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" I'm afraid there's a hitch in that argument,” said Oak, with a grave smile.

She did not reply at once, and then saying " Good evening, Mr. Oak,"

went away.

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She had spoken frankly, and neither asked nor expected any reply from Gabriel more satisfactory than that she had obtained. Yet in the centremost parts of her complicated heart there existed at this minute a little pang of disappointment, for a reason she would not allow herself to recognise. Oak had not once wished her free that he might marry her himself—had not once said, “I could wait for you as well as he.” That was the insect sting. Not that she would have listened to any such hypothesis. Oh no—for wasn't she saying all the time that such thoughts of the future were improper, and wasn t Gabriel far too poor a man to speak sentiment to her ? Yet he might have just hinted about that old love of his, and asked, in a playful offhand way, if he might speak of it. It would have seemed pretty and sweet, if no more; and then she would have shown how kind and inoffensive a woman's “No” can sometimes be. But to give such cool advice—the very advice she had asked for—it rufiled our heroine all the afternoon.

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Far from the Madding Crowd.




HRISTMAS-EVE came, and

a party that Boldwood was to give in the evening was the great subject of talk in Weatherbury. It was not that the rarity of Christmas parties in the parish made this one a wonder, but that Boldwood should be the giver. The announcement had had an abnormal and incongruous sound, as if one should hear of croquetplaying in a cathedral aisle,

that some much-respected judge was going upon the stage. That the party was intended to be a truly jovial one, there was

room for doubt. A

large bough of mistletoe had been brought from the woods that day, and suspended in the hall of the bachelor's home. Holly and ivy had followed in armfuls. From six that morning till past noon the huge wood fire in the kitchen roared and sparkled at its highest, the kettle, the saucepan, and the three-legged VOL. XXX.NO. 180.





pot appearing in the midst of the flames like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ; moreover, roasting and basting operations were continually carried on in front of the genial blaze.

As it grew later, the fire was made up in the large long hall into which the staircase descended, and all encumbrances were cleared out for dancing. The log which was to form the back-brand of the evening fire was the uncleft trunk of a tree, so unwieldy that it could be neither brought nor rolled to its place; and accordingly four men were to be observed dragging and heaving it in by chains and levers as the hour of assembly drew near.

In spite of all this, the spirit of revelry was wanting in the atmosphere of the house. Such a thing had never been attempted before by its owner, and it was now done as by a wrench. Intended gaieties would insist upon appearing like solemn grandeurs, the organisation of the whole effort was carried out coldly by hirelings, and a shadow seemed to move about the rooms, saying that the proceedings were unnatural to the place and the lone man who lived therein, and hence not good.

Bathsheba was at this time in her room, dressing for the event.

She had called for candles, and, Liddy entered and placed one on each side of her mistress's glass.

“ Don't go away, Liddy,” said Bathsheba, almost timidly. “I am foolishly agitated—I cannot tell why. I wish I had not been obliged to go to this dance; but there's no escaping now. I have not spoken to Mr. Boldwood since the autumn, when I promised to see him at Christmas on business, but I had no idea there was to be anything of this kind."

“But I would go now,” said Liddy, who was going with her; for Boldwood had been indiscriminate in his invitations.

" Yes, I shall make my appearance, of course, said Bathsheba. “But I am the cause of the party, and that upsets me. Don't tell, Liddy."

“O no, ma'am. You the cause of it, ma'am ?"

Yes. I am the reason of the party-I. If it had not been for me, there would never have been one. I can't explain any more-there's no more to be explained. I wish I had never seen Weatherbury.”

“That's wicked of you-to wish to be worse off than you are."

“No, Liddy. I have never been free from trouble since I have lived here, and this party is likely to bring me more. Now, fetch my black silk dress, and see how it sits apon me.”

“But you will leave off that, surely, ma'am ? You have been & widow-lady fourteen months, and ought to brighten up a little on such a night as this."

" Is it necessary ? No, I will appear as usual, for if I were to wear any light dress people would say things about me, and I should seem to be rejoicing when I am solemn all the time. The party doesn't suit me a bit; but never mind, stay and help to finish me off.”

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