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Pennyways snuffed the candle, and then looked up and deliberately inspected Troy.

“ You've made up your mind to go then ?” he said. “Made up my mind ? Yes, of course I have."

“Why not write to her. 'Tis a very queer corner that you have got into, sergeant. You see all these things will come to light if you go back, and they won't sound well at all. Faith, if I .was you I'd even bide as you be—a single man of the name of Francis. A good wife is good, but the best wife is not so good as no wife at all. Now that's my outspoke mind, and I've been called a long-headed feller here and there."

" All nonsense ! said Troy, angrily. There she is with plenty of money, and a house and farm, and horses, and comfort, and here am I living from hand to mouth-a needy adventurer. Besides, it is no use talking now; it is too late, and I am glad of it; I've been seen and recognised here this very afternoon. I should have gone back to her the day after the fair, if it hadn't been for you talking about the law, and rubbish about getting a separation; and I don't put it off any longer. What the deuce put it into my head to run away at all, I can't think. Humbugging sentiment—that's what it was. But what man on earth was to know that his wife would be in such a hurry to get rid of his name !"

" I should have known it. She's bad enough for anything." “Pennyways, mind who you are talking to."

“ Well, sergeant, all I say is this, that if I were you I'd go abroad again where I came from—'tisn't too late to do it now. I wouldn't stir up the business and get a bad name for the sake of living with her-for all that about your play-acting is sure to come out, you know, although you think otherwise. My eyes and limbs, there'll be a racket if you go back just now in the middle of Boldwood's Christmasing !"

“H'm, yes. I expect I shall not be a very welcome guest if he has her there," said the sergeant, with a slight laugh. “A sort of Alonzo the Brave ; and when I go in the guests will sit in silence and fear, and all laughter and pleasure will be hushed, and the lights in the chamber burn blue, and the worms-Ugh, horrible !-Ring for some more brandy, Pennyways, I felt an awful shudder just then. Well, what is there besides? A stick-I must have a walking-stick."

Pennyways now felt himself to be in something of a difficulty, for should Bathsheba and Troy become reconciled it would be necessary to regain her good opinion if he would secure the patronage of her husband. “I sometimes think she likes ye yet, and is a good woman at bottom," he said, as a saving sentence. “But there's no telling to a certainty from a body's outside. Well, you'll do as you like about going, of course, sergeant, and as for me, I'll do as you tell me.”

“Now, let me see what the time is," said Troy, after emptying his glass in one draught as he stood. “ Half-past six o'clock. I shall not hurry along the road, and shall be there then before nine.”

CHAPTER LIII.

CONCURRITUR : HORÆ MOMENTO. OUTSIDE the front of Boldwood's house a group of men stood in the dark, with their faces towards the door, which occasionally opened and closed for the passage of some guest or servant, when a golden rod of light would stripe the ground for the moment and vanish again, leaving nothing outside but the glowworm shine of the pale lamp amid the evergreens over the door.

“He was seen in Casterbridge this afternoon---so the boy said,” one of them remarked in a whisper. " And I for one believe it. His body was never found, you know."

“ 'Tis a strange story,” said the next. “ You may depend upon 't that she knows nothing about it."

“ Not a word.”

Perhaps he don't mean that she shall,” said another man.

“If he's alive and here in the neighbourhood, he means mischief," said the first. “ Poor young thing : I do pity her, if 'tis true. He'll drag her to the dogs."

“Oh, no; he'll settle down quiet enough," said one disposed to take a more hopeful view of the case.

“What a fool she must have been ever to have had anything to do with the man ! She is so self-willed and independent too, that one is more minded to say it serves her right than pity her.”

“ No, no! I don't hold with ye there. She was no otherwise than a girl mind, and how could she tell what the man was made of. If 'tis really true, 'tis too hard a punishment, and more than she ought to hae. Hullo, who's that?” This was to some footsteps that were heard approaching.

“ William Smallbury," said a dim figure in the shades, coming up and joining them. “Dark as a hedge to-night, isn't it. I all but missed the plank over the river ath'art there in the bottom-never did such a thing before in my life. Be ye any of Boldwood's workfolk ?" He peered into their faces.

“ Yes—all o' us. We met here a few minutes ago.”

O, I hear now—that's Sam Samway : thought I knowed the voice, too. Going in?"

“Presently. But I say, William," Samway whispered, “have ye heard this strange tale ? '

“What—that about Sergeant Troy being seen, d'ye mean, souls ? " said Smallbury, also lowering his voice.

Ay: in Casterbridge.'

6. Yes, I have. Laban Tall named a hint of it to me, but nowbut I don't think it. Hark, here Laban comes himself, 'a b'lieve.” A footstep drew near.

" Laban ?"
“Yes, 'tis I," said Tall.
“Have ye heard any more about that ? "
"No," said Tall, joining the group.

" And I'm inclined to think we'd better keep quiet. If so be 'tis not true, 'twill flurry her, and do her much harm to repeat it; and if so be 'tis true, 'twill do no good to forestall her time o' trouble. God send that it may be a lie, for though Henery Fray and some of 'em do speak against her, she's never been anything but fair to me. She's hot and hasty, but she's a brave girl who'll never tell a lie however much the truth may harm her, and I've no cause to wish her evil.”

“ She never do tell women's little lies, that's true; and 'tis a thing that can be said of very few. Ay, all the harm she thinks she says to yer face: there's nothing underhand wi' her.”

They stood silent then, every man busied with his own thoughts, during which interval sounds of merriment could be heard within. Then the front door again opened, the rays streamed out, the wellknown form of Boldwood was seen in the rectangular area of light, the door closed, and Boldwood walked slowly down the path.

“ 'Tis master," one of the men whispered, as he neared them. “We'd better stand quiet-he'll go in again directly. He would think it unseemly o' us to be loitering here."

