"The valentine again! O that valentine!" she said to herself, but not a word to him.
"If you can love me say so, Miss Everdene. If not — don't say no!"
"Mr. Boldwood, it is painful to have to say I am surprised, so that I don't know how to answer you with propriety and respect — but am only just able to speak out my feeling — I mean my meaning; that I am afraid I can't marry you, much as I respect you. You are too dignified for me to suit you, sir."
"But, Miss Everdene!"
"I — I didn't — I know I ought never to have dreamt of sending that valentine — forgive me, sir — it was a wanton thing which no woman with any self-respect should have done. If you will only pardon my thoughtlessness, I promise never to — "
"No, no, no. Don't say thoughtlessness! Make me think it was something more — that it was a sort of prophetic instinct — the beginning of a feeling that you would like me. You torture me to say it was done in thoughtlessness — I never thought of it in that light, and I can't endure it. Ah! I wish I knew how to win you! but that I can't do — I can only ask if I have already got you. If I have not, and it is not true that you have come unwittingly to me as I have to you, I can say no more."
"I have not fallen in love with you, Mr. Boldwood — certainly I must say that." She allowed a very small smile to creep for the first time over her serious face in saying this, and the white row of upper teeth, and keenly-cut lips already noticed, suggested an idea of heartlessness, which was immediately contradicted by the pleasant eyes.
"But you will just think — in kindness and condescension think — if you cannot bear with me as a husband! I fear I am too old for you, but believe me I will take more care of you than would many a man of your own age. I will protect and cherish you with all my strength — I will indeed! You shall have no cares — be worried by no household affairs, and live quite at ease, Miss Everdene. The dairy superintendence shall be done by a man — I can afford it well — you shall never have so much as to look out of doors at haymaking time, or to think of weather in the harvest. I rather cling to the chaise, because it is the same my poor father and mother drove, but if you don't like it I will sell it, and you shall have a pony-carriage of your own. I cannot say how far above every other idea and object on earth you seem to me — nobody knows — God only knows — how much you are to me!"
Bathsheba's heart was young, and it swelled with sympathy for the deep-natured man who spoke so simply.
"Don't say it! don't! I cannot bear you to feel so much, and me to feel nothing. And I am afraid they will notice us, Mr. Boldwood. Will you let the matter rest now? I cannot think collectedly. I did not know you were going to say this to me. Oh, I am wicked to have made you suffer so!" She was frightened as well as agitated at his vehemence.
"Say then, that you don't absolutely refuse. Do not quite refuse?"
"I can do nothing. I cannot answer."
"I may speak to you again on the subject?"
"I may think of you?"
"Yes, I suppose you may think of me."
"And hope to obtain you?"
"No — do not hope! Let us go on."
"I will call upon you again to-morrow."
"No — please not. Give me time."
"Yes — I will give you any time," he said earnestly and gratefully. "I am happier now."
"No — I beg you! Don't be happier if happiness only comes from my agreeing. Be neutral, Mr. Boldwood! I must think."
"I will wait," he said.
And then she turned away. Boldwood dropped his gaze to the ground, and stood long like a man who did not know where he was. Realities then returned upon him like the pain of a wound received in an excitement which eclipses it, and he, too, then went on.