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Far From The Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy

Words, you might not know:

shepherd, rick


Chapter one

Gabriel Oak


Farmer Gabriel Oak was a quiet, sensible man. He was twenty-eight years old and unmarried. And he was a man of good character. On Sundays, he went to church and prayed. During the week, he worked in the fields of his farm.

On a sunny morning in December, Gabriel Oak walked across his field on Norcombe Hill, in the county of Wessex. He looked towards the road which went between Emminster and Chalk-Newton and saw a bright yellow wagon. Two horses were pulling the heavy wagon slowly along the road. The driver was walking beside the wagon, which was loaded with furniture. A woman was sitting on top of the furniture. She was young and very attractive.

Suddenly, the driver called to her. 'Something has fallen off the wagon, miss! I'll go back and get it.'

The young woman waited quietly. She did not get down from the wagon to help the driver. After several minutes, she looked back to see if the wagon driver was returning. He was not, so she opened a small package that was beside her. She took a mirror from the package and held it up to her face. As she looked in the mirror, she smiled.

The sun shone down on to the woman's red jacket, her pretty face and her dark hair. Gabriel Oak watched her and smiled. The girl did not touch her hat, or her hair. She simply looked at herself and smiled. Then she heard the wagon driver returning to the wagon. She put the mirror into the package and waited for him to drive the horses forward.

When the wagon moved on, Gabriel Oak followed it to the tollgate. As he came nearer to the wagon, Oak heard the driver arguing with the man at the gate.

'The toll is two pence,' said the gatekeeper. 'But this wagon is large. You must pay two pence extra.'

But the young woman would not pay the extra money.

Oak thought that two pence was too small an amount to argue about. He held out two pennies to the gatekeeper.

'Take this and let the young woman go through,' he said.

The young woman looked down at Oak. She did not thank him, but she told her driver to go on. Oak and the gatekeeper watched her as the wagon passed.

'She's a handsome woman,' said the gatekeeper.

'That's true,' said Oak. 'But unfortunately, she knows it.'

It was nearly midnight on 21st December, the shortest day of the year. There were no clouds in the dark sky and the stars were shining brightly. A cold wind was blowing, but it was not the sound of the wind that travellers could hear on Norcombe Hill. It was the sound of music. The music came from a little wooden shepherd's hut that belonged to Gabriel Oak. Inside the hut, Gabriel was playing a happy tune on his flute. The hut was on wheels and it gave shelter for the shepherd in the winter and early spring. He stayed in the hut while he cared for his sheep. At this time of the year, the sheep were giving birth to their lambs. It was warm and comfortable inside the hut. Oak had a small stove to keep him warm. And he had some bread, cheese and beer.

Oak's father had been a shepherd and he had taught Gabriel all that he knew about sheep. Now the young man had two hundred sheep, two sheepdogs, and a farm of his own. He had not yet paid for the sheep, and it was important to guard the sheep and their young lambs during the night.

After a few minutes, Oak stopped playing his flute, picked up a lamp, and went outside. As he moved around the field, he held the light high and looked at each sheep. Twenty minutes later, he returned to the hut with a new-born lamb.

It was weak and cold. After an hour in the warm hut, the lamb became stronger. Oak took the little lamb back outside and left it with its mother.

Suddenly, he saw a light shining in a field next to his own farm. Lamplight was coming from a cowshed that was built into the side of the hill. Oak walked down the hill until he stood above the roof of the wooden building. He looked through a hole in the roof.

Inside the cowshed, two women were sitting beside a cow and its young calf. A lamp was standing on the floor of the cowshed. The soft yellow light shone on the women and the animals. One woman was about fifty years old. The other was younger, but she was wearing a cloak which hid her face.

'We can go home now,' said the older woman. 'I hope that the cows will be all right.'

'If we were rich, we could pay a man to do these things,' said the younger woman.

'Well we aren't rich, so we must do the work ourselves,' said the older woman. 'And you must help me, if you stay on the farm.'

'Aunt, I've lost my hat,' said the younger woman. 'The wind blew it into the next field.'

Suddenly the cloak fell back from the young woman's head and Oak saw her long black hair and her red jacket. Oak recognized her at once. It was the young woman who had been in the yellow wagon. The young woman who liked to look at herself in the mirror. The young woman who owed him two pence.

The two women put the calf next to its mother. Then they picked up their lamp and went out of the hut and down the hill. Oak went back to his sheep.

When it began to get light, Oak remembered the girl's lost hat. He went to look for it in his field. He found the hat under a hedge and took it back to his hut.

Later in the morning, Oak saw the young woman on the road. He was surprised. She was riding her horse like a man. She did not ride sidesaddle, like a lady. She had pulled up her long skirt and each of her legs were down the sides of the horse. He smiled and watched her ride away down the hill.

An hour later, the young woman returned. She was riding sidesaddle now. Oak got the hat from his hut and stepped onto the road in front of her.

'I found a hat, miss,' he said. And he held it up towards her.

'It's mine,' she said. She smiled and took the hat. 'It flew off my head in the wind last night.'

'At one o'clock this morning?'

'Yes, how did you know that?' she asked.

'I was here, with my sheep.'

'You're Farmer Oak,' she said.

'Yes,' he said. 'And I saw you again, about an hour ago.'

Her face became red. She was remembering her ride down the hill. He had seen her riding astride, like a man! Oak turned away. He had not wanted to embarrass her.

When he turned back, she was gone.

Five mornings and evenings went by. The young woman came to the cowshed to take care of the cows which had new-born calves. But she did not speak to Oak. He watched her each day, and his heart ached.

Then one evening he was very tired. He came back to his shepherd's hut and shut the door. It was a cold night and he was pleased to be near the warm stove. But he forgot to open one of the little windows. It was important to do this when a fire was burning in the stove and the door was shut. In a few minutes, Oak fell asleep.

When Oak opened his eyes again, his head was aching. He looked up and saw the face of the young woman. His head was in her arms and she was opening the top of his shirt.

'What's the matter?' asked Oak.

'Nothing now,' she replied. 'But you could have died. You forgot to open a window.'

'Oh,' said Oak. He wanted to stay with his head in her arms forever, but she made him sit up.

'I heard your dog barking,' she told him. 'It was trying to open the door of the hut. I came to see what was wrong.'

'You saved my life, miss,' said Oak. 'But - but I don't know your name. I know your aunt's name. It's Mrs Hurst. But I don't know yours.'

'You don't have to know my name,' she replied. 'And I don't like it.'

'You'll soon get a new name, when you marry.'

'Well, Farmer Oak!' she said. 'Do you always speak so - so - plainly?'

'I'm sorry, miss,' said Oak. 'I did not mean to be rude. I'm not clever with words. I'm a plain man and I speak plainly and honestly. But I do thank you. Please, let me shake your hand.

Oak held the young woman's hand in his own. 'How soft it is,' he said quietly.

'You're thinking, "I would like to kiss her hand",' she said. 'Well, you can if you want to.' 'I wasn't thinking that at all, but -' 'Then you won't!' she said. And she pulled her hand away. 'Now you must find out my name,' she said, laughing. And she went away.


