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BATHSHEBA withdrew into the shade. She scarcely
knew whether most to be amused at the singularity of
the meeting, or to be concerned at its awkwardness.
There was room for a little pity, also for a very little
exultation: the former at his position, the latter at her
own. Embarrassed she was not, and she" remembered
Gabriel's declaration of love to her at Norcombe only
to think she had nearly forgotten it.
"Yes," she murmured, putting on an air of dignity,
and turning again to him with a little warmth of cheek;
"I do want a shepherd. But -- -- "
"He's the very man, ma'am." said one of the villagers,
Conviction breeds conviction. "Ay, that 'a is." said
a second, decisively.
"The man, truly!" said a third, with heartiness."
"He's all there!" said number four, fervidly."
Then will you tell him to speak to the bailiff, said
All "was practical again now. A summer eve and
loneliness would have been necessary to give the
meeting its proper fulness of romance.
the palpitation within his breast at discovering that this
Ashtoreth of strange report was only a modification of
Venus the well-known and admired, retired with him to
talk over the necessary preliminaries of hiring.
The fire before them wasted away. "Men." said
Bathsheba, " you shall take a little refreshment after this
extra work. Will you come to the house?"
"We could knock in a bit and a drop a good deal
freer, Miss, if so be ye'd send it to Warren's Malthouse,"
replied the spokesman.
Bathsheba then rode off into the darkness, and the
men straggled on to the village in twos and threes -- Oak
and the bailiff being left by the rick alone.
"And now." said the bailiff, finally, "all is settled, I
think, about your coming, and I am going home-along.
Good-night to ye, shepherd."
"Can you get me a lodging?" inquired Gabriel.
"That I can't, indeed," he said, moving past Oak as
a Christian edges past an offertory-plate when he does
not mean to contribute. "If you follow on the road till
you come to Warren's Malthouse, where they are all
gone to have their snap of victuals, I daresay some of
'em will tell you of a place. Good-night to ye, shepherd."
The bailiff who showed this nervous dread of loving
his neighbour as himself, went up the hill, and Oak
walked on to the village, still astonished at the ren-
counter with Bathsheba, glad of his nearness to her, and
perplexed at the rapidity with which the unpractised girl
of Norcombe had developed into the supervising and cool
woman here. But some women only require an emerg-
ency to make them fit for one.
Obliged, to some extent, to forgo dreaming in order
to find the way, he reached the churchyard, and passed
round it under the wall where several ancient trees grew.
There was a wide margin of grass along here, and
Gabriel's footsteps were deadened by its softness, even
at this indurating period of the year. When abreast of
a trunk which appeared to be the oldest of the old, he
became aware that a figure was standing behind it.
Gabriel did not pause in his walk, and in another
moment he accidentally kicked a loose stone. The noise
was enough to disturb the motionless stranger, who
started and assumed a careless position.
It was a slim girl, rather thinly clad.
"Good-night to you." said Gabriel, heartily.
"Good-night." said the girl to Gabriel.
The voice was unexpectedly attractive; it was "the
low and dulcet note suggestive of romance," common in
descriptions, rare in experience.
"I'll thank you to tell me if I'm in the way for
Warren's Malthouse?" Gabriel resumed, primarily to gain
the information, indirectly to get more of the music.
"Quite right. It's at the bottom of the hill. And
do you know -- --" The girl hesitated and then went
on again. "Do you know how late they keep open
the Buck's Head Inn?" She seemed" to be won by
Gabriel's heartiness, as Gabriel had been won by her
"I don't know where the Buck's Head is, or anything
about it. Do you think of going there to-night?"
"Yes -- --" The woman again paused. There was
no necessity for any continuance of speech, and the fact
that she did add more seemed to proceed from an
unconscious desire to show unconcern by making a
remark, which is noticeable in the ingenuous when they
are acting by stealth. "You are not a Weatherbury man?"
she said, timorously.
"I am not. I am the new shepherd -- just arrived."
"Only a shepherd -- and you seem almost a farmer by
your ways."
"Only a shepherd." Gabriel repeated, in a dull cadence
of finality. "His thoughts were directed to the past, his
eyes to the feet of the girl; and for the first time he
saw lying there a bundle of some sort. She may have
perceived the direction of his face, for she said
coaxingly, --
"You won't say anything in the parish about having
seen me here, will you -- at least, not for a day or two?"
"I won't if you wish me not to." said Oak.
"Thank you, indeed." the other replied."I am
rather poor, and I don't want people to know anything
about me." Then she was silent and shivered.
"You ought to have a cloak on such a cold night,"
Gabriel observed. "I would advise 'ee to get indoors."
"O no! Would you mind going on and leaving me?
I thank you much for what you have told me."
"I will go on." he said; adding hesitatingly, -- "Since
you are not very well off, perhaps you would accept this
trifle from me. It is only a shilling, but it is all I have
to spare."
"Yes, I will take it." said the stranger, gratefully.
She extended her hand; Gabriel his. In feeling for
each other's palm in the gloom before the money could
be passed, a minute incident occurred which told much.
Gabriel's fingers alighted on the young woman's wrist.
It was beating with a throb of tragic intensity. He had
frequently felt the same quick, hard beat in the femoral
artery of -- his lambs when overdriven. It suggested a
consumption too great of a vitality which, to judge from
her figure and stature, was already too little.
"What is the matter?"
"But there is?"
"No, no, no! Let your having seen me be a secret!"
"Very well; I will. Good-night, again."
The young girl remained motionless by the tree, and
Gabriel descended into the village of Weatherbury, or
Lower Longpuddle as it was sometimes called. He
fancied that he had felt himself in the penumbra of a
very deep sadness when touching that slight and fragile
creature. But wisdom lies in moderating mere impres-
sions, and Gabriel endeavoured to think little of this.

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
English Literature
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