Sortes Sanctorum - The Valentine

It was Sunday afternoon in the farmhouse, on the thirteenth of February. Dinner being over, Bathsheba, for want of a better companion, had asked Liddy to come and sit with her. The mouldy pile was dreary in winter-time before the candles were lighted and the shutters closed; the atmosphere of the place seemed as old as the walls; every nook behind the furniture had a temperature of its own, for the fire was not kindled in this part of the house early in the day; and Bathsheba's new piano, which was an old one in other annals, looked particularly sloping and out of level on the warped floor before night threw a shade over its less prominent angles and hid the unpleasantness Liddy, like a little brook, though shallow, was always rippling; her presence had not so much weight as to task thought, and yet enough to exercise it.

On the table lay an old quarto Bible, bound in leather. Liddy looking at it said,--

`Did you ever find out, miss, who you are going to marry by means of the Bible and key?'

`Don't be so foolish, Liddy. As if such things could be.'

`Well, there's a good deal in it, all the same.'

`Nonsense, child.'

`And it makes your heart beat fearful. Some believe in it; some don't; I do.'

`Very well, let's try it,' said Bathsheba, bounding from her seat with that total disregard of consistency which can be indulged in towards a dependant, and entering into the spirit of divination at once. `Go and get the front door key.'

Liddy fetched it. `I wish it wasn't Sunday,' she said, on returning. `Perhaps 'tis wrong.'

`What's right week days is right Sundays,' replied her mistress in a tone which was a proof in itself.

The book was opened - the leaves, drab with age, being quite worn away at much-read verses by the forefingers of unpractised readers in former days, where they were moved along under the line as an aid to the vision. The special verse in the Book of Ruth was sought out by Bathsheba, and the sublime words met her eye. They slightly thrilled and abashed her. It was Wisdom in the abstract facing Folly in the concrete. Folly in the concrete blushed, persisted in her intention, and placed the key on the book. A rusty patch immediately upon the verse, caused by previous pressure of an iron substance thereon, told that this was not the first time the old volume had been used for the purpose.

`Now keep steady, and be silent,' said Bathsheba.

The verse was repeated; the book turned round; Bathsheba blushed guiltily.

`Who did you try?' said Liddy curiously.

`I shall not tell you.'

`Did you notice Mr Boldwood's doings in church this morning, miss?' Liddy continued, adumbrating by the remark the track her thoughts had taken.

`No, indeed,' said Bathsheba, with serene indifference.

`His pew is exactly opposite yours, miss.'

`I know it.'

`And you did not see his goings on!'

`Certainly I did not, I tell you.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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