`Are you a woman?'
`A lady, I should have said.'
`It doesn't matter.'
`I am a man.
Bathsheba softly tugged again, but to no purpose.
`Is that a dark lantern you have? I fancy so,' said the man.
`If you'll allow me I'll open it, and set you free.'
A hand seized the lantern, the door was opened, the rays burst out from their prison, and Bathsheba beheld her position with astonishment.
The man to whom she was hooked was brilliant in brass and scarlet. He was a soldier. His sudden appearance was to darkness what the sound of a trumpet is to silence. Gloom, the genius loci at all times hitherto, was now totally overthrown, less by the lantern-light than by what the lantern lighted. The contrast of this revelation with her anticipations of some sinister figure in sombre garb was so great that it had upon her the effect of a fairy transformation.
It was immediately apparent that the military man's spur had become entangled in the gimp which decorated the skirt of her dregs. He caught a view of her face.
`I'll unfasten you in one moment, miss,' he said, with new-born gallantry.
`O no - I can do it, thank you,' she hastily replied, and stooped for the performance.
The unfastening was not such a trifling affair. The rowel of the spur had so wound itself among the gimp cords in those few moments, that separation was likely to be a matter of time.
He too stooped, and the lantern standing on the ground betwixt them threw the gleam from its open side among the fir-tree needles and the blades of long damp grass with the effect of a large glowworm. It radiated upwards into their faces, and sent over half the plantation gigantic shadows of both man and woman, each dusky shape becoming distorted and mangled upon the tree-trunks till it wasted to nothing.
He looked hard into her eyes when she raised them for a moment; Bathsheba looked down again, for his gaze was too strong to be received point-blank with her own. But she had obliquely noticed that he was young and slim, and that he wore three chevrons upon his sleeve.
Bathsheba pulled again.
`You are a prisoner, miss; it is no use blinking the matter,' said the soldier drily. `I must cut your dress if you are in such a hurry.'
`Yes - please do!' she exclaimed helplessly.
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