Boldwood came on, and passed by the men without seeing them, they being under the bushes on the grass. He paused, leant over the gate, and breathed a long breath. They heard low words come from him.

“I hope to God she'll come, or this night will be nothing but misery to me.

O my darling, my darling, why do you keep me in suspense like this !”

He said this to himself, and they all distinctly heard it. Boldwood remained silent after that, and the noise from indoors was again just audible, until, a few minutes later, light wheels could be distinguished coming down the hill. They drew nearer, and ceased at the gate. Boldwood hastened back to the door, and opened it; and the light shone apon Bathsheba coming up the path.

Boldwood compressed his emotion to mere welcome : the men marked her light laugh and apology as she met him : he took her into the house; and the door closed again.

“Gracious heaven, I didn't know it was like that with him! said one of the men. “I thought that fancy of his was over long ago."

“ You don't know much of master, if you thought that,” said Samway.

" I wouldn't he should know we heard what 'a said for the world," remarked a third.

“I wish we had told of the report at once," the first uneasily continued. “More harm may come of this than we know of. Poor Mr. Boldwood, it will be hard upon en. I wish Troy was in Well,

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God forgive me for such a wish! A scoundrel to play a poor wife such tricks. Nothing has prospered in Weatherbury since he came here. And now I've no heart to go in. Let's look into Warren's, shall us neighbours ?"

Samway, Tall, and Smallbury agreed to go, and went out at the gate, the remaining ones entering the house. The three soon drew near the malt-house, approaching it from the adjoining orchard, and not by way of the street. The pane of glass was illuminated as usual. Smallbury was a little in advance of the rest, when, pausing, he turned suddenly to his companions and said, “Hist! See there."

The light from the pane was now perceived to be shining not upon the ivied wall as usual, but upon some object close to the glass. It was a human face.

“Let's come closer," whispered Samway; and they approached on tiptoe. There was no disbelieving the report any longer. Troy's face was almost close to the pane, and he was looking in. Not only was he looking in, but he appeared to have been arrested by a conversation which was in progress in the malt-house, the voices of the interlocutors being those of Oak and the maltster.

The spree is all in her honour, isn't it-hey?" said the old man. “ Although he made believe 'tis only keeping up o' Christmas."

“I cannot say,” replied Oak.

“O'tis true enough, faith. I can't understand Farmer Boldwood being such a fool at his time of life as to ho and hanker after thik woman in the way 'a do, and she not care a bit about en."

The men, after recognising Troy's features, withdrew across the orchard as quietly as they had come. The air was big with Bathsheba's fortunes to-night: every word everywhere concerned her. When they were quite out of earshot all by one instinct paused.

"It gave me quite a turn-his face," said Tall, breathing.
And so it did me," said Samway. " What's to be done?

“ I don't see that 'tis any business of ours,” Smallbury murmured dubiously.

"O yes. 'Tis a thing which is everybody's business,” said Samway. “We know very well that master's on a wrong tack, and that she's quite in the dark, and we should let 'em know at once. Laban, you know her best—you'd better go and ask to speak to her.”

“I baint fit for any such thing," said Laban, nervously. should think William ought to do it if anybody. He's oldest.”

I shall have nothing to do with it,” said Smallbury. ticklish business altogether. Why, he'll go on to her himself in a few minutes, ye'll see.”

“ We don't know that he will. Come, Laban."

“ Very well, if I must I must, I suppose," Tall reluctantly answered. • What must I say?"

“ Just ask to see master."

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O no; I shan't speak to Mr. Boldwood. If I tell anybody, 'twill be mistress.”

" Very well," said Samway.

Laban then went to the door. When he opened it the hum of bustle rolled out as a wave upon a still strand—the assemblage being immediately inside in the hall—and was deadened to a murmur as he closed it again. Each man waited intently, and looked around at the dark tree tops gently rocking against the sky and occasionally shivering in a slight wind, as if he took interest in the scene, which neither did. One of them began walking up and down, and then came to where he started from and stopped again, with a sense that walking was a thing not worth doing now.

“ I should think Laban must have seen mistress by this time," said Smallbury, breaking the silence. “Perhaps she won't come and speak to him."

The door opened. Tall appeared, and joined them. "Well ?” said both.

" I didn't like to ask for her after all,” Laban faltered out. were all in such a stir, trying to put a little spirit into the party. Somehow the fun seems to hang fire, though everything's there that a heart can desire, and I couldn't for my soul interfere and throw damp upon it-if 'twas to save my life, I couldn't!”

“I suppose we had better all go in together,” said Samway, gloomily. “Perhaps I may have a chance of saying a word to master.”

So the men entered the hall, which was the room selected and arranged for the gathering because of its size. The younger men and maids were at last just beginning a dance. Bathsheba had been perplexed how to act, for she was not much more than a slim young maid herself, and the weight of stateliness sat heavy upon her. Sometimes she thought she ought not to have come under any circumstances; then she considered what cold unkindness that would have been, and finally resolved upon the middle course of staying for about an hour only, and gliding off unobserved, having from the first made up her mind that she could on no account dance, sing, or take any active part in the proceedings.

Her allotted hour having been passed in chatting and looking on, Bathsheba told Liddy not to hurry herself, and went to the small parlour to prepare for departure, which, like the hall, was decorated with holly and ivy, and well lighted up.

Nobody was in the room, but she had hardly been there a moment when the master of the house entered.

“Mrs. Troy-you are not going?” he said. “We've hardly begun."

“If you'll excuse me, I should like to go now." Her manner was restive, for she remembered her promise, and imagined what he was about to say.

“But as it is not late,” she added, “I can walk home, and leave my man and Liddy to come when they choose.”

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