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" I've been trying to get an opportunity of speaking to you," said Boldwood. “You know perhaps what I long to say?"

Bathsheba silently looked on the floor.
“ You do give it ?" he said, eagerly.
" What ?" she whispered.

“Now, that's evasion! Why, the promise. I don't want to intrude upon you at all, or to let it become known to anybody. But do give your word! A mere business compact, you know, between two people who are beyond the influence of passion.” Boldwood knew how false this picture was as regarded himself; but he had proved that it was the only tone in which she would allow him to approach her. " A promise to marry me at the end of five years and three quarters. You owe it to me!"

“I feel that I do,” said Bathsheba ; "that is, if you demand it. But I am a changed woman-an unhappy woman-and not-not

“You are still a very beautiful woman,” said Boldwood. Honesty and pure conviction suggested the remark, unaccompanied by any perception that it might have been adopted by blunt flattery to soothe and win her.

However, it had not much effect now, for she said, in a passionless murmur which was in itself a proof of her words : “I have no feeling in the matter at all. And I don't at all know what is right to do in my difficult position, and I have nobody to advise me.

But I give my promise, if I must. I give it as the rendering of a debt." “You'll marry me between five and six

years

hence." “Don't press me too hard. I'll marry nobody else."

“But surely you will name the time, or there's nothing in the promise at all.”

“O I don't know, pray let me go!" she said, her bosom beginning to rise. “I am afraid what to do! I want to be just to you, and to be that seems to be wronging myself, and perhaps it is breaking the commandments. There is a shadow of a doubt of his death, and then it is dreadful ; let me ask a solicitor, Mr. Boldwood, if I ought or no !”

Say the words, dear one, and the subject shall be dismissed ; a blissful loving intimacy of six years, and then marriage-0 Bathsheba, say them !” he begged in a husky voice, unable to sustain the forms of mere friendship any longer. “Promise yourself to me; I deserve it, indeed, I do, for I have loved you more than anybody in the world. And if I said hasty words and showed uncalled-for heat of manner towards you, believe me, dear, I did not mean to distress you; I was in agony, Bathsheba, and I did not know what I said. You wouldn't let a dog suffer what I have suffered, could you but know it! Sometimes I shrink from your knowing what I have felt for you, and sometimes I am distressed that all of it you never will know. Be gracious, and give up a little to me, when I would give up my life for you !"

The trimmings of her dress, as they quivered against the light, showed how agitated she was, and at last she burst out crying. “And

you'll not-press me-about anything more—if I say in five or six years ? " she sobbed, when she had power to frame the words.

6. Yes, then I'll leave it to time."

She waited a moment. “ Very well. I'll marry you in six years from this day, if we both live,” she said solemnly.

“And you'll take this as a token from me ?"

Boldwood had come close to her side, and now he clasped one of her hands in both his own, and lifted it to his breast.

• What is it ? 0 I cannot wear a ring!” she exclaimed, on seeing what he held ; “ besides, I wouldn't have a soul know that it's an engagement. Perhaps it is improper. Besides, we are not engaged in the usual sense, are we? Don't insist, Mr. Boldwood-don't!" In her trouble at not being able to get her hand away from him at once, she stamped passionately on the floor with one foot, and tears crowded to her eyes again.

It means simply a pledge--no sentiment—the seal of a practical compact,” he said more quietly, but still retaining her hand in his firm grasp.

“Come, now !" And Boldwood slipped the ring on her finger. “I cannot wear it,” she said, weeping as if her heart would break. You frighten me, almost. So wild a scheme! Please let me go home!

"Only to-night : wear it just to-night, to please me."

Bathsheba sat down in a chair, and buried her face in her handkerchief, though Boldwood kept her hand yet. At length she said, in a sort of hopeless whisper,

Very well, then, I will to-night, if you wish it so earnestly. Now loosen my hand; I will, indeed I will wear it to-night."

