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business as before, hadn't it been that things have been said about

us."

“What?" said Bathsheba, in surprise. “Things said about you and me !

What are they ? " “I cannot tell you.”

“It would be wiser if you were to, I think. You have played the part of mentor to me many times, and I don't see why you should fear to do it now."

" It is nothing that you have done, this time. The top and tail o't is this-that I am sniffing about here, and waiting for poor Boldwood's farm, with the thought of getting you some day."

“ Getting me! What does that mean?"

• Marrying o' ye, in plain British. You asked me to tell, so you musn't blame me.”

Bathsheba did not look quite so alarmed as if a cannon had been discharged by her ear, which was what Oak had expected. “Marrying me! I didn't know it was that you meant,” she said, quietly. “ Such a thing as that is too absur—too soon-to think of, by far!”

“ Yes; of course, it is too absurd. I don't desire any such thing; I should think that was visible enough, by this time. Surely, surely you be the last person in the world I think of marrying. It is too absurd, as you say."

"Too s-s-soon' were the words I used."

“I must beg your pardon for correcting you, but yon said, too absurd,' and so do I.”

“I beg your pardon too!” she returned, with tears in her eyes. 16. Too soon

was all I said. But it doesn't matter a bit-not at allbut I only said, “too soon.' Indeed, I didn't, Mr. Oak; and you must believe me!”

Gabriel looked her long in the face, but the fire-light being faint there was not much to be seen. “ Bathsheba," he said, tenderly and in surprise, and coming closer : “ if I only knew one thing—whether you would allow me to love you and win you, and marry you after all, if I only knew that!"

“But you never will know," she murmured.
“Why?"
“ Because you never ask.”

“ 0–0!" said Gabriel, with a low laugh of joyousness. My own dear

You ought not to have sent me that harsh letter this morning," she interrupted. “ It shows you didn't care a bit about me, and were ready to desert me like all the rest of them. It was very cruel of you, considering I was the first sweetheart that you ever had, and you were the first I ever had, and I shall not forget it ! ”

“Now, Bathsheba, was ever anybody so provoking ?” he said, laughing. • You know it was purely that I, as an unmarried man,

you

2

carrying on a business for you as a very taking young woman, had a proper hard part to play-more particularly that people knew I had a sort of feeling for ye; and I fancied, from the way we were mentioned together, that it might injure your good name. Nobody knows the heat and fret I have been caused by it.”

" And was that all ?" « All.”

“ O, how glad I am I came !” she exclaimed, thankfully, as she rose from her seat. “I have thought so much more of you since I fancied

did not want even to see me again. But I must be going now, or I shall be missed. Why, Gabriel,” she said, with a slight laugh, as they went to the door, “it seems exactly as if I had come courting you-how dreadful.”

“ And quite right, too,” said Oak. “I've danced at your skittish heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a long mile, and many a long day, and it is hard to begrudge me this one visit.”

He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her the details of his forthcoming tenure of the Lower Farm. They spoke very little of their mutual feelings ; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other's character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship-camaraderie, usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death—that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.

CHAPTER LVII.

A FOGGY NIGHT AND MORNING: CONCLUSION.

" The most private, secret, plainest wedding that it is possible to have."

Those bad been Bathsheba's words to Oak one evening, some time after the event of the preceding chapter, and he meditated a full hour by the clock upon how to carry out her wishes to the letter.

A licence- yes, it must be a licence,” he said to himself at last. " Very well, then; first, a licence."

On a dark night, a few days later, Oak came with mysterious steps from the surrogate's door, in Casterbridge. On the way home he heard a heavy tread in front of him, and, overtaking the man, found him to be

Coggan. They walked together into the village until they came to a little lane behind the church, leading down to the cottage of Laban Tall, who had lately been installed as clerk of the parish, and was yet in mortal terror at church on Sundays when he heard his lone voice among certain hard words of the Psalms whither no man ventured to follow him.

“ Well, good-night, Coggan,” said Oak, “ I'm going down this way."

“Oh!” said Coggan, surprised; “what's going on to-night then, make so bold, Mr. Oak ? ”

It seemed rather ungenerous not to tell Coggan under the circumstances, for Coggan had been true as steel all through the time of Gabriel's unhappiness about Bathsheba, and Gabriel said, “ You can keep a secret, Coggan ?"

You've proved me, and you know."

Yes, I have, and I do know. Well then, mistress and I mean to get married to-morrow morning."

“Heaven's high tower ! And yet I've thought of such a thing from time to time; true, I have. But keeping it so close ! Well, there, 'tis no consarn of mine, and I wish ye joy o' her.”

“Thank you, Coggan. But I assure ye that this great hush is not what I wished for at all, or what either of us would have wished if it hadn't been for certain things that would make a gay wedding seem hardly the thing. Bathsheba has a great wish that all the parish shall not be in church, looking at her—she's shy-like and nervous about it, in fact_s0 be doing this to humour her.”

“Ay, I see : quite right, too, I suppose I must say. And you be now going down to the clerk.'

“ Yes ; you may as well come with me.”

I am afeard your labour in keeping it close will be throwed away," said Coggan as they walked along. “Labe Tall's old woman will horn it all over parish in half an hour.”

“ So she will, upon my life; I never thought of that,” said Oak, pausing. Yet I must tell him to-night, I suppose, for he's working so far off, and leaves early.

