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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFar From The Madding Crowd - Chapter XXVI - SCENE ON THE VERGE OF THE HAY-MEAD
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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter XXVI - SCENE ON THE VERGE OF THE HAY-MEAD Post by :heype Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Hardy Date :June 2011 Read :2404

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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter XXVI - SCENE ON THE VERGE OF THE HAY-MEAD

CHAPTER XXVI - SCENE ON THE VERGE OF THE HAY-MEAD


"AH, Miss Everdene!" said the sergeant, touching his
diminutive cap. "Little did I think it was you I was
speaking to the other night. And yet, if I had reflected,
the "Queen of the Corn-market" (truth is truth at any hour
of the day or night, and I heard you so named in
Casterbridge yesterday), the "Queen of the Corn-market." I
say, could be no other woman. I step across now to beg your
forgiveness a thousand times for having been led by my
feelings to express myself too strongly for a stranger. To
be sure I am no stranger to the place -- I am Sergeant Troy,
as I told you, and I have assisted your uncle in these
fields no end of times when I was a lad. I have been doing
the same for you today."

"I suppose I must thank you for that, Sergeant Troy," said
the Queen of the Corn-market, in an indifferently grateful
tone.

The sergeant looked hurt and sad. "Indeed you must not,
Miss Everdene," he said. "Why could you think such a thing
necessary?"

"I am glad it is not."

"Why? if I may ask without offence."

"Because I don't much want to thank you for anything."

"I am afraid I have made a hole with my tongue that my heart
will never mend. O these intolerable times: that ill-luck
should follow a man for honestly telling a woman she is
beautiful! 'Twas the most I said -- you must own that; and
the least I could say -- that I own myself."

"There is some talk I could do without more easily than
money."

"Indeed. That remark is a sort of digression."

"No. It means that I would rather have your room than your
company."

"And I would rather have curses from you than kisses from
any other woman; so I'll stay here."

Bathsheba was absolutely speechless. And yet she could not
help feeling that the assistance he was rendering forbade a
harsh repulse.

"Well," continued Troy, "I suppose there is a praise which
is rudeness, and that may be mine. At the same time there
is a treatment which is injustice, and that may be yours.
Because a plain blunt man, who has never been taught
concealment, speaks out his mind without exactly intending
it, he's to be snapped off like the son of a sinner."

"Indeed there's no such case between us," she said, turning
away. "I don't allow strangers to be bold and impudent --
even in praise of me."

"Ah -- it is not the fact but the method which offends you,"
he said, carelessly. "But I have the sad satisfaction of
knowing that my words, whether pleasing or offensive, are
unmistakably true. Would you have had me look at you, and
tell my acquaintance that you are quite a common-place
woman, to save you the embarrassment of being stared at if
they come near you? Not I. I couldn't tell any such
ridiculous lie about a beauty to encourage a single woman in
England in too excessive a modesty."

"It is all pretence -- what you are saying!" exclaimed
Bathsheba, laughing in spite of herself at the sly method.
"You have a rare invention, Sergeant Troy. Why couldn't you
have passed by me that night, and said nothing? -- that was
all I meant to reproach you for."

"Because I wasn't going to. Half the pleasure of a feeling
lies in being able to express it on the spur of the moment,
and I let out mine. It would have been just the same if you
had been the reverse person -- ugly and old -- I should have
exclaimed about it in the same way."

"How long is it since you have been so afflicted with strong
feeling, then?"

"Oh, ever since I was big enough to know loveliness from
deformity."

"'Tis to be hoped your sense of the difference you speak of
doesn't stop at faces, but extends to morals as well."

"I won't speak of morals or religion -- my own or anybody
else's. Though perhaps I should have been a very good
Christian if you pretty women hadn't made me an idolater."

Bathsheba moved on to hide the irrepressible dimplings of
merriment. Troy followed, whirling his crop.

"But -- Miss Everdene -- you do forgive me?"

"Hardly."

"Why?"

"You say such things."

