and wish, and curse, and yearn — as I do now!”
“Don’t, don’t, oh, don’t pray down evil upon him!” she implored in a miserable cry. “Anything but that — anything. Oh, be kind to him, sir, for I love him true!”
Boldwood’s ideas had reached that point of fusion at which outline and consistency entirely disappear. The impending night appeared to concentrate in his eye. He did not hear her at all now.
“I’ll punish him — by my soul, that will I! I’ll meet him, soldier or no, and I’ll horsewhip the untimely stripling for this reckless theft of my one delight. If he were a hundred men I’d horsewhip him —-” He dropped his voice suddenly and unnaturally. “Bathsheba, sweet, lost coquette, pardon me! I’ve been blaming you, threatening you, behaving like a churl to you, when he’s the greatest sinner. He stole your dear heart away with his unfathomable lies! … It is a fortunate thing for him that he’s gone back to his regiment — that he’s away up the country, and not here! I hope he may not return here just yet. I pray God he may not come into my sight, for I may be tempted beyond myself. Oh, Bathsheba, keep him away — yes, keep him away from me!”
For a moment Boldwood stood so inertly after this that his soul seemed to have been entirely exhaled with the breath of his passionate words. He turned his face away, and withdrew, and his form was soon covered over by the twilight as his footsteps mixed in with the low hiss of the leafy trees.
Bathsheba, who had been standing motionless as a model all this latter time, flung her hands to her face, and wildly attempted to ponder on the exhibition which had just passed away. Such astounding wells of fevered feeling in a still man like Mr. Boldwood were incomprehensible, dreadful. Instead of being a man trained to repression he was — what she had seen him.
The force of the farmer’s threats lay in their relation to a circumstance known at present only to herself: her lover was coming back to Weatherbury in the course of the very next day or two. Troy had not returned to his distant barracks as Boldwood and others supposed, but had merely gone to visit some acquaintance in Bath, and had yet a week or more remaining to his furlough.
She felt wretchedly certain that if he revisited her just at this nick of time, and came into contact with Boldwood, a fierce quarrel would be the consequence. She panted with solicitude when she thought of possible injury to Troy. The least spark would kindle the farmer’s swift feelings of rage and jealousy; he would lose his self-mastery as he had this evening; Troy’s blitheness might become aggressive; it might take the direction of derision, and Boldwood’s anger might then take the direction of revenge.
With almost a morbid dread of being thought a gushing girl, this guileless woman too well concealed from the world under a manner of carelessness the warm depths of her strong emotions. But now there was no reserve. In her distraction, instead of advancing further she walked up and down, beating the air with her fingers, pressing on her brow, and sobbing brokenly to herself. Then she sat down on a heap of stones by the wayside to think. There she remained long. Above the dark margin of the earth appeared foreshores and promontories of coppery cloud, bounding a green and pellucid expanse in the western sky. Amaranthine glosses came over them then, and the unresting world wheeled her round to a contrasting prospect eastward, in the shape of indecisive and palpitating stars. She gazed upon their silent throes amid the shades of space, but realised none at all. Her troubled spirit was far away with Troy.
NIGHT — HORSES TRAMPING
THE village of Weatherbury was quiet as the graveyard in its midst, and the living were lying well-nigh as still as the dead. The church clock struck eleven. The air was so empty of other sounds that the whirr of the clock-work immediately before the strokes was distinct, and so was also the click of the same at their close. The notes flew forth with the usual blind obtuseness of inanimate things — flapping and rebounding among walls, undulating against the scattered clouds, spreading through their interstices into unexplored miles of space.
Bathsheba’s crannied and mouldy halls were to-night occupied only by Maryann, Liddy being, as was stated, with her sister, whom Bathsheba had set out to visit. A few minutes after eleven had struck, Maryann turned in her bed with a sense of being disturbed. She was totally unconscious of the nature of the interruption to her sleep. It led to a dream, and the dream to an awakening, with an uneasy sensation that something had happened. She left her bed and looked out of the window. The paddock abutted on this end of the building, and in the paddock she could just discern by the uncertain gray a moving figure approaching the horse that was feeding there. The figure seized the horse by the forelock, and led it to the corner of the field. Here she could see some object which circumstances proved to be a vehicle, for after a few minutes spent apparently in harnessing, she heard the trot of the horse down the road, mingled with the sound of light wheels.
