`I hardly think you will. Stop a moment,' and Coggan stepped round the corner of the porch to consult Oak.

`Who's t'other man, then?' said Mrs Tall.

`Only a friend,' said Coggan.

`Say he's wanted to meet mistress near church-hatch to-morrow morning at ten,' said Oak, in a whisper. `That he must come without fail, and wear his best clothes.'

`The clothes will floor us as safe as houses!' said Coggan.

`It can't be helped,' said Oak. `Tell her.'

So Coggan delivered the message. `Mind, het or wet, blow or snow, he must come,' added Jan. `'Tis very particular, indeed. The fact is, 'tis to witness her sign some law-work about taking shares wi' another farmer for a long span o' years. There, that's what 'tis, and now I've told 'ee, Mother Tall, in a way I shouldn't ha' done if I hadn't loved 'ee so hopeless well.'

Coggan retired before she could ask any further; and next they called at the vicar's in a manner which excited no curiosity at all. Then Gabriel went home, and prepared for the morrow.

`Liddy,' said Bathsheba, on going to bed that night, `I want you to call me at seven o'clock to-morrow, in case I shouldn't wake.'

`But you always do wake afore then, ma'am.'

`Yes, but I have something important to do, which I'll tell you of when the time comes, and it's best to make sure.'

Bathsheba, however, awoke voluntarily at four, nor could she by any contrivance get to sleep again. About six, being quite positive that her watch had stopped during the night, she could wait no longer. She went and tapped at Liddy's door, and after some labour awoke her.

`But I thought it was I who had to call you?' said the bewildered Liddy. `And it isn't six yet.'

`Indeed it is; how can you tell such a story, Liddy! I know it must be ever so much past seven. Come to my room as soon as you can; I want you to give my hair a good brushing.'

When Liddy came to Bathsheba's room her mistress was already waiting. Liddy could not understand this extraordinary promptness. `Whatever is going on, ma'am?' she said.

`Well, I'll tell you,' said Bathsheba, with a mischievous smile in her bright eyes. `Farmer Oak is coming here to dine with me to-day!'

`Farmer Oak - and nobody else? - you two alone?'


`But is it safe, ma'am, after what's been said?' asked her companion, dubiously. `A woman's good name is such a perishable article that--'

Bathsheba laughed with a flushed cheek, and whispered in Liddy's ear, although there was nobody present. Then Liddy stared and exclaimed, `Souls alive, what news! It makes my heart go quite bumpity-bump!'

`It makes mine rather furious, too,' said Bathsheba. `However, there's no getting out of it now!'

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