"I said you were beautiful, and I'll say so still; for, by --
so you are! The most beautiful ever I saw, or may I fall
dead this instant! Why, upon my ----"

"Don't -- don't! I won't listen to you -- you are so
profane!" she said, in a restless state between distress at
hearing him and a PENCHANT to hear more.

"I again say you are a most fascinating woman. There's
nothing remarkable in my saying so, is there? I'm sure the
fact is evident enough. Miss Everdene, my opinion may be
too forcibly let out to please you, and, for the matter of
that, too insignificant to convince you, but surely it is
honest, and why can't it be excused?"

"Because it -- it isn't a correct one," she femininely
murmured.

"Oh, fie -- fie! Am I any worse for breaking the third of
that Terrible Ten than you for breaking the ninth?"

"Well, it doesn't seem QUITE true to me that I am
fascinating," she replied evasively.

"Not so to you: then I say with all respect that, if so, it
is owing to your modesty, Miss Everdene. But surely you
must have been told by everybody of what everybody notices?
and you should take their words for it."

"They don't say so exactly."

"Oh yes, they must!"

"Well, I mean to my face, as you do," she went on, allowing
herself to be further lured into a conversation that
intention had rigorously forbidden.

"But you know they think so?"

"No -- that is -- I certainly have heard Liddy say they do,
but ----" She paused.

Capitulation -- that was the purport of the simple reply,
guarded as it was -- capitulation, unknown to her-self.
Never did a fragile tailless sentence convey a more perfect
meaning. The careless sergeant smiled within himself, and
probably too the devil smiled from a loop-hole in Tophet,
for the moment was the turning-point of a career. Her tone
and mien signified beyond mistake that the seed which was to
lift the foundation had taken root in the chink: the
remainder was a mere question of time and natural changes.

"There the truth comes out!" said the soldier, in reply.
"Never tell me that a young lady can live in a buzz of
admiration without knowing something about it. Ah, well,
Miss Everdene, you are -- pardon my blunt way -- you are
rather an injury to our race than other-wise."

"How -- indeed?" she said, opening her eyes.

"Oh, it is true enough. I may as well be hung for a sheep
as a lamb (an old country saying, not of much account, but
it will do for a rough soldier), and so I will speak my
mind, regardless of your pleasure, and without hoping or
intending to get your pardon. Why, Miss Everdene, it is in
this manner that your good looks may do more harm than good
in the world." The sergeant looked down the mead in
critical abstraction. "Probably some one man on an average
falls in love, with each ordinary woman. She can marry him:
he is content, and leads a useful life. Such women as you a
hundred men always covet -- your eyes will bewitch scores on
scores into an unavailing fancy for you -- you can only
marry one of that many. Out of these say twenty will
endeavour to drown the bitterness of despised love in drink;
twenty more will mope away their lives without a wish or
attempt to make a mark in he world, because they have no
ambition apart from their attachment to you; twenty more --
the susceptible person myself possibly among them -- will be
always draggling after you, getting where they may just see
you, doing desperate things. Men are such constant fools!
The rest may try to get over their passion with more or less
success. But all these men will be saddened. And not only
those ninety-nine men, but the ninety-nine women they might
have married are saddened with them. There's my tale.
That's why I say that a woman so charming as yourself, Miss
Everdene, is hardly a blessing to her race."

The handsome sergeant's features were during this speech as
rigid and stern as John Knox's in addressing his gay young
queen.

Seeing she made no reply, he said, "Do you read French?"

"No; I began, but when I got to the verbs, father died," she
said simply.

"I do -- when I have an opportunity, which latterly has not
been often (my mother was a Parisienne) -- and there's a
proverb they have, QUI AIME BIEN CHATIE BIEN -- 'He chastens
who loves well.' Do you understand me?"

"Ah!" she replied, and there was even a little tremulousness
in the usually cool girl's voice; "if you can only fight
half as winningly as you can talk, you are able to make a
pleasure of a bayonet wound!" And then poor Bathsheba
instantly perceived her slip in making this admission: in
hastily trying to retrieve it, she went from bad to worse.
"Don't, however, suppose that I derive any pleasure from
what you tell me."