Chapter two



Oak learnt that the young woman's name was Bathsheba Everdene. And he realized that he was in love. He thought about her all the time. He thought about her face, her hair, her soft hands. He said her name - 'Bathsheba!' - again and again.

'I must marry her!' he said to himself. 'She must be my wife, or I'll not be good for anything again!'

When Bathsheba no longer visited the cowshed, he went to her aunt's house. He knocked at the door of the farmhouse and Mrs Hurst opened the door.

'Mr Oak!' she said.

'Can I see Miss Everdene?' said Oak. 'I've brought a lamb for her to care for. Its mother died. Girls sometimes like to take care of a lamb.'

'Well, I don't know,' said Mrs Hurst. 'Bathsheba is only a visitor here. She won't be staying long on my farm. And she's not here at the moment. Do you want to wait for her?'

'Yes, I'll wait,' said Oak and he sat in a chair. 'The lamb isn't the real reason I came here, Mrs Hurst. I want to ask Miss Everdene if she would like to be married. I would be very happy to marry her. Do you know if there are any other young men who want to marry her?'

'Oh, yes!' said Mrs Hurst. 'It's not surprising, because she's so pretty and so clever. The young men never come here, of course. But there are ten or more young men who want to marry her.'

'Oh, then I won't wait,' said Oak. 'I'm only an ordinary man. My best chance" was to be the first man to propose to her.'

He was walking back across the fields, when he heard someone give a shout. He turned round and saw Bathsheba running after him.

'Farmer Oak!' she called. She stopped in front of him, breathing fast. 'My aunt made a mistake,' she said. 'There aren't any other young men who have proposed to me.'

'Is this true?' said Oak. 'I'm very happy to hear that!'

He held out his hand, but she quickly put her own hand behind her back.

'I have a nice little farmhouse and some good fields,' he went on. 'I haven't paid for the farm yet. But when we're married -'

'Farmer Oak,' Bathsheba said, surprised. 'I never said that I was going to marry you. I only wanted to tell you of my aunt's mistake.'

Oak was disappointed. 'Think about my proposal,' he said softly. 'I'll wait, Miss Everdene. Please, Bathsheba. I love you more than my life!'

'I'll think about what you have said,' she replied. 'Give me time before I must answer.'

'I can make you happy,' he said. 'In a year or two, I will have earned more money. You can have a piano, and a little carriage which you can drive to the market each week.'

'I should like that,' she said.

'We'll be comfortable and happy in our home. And I'll be there, by the fire, whenever you look up. And whenever I look up, there you will be...'

Bathsheba was silent for a few minutes, and he watched her.

Then she said, 'No, I don't want to marry you, Farmer Oak. A wedding in a church would be nice, and people would say nice things about me. But a husband -'

'Yes?' said Oak quickly.

'A husband would always be there,' she said. 'If I could have a wedding without having a husband . . . but I can't. So I won't marry anyone, not yet.'

'What a stupid thing to say!' said Oak. 'But my dear, why won't you marry me?'

'Because I don't love you,' she answered.

'But I love you,' said Oak. 'And I will love you and want you, until I die!'

'No, I'm sorry, Mr Oak,' she said. 'We couldn't be happy as man and wife. I'm too independent. I need a husband who is a stronger character than me. And I live with my aunt and have no money. You need a woman with money. You need a rich wife who can buy more sheep for your farm and help it to grow.'

'But -' began Oak.

'No - no, I can't marry you,' said Bathsheba. Then she laughed. 'I don't love you. I would be stupid if I married you.'

Oak did not like people laughing at him. 'Then I'll not ask you again,' he said quietly.

It is not easy to stop loving someone. And Oak soon found out that this was true.

A few days after Oak's proposal, Bathsheba went to Weatherbury - which was more than twenty miles away. Had she gone to live in the town, or was she only visiting it? Oak did not know. But his love for Bathsheba grew stronger now that she was further away from him. And then something happened that changed his life.

One night, Oak came back to his house and called his two sheepdogs. But only the older dog came home. Oak did not worry about the younger dog.

'He'll come back soon,' he thought. And he went to bed.

Very early the next morning, as the sky began to get light, Oak woke up suddenly. He had heard the sound of sheep's bells ringing. The sheep were running on the hill and the bells around their necks were ringing loudly. Oak knew that something was wrong. He jumped from his bed and put on his clothes quickly. Then he ran out of the house, down the lane, and onto Norcombe Hill.

Oak had two hundred and fifty sheep. Fifty sheep and their young lambs were in one field. Two hundred pregnant sheep were in a second field. Their lambs were going to be born in a week or two. And these sheep had disappeared.

Oak began to call the sheep. Then he saw that the fence was broken. He ran through the hole in the fence and looked up to the top of the hill. His younger dog was standing there. Suddenly, Oak knew the terrible truth. The young dog had become excited and had chased the sheep.

Oak ran to the top of the hill and looked down. Below the other side of the hill, there was a deep chalk pit.

At the bottom of the pit lay his sheep - two hundred of them. And inside the dead or dying bodies of the sheep, were two hundred unborn lambs.

At first, Oak felt very sorry for the sheep and their lambs. But moments later, he realized that he had lost more than his sheep.

'I'm ruined!' he thought. 'The sheep were not insured, and I have no more money. I cannot buy more sheep.'

The next day, Oak took his gun and shot the young dog.

A bank had given him money so that could buy the sheep. Now he had to sell everything so that he could repay the debt.

'Thank God that I'm not married to Bathsheba,' he thought. 'I've lost everything. I have nothing but the clothes that I'm wearing.'


Chapter three

The Fire


Two months later, Gabriel Oak was at the market in the town of Casterbridge. It was now the month of February.

Oak was at the hiring fair. He wanted to work as a farm manager. But he had been unlucky. No one had hired him. During the morning, he saw a regiment of soldiers leaving the town.

'Should I become a soldier?' Gabriel thought. 'The army would pay me each month. It would give me food, clothes and somewhere to live.'

The next day, Gabriel decided to go to another village which was ten miles on the other side of Weatherbury. He would try to find work there. Perhaps someone would hire him as a shepherd. Gabriel bought a shepherd's crook and then he started walking.

'Is Bathsheba still living in Weatherbury?' he thought.

After he had walked three or four miles, Gabriel saw a wagon standing beneath some trees. There was no horse with the wagon, but there was a large pile of hay on the top of it.

'I'm tired and that hay will make a good, soft bed,' Gabriel thought. He climbed into the wagon and covered himself with hay. He was asleep after only a few minutes.

When Gabriel woke up again, it was dark and the wagon was moving. He could hear men's voices.

'She's not married and she's a very handsome woman,' said one man. 'But she knows that she's pretty.'

The other man gave a short laugh. 'I'm much too shy to look at her,' he said. 'Tell me, Billy Smallbury, does she pay her workers well?'

'I don't know, Joe Poorgrass.'