Two varieties only of humanity could have entered the paddock with the ghostlike glide of that mysterious figure. They were a woman and a gipsy man. A woman was out of the question in such an occupation at this hour, and the comer could be no less than a thief, who might probably have known the weakness of the household on this particular night, and have chosen it on that account for his daring attempt. Moreover, to raise suspicion to conviction itself, there were gipsies in Weatherbury Bottom.
Maryann, who had been afraid to shout in the robber’s presence, having seen him depart had no fear. She hastily slipped on her clothes, stumped down the disjointed staircase with its hundred creaks, ran to Coggan’s, the nearest house, and raised an alarm. Coggan called Gabriel, who now again lodged in his house as at first, and together they went to the paddock. Beyond all doubt the horse was gone.
“Hark!” said Gabriel.
They listened. Distinct upon the stagnant air came the sounds of a trotting horse passing up Longpuddle Lane — just beyond the gipsies’ encampment in Weatherbury Bottom.
“That’s our Dainty — I’ll swear to her step,” said Jan.
“Mighty me! Won’t mis’ess storm and call us stupids wen she comes back!” moaned Maryann. “How I wish it had happened when she was at home, and none of us had been answerable!”
“We must ride after,” said Gabriel, decisively. “I’ll be responsible to Miss Everdene for what we do. Yes, we’ll follow.”
“Faith, I don’t see how,” said Coggan. “All our horses are too heavy for that trick except little Poppet, and what’s she between two of us? — If we only had that pair over the hedge we might do something.”
“Mr. Boldwood’s Tidy and Moll.”
“Then wait here till I come hither again,” said Gabriel. He ran down the hill towards Farmer Boldwood’s.
“Farmer Boldwood is not at home,” said Maryann.
“All the better,” said Coggan. “I know what he’s gone for.”
Less than five minutes brought up Oak again, running at the same pace, with two halters dangling from his hand.
“Where did you find ’em?” said Coggan, turning round and leaping upon the hedge without waiting for an answer.
“Under the eaves. I knew where they were kept,” said Gabriel, following him. “Coggan, you can ride bare-backed? there’s no time to look for saddles.”
“Like a hero!” said Jan.
“Maryann, you go to bed,” Gabriel shouted to her from the top of the hedge.
Springing down into Boldwood’s pastures, each pocketed his halter to hide it from the horses, who, seeing the men empty-handed, docilely allowed themselves to be seized by the mane, when the halters were dexterously slipped on. Having neither bit nor bridle, Oak and Coggan extemporized the former by passing the rope in each case through the animal’s mouth and looping it on the other side. Oak vaulted astride, and Coggan clambered up by aid of the bank, when they ascended to the gate and galloped off in the direction taken by Bathsheha’s horse and the robber. Whose vehicle the horse had been harnessed to was a matter of some uncertainty.
Weatherbury Bottom was reached in three or four minutes. They scanned the shady green patch by the roadside. The gipsies were gone.
“The villains!” said Gabriel. “Which way have they gone, I wonder?”
“Straight on, as sure as God made little apples,” said Jan.
“Very well; we are better mounted, and must overtake em”, said Oak. “Now on at full speed!”
No sound of the rider in their van could now be discovered. The road-metal grew softer and more rain had wetted its surface to a somewhat plastic, but not muddy state. They came to cross-roads. Coggan suddenly pulled up Moll and slipped off.
“What’s the matter?” said Gabriel.
“We must try to track ’em, since we can’t hear ’em,” said Jan, fumbling in his pockets. He struck a light, and held the match to the ground. The rain had been heavier here, and all foot and horse tracks made previous to the storm had been abraded and blurred by the drops, and they were now so many little scoops of water, which reflected the flame of the match like eyes. One set of tracks was fresh and had no water in them; one pair of ruts was also empty, and not small canals, like the others. The footprints forming this recent impression were full of information as to pace; they were in equidistant pairs, three or four feet apart, the right and left foot of each pair being exactly opposite one another.
“Straight on!” Jan exclaimed. “Tracks like that mean a stiff gallop. No wonder we don’t hear him. And the horse is harnessed — look at the ruts. Ay, that’s our mare sure enough!”
“How do you know?”
“Old Jimmy Harris only shoed her last week, and I’d swear to his make among ten thousand.”
“The rest of the gipsies must ha’ gone on earlier, or some other way,” said Oak. “You saw there were no other tracks?”