"I know you do not -- I know it perfectly," said Troy, with
much hearty conviction on the exterior of his face: and
altering the expression to moodiness; "when a dozen men are
ready to speak tenderly to you, and give the admiration you
deserve without adding the warning you need, it stands to
reason that my poor rough-and-ready mixture of praise and
blame cannot convey much pleasure. Fool as I may be, I am
not so conceited as to suppose that!"

"I think you -- are conceited, nevertheless," said
Bathsheba, looking askance at a reed she was fitfully
pulling with one hand, having lately grown feverish under
the soldier's system of procedure -- not because the nature
of his cajolery was entirely unperceived, but because its
vigour was overwhelming.

"I would not own it to anybody else -- nor do I exactly to
you. Still, there might have been some self-conceit in my
foolish supposition the other night. I knew that what I
said in admiration might be an opinion too often forced upon
you to give any pleasure but I certainly did think that the
kindness of your nature might prevent you judging an
uncontrolled tongue harshly -- which you have done -- and
thinking badly of me and wounding me this morning, when I am
working hard to save your hay."

"Well, you need not think more of that: perhaps you did not
mean to be rude to me by speaking out your mind: indeed, I
believe you did not," said the shrewd woman, in painfully
innocent earnest. "And I thank you for giving help here.
But -- but mind you don't speak to me again in that way, or
in any other, unless I speak to you."

"Oh, Miss Bathsheba! That is too hard!"

"No, it isn't. Why is it?"

"You will never speak to me; for I shall not be here long.
I am soon going back again to the miserable monotony of
drill -- and perhaps our regiment will be ordered out soon.
And yet you take away the one little ewe-lamb of pleasure
that I have in this dull life of mine. Well, perhaps
generosity is not a woman's most marked characteristic."

"When are you going from here?" she asked, with some
interest.

"In a month."

"But how can it give you pleasure to speak to me?"

"Can you ask Miss Everdene -- knowing as you do -- what my
offence is based on?"

"If you do care so much for a silly trifle of that kind,
then, I don't mind doing it," she uncertainly and doubtingly
answered. "But you can't really care for a word from me?
you only say so -- I think you only say so."

"That's unjust -- but I won't repeat the remark. I am too
gratified to get such a mark of your friendship at any price
to cavil at the tone. I DO Miss Everdene, care for it. You
may think a man foolish to want a mere word -- just a good
morning. Perhaps he is -- I don't know. But you have never
been a man looking upon a woman, and that woman yourself."

"Well."

"Then you know nothing of what such an experience is like --
and Heaven forbid that you ever should!"

"Nonsense, flatterer! What is it like? I am interested in
knowing."

"Put shortly, it is not being able to think, hear, or look
in any direction except one without wretchedness, nor there
without torture."

"Ah, sergeant, it won't do -- you are pretending!" she said,
shaking her head. "Your words are too dashing to be true."

"I am not, upon the honour of a soldier."

"But WHY is it so? -- Of course I ask for mere pastime."

"Because you are so distracting -- and I am so distracted."

"You look like it."

"I am indeed."

"Why, you only saw me the other night!"

"That makes no difference. The lightning works
instantaneously. I loved you then, at once -- as I do now."

Bathsheba surveyed him curiously, from the feet upward, as
high as she liked to venture her glance, which was not quite
so high as his eyes.

"You cannot and you don't," she said demurely. "There is no
such sudden feeling in people. I won't listen to you any
longer. Hear me, I wish I knew what o'clock it is -- I am
going -- I have wasted too much time here already!"

The sergeant looked at his watch and told her. "What,
haven't you a watch, miss?" he inquired.

"I have not just at present -- I am about to get a new one."

"No. You shall be given one. Yes -- you shall. A gift,
Miss Everdene -- a gift."

And before she knew what the young man was intending, a
heavy gold watch was in her hand.

"It is an unusually good one for a man like me to possess,"
he quietly said. "That watch has a history. Press the
spring and open the back."