'Are these men talking about Bathsheba?' thought Gabriel. 'No. The woman they're speaking about is the owner of a farm.'

Gabriel looked at the road they were travelling on. He guessed that the wagon was near Weatherbury now. He jumped down onto the road and climbed over a gate into a field. The two men in the wagon did not see him.

Gabriel had to find a place to sleep for the rest of the night. He began walking. After a few minutes, he saw a strange light about half a mile away. Gabriel watched the light growing bigger and brighter. Something was burning!

Gabriel ran towards the fire and saw that a rick of straw was burning. The powerful flames were reaching across to another rick - a rick of wheat. And past this, there were more wheat-ricks. All the wheat from the farm's fields was kept in these ricks and soon they would be burnt.

Farm workers were running around the farmyard. People were shouting, 'Fire, fire!' But nobody seemed to know what to do. Nobody knew how to put out the flames.

'Quickly! Get a rick-cloth!' shouted Gabriel. 'Make it wet and hang it between the straw-rick and the wheat-rick. The cloth might stop the flames reaching across to the other ricks!'

Some of the men did this. They found a rick-cloth and put it into a pond to make it wet. Then they pulled the wet cloth up onto two tall poles between the ricks.

'Get a ladder!' shouted Gabriel. 'And some buckets of water. Hurry!'

'The ladder that was against the straw-rick was burnt,' shouted a man.

Gabriel quickly climbed to the top of the wheat-rick. He used his hands and feet to pull himself up. Gabriel began to beat the flames which were on the stalks of wheat with his shepherd's crook. He was trying to put out the flames.

Billy Smallbury - one of the men who had been driving the wagon - had found another ladder. He put it against the wheat-rick and climbed- up onto the rick with a bucket of water. He poured the water over Oak's face and clothes to stop the flames burning him.

On the ground, groups of farm workers tried to stop the fire, but they could not do very much.

A dark-haired young woman sat on a horse, away from the heat and smoke. She watched the workers moving around the ricks. Another young woman, one of her maids, stood next to her.

'Who's that man on the rick, Maryann?' asked the young woman.

'He's a shepherd, I think, ma'am,' said the maid.

'Who does he work for?' asked the woman on the horse.

'I don't know, ma'am,' replied Maryann. 'Nobody knows. I've asked many people. He's a stranger.'

The young woman on the horse called to one of the men.

'Jan Coggan! Are the wheat-ricks safe?'

'They're safe now, ma'am,' replied Coggan. 'Thanks to the shepherd.'

'Maryann, go and thank the shepherd for me,' said the woman on the horse.

After about ten minutes, Gabriel Oak climbed down to the ground and Maryann went across to him.

'The farmer wants to thank you,' she told Oak.

'Where is he?' asked Oak. Perhaps there was work for a shepherd here.

'It's not a "he", it's a "she",' said Maryann.

'A woman farmer?'

'Yes, and a rich one, too!' said a villager who was near them. 'Her uncle died a few months ago, and now this farm is hers. She has business in every bank in Casterbridge.'

Oak walked across to the woman on the horse. The flames had burned small holes in his clothes. His face was dirty from the smoke. He took off his hat, and spoke politely. 'Do you want a shepherd, miss?' he asked.

And then he saw the young woman's face more clearly. It was Bathsheba Everdene.

She did not reply, so Oak asked the question again. This time there was sadness in his voice. 'Do you want a shepherd, miss?'

Bathsheba Everdene had almost forgotten Oak's proposal of marriage. But she remembered it now - two months later. She felt a little sorry for Gabriel. But she was pleased for herself. She saw that Gabriel was now a poor man and she had been luckier.

'Yes,' she said, kindly. 'I do want to hire a shepherd.'

'He's the right man, ma'am,' said one of the farm workers.

'Yes, he is!' said a second man.

'Speak to my farm manager, Mr Penny ways,' Bathsheba said to Gabriel. Then she turned her horse and rode away.

Gabriel spoke to Mr Pennyways about his new work as a shepherd. Then he followed the farm workers towards the village. He needed to find a place to live. As he walked, Gabriel thought about Bathsheba. She was not the young girl that he remembered. She was a farm owner now.

Gabriel reached an old tree. Beside the tree, there was a churchyard which was surrounded by old trees. Suddenly he saw a young woman standing beneath one of the trees.

'Is this the right way to the village?' he asked her.

'Yes,' she replied with a sweet, low voice. 'Are you a stranger in Weatherbury?'

'Yes,' said Gabriel. 'I'm the new shepherd. I've just arrived.'

'You're only a shepherd? Oh, I thought that you were a farmer.' She spoke quietly and sadly. 'Please don't tell anyone in the village that you've seen me. I don't want them to know about me.'

Gabriel felt sorry for the sad young woman. He gave her a little money before he went on.


Chapter four

A Valentine


Gabriel Oak went to an inn called Warren's Malthouse.

There, he found other farm workers drinking beer.

'Come in shepherd!' said one of the men, when he saw Gabriel at the door. 'You're welcome in Weatherbury, although we don't know your name.'

'My name is Gabriel Oak,' he told them, and sat down.

'Tell me, is Miss Everdene a good employer?'

'We don't know,' said Jan Coggan. 'She came here a few days ago, after her uncle died. She owns his farm now, and she's going to keep it.'

'I need somewhere to stay,' said Gabriel. 'Does anyone have a room in a cottage that I can pay for?'

Jan Coggan told Gabriel that he could stay in his home, and the two men left the inn together.

Another farm worker - Henery Fray - also went out of the inn at the same time. But he returned minutes later, looking very excited.

'I've just heard some news about Pennyways,' he said. 'Miss Everdene caught him stealing wheat. She's sent him away!'

Everyone began to talk about Pennyways - Miss Everdene's dishonest farm manager. Henery Fray bought another mug of beer. But before he had lifted the mug to his mouth, another farm worker came running into the inn.

'Have you heard the news?' he asked.

'Is this news about Pennyways?' said Henery. 'Or is it more news, Laban Tall?'

'It's news about Fanny Robin - Miss Everdene's youngest maid,' said Laban. 'Fanny has disappeared! Miss Everdene wants to speak to all of us before we go to bed.'

All the workers went along the lane to Weatherbury Farm, where Bathsheba lived. When she saw them arrive, she opened a window and called down to them.

'Tomorrow morning, I want two or three of you to look for Fanny Robin,' she said. 'Was she courting any young man in the village?'

From another open window, Maryann spoke. 'She wasn't courting anyone in the village, ma'am,' said the maid. 'But she's been visiting Casterbridge. She's been courting a soldier at the barracks there, but I don't know his name.'

'Billy Smallbury,' said Bathsheba, looking down at a heavy young man who was carrying a lamp. 'If Fanny doesn't return tomorrow, you must go to Casterbridge. Try to find out the soldier's name.'

Then she closed her window and the men went home.

The next day, Bathsheba and her maid, Liddy Smallbury, were looking through some books and papers that had belonged to Bathsheba's uncle. Suddenly there was a knock at the front door. Liddy went to the window and looked out.