“True.” They rode along silently for a long weary time. Coggan carried an old pinchbeck repeater which he had inherited from some genius in his family; and it now struck one. He lighted another match, and examined the ground again.
“‘Tis a canter now,” he said, throwing away the light. “A twisty, rickety pace for a gig. The fact is, they over- drove her at starting, we shall catch ’em yet.”
Again they hastened on, and entered Blackmore Vale. Coggan’s watch struck one. When they looked again the hoof- marks were so spaced as to form a sort of zigzag if united, like the lamps along a street.
“That’s a trot, I know,” said Gabriel.
“Only a trot now,” said Coggan, cheerfully. “We shall overtake him in time.”
They pushed rapidly on for yet two or three miles. “Ah! a moment,” said Jan. “Let’s see how she was driven up this hill. ‘Twill help us.” A light was promptly struck upon his gaiters as before, and the examination made.
“Hurrah!” said Coggan. “She walked up here — and well she might. We shall get them in two miles, for a crown.”
They rode three, and listened. No sound was to be heard save a millpond trickling hoarsely through a hatch, and suggesting gloomy possibilities of drowning by jumping in. Gabriel dismounted when they came to a turning. The tracks were absolutely the only guide as to the direction that they now had, and great caution was necessary to avoid confusing them with some others which had made their appearance lately.
“What does this mean? — though I guess,” said Gabriel, looking up at Coggan as he moved the match over the ground about the turning. Coggan, who, no less than the panting horses, had latterly shown signs of weariness, again scrutinized the mystic characters. This time only three were of the regular horseshoe shape. Every fourth was a dot.
He screwed up his face and emitted a long “Whew-w-w!”
“Lame,” said Oak.
“Yes Dainty is lamed; the near-foot-afore,” said Coggan slowly staring still at the footprints.
“We’ll push on,” said Gabriel, remounting his humid steed.
Although the road along its greater part had been as good as any turnpike-road in the country, it was nominally only a byway. The last turning had brought them into the high road leading to Bath. Coggan recollected himself.
“We shall have him now!” he exclaimed.
“Sherton Turnpike. The keeper of that gate is the sleepiest man between here and London — Dan Randall, that’s his name — knowed en for years, when he was at Casterbridge gate. Between the lameness and the gate ’tis a done job.”
They now advanced with extreme caution. Nothing was said until, against a shady background of foliage, five white bars were visible, crossing their route a little way ahead.
“Hush — we are almost close!” said Gabriel.
“Amble on upon the grass,” said Coggan.
The white bars were blotted out in the midst by a dark shape in front of them. The silence of this lonely time was pierced by an exclamation from that quarter.
It appeared that there had been a previous call which they had not noticed, for on their close approach the door of the turnpike-house opened, and the keeper came out half-dressed, with a candle in his hand. The rays illumined the whole group.
“Keep the gate close!” shouted Gabriel. “He has stolen the horse!”
“Who?” said the turnpike-man.
Gabriel looked at the driver of the gig, and saw a woman — Bathsheba, his mistress.
On hearing his voice she had turned her face away from the light. Coggan had, however, caught sight of her in the meanwhile.
“Why, ’tis mistress — I’ll take my oath!” he said, amazed.
Bathsheba it certainly was, and she had by this time done the trick she could do so well in crises not of love, namely, mask a surprise by coolness of manner.
“Well, Gabriel,” she inquired quietly, “where are you going?”
“We thought —-” began Gabriel.
“I am driving to Bath,” she said, taking for her own use the assurance that Gabriel lacked. “An important matter made it necessary for me to give up my visit to Liddy, and go off at once. What, then, were you following me?”
“We thought the horse was stole.”
“Well — what a thing! How very foolish of you not to know that I had taken the trap and horse. I could neither wake Maryann nor get into the house, though I hammered for ten minutes against her window-sill. Fortunately, I could get the key of the coach-house, so I troubled no one further. Didn’t you think it might be me?”
“Why should we, miss?”
“Perhaps not. Why, those are never Farmer Bold-wood’s horses! Goodness mercy! what have you been doing — bringing trouble upon me in this way? What! mustn’t a lady move an inch from her door without being dogged like a thief?”
“But how was we to know, if you left no account of your doings?” expostulated Coggan, “and ladies don’t drive at these hours, miss, as a jineral rule of society.”
“I did leave an account — and you would have seen it in the