“ I'll tell ye how we could tackle her," said Coggan. " I'll knock and ask to speak to Laban outside the door, you standing in the background. Then he'll come out, and you can tell yer tale. She'll never guess what I want en for; and I'll make up a few words about the farm-work, as a blind."

This scheme was considered feasible; and Coggan advanced boldly, and rapped at Mrs. Tall's door. Mrs. Tall herself opened it.

“I wanted to have a word with Laban.”

“He's not at home, and won't be this side of eleven o'clock. He've been forced to go to over Yalbury since shutting out work. I shall do quite as well.” “I hardly think you

will. Stop a moment." And Coggan stepped round the corner of the porch to consult Oak.

" Who's t'other man, then ?" said Mrs. Tall.

Only a friend,” said Coggan. “Say he's wanted to meet mistress near church-hatch to-morrow morning at ten," said Oak, in a whisper. “That he must come without fail, and wear his best clothes."

• The clothes will floor us as safe as houses !” said Coggan. “ It can't be helped," said Oak. 6. Tell her."

So Coggan delivered the message. “ Mind, wet or dry, blow or snow, he must come,” added Jan. “'Tis very particular, indeed. The fact is 'tis to witness her sign some law-work about taking shares wi'. another farmer for a long span o' years. There, that's what 'tis, and now I've told ye, mother Tall, in a way I shouldn't ha' done if I hadn't loved ye so hopeless well."

Coggan retired before she could ask any further; and then they called at the vicar's in a way which excited no curiosity at all. Then Gabriel went home, and prepared for the morrow.

“ Liddy,” said Bathsheba, on going to bed that night, “I want you to call me at seven o'clock to-morrow, in case I shouldn't wake."

“ But you always do wake afore then, ma'am.”

“ Yes, but I have something important to do, which I'll tell you of when the time comes, and it's best to make sure."

Bathsheba, however, awoke voluntarily at four, nor could she by any contrivance get to sleep again. About six, being quite positive that her watch had stopped during the night, she could wait no longer. She went and tapped at Liddy's door, and after some labour awoke her.

“But I thought it was I who had to call you ? " said the bewildered Liddy. "And it isn't six yet.”.

“ Indeed it is; how can you tell such a story, Liddy? I know it must be ever so much past seven. Come to my room as soon as you can; I want you to give my hair a good brushing."

When Liddy came to Bathsheba's room her mistress was already waiting. Liddy could not understand this extraordinary promptness. “ Whatever is going on, ma'am ?” she said.

“ Well, I'll tell you," said Bathsheba, with a mischievous smile in her bright eyes. “Farmer Oak is coming here to dine with me to-day ! ”

“Farmer Oak-and nobody else ?--you two alone ? “ Yes."

“Bat is it safe, ma'am ?” said her companion, dubiously. woman's good name is such a perishable article that -

Bathsheba laughed with a flushed cheek, and whispered in Liddy's ear, although there was nobody present. Then Liddy stared and exclaimed, “ Souls alive, what news! It makes my heart go quite bumpitybump !" “ It makes mine rather furious, too,” said Bathsheba.

“ However, there's no getting out of it now.”

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It was a damp disagreeable morning. Nevertheless, at twenty minutes to ten o'clock, Oak came out of his house, and

Went up the hill side

With that sort of stride
A man puts out when walking in search of a bride,

and knocked at Bathsheba's door. Ten minutes later two large umbrellas might have been seen moving from the same door, and through the mist along the road to the church. The distance was not more than a hundred yards, and these two sensible persons deemed it unnecessary to drive. An observer must have been very close indeed to discover that the forms under the umbrellas were those of Oak and Bathsheba, arm-in-arm for the first time in their lives, Oak in a great coat extending to his knees, and Bathsheba in a cloak that reached her clogs. Yet though so plainly dressed, there was a certain rejuvenated appearance about her :

As though a rose should shut and be a bud again.

Repose had again incarnadined her cheeks; and having, at Gabriel's request, arranged her hair this morning as she had worn it years ago on Norcombe Hill, she seemed in his eyes remarkably like the girl of that fascinating dream, which, considering that she was now only threeor four-and-twenty, was perhaps not very wonderful. In the church were Tall, Liddy, and the parson, and in a remarkably short space of time the deed was done.

The two sat down very quietly to tea in Bathsheba's parlour in the evening of the same day, for it had been arranged that Farmer Oak should go there to live, since he had as yet neither money, house, nor furniture worthy of the name, though he was on a sure way towards them, whilst Bathsheba was, comparatively, in a plethora of all three. Just as Bathsheba was pouring out a cup of tea, their ears were greeted by the firing of a cannon, followed by what seemed like a tremendous blowing of trumpets, in the front of the house.

" There !” said Oak, laughing. “I knew those fellows were up to something, by the look of their faces."

Oak took up the light and went into the porch, followed by Bathsbeba with a shawl over her head. The rays fell upon a group of male figures gathered upon the gravel in front, who, when they saw the newly-married couple in the porch, set up a loud “Hurrah !” and at the same moment bang again went the cannon in the background, followed by a hideous clang of music from a drum, tambourine, clarionet, serpent, hautbor, tenor-viol, and double-bass-the only remaining relics of the true and original Weatherbury band -venerable worm-eaten instruments, which had celebrated in their own persons the victories of Marlborough, under the fingers of the forefathers of those who played them now. formers came forward, and marched up to the front.

“ Those bright boys Mark Clark and Jan are at the bottom of all

The per

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