'It's Mr Boldwood, ma'am,' she said.

Bathsheba looked at the dust on her dress and hands. 'I can't see him now,' she said. 'Go and ask him what he wants.'

Liddy came back a few minutes later. 'Mr Boldwood asked about Fanny,' she said. 'He worries about her. Fanny had no friends or family when she was a young girl, and Mr Boldwood paid for her to go to school. He's a very kind man.'

'Who is he?' asked Bathsheba.

'He's your neighbour,' said Liddy. 'He owns Little Weatherbury, the farm beside yours. He's about forty years old and very rich. All the girls of the village have tried to marry Mr Boldwood, but he's just not interested.'

Later that day, Bathsheba sent for all her farm workers. They met together in one of the large farm buildings.

'As you know, Pennyways has left the farm,' she told them. 'But I'm not going to hire another farm manager. I'm going to manage the farm myself.'

The men looked at each other. They were very surprised. Did this young woman know how to manage a farm? But before they could speak, Bathsheba turned to Billy Smallbury.

'Billy, what have you learnt about Fanny Robin and her soldier?' she asked.

'Many of the soldiers left Casterbridge last week,' said Billy. 'I think that Fanny's young man is a member of the Eleventh Dragoon Guards. He went to Melchester with the rest of his regiment. Fanny has followed him. But nobody knows his name.'

That night, many miles north of Weatherbury, a person dressed in a cloak moved along a path between a river and a high stone building. Grey clouds were low in the sky and it was very cold. Snow was falling. The bell of Melchester's church clock rang ten times as the person walked slowly towards the army barracks' building.

A few moments later, the person stopped and threw a stone up at a high window.

The window opened. 'Who's there?' called a man's voice.

'Sergeant Troy?' a girl's voice asked. 'Sergeant Frank Troy?

'Yes,' replied the man, leaning out of the window. He wore a red coat and blue trousers - the uniform of a dragoon guardsman. The dragoon looked down at the girl standing below him. Snow fell on to her face and cloak.

'Frank? This is Fanny Robin!'

'Fanny! How did you find me?' asked Troy.

'I asked someone which was the window of your room,' she said. 'Frank, are you pleased to see me?'

'Oh - well, yes.'

'When will we be married, Frank? You promised -'

'Wait!' he said. 'I didn't expect you to come here so soon. I didn't expect you to come at all.'

Fanny began to cry. 'Frank, I love you! And you said lots of times that you would marry me.'

'Don't cry,' he said. 'I will marry you, if I made that promise. I'll come and see you tomorrow.'

'I'm staying in rooms at Mrs Twill's house in North Street,' said Fanny. 'Goodnight, Frank - goodnight!'

The next time that there was a market in Casterbridge, Bathsheba went into the town. She went to the Corn Exchange. She was the only woman there, and all the men stared at her. All except one - Farmer William Boldwood of Little Weatherbury Farm. This rich, handsome gentleman did not seem to notice her. Bathsheba was surprised and annoyed. She was a beautiful woman and she knew this. Most men found her attractive.

One Sunday, Bathsheba was talking with Liddy. It was the thirteenth of February and a dark, cold winter afternoon. The two women were sitting together by the fire, in the kitchen of the farmhouse.

'Did you see Mr Boldwood in church this morning, ma'am?' asked Liddy.

'No,' said Bathsheba.

'He was sitting opposite you. Are you sure that you didn't see him?' said Liddy, smiling.

'I did not!' replied Bathsheba

'And he didn't seem to notice you,' said Liddy.

'Why should he?' said Bathsheba.

'Every other man in the church looked at you,' said Liddy. 'But Mr Boldwood didn't even turn his head towards you.'

Bathsheba was silent for some minutes. Then she said, 'Oh, I bought a valentine card yesterday. I almost forgot about it.'

'A valentine card!' said Liddy, excitedly. 'Who is it for? Farmer Boldwood?'

'No!' said Bathsheba. 'It's for Teddy Coggan, Jan Coggan's son.' She took the card from her desk. 'Teddy is a lovely child. I wanted him to get his first valentine card from me.'

'It would be fun to send the card to Boldwood!' said Liddy, laughing.

Bathsheba thought about this for a moment. All the other important men in the area admired her, but Boldwood did not even notice her. She was annoyed.

'You're right, Liddy,' she said. 'We'll send the card to Boldwood! It will be a good joke.'

Bathsheba wrote Boldwood's name and address on the front of an envelope, and put the card inside it. Then she laughed and wrote the words: MARRY ME on the back of the envelope.

That evening, the valentine was sent to Boldwood. It was a joke - but Bathsheba would soon wish that she had never done it.

On the evening of St Valentine's Day - the fourteenth of February - Farmer Boldwood sat down to eat his supper. On the dining table next to him, was the valentine card.

Since it had arrived that morning, Boldwood had asked himself these questions many times. 'Who has sent the card? MARRY ME are the words on the back of the envelope. Which woman would send such a message to me?'

Boldwood could not sleep that night. At dawn, he got out of his bed. But he did not eat breakfast. He went out into the fields and watched the sun come up over the cold, snowy hills. Then he walked back to the road.

Suddenly he heard a noise behind him and turned around. The mail-cart was coming along the road towards his farmhouse. When he reached Boldwood, the driver stopped and held out a letter towards him.

The farmer took the envelope and started to open it.

But the mail-cart driver said, 'I don't think that the letter is for you, sir. I think it's for your shepherd.'

Boldwood looked at the envelope and read the words: To the New Shepherd, Weatherbury Farm, Near Casterbridge.

'You've made a mistake,' said Boldwood. 'This letter isn't for me, or my shepherd. It's for Miss Everdene's shepherd - Gabriel Oak - at Weatherbury Farm. This is Little Weatherbury Farm.'

At that moment, he saw someone moving on the hill. 'There's Oak. I'll take the letter to him myself.'

When he reached the top of the hill, Farmer Boldwood called to the shepherd. 'Oak! I met the mail-cart, and this letter was delivered to me. But it was a mistake, the letter is for you. I'm sorry that I started to open it.'

Gabriel Oak took the letter from the envelope and read it.


Dear Friend

I do not know your name, but I want to thank you. You were kind to me on the night that I left Weatherbury. I am going to be married to the young man who has been courting me. His name is Sergeant Troy and he is a man of honour. He would not want me to keep your money, so I am returning it to you.

Please do not tell anyone about this letter. As soon as we are husband and wife, we will come to Weatherbury.

Thank you again for your kindness.

Fanny Robin


Gabriel gave the letter to Boldwood. 'I know that you're worried about Fanny Robin,' he said. 'You must read this.'

Boldwood read the letter and looked unhappy.

'What kind of man is Sergeant Troy?' asked Gabriel. 'Is he a good and honest man?'

'He's young and handsome,' said Boldwood. 'And many women love him. But I don't think that Troy wants to marry anyone. Poor Fanny!'

After a moment, Boldwood put his hand in his pocket. He took out the envelope containing the valentine card.

'Tell me, Oak,' he said. 'Do you know who wrote this?'

