governess once, you know, only she was too wild. Not that her young men ever come here - but, Lord, in the nature of women, she must have a dozen!'
`That's unfortunate,' said Farmer Oak, contemplating a crack in the stone floor with sorrow. `I'm only an every-sort of man, and my only chance was in being the first comer... Well, there's no use in my waiting, for that was all I came about; so I'll take myself off home-along, Mrs Hurst.'
When Gabriel had gone about two hundred yards along the down, he heard a `hoi-hoi!' uttered behind him, in a piping note of more treble quality than that in which the exclamation usually embodies itself when shouted across a field. He looked round, and saw a girl racing after him, waving a white handkerchief.
Oak stood still - and the runner drew nearer. It was Bathsheba Everdene. Gabriel's colour deepened: hers was already deep, not, as it appeared, from emotion, but from running.
`Farmer Oak - I--' she said, pausing for want of breath, pulling up in front of him with a slanted ace, and putting her hand to her side.
`I have just called to see you,' said Gabriel pending her further speech.
`Yes - I know that,' she said, panting like a robin, her face red and moist from her exertions, like a peony petal before the sun dries off the dew. `I didn't know you had come to ask to have me, or I should have come in from the garden instantly. I ran after you to say - that my aunt made a mistake in ending you away from courting me.'
Gabriel banded. `I'm sorry to have made you run so fast, my dear,' he said, with a grateful sense of favours to come. `Wait a bit till you've found your breath.'
` - It was quite a mistake - aunt's telling you I had a young man already,' Bathsheba went on. `I haven't a sweetheart at all - and I never had one, and I thought that, as times go with women, it was such a pity to send you away thinking that I had several.'
`Really and truly I am glad to hear that!' said Farmer Oak, smiling one of his long special smiles, and blushing with gladness. He held out his hand to take hers, which, when she had eased her side by pressing it there, was prettily extended upon her bosom to still her loud-beating heart. Directly he seized it she put it behind her, so that it slipped through his fingers like an eel.
`I have a nice snug little farm,' said Gabriel, with half a degree less assurance than when he had seized her hand.
`Yes; you have.'
`A man has advanced me money to begin with, but still, it will soon be paid off, and though I am only an every-day sort of man I have got on a little since I was a boy' Gabriel uttered `a little' in a tone to show her that it was the complacent form of `a great deal'. He continued: `When we be married, I am quite sure I can work twice as hard as I do now.'
He went forward and stretched out his arm again. Bathsheba had overtaken him at a point beside which stood a low stunted holly bush, now laden with red berries. Seeing his advance take the form of an attitude threatening a possible enclosure, if not compression, of her person, she edged off round the bush.
`Why, Farmer Oak,' she said over the top, looking at him with rounded eyes, `I never said I was going to marry you.'
`Well - that is a tale!' said Oak with dismay. `To run after anybody like this, and then say you don't want him!'
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