It was a slim girl, rather thinly clad.
`Good-night to you,' said Gabriel heartily.
`Good-night,' said the girl to Gabriel.
The voice was unexpectedly attractive; it was the low and dulcet note suggestive of romance; common in descriptions, rare in experience.
`I'll thank you to tell me if I'm in the way for Warren's Malthouse?' Gabriel resumed, primarily to gain the information, indirectly to get more of the music.
`Quite right. It's at the bottom of the hill. And do you know--' The girl hesitated and then went on again. `Do you know how late they keep open the Buck's Head Inn?' She seemed to be won by Gabriel's heartiness, as Gabriel had been won by her modulations.
`I don't know where the Buck's Head is, or anything about it. Do you think of going there to-night?'
`Yes--' The woman again paused. There was no necessity for any continuance of speech, and the fact that she did add more seemed to proceed from an unconscious desire to show unconcern by making a remark, which is noticeable in the ingenuous when they are acting by stealth. `You are not a Weatherbury man?' she said timorously.
`I am not. I am the new shepherd - just arrived.'
`Only a shepherd - and you seem almost a farmer by your ways.'
`Only a shepherd,' Gabriel repeated, in a dull cadence of finality. His thoughts were directed to the past, his eyes to the feet of the girl; and for the first time he saw lying there a bundle of some sort. She may have perceived the direction of his face, for she said coaxingly,--
`You won't say anything in the parish about having seen me here, will you - at least, not for a day or two?'
`I won't if you wish me not to,' said Oak.
`Thank you, indeed,' the other replied. `I am rather poor, and I don't want people to know anything about me.' Then she was silent and shivered.
`You ought to have a cloak on such a cold night,' Gabriel observed. `I would advise 'ee to get indoors.'
`O no! Would you mind going on and leaving me? I thank you much for what you have told me.
`I will go on,' he said; adding hesitatingly, - `Since you are not very well off, perhaps you would accept this trifle from me. It is only a shilling, but it is all I have to spare.'
`Yes, I will take it,' said the stranger gratefully.
She extended her hand; Gabriel his. In feeling for each other's palm in the gloom before the money could be passed, a minute incident occurred which told much. Gabriel's fingers alighted on the young woman's wrist. It was beating with a throb of tragic intensity. He had frequently felt the same quick, hard beat in the femoral artery of his lambs when overdriven. It suggested a consumption too great of a vitality which, to judge from her figure and stature, was already too little.
`What is the matter?'
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