Gabriel looked at the writing on the envelope. 'It's Miss Everdene's handwriting,' he said. He looked quickly at Boldwood.

The farmer turned his head and looked across the hill.

'A person who receives a valentine will try and find out who sent it,' he said. 'Everyone expects that will happen.' But Boldwood spoke seriously. He was not enjoying the joke. A few minutes later, he returned to his house.

A day or two later, a handsome young dragoon walked into All Souls' church. He was wearing his red jacket and blue trousers and carried a shining helmet with a tall crest. A long sword hung from a belt at the sergeant's waist.

The dragoon waited for the young woman who was to be his wife. He waited and waited, but she did not come. The silver spurs on the dragoon's boots rang like little bells as he walked up and down. After half an hour, he left the church.

As he walked away from the church, he met a young woman. She was running towards the church. When she saw the soldier, the young woman looked frightened.

'Oh, Frank!' she cried. 'I made a mistake. I went to the wrong church! I went to All Saints' church! I'm sorry! But it doesn't matter, we can be married tomorrow instead.'

'You fool, Fanny!' said Sergeant Francis Troy. 'Get married tomorrow? No! I waited at the church, but you didn't come. You embarrassed me. I won't do this again for a long time, I promise you!'


Chapter five

Mr Boldwood's Proposal


On Saturday morning, Farmer William Boldwood was at Casterbridge market when Bathsheba arrived. For several nights, Boldwood's dreams had been about Bathsheba Everdene. But now, for the first time, he looked at her closely. He saw her black hair, the shape of her face, her clothes. And he saw that she was beautiful.

'This is the woman who has asked me to marry her!' he thought.

Bathsheba saw him watching her, and smiled. 'He knows who sent the valentine card,' she thought. 'But only a joke made him notice me.'

Suddenly, Bathsheba was sorry. She respected Boldwood. She was sorry that she had disturbed this quiet, calm man's life.

Boldwood was a serious man, but he had strong feelings. As the weeks passed and spring came, he watched Bathsheba. He watched her from his fields next to her farm. At last he decided to speak to her.

One morning in May, Boldwood saw Bathsheba at the sheep-washing pool with Gabriel Oak and her other farm workers. She was watching the men push each sheep down into the water. The women were watching and laughing as the water splashed over everyone. When she saw Boldwood, Bathsheba moved away and began to walk towards the river. Boldwood followed her.

'Miss Everdene!' he said, when they were both walking next to the river. 'I can't think sensibly about anything or anybody since I saw you clearly. So I've come to make you a proposal of marriage. More than anything in the world, I want you to be my wife.'

Bathsheba tried to stay calm. She stopped walking and looked at him. 'Mr Boldwood,' she said carefully. 'I admire you and respect you, but I can't marry you.'

'Miss Everdene, my life is empty without you!' said Boldwood. 'Oh, I wish that I could court you with pretty words! Let me say again and again that I love you! I want you to be my wife. I'm speaking to you now because you gave me hope. You wrote "Marry Me" on the valentine.'

'I was wrong and foolish to send you that valentine,' said Bathsheba. 'Please forgive me! I promise that I'll never play jokes again.'

'No, no! Don't say this!' cried Boldwood. His eyes shone fiercely as he spoke and he stood close to her.

'I don't love you, Mr Boldwood,' said Bathsheba. She was frightened by his strong feelings. 'Please, don't speak about this anymore. I can't think clearly. I didn't know that you were going to say this to me.'

'Don't say that you'll never love me!' he said quickly. 'Let me speak to you about this again. Let me hope that one day you will accept my proposal!'

'No, don't hope!' Bathsheba replied. 'Give me time. Let me think.'

'Yes, I'll give you time,' he said, quietly. 'I'll wait.'

Bathsheba was not in love with Boldwood, so she was able to think calmly about his proposal. Many women would be proud to marry Boldwbod. She knew this. The farmer was a man of good character, and he was rich.

'I started a foolish game by sending that valentine,' she thought. 'But perhaps I should be honest now. Perhaps I should marry him. But I can't do it.'

The day after Boldwood made his proposal, Bathsheba went to see Gabriel Oak.

'Tell me,' she said to him. 'Did the workers say anything about me and Mr Boldwood?'

'They think that you will probably marry him before the end of the year,' said Gabriel.

'How stupid!' said Bathsheba. 'I want you to tell them that it's not true.'

Gabriel was surprised when he heard this. But he was also happy. 'Yes, I can tell them,' he said. 'But do you want my opinion, Bathsheba?'

'You should call me Miss Everdene,' she said, coldly. But she did want Gabriel's opinion. She respected him more than anyone else. 'Well, what do you have to say?' she asked.

'You were wrong to send Farmer Boldwood the valentine card,' said Gabriel. 'It was unkind and dishonest.'

Bathsheba's face became red and she said angrily, 'I'm not interested in your opinion! And why am I unkind and dishonest? Is it because I didn't marry you!'

'No,' said Gabriel quietly. 'I stopped thinking about my proposal a long time ago.'

'And you'll never wish to ask again, I suppose?' she said. But she expected him to say that he still loved her.

'No, I don't wish to,' he said. 'But I repeat. You were wrong when you sent Mr Boldwood that valentine. It was cruel and dishonest.'

'I won't let you to speak to me like that!' said Bathsheba. She was shaking with anger. 'Please leave my farm at the end of the week!'

'I'll be happier if I go now,' said Gabriel.

'Very well, go!' she said. 'I don't want to see you again.'

Twenty-four hours later, three of Bathsheba's farm workers came running to her house with terrible news.

'Sixty of your sheep broke the fence around their field!' said Joe Poorgrass.

'And they got into a field of clover!' said Henery Fray. 'They've eaten the clover and they're all sick,' said Laban Tall. 'Their stomachs are swollen! They'll die if someone doesn't help them!'

Bathsheba hurried out to the field with the men. Her sheep were lying on the ground. Their stomachs were very swollen and they groaned in pain.

'Oh, what can we do?' she cried.

'Someone must make a hole in their sides and let out the air,' said Laban. 'You need a special tool to make a small hole.'

'And there's only one man who can do this,' said Joseph Poorgrass. 'Gabriel Oak.'

'Don't speak his name!' said Bathsheba, angrily. 'I don't want to hear it. Perhaps Farmer Boldwood will help us.'

'No, ma'am,' said Laban. 'This happened to two of his sheep a few days ago. He sent for Shepherd Oak, and Shepherd Oak saved them.'

'I'll never send for him - never!' said Bathsheba.

Suddenly, one of the sheep jumped up, then fell heavily onto the ground. It did not move and Bathsheba went to look at it. The sheep was dead.

'Oh, what shall I do - what shall I do!' she cried. She looked at the dead sheep for several moments. Then she said, 'Laban, take a horse and ride quickly. Find Oak and give him this order. Tell the shepherd that he must return immediately.'

Laban took one of the horses from a field and rode away. Bathsheba watched the man and the horse disappear over the hill. Then she began to walk up and down beside the sick sheep. After an hour, Laban returned. He was alone.

