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CHAPTER XXVI



SCENE ON THE VERGE OF THE HAY-MEAD


"AH, Miss Everdene!" said the sergeant, touching his
diminutive cap. "Little did I think it was you I was
speaking to the other night. And yet, if I had reflected,
the "Queen of the Corn-market" (truth is truth at any
hour of the day or night, and I heard you so named in
Casterbridge yesterday), the "Queen of the Corn-market."
I say, could be no other woman. I step across now to
beg your forgiveness a thousand times for having been
led by my feelings to express myself too strongly for a
stranger. To be sure I am no stranger to the place --
I am Sergeant Troy, as I told you, and I have assisted
your uncle in these fields no end of times when I was a
lad. I have been doing the same for you today."
"I suppose I must thank you for that, Sergeant
Troy." said the Queen of the Corn-market, in an in-
differently grateful tone.
The sergeant looked hurt and sad. "Indeed you
must not, Miss Everdene." he said. "Why could you
think such a thing necessary?"
"I am glad it is not."
"Why? if I may ask without offence."
"Because I don't much want to thank you for any"
thing."
"I am afraid I have made a hole with my tongue
that my heart will never mend. O these intolerable
times: that ill-luck should follow a man for honestly
telling a woman she is beautiful! 'Twas the most I
said -- you must own that; and the least I could say --
that I own myself."
"There is some talk I could do without more easily
than money."
"Indeed. That remark is a sort of digression."
"No. It means that I would rather have your room
than your company."
"And I would rather have curses from you than
kisses from any other woman; so I'll stay here."
Bathsheba was absolutely speechless. And yet she
could not help feeling that the assistance he was render-
ing forbade a harsh repulse.
"Well." continued Troy, "I suppose there is a praise
which is rudeness, and that may be mine. At the
same time there is a treatment which is injustice, and
that may be yours. Because a plain blunt man, who
has never been taught concealment, speaks out his
mind without exactly intending it, he's to be snapped
off like the son of a sinner."
"Indeed there's no such case between us." she said,
turning away. "I don't allow strangers to be bold and
impudent -- even in praise of me."
"Ah -- it is not the fact but the method which offends
you." he said, carelessly. "But I have the sad satis-
faction of knowing that my words, whether pleasing or
offensive, are unmistakably true. Would you have had
me look at you, and tell my acquaintance that you are
quite a common-place woman, to save you the embar-
rassment of being stared at if they come near you?
Not I. I couldn't tell any such ridiculous lie about
a beauty to encourage a single woman in England in
too excessive a modesty."
"It is all pretence -- what you are saying!" exclaimed
Bathsheba, laughing in spite of herself at the sergeant's
sly method. "You have a rare invention, Sergeant
Troy. Why couldn't you have passed by me that
night, and said nothing? -- that was all I meant to
reproach you for."
"Because I wasn't going to. Half the pleasure of
a feeling lies in being able to express it on the spur of
the moment, and I let out mine. It would have been
just the same if you had been the reverse person -- ugly
and old -- I should have exclaimed about it in the same
way. "
"How long is it since you have been so afflicted with
strong feeling, then?"
"Oh, ever since I was big enough to know loveliness
from deformity."
"'Tis to be hoped your sense of the difference you
speak of doesn't stop at faces, but extends to morals as
well. "
"I won't speak of morals or religion -- my own or
anybody else's. Though perhaps I should have been a
very good Christian if you pretty women hadn't made
me an idolater."
Bathsheba moved on to hide the irrepressible dimp-
lings of merriment. Troy followed, whirling his crop.
"But -- Miss Everdene -- you do forgive me?"
"Hardly. "
"Why?"
"You say such things."
"I said you were beautiful, and I'll say so still; for,
by -- so you are! The most beautiful ever I saw, or
may I fall dead this instant! Why, upon my -- -- "
"Don't -- don't! I won't listen to you -- you are so
profane!" she said, in a restless state between distress
at hearing him and a penchant to hear more.
"I again say you are a most fascinating woman.
There's nothing remarkable in my saying so, is there?
I'm sure the fact is evident enough. Miss Everdene,
my opinion may be too forcibly let out to please you,
and, for the matter of that, too insignificant to convince
you, but surely it is honest, and why can't it be ex-
cused? "
"Because it -- it isn't a correct one." she femininely
murmured.
"O, fie -- fie-! Am I any worse for breaking the
third of that Terrible Ten than you for breaking the
ninth?"
"Well, it doesn't seem quite true to me that I am
fascinating." she replied evasively.
"Not so to you: then I say with all respect that, if
so, it 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."
"O 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.
"O, 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 abstrac-
ion. "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 be-
witch 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
espised 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 Ever-
dene, 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 tremu-
lousness 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 arfe 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."
"O, Miss Bathsheba! That is to 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 miser-
able 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?"
"I 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."
"Well."
"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 pas-
time."
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 in-
stantaneously. 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 assigna-
tion, 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. "O, 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! O, 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; O, 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. O, 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
as 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."
"bet 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! O,
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.
"No, no."
"Good-bye!"
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 per-
plexed excitement, hot, and almost tearful, she retreated
homeward, murmuring, O, what have I done! What
does it mean! I wish I knew how much of it was
true!





Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Literature
 
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