“ And it shall be the beginning of a pleasant secret courtship of six years, with a wedding at the end ? "

“ It must be, I suppose, since you will have it so !” she said, fairly beaten into non-resistance.

Boldwood pressed her hand, and allowed it to drop in her lap. "I am happy now,” he said.

o God bless you!” He left the room, and when he thought she might be sufficiently composed sent one of the maids to her. Bathsheba cloaked the effects of the late scene as she best could, followed the girl, and in a few moments came downstairs with her hat and cloak on, ready to go. To get to the door it was necessary to pass through the hall, and before doing so she paused on the bottom of the staircase which descended into one corner, to take a last look at the gathering.

There was no music or dancing in progress just now. At the lower end, which had been arranged for the workfolk specially, a group conversed in whispers, and with clouded looks. Boldwood was standing by the fireplace, and he, too, though so absorbed in visions arising from her promise that he scarcely saw anything, seemed at that moment to have observed their peculiar manner and their looks askance.

“What is it you are in doubt about, men ? " he said.

One of them turned and replied uneasily : “ It was something Laban heard of, that's all, sir.”

" News ? Anybody married or engaged, born or dead ? ” enquired the farmer, gaily. “Tell it to us, Tall. One would think from your looks and mysterious ways that it was something very dreadful indeed."

O no, sir, nobody is dead," said Tall.
“I wish somebody was," said Samway, in a whisper.

“What do you say, Samway?" ased Boldwood, somewhat sharply. “If you have anything to say, speak out; if not, get up another dance."

"Mrs. Troy has come downstairs," said Samway to Tall. “If you want to tell her, you had better do it now.”

“Do you know what they mean ? ” the farmer asked Bathsheba across the room.

“I don't in the least,” said Bathsheba.

There was a smart rapping at the door. One of the men opened it instantly, and went outside. “ Mrs. Troy is wanted," he said, on returning.

Quite ready," said Bathsheba. “ Though I didn't tell them to send.” “ It is a stranger, ma'am,” said the man by the door. " A stranger ? ” she said. “ Ask him to come in,” said Boldwood.

The message was given, and Troy, wrapped up to his eyes as we have seen him, stood in the doorway.

There was an unearthly silence, all looking towards the new.comer. Those who had just learnt that he was in the neighbourhood recognised him instantly; those who did not, were perplexed. Nobody noted Bathsheba. She was leaning on the stairs. Her brow had heavily contracted ; her whole face was pallid, her lips apart, her eyes rigidly staring at their visitor.

Boldwood was among those who did not notice that he was Troy. " Come in, come in /” he repeated, cheerfully,

"and drain a Christmas beaker with us, stranger !”

Troy next advanced into the middle of the room, took off his cap, turned down his coat collar, and looked Boldwood in the face. Even then Boldwood did not recognise that the impersonator of Heaven's persistent irony towards him, who had once before broken in upon his bliss, scourged him, and snatched his delight away, had come to do these things a second time. Troy began to laugh a mechanical laugh : Boldwood recognised him now.

Troy turned to Bathsheba. The poor girl's wretchedness at this time was beyond all fancy or narration. She had sunk down on the lowest stair; and there she sat, her mouth blue and dry, and her dark eyes fixed vacantly upon him, as if she wondered whether it were not all a terrible illusion.

Then Troy spoke. "Bathsheba, I come here for you!"
She made no reply.
" Come home with me: come !"

Bathsheba moved her feet a little, but did not rise. Troy went across to her.

" Come, madam, do you hear what I say?" he said, peremptorily.

A strange voice came from the fireplace a voice sounding far off and confined, as if from a dungeon. Hardly a soul in the assembly recognised the thin tones to be those of Boldwood. Sudden despair had transformed him.

“ Bathsheba, go with your husband ! "

Nevertheless, she did not move. The truth was that Bathsheba was beyond the pale of activity—and yet not in a swoon. She was in a state of mental gutta serena; her mind was for the minute totally deprived of light at the same time that no obscuration was apparent from without.