'Well?' said Bathsheba. 'Where is Shepherd Oak?'

'Gabriel won't come until you ask him politely, ma'am,' said Laban.

'What! Is that his answer?'

Suddenly, another sheep jumped into the air and fell dead. Bathsheba began to cry. 'Oh, how can Oak be so cruel!'

'Gabriel is a good man, ma'am,' said Laban. 'He'll come if you ask him, and not order him.'

Bathsheba hurried back to the house. She wrote these words in a note: Do not desert me, Gabriel.

Laban rode away with the note. Fifteen minutes later, he returned with Gabriel Oak. Gabriel went straight to the sheep and began to work on them. He pushed a sharp tool into the side of each sheep and let out the air in their swollen stomachs. He saved all except four of the animals.

Bathsheba came and stood beside him.

'Gabriel, I - I was wrong to send you away. Will you stay with me?' she asked, smiling.

'I will,' he said.


Chapter six

Sergeant Troy


It was the first day of June. At this time in the summer, the sheep were sheared. In the great barn, the men cut the wool off the sheep and the women prepared the wool to sell it at the market. Bathsheba went to the barn to watch them working. She watched Gabriel Oak bending over a sheep and cutting the wool from its body. At last, he stood up straight and wiped the sweat from his face. The sheep ran out of the barn. Its slim, white body shone in the bright sunshine.

'Twenty-three minutes!' Bathsheba said to Gabriel. 'I've never seen a sheep sheared in less than half an hour.'

Gabriel smiled. He was pleased that she had noticed him. Then he saw Farmer Boldwood at the bam door, and his happiness disappeared.

Bathsheba and Farmer Boldwood spoke quietly together, then Bathsheba went into the house. When she came out a few minutes later, she was wearing a green riding-habit.

Oak watched Boldwood and Bathsheba get onto their horses and ride away.

That evening, there was a big supper for all the farm workers. A long table had been put on the grass outside the house. The men, women and children had all worked hard and now they were going to enjoy a good meal and plenty of beer. Bathsheba sat at one end of the table, and she asked Gabriel to sit at the other end. At that moment, Farmer Boldwood arrived.

'I'm late,' he said to Bathsheba. 'I'm sorry.'

'Gabriel, will you move again?' said Bathsheba. 'Let Mr Boldwood sit there.'

Silently, Gabriel Oak moved to another seat.

After their supper, the farm workers sang songs and told stories. Gabriel played his flute as everyone sang.

William Boldwood usually wore dark grey clothes. But tonight he wore a bright new coat and a beautiful white silk waistcoat. He seemed very happy, and so did Bathsheba. Gabriel watched them sitting together at the end of the table. Boldwood was usually a serious, silent man. Tonight, he was talking quietly to Bathsheba and smiling.

The sun went down and the sky became dark. Soon it was time for the workers to leave. Bathsheba said goodnight to everyone, then she and Boldwood went inside the house.

When Bathsheba and Boldwood were alone, the farmer got down onto his knees. 'Now, please tell me,' he said, kneeling in front of Bathsheba. 'Promise me that you'll marry me.'

'I'll try to love you,' said Bathsheba. 'And I'll marry you, if I believe that I can be a good wife to you. But I can't make a promise tonight. Please don't make me give you an answer. You're going away tomorrow for five or six weeks. When you come back, perhaps I'll be able to make you a promise. But remember, I'm not promising to be your wife now.'

'That is all right,' said Boldwood. 'I don't ask for more. Goodnight, Miss Everdene.'

That evening, Bathsheba took a lamp and walked around the farm. She checked that everything was safe for the night. As she was walking along the path back to the farmhouse, she heard footsteps. Someone was coming through the trees, towards her.

Bathsheba was standing on the darkest part of the path. When she and the stranger met, something caught the edge of her skirt and held it.

'Oh, have I hurt you?' said a man's voice.

'No,' said Bathsheba. And she pulled at her skirt.

'Give me your lamp,' said the man. 'I'll see what has happened.' And he bent down and shone the lamp at his feet.

Bathsheba saw that the stranger was a dragoon. He wore a bright red coat, and the sharp spur on one of his boots was caught in the bottom of her skirt. Bathsheba began to pull at her skirt again, but she could not get it free.

'You're a prisoner, miss,' said the soldier, smiling. 'I must cut your skirt if you want to get away quickly.'

'Yes, please do that,' she said.

He looked up at her. He was very handsome and his white teeth shone beneath his black moustache.

'Thank you for letting me see your beautiful face,' he said.

Bathsheba's face became hot and red. 'I didn't choose to show you my face! Please, hurry! I think that you're trying to keep me here!'

'Don't be angry,' said the young man. 'I've seen many women, but none as beautiful as you.'

'Who are you?'

'I'm not a stranger in Weatherbury,' he said. 'My name's Sergeant Troy. There! Now you're free. But I wish that you weren't. I wish that we were tied together forever, Beauty.'

Bathsheba pulled her skirt away from his boot and hurried along the path to her house. She did not look back at him.

Inside the farmhouse, Liddy was preparing to go to bed. Bathsheba asked her about the soldier. From Liddy, she learnt that Sergeant Francis Troy had been born in Weatherbury. He came from a good family and his father had been a doctor. Francis Troy had received a good education. But when he lost all his money, he had become a soldier. Troy was a sergeant in a regiment of dragoons. Everyone admired the dragoons - they rode tall horses and wore smart uniforms. And women especially liked handsome Sergeant Troy.

Bathsheba thought about the young soldier and smiled. She could not be angry with Troy for long. He had said that she was beautiful. He had called her Beauty.

'Boldwood has never said that I'm beautiful,' she thought.

A week or two later, Bathsheba walked down to her fields. She wanted to watch her farm workers cutting the hay. She was surprised to see Sergeant Troy helping them. It was a hot, bright day and Troy's coat was like a red flame. The dragoon was standing with the men who were pulling their sharp scythes through the long grass. He saw her and came across the field to speak to her.

'Miss Everdene! I didn't realize that I was speaking to the "Queen of the Corn Exchange" the other evening!' he said, laughing. 'I often helped your uncle in these fields when I was a boy. Today I've been helping you.'

'I suppose that I must thank you,' said Bathsheba.

'It's not necessary,' he replied.

'Good,' she said. 'Because I don't really want to thank you for anything.'

'Oh, I'm sorry. I made you angry the other evening,' he said. 'But I spoke honestly. I can't be the only person to tell you that you're beautiful. Don't others tell you this, too?'

'No - well - Liddy says that they do,' said Bathsheba.

'There! It's the truth!' said Troy. 'Now, please forgive me.'

'Well, perhaps you didn't mean to be rude to me the other evening,' said Bathsheba. 'Thank you for helping the men today. But please don't speak to me unless I speak to you.'

'Oh, Miss Everdene, that's too hard!' said Troy. 'You'll never speak to me. And I'm going away again in a month.'

'Do you really care that I might not speak to you?' Bathsheba asked.

