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11

Farmer Boldwood becomes desperate

 

Liddy was allowed a week's holiday to visit her sister,

who lived a few miles away. To avoid seeing Mr Bold-wood,Bathsheba herself arranged to visit Liddy at her sister's home for a day or two. She left her cleaning-woman,Maryann,in charge of the house,and set out on foot one evening.

She had walked only about two miles when she saw,coming towards her,the one man who she did not wish to see. His changed appearance showed her that he had received her letter.

Oh,is it you,Mr Boldwood?’she said,with a guilty blush.

You know how I feel about you,’he said slowly. ‘A love as strong as death. A letter cannot change that feeling. ’

Don't speak of it,’she whispered.

Then I have nothing to say. Your letter was excellently clear. We are not going to marry. ’

Bathsheba said confusedly,‘Good evening,’and walked on a little further. But Boldwood could not let her go.

Bathsheba—darling—is it really final?’

Indeed it is. ’

Oh Bathsheba,have pity on me!I am mad with love for you!Don't refuse me now!You turned to me,and encour-aged me,before I ever thought of you!’

What you call encouragement was a childish joke. I'm deeply sorry I sent the valentine. Must you go on reminding me of it?’

I love you too much to blame you for it!Bathsheba,you are the first woman I have ever loved. How nearly you promised to marry me!What has happened to your kindness towards me?’

Bathsheba looked him quietly and openly in the face and said,‘Mr Boldwood,I promised you nothing. ’

How can you be so heartless!If I had known how awfully bitter this love would be,I'd have avoided you,and been deaf to you!I tell you all this,but what do you care!’

Bathsheba's control was breaking. She shook her head desperately as the man's angry words rained down on her.

Forgive me,sir!I can't love as you can!’

That's not a good reason,Miss Everdene!You aren't the cold woman you're pretending to be!You're hiding the fact that you've a burning heart like mine. Your love is given to another man!’

He knows!she thought. He knows about Frank!

Why didn't Troy leave my darling alone?he continued fiercely. ‘Tell me honestly,if you hadn't met him,would you have accepted my proposal?’

She delayed her answer,but she was too honest to stay silent. ‘Yes,’she whispered.

In my absence he stole my most valuable prize from me. Now I've lost my respect and my good name,and everybody laughs at me. Marry him,go on,marry him!I would have died for you,but you have given yourself to a worthless man. Perhaps he has even kissed you!Tell me he hasn't!’

She was frightened of Boldwood's anger,but she answered bravely,‘He has. I'm not ashamed to speak the truth. ’

I would have given a fortune to touch your hand,’cried Boldwood wildly,‘but you have let a man like that—kiss you!One day he'll be sorry,and realize the pain he's caused me!’

Be kind to him,sir,’she cried miserably,‘because I love him so much!’

Boldwood was no longer listening to her. ‘I'll punish him!Sweet Bathsheba,forgive me!I've been blaming you,but it's his fault. He stole your dear heart away with his lies. When I find him,I'll fight him!Keep him away from me,Bathsbeba!’

The desperate man stood still for a moment,then turned and left her. Bathsheba walked up and down,crying and whispering to herself,then threw herself down by the road,exhausted. She knew that Troy was away in Bath at the moment,but would be returning to Weatherbury very soon. If he came to visit her,and Boldwood saw him,a fierce argu-ment would be the result,and Troy could be hurt. But per-haps Gabriel and Boldwood were right,and she should not see him again?If she could only see Troy now,he would help her to decide!She jumped to her feet,and hurried back along the road to Weatherbury.

That night Maryann,the only person sleeping in Bathsheba's house,was woken by strange noises in the field where the horses were kept. She looked out of her bedroom window just in time to see a dark figure leading Bathsheba's horse and cart out of the field. She ran to Jan Coggan's house for help. Jan and Gabriel immediately rode after the thief. After riding for some time in the dark,they finally caught up with the cart at a toll-gate.

Keep the gate closed!’shouted Gabriel to the gatekeeper.

That man's stolen the horse and cart!’

What man ?’asked the gatekeeper,puzzled.

Gabriel looked closely at the driver of the cart,and saw a woman—Bathsheba. She turned her face away from the light when she heard his voice,but Jan Coggan had also recognized her. She was quick to hide her surprise but not her annoyance.

Well,Gabriel,’she asked coldly,‘where are you going?’

We thought someone had stolen the horse and cart. ’

How foolish of you!Some important business made me change my plans. I'm on my way to Bath. I may visit Liddy at her sister's later. I arrived home during the night,so I didn't wake Maryann up. I Just took the horse and cart myself. Thank you for taking all this trouble,but it wasn't necessary.

The gatekeeper opened the gate and she passed through. Coggan and Gabriel turned their horses and rode slowly home.

Gabriel said,‘I think we'll keep this strange trip of hers to Bath a secret,Jan,’and Jan agreed.

So at first the people of Weatherbury had no idea where she had gone. She stayed away for two weeks,and there were reports that she had been seen in Bath with Sergeant Troy. Gabriel knew in his heart that this must be true. He worked as hard as ever on her farm,but all the time there was a deep ache inside him.

 


 

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