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7

Farmer Boldwood proposes marriage

 

On Saturday at Casterbridge market Boldwood saw the woman who was disturbing his dreams. For the first time he turned his head and looked at her. It was in fact the first time in his life that he had looked at any woman. Up to now he had considered women to be distant,almost foreign creatures who had nothing to do with him. Now he saw Bathsheba's hair,and every detail of her face. He noticed her figure,her dress,and even her feet. She seemed very beauti-ful to him,and his heart began to move within him. ‘And this woman,this lovely young woman,has asked me to marry her!’he thought. As he was watching Bathsheba selling wheat to another farmer,he was filled with jealousy.

All this time Bathsheba was aware of his eyes on her. At last she had made him look at her!But she would have pre-ferred him to admire her from the beginning,without the en- couragement of her valentine. She felt sorry she had disturbed the usual calmness of a man she respected,but considered she could not apologize to him without either offending or encour-aging him.

Mr Boldwood did not try to speak to her,and returned home to his farm. He was a man of strong feelings,which normally lay hidden deep inside him. Because he was serious,and did not joke with his neighbours,people thought he was cold But when he loved or hated,it was with his whole heart. If Bathsheba had known how strong the feelings of this dark and silent figure were,she would have blamed herself terribly for her thoughtlessness. But nobody guessed what lay behind his calm appearance.

A few days later Mr Boldwood was looking at Bathsheba's fields,which were next to his own,when he saw her helping Gabriel Oak with the sheep. To Boldwood,Bathsheba shone like the moon on a dark night. His heart,which had never been touched before,was filled completely with his love for her. He decided to go and speak to her.

As he stopped at the gate of the field,Bathsheba looked up and noticed him. Gabriel was watching her face and saw her blush. He immediately thought of the envelope,with the valentine,that Boldwood had shown him,and suspected Bathsheba of encouraging the farmer to fall in love with her.

Boldwood realized they had noticed him,and suddenly felt unsure of himself. He did not know enough about women to discover from Bathsheba's manner whether she wanted to see him or not. And so he did not enter the field,but walked on, past the gate.

Bathsheba,however,knew that he had come to see her, and felt extremely guilty. She promised herself never again to disturb the peace of this man's life. Unfortunately her promise was made too late,as such promises often are.

It was not until the end of May that Boldwood was brave enough to declare his love. He went to Bathsheba's house,where the maids told him their mistress was watching the sheep-washing. Every spring the sheep were washed in a spe- cial pool,to keep their wool clean and to get rid of insects on their skin. Boldwood walked across the fields to the pool, where he found the farm workers busily washing the sheep.

Bathsheba was standing near them,and saw Boldwood com- ing towards her. She moved away,walking beside the river, but she could hear footsteps behind her in the grass,and felt love all around her,like perfume in the air Boldwood caught up with her.

Miss Everdene!’he said quietly.

She trembled,turned,and said,‘Good morning. ’She had guessed the truth from the way he spoke those two words.

I feel—almost too much to think, ’he said simply. ‘My life does not belong to me any more,Miss Everdene,but to you. I've come to propose marriage to you. ’

Bathsheba tried not to show any expression on her face.

I'm now forty-one,’he continued. ‘I've never married,or thought I ever would marry. But we all change,and I changed when I saw you. More than anything else,I want you as my wife. ’ ‘I think,Mr Boldwood,that although I respect you very much,I don't feel—enough for you—to accept your proposal. ’

But my life is worthless without you!’he cried,calm no longer. ‘I want you-to let me say I love you,again and again!’Bathsheba remained silent. ‘I think and hope you care enough for me to listen to what I have to say!’he added.

Bathsheba was about to ask why he should think that,when she remembered the valentine After all,it was quite natural for him to think she admired him.

I wish I could court you with beautiful words,’the farmer went on,‘but I can only say I love you madly and want you for my wife. I wouldn't have proposed if you hadn't allowed me to hope. ’

Mr Boldwood,this is difficult for me!I'm afraid I can't marry you. I'm not in love with you!I should never have sent that valentine—forgive me—it was a thoughtless thing to do. ’

No,no,don't say it was thoughtless!Say it was the beginning of a feeling that you would like me. Just consider whether you can accept me as a husband. I know I'm too old for you,but believe me, I'll take more care of you than a younger man would. You'll have nothing to worry about. You'll have everything you want. God only knows how much you mean to me!’

Bathsheba's young heart was full of pity for this sensitive man who had spoken so simply and honestly.

Don't say it,don'tYou feel so much,and I feel nothing,’she replied. ‘Don't discuss it any more. I can't think!Oh,I've given you such pain!’

Tell me that you don't refuse completely. Give me some hope!May I ask you again?May I think of you?’

Yes,I suppose so. ’

May I hope you will accept my proposal next time?’

No,don't hope!I must go now. Give me time to think. ’

Yes,I'll give you time,’he answered gratefully. ‘Thank you,I'm happier now. ’

No,please,don't be happier,Mr Boldwood,if happiness only comes from my agreeing!I must think. ’

I'll wait,’he agreed. They turned away from each other, and returned to their separate houses.

 


 

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