'Perhaps I'm foolish. But yes, I do care,' Troy replied. 'I loved you from the moment that I saw you the other night - and I love you now!'

'You can't love me! You don't!' said Bathsheba. 'I won't listen to you any more. What time is it? I've wasted too much time here already.'

'Haven't you got a watch?' asked Troy. And before she could stop him, he put a heavy gold watch into her hand.

'Please take it,' he said softly. 'It belonged to my mother's family, who were noblemen. She gave it to my father and the watch became mine after he died.'

'But, Sergeant Troy, I can't take this! A gold watch!'

'Please keep it, Miss Everdene,' Troy said. 'I loved my father, but I love you more.'

He was not playing games with her now. He was serious. His eyes shone with love as he looked at her.

'How can you love me?' said Bathsheba. 'This is only the second time that you've spoken to me. Please, take back the watch. I can't have it.'

'Very well, I'll take it back,' he said. And she gave the watch to him. 'But will you speak to me for the few weeks that I'm here?' he asked.

'Yes - no - I don't know!' Bathsheba cried. 'Oh, why did you come?'

'Will you let me work in your fields?' Frank Troy asked.

'Yes, if it pleases you,' she said.

'Thank you, Miss Everdene.'

Bathsheba hurried away. 'Oh, what have I done?' she thought. 'He said that he loved me. Was he speaking the truth? I wish that I knew!'


Chapter seven

'Keep Him Away From Me!'


Bathsheba saw Troy in the fields several times during the next few days. At first she was polite but cool towards him. But slowly, he found ways to make her smile and laugh. One day he asked her if she had ever seen a soldier's sword practice. She had not, but she agreed that she would like to see it.

So, at eight o'clock that evening, she met Troy on the other side of the hill, a mile from her house. The evening sun shone on Troy's red uniform and bright, long sword.

'Now I'll begin the first exercise,' he said. 'First, there are four cuts to the right, then four cuts to the left.' His sword moved quickly through the air and he called out, 'One - two - three - four!'

The sharp blade moved so fast that Bathsheba gasped.

'Now I'll make the exercise more interesting,' he said. 'I'll pretend to fight you. You'll be my enemy, but I won't cut you, of course. Stand there, and don't move.'

The sword moved like a bright light around Bathsheba. It made a sound like the wind.

First the blade went one way, then another way. Up, down! Once, it seemed to go right through her body. 'Oh, has it gone through me?' she cried. 'No, it hasn't!' 'I haven't touched you,' said Troy, quietly. 'Are you afraid? I promise not to touch you.'

'I don't think that I'm afraid,' she said, staring at him.

The sword moved again, and the light from the sun flashed on the bright metal. Soon, all that Bathsheba could see was a bright light flashing around her. Troy had never practised better than this.

'Your hair is a little untidy", Miss Everdene,' he said. 'I'll make it tidy for you.'

The sword went past her ear with a whispering sound. A small piece of her hair fell to the ground. She watched him pick up the lock of hair and put it in his pocket.

'I'll keep this forever,' he said. He came closer to her. 'I must leave you now.'

Then he kissed her softly on the lips. She was not strong enough to say or do anything to stop him. A moment later, he was gone.

Bathsheba was a strong, independent woman, and she was usually sensible. But now she lost her good sense. And she no longer had control of her own feelings. She was deeply in love with Frank Troy.

Bathsheba was like an innocent child. She knew little about men. And Troy's bad character was carefully hidden by his sweet talk. Frank Troy sometimes told the truth to men, but he always lied to women. Bathsheba foolishly believed that Troy was as good and honest as Gabriel Oak.

Oak saw what was happening. He was sad and worried, and he decided to speak to Bathsheba. He met her when she was walking home one evening.

'It's late, and I was worried about you,' he said. 'There are bad people in this area sometimes. And Mr Boldwood can't take care of you because he's away.'

'Why would Mr Boldwood take care of me?' said Bathsheba.

'Well, you and he are going to be married, and -'

'That's not true,' she said quickly. 'I didn't promise Mr Boldwood anything. I've never loved him. He asked me to marry him, but I promised nothing. When he returns I'll give him my answer. It will be "no".'

Oak then made the mistake of speaking about Troy at that moment. 'I wish that you'd never met young Sergeant Troy,' he said. 'He's not good enough for you. He's clever, yes, but you can't trust him.'

'Don't speak about him like that!' said Bathsheba. 'He's as good as anybody in Weatherbury!'

'Please, listen to me, Bathsheba,' said Oak. He spoke sadly but with deep feeling. 'You know that I love you, and that I'll always love you. I know that I can't marry you because I'm poor. But you are more important to me than my own life. Marry Mr Boldwood. You'll be safe with him.'

'Go away!' said Bathsheba. 'Leave this farm. I don't want you here any more.'

'Don't be foolish,' said Gabriel, calmly. 'You sent me away once before, but you soon needed me again. And you need me now. No, I'll stay because I love you.'

'All right, you can stay if you want to,' said Bathsheba, after a moment. 'But will you leave me alone now?'

She walked away. Gabriel watched her for some minutes, then he saw someone else on the hill. It was a soldier. Had Bathsheba been expecting to meet Troy? Gabriel Oak watched the two of them speak together, then he turned and went home.

Half an hour later, Bathsheba entered her house. Troy was going to the town of Bath for two days to see his friends, but Bathsheba was excited. Troy had kissed her a second time and his loving words were still in her ears!

'I must write to Mr Boldwood at once,' she thought. 'I can't marry him, and I must tell him now.'

After three minutes, Bathsheba gave the letter to Liddy to send the next day. She told her maid about her love for Troy.

'People tell stories about Sergeant Troy,' Bathsheba said in a worried voice. 'But he cannot be as bad as they say. Liddy, you don't believe the stories, do you?'

'I - I don't know, ma'am,' said Liddy.

'Oh, how weak I am!' cried Bathsheba. 'I wish that I'd never seen Frank Troy! But I love him! You mustn't tell anyone, Liddy!'

'No, ma'am,' said Liddy.

The next evening, Bathsheba went to visit Liddy's sister. Earlier that day, Liddy had gone to her sister's house. She was going to stay there for a short holiday. She had invited Bathsheba to come and stay for a day or two.

Bathsheba had walked two miles when she saw Boldwood coming along the road towards her. He walked slowly and sadly.

She knew then that he had received her letter.

'Oh, it's you, Mr Boldwood,' she said. Her face was hot and red with embarrassment.

'You know that I love you, Bathsheba,' he said, slowly. 'A letter can't change my feelings for you.'

'I wish that you didn't feel so strongly about me,' said Bathsheba. 'Please, don't speak about it.'

'Then what can I say? We're not going to be married. Your letter was very clear.'

'Good - good evening,' said Bathsheba.

She began to walk away, but he stopped her. 'Oh, Bathsheba!' he said. 'There was a time when I knew nothing about you, and did not care about you. But after you sent me the valentine, I believed that you loved me. I believed that you wanted to marry me.'

'It was a cruel joke, and I'm sorry,' said Bathsheba.

