`Hear it? What do you think I have to say, then? I am not to marry you, and that's enough. Your letter was excellently plain. I want you to hear nothing - not I.'

Bathsheba was unable to direct her will into any definite groove for freeing herself from this fearfully awkward position. She confusedly said, `Good evening,' and was moving on. Boldwood walked up to her heavily and dully.

`Bathsheba - darling - is it final indeed?'

`Indeed it is.'

`O Bathsheba - have pity upon me!' Boldwood burst out. `God's sake, yes - I am come to that low, lowest stage - to ask a woman for pity! Still, she is you - she is you.'

Bathsheba commanded herself well. But she could hardly get a clear voice for what came instinctively to her lips: `There is little honour to the woman in that speech.' It was only whispered, for something unutterably mournful no less than distressing in this spectacle of a man showing himself to be so entirely the vane of a passion enervated the feminine instinct for punctilios.

`I am beyond myself about this, and am mad,' he said. `I am no stoic at all to be supplicating here; but I do supplicate to you. I wish you knew what is in me of devotion to you; but it is impossible, that. In bare human mercy to a lonely man, don't throw me off now!'

`I don't throw you off - indeed, how can I? I never had you.' In her noon-clear sense that she had never loved him she forgot for a moment her thoughtless angle on that day in February.

`But there was a time when you turned to me, before I thought of you! I don't reproach you, for even now I feel that the ignorant and cold darkness that I should have lived in if you had not attracted me by that letter - valentine you call it - would have been worse than my knowledge of you, though it has brought this misery. But, I say, there was a time when I knew nothing of you, and cared nothing for you, and yet you drew me on. And if you say you gave me no encouragement, I cannot but contradict you.'

`What you call encouragement was the childish game of an idle minute. I have bitterly repented of it - ay, bitterly, and in tears. Can you still go on reminding me?'

`I don't accuse you of it - I deplore it. I took for earnest what you insist was jest, and now this that I pray to be jest you say is awful, wretched earnest. Our moods meet at wrong places. I wish your feeling was more like mine, or my feeling more like yours! O, could I but have foreseen the torture that trifling trick was going to lead me into, how I should have cursed you; but only having been able to see it since, I cannot do that, for I love you too well! But it is weak, idle drivelling to go on like this... Bathsheba, you are the first woman of any shade or nature that I have ever looked at to love, and it is the having been so near claiming you for my own that makes this denial so hard to bear. How nearly you promised me! But I don't speak now to move your heart, and make you grieve because of my pain; it is no use, that. I must bear it; my pain would get no less by paining you.'

`But I do pity you - deeply - O, so deeply!' she earnestly said.

`Do no such thing - do no such thing. Your dear love, Bathsheba, is such a vast thing beside your pity, that the loss of your pity as well as your love is no great addition to my sorrow, nor does the gain of your pity make it sensibly less. O sweet - how dearly you spoke to me behind the spear-bed at the washing- pool, and in the barn at the shearing, and that dearest last time in the evening at your home! Where are your pleasant words all gone - your earnest hope to be able to love me? Where is your firm conviction that you would get to care for me very much? Really forgotten? - really?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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