`At any rate, the large ones upon the stone staddles?'

`They are not.'

`Them under the hedge?'

`No. I forgot to tell the thatcher to set about it.'

`Nor the little one by the stile?'

`Nor the little one by the stile. I overlooked the ricks this year.'

`Then not a tenth of your corn will come to measure, sir.'

`Possibly not.'

`Overlooked them,' repeated Gabriel slowly to himself. It is difficult to describe the intensely dramatic effect that announcement had upon Oak at such a moment. All the night he had been feeling that the neglect he was labouring to repair was abnormal and isolated - the only instance of the kind within the circuit of the county. Yet at this very time, within the same parish, a greater waste had been going on, uncomplained of and disregarded. A few months earlier Boldwood's forgetting his husbandry would have been as preposterous an idea as a sailor forgetting he was in a ship. Oak was just thinking that whatever he himself might have suffered from Bathsheba's marriage, here was a man who had suffered more, when Boldwood spoke in a changed voice - that of one who yearned to make a confidence and relieve his heart by an outpouring.

`Oak, you know as well as I that things have gone wrong with me lately. I may as well own it. I was going to get a little settled in life, but in some way my plan has come to nothing.'

`I thought my mistress would have married you,' said Gabriel, not knowing enough of the fill depths of Boldwood's love to keep silence on the farmer's account, and determined not to evade discipline by doing so on his own. `However, it is so sometimes, and nothing happens that we expect,' he added, with the repose of a man whom misfortune had inured rather than subdued.

`I daresay I am a joke about the parish,' said Boldwood, as if the subject came irresistibly to his tongue, and with a miserable lightness meant to express his indifference.

`O no - I don't think that.'

` - But the real truth of the matter is that there was not, as some fancy, any jilting on - her part. No engagement ever existed between me and Miss Everdene. People say so, but it is untrue, she never promised me!' Boldwood stood still now and turned his wild face to Oak, `O, Gabriel,' he continued, `I am weak and foolish, and I don't know what, and I can't fend off my miserable grief. I had some faint belief in the mercy of God till I lost that woman. Yes, He prepared a gourd to shade me, and like the prophet I thanked Him and was glad. But the next day He prepared a worm to smite the gourd and wither it; and I feel it is better to die than to live!'

A silence followed. Boldwood aroused himself from the momentary mood of confidence into which he had drifted, and walked on again, resuming his usual reserve.

`No, Gabriel,' he resumed, with a carelessness which was like the simile on the countenance of a skull: `it was made more of by other people than ever it was by us. I do feel a little regret occasionally, but no woman ever had power over me for any length of time. Well, good morning; I can trust you not to mention to others what has passed between us two here.

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