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9

Bathsheba meets a handsome soldier

 

Farmers always gave a special supper to the sheep shearers when they had finished their work. This year Bathsheba had ordered her maids to put a long table in the garden,with the top end of the table just inside the house. The farm workers took their seats,and she sat at the top of the table,so that she was with them,but a little apart. There was an empty place at the bottom of the table. At first she asked Gabriel to sit there,but just then Mr Boldwood arrived, apologizing for his lateness. ‘Gabriel,’said Bathsheba,‘will you move again please, and let Mr Boldwood sit there?’Gabriel moved away in silence to another seat. They all ate and drank,and celebrated the end of the sheep-shearing by singing their favourite songs. Mr Boldwood seemed unusually cheerful,and at the end of the meal he left his seat and went to join Bathsheba at her end of the table,just inside the sitting-room . It was growing dark,but Gabriel and the other men could not avoid noticing how Boldwood looked at her. It was clear that the middle-aged farmer was deeply in love.

After a while Bathsheba said goodnight to her farm workers,and closed the sitting-room door and windows. Now she and Boldwood were alone. Kneeling in front of her,he took her hands.

Tell me,tell me what you've decided!’he begged.  ‘I'll try to love you,’she answered in a trembling voice. ‘And if you think I'll make a good wife,I'll agree to marry you But,Mr Boldwood,any woman would hesitate before deciding on something as important as marriage. Could you wait a few weeks until I'm sure?’

I'll be away on business for five or six weeks anyway. Do you really think that by that time you will…’

I feel almost sure that when you come back,at harvest time,I'll be able to promise to marry you. But,remember,I can't promise yet. ’

I don't ask for anything more. I can wait. Goodnight, Miss Everdene!’And he left her.  Bathsheba now realized how thoughtlessly she had behaved towards him,and understood how deeply he loved her. She was very sorry for her mistake and was therefore punishing herself by agreeing to marry him.

That evening she went round the farm as usual,lighting her lamp whenever necessary,to check that all the animals were safe. On her way back,she was walking along the narrow public path which led to her house. It was very dark there, among the trees,and she was a little surprised to hear some footsteps coming towards her. It was unfortunate that she would meet the traveller at the darkest point of the path. As she was about to pass the dark shape,something seemed to attach her skirt to the ground,and she had to stop  ‘What's happened?Have I hurt you,friend?'a man asked.

No,’said Bathsheba,trying to pull her skirt away.

Ah!You're a lady!The spur on my boot has got tied up with your dress. Have you got a lamp?I'll light it for you. ’

The light from the lamp shone suddenly on a handsome young man in a bright red and gold army uniform. He looked admiringly at Bathsheba.

Thank you for letting me see such a beautiful face!’he said.

I didn't want to show it to you,’she said coldly, blushing. ‘Please undo your spur quickly!’He bent down to pull rather lazily at his boots. ‘You are making it even worse,’she accused him angrily,‘to keep me here longer!’

Oh no,surely not,’smiled the soldier. ‘Don't be angry. I was doing it so that I could have the pleasure of apologizing to such a lovely woman. ’ Bathsheba had no idea what to say. She wondered whether to escape by pulling the material away,but did not want to tear her best dress.

I've seen many women in my life,’continued the young man,staring into her face,‘but I've never seen a woman as beautiful as you. I don't care if you're offended,that's the truth. ’

Who are you,then,if you don't care who you offend?’

People know me in Weatherbury. My name's Sergeant Troy. Ah,you see,your skirt's free now!I wish you and I    had been tied together for ever!’

She pulled her dress quickly away from his spurs,and ran up the path and into her house. The next day she discovered from Liddy that Sergeant Troy's supposed father was a doctor,but people said his real father was a nobleman. He had been brought up in Weatherbury,and was well known as a young soldier with a great interest in girls. Bathsheba could not remain angry for long with someone who admired her as much as he obviously did. It was unfortunate that Boldwood,when courting her,had forgotten to tell her,even once,that she was beautiful.

Sergeant Troy was certainly an unusual man. He lived only in the present,caring nothing for the past or the future. Because he never expected anything,he was never disappoint-ed. To men he usually told the truth,but to women,never. He was intelligent and well-educated, and proud of his success with women.

A week or two after the sheep-shearing,Bathsheba was in the hayfields,where her workers were cutting the hay. She was surprised to see a bright red figure appear from behind a cart. Sergeant Troy had come to help on the farm. She blushed as the young soldier came to speak to her.

Miss Everdene!’he said. ‘I didn't realize it was the “Queen of Casterbridge market”I was speaking to the other night. I apologize for expressing my feelings so strongly to you 102 then. Of course,I'm not a stranger here. I often helped your uncle on the farm,and now I'm helping you. ’

I suppose I must thank you for that,’replied the Queen of Casterbridge market rather ungratefully.

You're cross because I was honest when I spoke to you that night. But I couldn't look at you,and say you aren't beautiful!’

You are pretending,Sergeant Troy!’said Bathsheba,laughing in spite of herself at his clever way of talking.

No,Miss Everdene,you must let me say how lovely you are!What's wrong with that?’

It's wrong because—it isn't true,’she said,hesitating.

But you know that everybody notices how beautiful you are,don't you?’

Well,no—that is,I've heard Liddy say they do,but…’She paused. She had never intended to become involved in this kind of conversation with the soldier,but somehow he had trapped her into replying. Thank you for helping the men with the hay, she continued. ‘But please don't speak to me again. ’

Oh Miss Bathsheba!That's too hard!I won't be here long. I'm going back to the army in a month. ’

But you don't really care about a word from me,do you?

I do,Miss Everdene. Perhaps you think it's foolish of me to want just a “good morning”,but you have never loved a beautiful woman like yourself,as I do. ’

But you only saw me the other night!I don't believe you could fall in love so fast. I won't listen to you any more. I wish I knew what time it was. I've spent too much time with you.

Haven't you got a watch,miss?I'll give you one,’and he handed her a heavy gold watch. ‘That watch belonged to a nobleman,my father,and is all the inheritance I have. ’

But Sergeant Troy,I can't take this!It's your father’s,and so valuable!’said Bathsheba,horrified.

I loved my father,true,but I love you more. ’The young man was not pretending now,as he looked at Bathsheba's beautiful,excited face.

Can it be true,that you love me?You have seen so little of me!Please take it back!’

Wll then,I'll take it,’he said,‘because it's all I have to prove that I come of good family. But will you speak to me while I'm in Weatherbury?Will you let me work in your fields?’

Yes!Or no,I don't know!Oh,why did you come and disturb me like this!’

Perhaps,in setting a trap,I've caught myself. Such things sometimes happen. Goodbye,Miss Everdene!’

Blushing and almost crying,Bathsheba hurried home,whis-pering to herself,‘Oh what have I done?What does it mean?I wish I knew how much of what he says is true!

 


 

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