Troy stretched out his hand to pull her towards him, when she quickly shrank back. This visible dread of him seemed to irritate Troy, and he seized her arm and pulled it sharply. Whether his grasp pinched her, or whether his mere touch was the cause, was never known, but at the moment of his seizure she writhed, and gave a quick, low scream.

The scream had been heard but a few seconds when it was followed by a sudden deafening report that echoed through the room and stupefied them all. The oak partition shook with the concussion, and the place was filled with grey smoke.

In bewilderment they turned their eyes to Boldwood. At his back, as he stood before the fireplace, was a gun-rack, as is usual in farmhouses, constructed to hold two guns. When Bathsheba had cried out in her husband's grasp Boldwood's face of gnashing despair had changed. The veins had swollen, and a frenzied look had gleamed in his eye. He had turned quickly, taken one of the guns, cocked it, and at once discharged it at Troy.

The distance apart of the two men was so small that the charge of shot did not spread in the least, but passed like a bullet into his body. He uttered a long guttural sigh-there was a contraction--an extension—then his muscles relaxed, and he lay still. Boldwood was seen through the smoke to be now again engaged with

It was double-barrelled, and he had, meanwhile, in some way fastened his handkerchief to the trigger, and with his foot on the other end was in the act of turning the second barrel upon himself. Samway, his man, was the first to see this, and in the midst of the general horror darted up to him. Boldwood had already twitched the handkerchief, and the gun exploded a second time, sending its contents, by a timely blow from Samway, into the beam which crossed the ceiling.

“ Well, it makes no difference," Boldwood gasped. “There is another way for me to die.”

Troy fell.

the gun.

Then he broke from Samway, crossed the room to Bathsheba, and kissed her hand. He put on his hat, opened the door, and went into the darkness, nobody thinking of preventing him.

CHAPTER LIV.

AFTER THE SHOCK.

BOLDWOOD passed into the high road, and turned in the direction of Casterbridge. Here he walked at an even, steady pace by Buck's Head, along the dead level beyond, mounted Casterbridge Hill, and between eleven and twelve o'clock descended into the town. The streets were nearly deserted now, and the waving lamp-flames only lighted up rows of grey shop-shutters, and strips of white paving upon which his step echoed as he passed along. He turned to the left, and halted before an archway of old brown brick, which was closed by an iron studded pair of doors. This was the entrance to the gaol, and over it a lamp was fixed, the light enabling the wretched traveller to find a bell-pull.

The small wicket at last opened, and a porter appeared. Boldwood stepped forward, and said something in a low tone, when, after a delay, another man came. Boldwood entered, and the door was closed behind him, and he walk

the world no more. Long before this time Weatherbury had been thoroughly aroused, and the wild deed which had terminated Boldwood's merrymaking became known to all. Of those out of the house Oak was one of the first to hear of the catastrophe, and when he entered the room, which was about five minutes after Boldwood's exit, the scene was terrible. All the female guests were huddled aghast against the walls like sheep in a storm, and the men were bewildered as to what to do. As for Bathsheba, she had changed. She was sitting on the floor beside the body of Troy, his head pillowed in her lap, where she had herself lifted it. With one hand she held her handkerchief to his breast and covered the wound, though scarcely a single drop of blood had flowed, and with the other she tightly clasped one of his. The household convulsion had made her herself again. The temporary coma had ceased, and activity had come with the necessity for it. Deeds of endurance, which seem ordinary in philosophy, are rare in conduct, and Bathsheba was astonishing all around her now, for her philosophy was her conduct, and she seldom thought practicable what she did not practise. She was of the stuff of which great men's mothers are made. She was indispensable to high generation, feared at tea parties, hated in shops, and loved at crises. Troy in his recumbent wife's lap formed now the sole spectacle in the middle of the spacious room.

“ Gabriel," she said, automatically, when he entered, turning up a face of which only the well-known lines remained to tell him it was hers, all else in the picture having faded quite. " Ride to Casterbridge instantly

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