Recognition - A Timid Girl
Bathsheba withdrew into the shade. She scarcely knew whether most to be amused at the singularity of the meeting, or to be concerned at its awkwardness. There was room for a little pity, also for a very little exultation: the former at his position, the latter at her own. Embarrassed she was not, and she remembered Gabriel's declaration of love to her at Norcombe only to think she had nearly forgotten it.
`Yes,' she murmured, putting on an air of dignity, and turning again to him with a little warmth of cheek; `I do want a shepherd. But--'
`He's the very man, ma'am,' said one of the villagers, quietly.
Conviction breeds conviction. `Ay, that 'a is,' said a second, decisively.
`The man, truly!' said a third, with heartiness.
`He's all there!' said number four, fervidly.
`Then will you tell him to speak to the bailiff?' said Bathsheba.
All was practical again now. A summer eve and loneliness would have been necessary to give the meeting its proper fullness of romance.
The bailiff was pointed out to Gabriel, who, checking the palpitation within his breast at discovering that this Ashtoreth of strange report was only a modification of Venus the well-known and admired, retired with him to talk over the necessary preliminaries of hiring.
The fire before them wasted away. `Men,' said Bathsheba, `you shall take a little refreshment after this extra work. Will you come to the house?'
`We could knock in a bit and a drop a good deal freer, Miss, if so be ye'd send it to Warren's Malthouse,' replied the spokesman.
Bathsheba then rode off into the darkness, and the men straggled on to the village in twos and threes - Oak and the bailiff being left by the rick alone.
`And now,' said the bailiff, finally, `all is settled, I think, about your coming, and I am going home-along. Good-night to ye, shepherd.'
`Can you get me a lodging?' inquired Gabriel.
`That I can't, indeed,' he said, moving past Oak as a Christian edges past an offertory-plate when he does not mean to contribute. `If you follow on the road till you come to Warren's Malthouse, where they are all gone to have their snap of victuals, I daresay some of 'em will tell you of a place. Good-night to ye, shepherd.'
The bailiff who showed this nervous dread of lying his neighbour as himself, went up the hill, and Oak walked on to the village, still astonished at the rencounter with Bathsheba, glad of his nearness to her, and perplexed at the rapidity with which the unpractised girl of Norcombe had developed into the supervising and cool woman here. But some women only require an emergency to make them fit for one.
Obliged to some extent to forgo dreaming in order to find the way, he reached the churchyard, and passed round it under the wall where several ancient trees grew. There was a wide margin of grass along here, and Gabriel's footsteps were deadened by its softness, even at this indurating period of the year. When abreast of a trunk which appeared to be the oldest of the old, he became aware that a figure was standing behind it. Gabriel did not pause in his walk, and in another moment he accidentally kicked a loose stone. The noise was enough to disturb the motionless stranger, who started and assumed a careless position.
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