'You're the first woman that I've ever loved,' said Boldwood. 'And you almost agreed to marry me. Where are all your kind words now?'

'Mr Boldwood, I promise of you nothing.'

'How can you be so cruel!' he cried. 'You gave me hope, and then you took it away.'

'I did not give you hope!' she said. 'You chose to have hope, sir. I can't love in the way that you love.'

'Perhaps that's true,' he said. 'But you're not the cold woman that you pretend to be. You have plenty of love, but you've given it to another person.'

'He knows about Sergeant Troy!' she thought.

'Oh, why didn't Troy leave my dearest one alone!' said Boldwood. 'Tell me the truth, Bathsheba. If you had not met Troy, you would have married me. Am I right?'

She could not tell a lie. 'Yes,' she said quietly.

'I knew it!' said Boldwood. 'He stole you when I was away! Now people laugh at me. I've lost my respect and my good name! Tell me, has he kissed you?'

Bathsheba gasped. 'Leave me, sir,' she cried. 'Let me go!'

'Tell me!' he shouted. 'Has he kissed you?'

She held her head up and looked straight at him. 'Yes!'

Boldwood gave a groan of pain. 'Oh, and I would have given everything just to touch your hand!' he said, bitterly. 'But you let a man like that kiss you!'

'Please, be kind to him, sir,' said Bathsheba. 'I love him very much.'

Boldwood did not hear her. 'I'll punish him!' he said in a terrible voice. 'Bathsheba, forgive me for blaming you. You did nothing wrong. Troy stole you away from me with his lies. But keep him away from me!'

Then Boldwood turned and walked away.

Bathsheba began to cry. She sat down at the side of the road and tried to think. She must keep Troy away from Boldwood until the farmer was quieter and calmer.

'Perhaps I should tell Troy that I don't love him,' Bathsheba said to herself. 'Then perhaps Troy will stop loving me. That would please Gabriel Oak and Boldwood. I need to see Troy. That will help me to decide. I'll go to him now!'


Chapter eight

The Storm


Bathsheba went to Bath that night. She took one of her horses and a carriage, and she left her farm secretly. No one knew where she had gone. She stayed in the city for two weeks. News came back to Weatherbury that she and Sergeant Troy were courting. Gabriel Oak heard this news and his heart ached.

Bathsheba and Liddy arrived back at Weatherbury Farm on the same day. Soon after Bathsheba arrived, Mr Boldwood came to the farmhouse, but she would not see him.

Boldwood walked back to the village. It was now late in the evening. Suddenly he saw Sergeant Troy enter a house. The soldier had stayed in the house the last time that he had been in Weatherbury.

Boldwood waited for some minutes, then Troy came out of the house again. Boldwood went up to him.

'Sergeant Troy? I'm William Boldwood.'

'Oh, yes?'

'I want to speak to you,' said Boldwood.

Troy looked at the older man. He could see that Boldwood was carrying a big stick and he decided not to argue with him.

'What do you want to talk to me about?' he asked.

'Gabriel Oak and I know a lot about you and Fanny

'Robin,' said Boldwood coldly. 'The girl loves you, and you should marry her.'

Troy turned his head so that Boldwood could not see his smile. 'I'm too poor,' he said.

'Then I'll give you fifty pounds now, and fifty pounds for Fanny's wedding clothes,' said Boldwood. 'And I'll give you another five hundred pounds on the day that you and Fanny Robin are married. Just leave Miss Everdene alone. She's too good for you.'

Troy seemed to think about this. 'I do like Fanny best,' he said. 'And you'll give me fifty pounds now?'

Boldwood gave him a small bag of coins. 'Here is the money.'

'Stop, listen!' whispered Troy. They could hear footsteps. 'It's Bathsheba. She's meeting me tonight. Wait here.'

Boldwood stepped back and hid in the dark shadows beside the house. After a moment, he heard Troy and Bathsheba talking. He could not see them, but he could hear their voices.

'Frank, dearest, is that you?' said Bathsheba. 'You're late. Was it a long, slow journey from Bath? I was afraid that you weren't coming.'

'You knew that I would come,' Troy replied.

'Frank, we're lucky! There's nobody in my house tonight except me. I've sent all the servants away. Nobody will know that you're with me tonight.'

'Wonderful,' said Troy. 'But I must collect my bag. Go home, and I'll come to you in ten minutes.'

'Yes, dearest,' said Bathsheba. And she hurried away.

Boldwood stepped out of the shadows. His face was pale with shock.

'Do you understand my problem?' said Troy. 'I can't marry both of them.' He laughed. 'But perhaps I'll marry Fanny. I like her the best, and you promised to pay me.'

'I'll kill you!' cried Boldwood. He jumped forward and put his hands around Troy's neck.

'Stop!' gasped Troy. 'Kill me, and you'll only hurt the woman that you love. I've already taken that woman to my bed and loved her. She must be my wife or she'll be ruined.'

Boldwood gave a cry and pushed Troy away from him.

'You devil!' he shouted. 'But - but yes, it would be a mistake to kill you. She has given herself to you, so she must love you very much. Oh, my Bathsheba!' He looked fiercely at Troy. 'Marry her, don't desert her. I'll give you money.'

'Keep your money, and look at this,' said Troy with a cruel laugh. He took a newspaper from his pocket. 'You're too late, Boldwood. Bathsheba and I were married a week ago. Here's a report of our marriage!'

It was a night at the end of August, and Bathsheba had been married only a few weeks.

Gabriel Oak came out of the barn to check the ricks of wheat and hay. They had no covers on them and he looked up at the dark clouds in the sky.

'There's going to be a storm,' he said to himself.

Sergeant Troy was now the manager of Bathsheba's farm. He had chosen this night to celebrate their harvest with a supper. Inside the barn, all the farm workers and their families were eating, drinking and dancing. Musicians had come from the village and there were tables of food and drink.

Troy was sitting at a table, drinking brandy and water. Oak had sent a young man to speak to him.

'Gabriel Oak has told me to give you a message, Mr Troy,' the man said. 'The shepherd says, "The ricks should be covered before the storm comes.'"

A few minutes later, the young man came out of the bam with the answer, 'Shepherd Oak, Mr Troy says it will not rain.'

Inside the barn, Troy called to everyone.

'Friends!' he said. 'Tonight we have two reasons to celebrate. We're celebrating the harvest and also my wedding. I've ordered brandy and water for you all!'

Bathsheba put her hand on Troy's arm. 'No, Frank,' she said. 'Please, don't give them brandy. They've already had a lot of beer.'

Troy laughed loudly. He had been drinking brandy for several hours and he was already a little drunk. 'Friends,' he said. 'We'll send the women home. It's time that they were in bed! Then we can drink and sing as much as we want to!'

Bathsheba stood up and left the barn. She was angry. The women and children followed her.

Gabriel Oak went home and sat quietly, thinking. After an hour, he went to check the sheep. They were crowded close together in the corner of a field. The sheep knew that a storm was coming.

Oak hurried back to the farm and went into the barn. He needed help to cover the ricks bef

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