`She promises that you shall - quite natural,' said the strategic lover, throbbing throughout him at the presumption which Liddy's words appeared to warrant - that his darling had thought of re-marriage.

`No - she doesn't promise it exactly. I merely judge on my own account.'

`Yes, yes, I understand. When she alludes to the possibility of marrying again, you conclude--'

`She never do allude to it, sir,' said Liddy, thinking how very stupid Mr Boldwood was getting.

`Of course not,' he returned hastily, his hope falling again. `You needn't take quite such long reaches with your take, Lydia - short and quick ones are best. Well, perhaps, as she is absolute mistress again now, it is wise of her to resolve never to give up her freedom.

`My mistress did certainly once say, though not seriously, that she supposed she might marry again at the end of seven years from last year, if she cared to risk Mr Troy's coming back and claiming her.'

`Ah, six years from the present time. Said that she might. She might marry at once in every reasonable person's opinion, whatever the lawyers may say to the contrary.

`Have you been to ask them?' said Liddy innocently.

`Not I,' said Boldwood, growing red. `Liddy, you needn't stay here a minute later than you wish, so Mr Oak says. I am now going on little farther. Good-afternoon.'

He went away vexed with himself and ashamed of having for this one time in his life done anything which could be called underhand. Poor Boldwood had no more skill in finesse than a battering-ram and he was uneasy with a sense of having made himself to appear stupid and, what was worse, mean. But he had, after all, lighted upon one fact by way of repayment. It was a singularly fresh and fascinating fact, arid though not without its sadness it was pertinent and real. In little more than six years from this time Bathsheba might certainly marry him. There was something definite in that hope, for admitting that there might have been no deep thought in her words to Liddy about marriage, they showed at least her creed on the matter.

This pleasant notion was now continually in his mind. Six years were a long time, but how much shorter than never, the idea he had for so long been obliged to endure! Jacob had served twice seven years for Rachel: what were six for such a woman as this? He tried to like the notion of waiting for her better than that of winning her at once. Boldwood felt his love to be so deep and strong and eternal, that it was possible she had never yet known its fall volume, and this patience in delay would afford him an opportunity of giving sweet proof on the point. He would annihilate the six years of his life as if they were minutes - so little did he value his time on earth beside her love. He would let her see, all those six years of intangible ethereal courtship, how little care he had for anything but as it bore upon the consummation.

Meanwhile the early and the late summer brought round the week in which Greenhill Fair was held. This fair was frequently attended by the folk of Weatherbury.

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