She did so.

"What do you see?"

"A crest and a motto."

"A coronet with five points, and beneath, CEDIT AMOR REBUS --
"Love yields to circumstance." It's the motto of the Earls
of Severn. That watch belonged to the last lord, and was
given to my mother's husband, a medical man, for his use
till I came of age, when it was to be given to me. It was
all the fortune that ever I inherited. That watch has
regulated imperial interests in its time -- the stately
ceremonial, the courtly assignation, pompous travels, and
lordly sleeps. Now it is yours.

"But, Sergeant Troy, I cannot take this -- I cannot!" she
exclaimed, with round-eyed wonder. "A gold watch! What are
you doing? Don't be such a dissembler!"

The sergeant retreated to avoid receiving back his gift,
which she held out persistently towards him. Bathsheba
followed as he retired.

"Keep it -- do, Miss Everdene -- keep it!" said the erratic
child of impulse. "The fact of your possessing it makes it
worth ten times as much to me. A more plebeian one will
answer my purpose just as well, and the pleasure of knowing
whose heart my old one beats against -- well, I won't speak
of that. It is in far worthier hands than ever it has been
in before."

"But indeed I can't have it!" she said, in a perfect simmer
of distress. "Oh, how can you do such a thing; that is if
you really mean it! Give me your dead father's watch, and
such a valuable one! You should not be so reckless, indeed,
Sergeant Troy!"

"I loved my father: good; but better, I love you more.
That's how I can do it," said the sergeant, with an
intonation of such exquisite fidelity to nature that it was
evidently not all acted now. Her beauty, which, whilst it
had been quiescent, he had praised in jest, had in its
animated phases moved him to earnest; and though his
seriousness was less than she imagined, it was probably more
than he imagined himself.

Bathsheba was brimming with agitated bewilderment, and she
said, in half-suspicious accents of feeling, "Can it be! Oh,
how can it be, that you care for me, and so suddenly! You
have seen so little of me: I may not be really so -- so
nice-looking as I seem to you. Please, do take it; Oh, do!
I cannot and will not have it. Believe me, your generosity
is too great. I have never done you a single kindness, and
why should you be so kind to me?"

A factitious reply had been again upon his lips, but it was
again suspended, and he looked at her with an arrested eye.
The truth was, that as she now stood -- excited, wild, and
honest as the day -- her alluring beauty bore out so fully
the epithets he had bestowed upon it that he was quite
startled at his temerity in advancing them as false. He
said mechanically, "Ah, why?" and continued to look at her.

"And my workfolk see me following you about the field, and
are wondering. Oh, this is dreadful!" she went on,
unconscious of the transmutation she was effecting.

"I did not quite mean you to accept it at first, for it was
my one poor patent of nobility," he broke out, bluntly;
"but, upon my soul, I wish you would now. Without any
shamming, come! Don't deny me the happiness of wearing it
for my sake? But you are too lovely even to care to be kind
as others are."

"No, no; don't say so! I have reasons for reserve which I
cannot explain."

"Let it be, then, let it be," he said, receiving back the
watch at last; "I must be leaving you now. And will you
speak to me for these few weeks of my stay?"

"Indeed I will. Yet, I don't know if I will! Oh, why did
you come and disturb me so!"

"Perhaps in setting a gin, I have caught myself. Such
things have happened. Well, will you let me work in your
fields?" he coaxed.

"Yes, I suppose so; if it is any pleasure to you."

"Miss Everdene, I thank you."

"No, no."

"Good-bye!"

The sergeant brought his hand to the cap on the slope of his
head, saluted, and returned to the distant group of
haymakers.

Bathsheba could not face the haymakers now. Her heart
erratically flitting hither and thither from perplexed
excitement, hot, and almost tearful, she retreated homeward,
murmuring, Oh, what have I done! What does it mean! I wish I
knew how much of it was true!

Content of CHAPTER XXVI - SCENE ON THE VERGE OF THE HAY-MEAD (Thomas Hardy's novel: Far From The Madding Crowd)

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