`He's not a wild scamp! How dare you to my face! I have no right to hate him, nor you, nor anybody. But I am a silly woman! What is it to me what he is? You know it is nothing. I don't care for him; I don't mean to defend his good name, not I. Mind this, if any of you say a word against him you'll be dismissed instantly!'

She flung down the letter and surged back into the parlour, with a big heart and tearful eyes, Liddy following her.

`O miss!' said mild Liddy, looking pitifully into Bathsheba's face. `I am sorry we mistook you so! I did think you cared for him; but I see you don't now.

`Shut the door, Liddy.'

Liddy closed the door, and went on: `People always say such foolery, miss. I'll make answer hencefor'ard, "Of course a lady like Miss Everdene can't love him", I'll say it out in plain black and white.'

Bathsheba burst out: `O Liddy, are you such a simpleton? Can't you read riddles? Can't you see? Are you a woman yourself?'

Liddy's clear eyes rounded with wonderment.

`Yes, you must be a blind thing, Liddy!' she said in reckless abandonment and grief. `O, I love him to very distraction and misery and agony! Don't be frightened at me, though perhaps I am enough to frighten any innocent woman. Come closer - closer.' She put her arms round Liddy's neck. `I must let it out to somebody; it is wearing me away! Don't you yet know enough of me to see through that miserable denial of mine? O God, what a lie it was! Heaven and my love forgive me. And don't you know that a woman who loves at all thinks nothing of perjury when it is balanced against her love? There, go out of the room; I want to be quite alone.'

Liddy went towards the door.

`Liddy, come here. Solemnly swear to me that he's not a fast man; that it is all lies they say about him!'

`But, miss, how can I say he is not if--'

`You graceless girl! How can you have the cruel heart to repeat what they say? Unfeeling thing that you are... But I'll see if you or anybody else in the village, or town either, dare do such a thing!' She started off pacing from fireplace to door, and back again.

`No, miss. I don't - I know it is not true!' said Liddy frightened at Bathsheba's unwonted vehemence.

`I suppose you only agree with me like that to please me. But Liddy, he cannot be bad, as is said. Do you hear?'

`Yes, miss, yes.'

`And you don't believe he is?'

`I don't know what to say, miss,' said Liddy, beginning to cry. `If I say No, you don't believe me; and if I say Yes, you rage at me!'

`Say you don't believe it - say you don't!'

`I don't believe him to be so bad as they make out.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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